Saturday, June 20, 2009

The YYM in Europe

Several visions of the YYM on our travels.

On the "Jackie Chan Slideway"
In the Paris Metro
On the back deck of my landlord's house, having coffee, croissants, and a really great fruit tort.
Checking some email in the Eric Voegelin Archiv. (Note the NRA t-shirt)

Movie from atop the Arc

I took a short movie from atop the Arc de Triomphe. We had noticed that many of the largest streets and interchanges in Paris had no lanes. As I say in the little video, they would just be a distraction.

On the other hand, we also didn't see any accidents. So the chaos system is not actually chaos. But neither is it government-controlled, in any important sense. (I suppose the gendarmes would come if there was a fight, and a tow truck would come if there were casualties, but that's it).

If you just leave people alone, they can figure stuff out.

Anarchy is not chaos! video

200 Euro for "Flagging" a Toilet

So, a guy (a 23 year old official of the SPD) was charged 200 Euro for a silly stunt, putting a German flag in a toilet and photographing it, and THEN putting the picture up on the internet.

Here's the story, which I can only find in German. The last line of the story says it all. My (crude) translation would be: "In a "mood of beer", he and a friend had come on the idea to publish this picture."

The picture? I can't find a copy on the interwebs. Anybody got one? DON'T publish it, just send me the link. I don't want to be charged with the crime.

The crime? "Verunglimpfung von Staatssymbolen," or disparaging symbols of the State.

How about if I disparage the State ITSELF? Then what?

Let's see. "Hey, State! Your breath smells bad, and your Oma had a mustache."

Or, maybe just linking this product, here. Notice that I do not advocate buying the product, and I certainly do not link a picture. (I looked for the American flag equivalent, and all I found was a bunch of sites that had been taken down, pictures removed. A little scary, actually. Will just searching for "American flag toilet paper" put me on a watch list? This was RESEARCH, mind you. I don't want to buy any....)

If this is my last post, you will all know what happened. 'viedersehn!

UPDATE: A link. Not terribly offensive, but then I am not very protective of symbols of the state. (a nod to TC, for the link)

Teaching Students to Hate Mathematics

S dM sends this link.

An excerpt....

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soulcrushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Everyone knows that something is wrong. The politicians say, “we need higher standards.” The schools say, “we need more money and equipment.” Educators say one thing, and teachers say another. They are all wrong. The only people who understand what is going on are the ones most often blamed and least often heard: the students. They say, “math class is stupid and boring,” and they are right.

My elder son, Kevin, is a math major. And he likes math. Fortunately, he largely lives (as I do, also) inside his own head. So it didn't really matter how he was taught. Also, to be fair, he had some pretty good math teachers in middle school and high school.

But I hear SO many kids say that they don't like math, or that they "can't do" math. Fact is, they couldn't possibly know.



Greg Mankiw points out a complacency. In an interview with Paul Samuelson.

(Nod to Craig N's Door)

Do-Don'ts: Visiting Paris Without Enough Time

I will surely not pretend to write a "Best and Worst of Paris" post. Don't know enough, wasn't there long enough, and many others have done it better than I could even if I knew more and had been there longer.

But, I can give some brief info on the things that were best in a really short visit. If you are having to make some choices, reflecting the need for time trade-offs, here are some suggestions.

Do / Don't pairs

1. DO: Arc de Triomphe / Champs Elysees. Climb the stairs on the Arc, and get a great view of Paris, including the Tour Eiffel. Then walk along the Champs Elysees, down toward the Place de la Concorde. Careful, though, no restaurants anywhere near the Place de la Concorde. Eat before, on the C.E., or later.

DON'T: Wait in line and climb the Eiffel Tower. Sure, it's pretty. But the view from the Arc is perhaps even better, because (1) the streets radiate out from that point, (2) you can SEE the Eiffel Tower from the Arc, and (3) the line for the Arc, is usually nothing, while the wait for the Tower can be 3 hours. If you have only a short trip, no way it is worth it to wait with all the other American and Canadian fanny-pack-and-Birkenstocks E-Tower crowd. Just say no.

2. DO: Go to the Picasso Museum for three hours (it opens at 9:30 am and is CLOSED on Tuesdays), have lunch, and then go to the Musee d'Orsay (CLOSED on MONDAYS, open late on Thursdays). If you visit each of those two museums, and spend three or fours hours each, you can actually see some really wonderful things. I happen to be very interested in Picasso, but even people who aren't (such as my good friend Duke Philosophy prof Alex Rosenberg) say that you should see the Picasso Museum to see the outline of change in art and society in the 20th century. A fine little museum. And the Musee d'Orsay is just outstanding. These two are a decent walk apart, or a pretty quick Metro ride.

DON'T: Go to the Louvre. Sure, you can go see "la Mademoiselle," and wander around the exhibits for a week, if you are a student of art history. But the Louvre is not really a museum, or even a collection of museums. The Louvre is a library of the history of visual arts, with a strong bias toward French works. That makes it invaluable for scholars, artists, and the truly knowledgeable. But it is overwhelming to the rest of us. If you only have a short time, give the Louvre a miss, unles there is a particular exhibit that interests you.

3. DO: Use the Metro. Just do it. It's not hard, and it is a big help. The "Information" guys at the stations are actually helpful. Here is a web site that has lots of information that I found useful.

DON'T: Take taxis, or walk too much. Either way is stressful. We took one taxi trip that was straight out of a movie. We wanted to get to a museum that was going to close soon (don't ask; it was my fault), and took a taxi at 5:05 pm on a weekday, in the medieval rabbit warrens of the 3rd Arrondissement. Now, what could POSSIBLY go wrong with that brilliant plan? Taxi driver did his best, fighting his way out to a main road, cutting across four lanes of traffic, pulling out into opposing traffic. He gave up, crossed the Seine, drove on the curb and the bus lane. Then he recrossed the Seine. Then we got stuck in REAL traffic and he told us to get out and run the rest of the way; it's hopeless. We made it to the museum, but... We also otherwise walked and walked and walked...and got too tired and grouchy. Plan your walks, with a map, along streets that are interesting, and take the Metro otherwise. It's Paris, not Bataan. And, if you do walk, carry bottles of water that you buy at groceries. You can get bottled water for 1 Euro at groceries, but drinks cost 3 Euros and up at cafes. Hard to stop "just for some water" without feeling ripped off.

4. DO: Take a boat ride on the Seine. Do it on the first day, in the afternoon. You get a better feel for geography, and history. And you get to sit down for a while, if you are tired of walking. Just admit you are a tourist, and take the Bateaux-Mouches route (an easy walk from the Champs Elysees or the Place de la Concorde). There's nothing sophisticated about it, but the boats leave every 20 minutes and you don't need to have a plan or reservations.

DON'T: Go to science museums, zoos, aquariums. They aren't very good, by American standards. Everything is written in French (that's fine, by the way, since it is IN FRANCE, but that doesn't mean non-French speakers will get anything out of it), and this is not the comparative advantage of Paris, anyway.

Finally, a lagniappe: The easiest and best triumvirate of things to see are on the Ile de la Cité. You've got the Conciergerie, the Saint-Chapelle, and Notre Dame cathedral. None of these is more than a five iron apart, even if you hit it fat. And a nice combo of interesting, beautiful, and informative. And plenty of places to eat or have a drink just across the river to the north, in the 4th Ar. part of the Marais.

More thoughts on a short trip to Paris: Paris in two days...

From Maggie Penn....

Quite an interesting article from Maggie Penn.

From Many, One: State Representation and the Construction of an American Identity

Elizabeth Penn
Journal of Theoretical Politics, July 2009, Pages 343-364

I present a formal model of the effect of political representation on the formation of group identities using the drafting of the United States Constitution as a case study. I first show the presence of `factions', or groups with competing interests, to be beneficial in forging a national identity. Next, I use this model to argue that the Great Compromise succeeded as more than a political maneuver to ensure ratification of the Constitution; it created a political environment in which an American national identity could emerge. I find that representation schemes that ignore group distinctions and use the individual as the basic unit of political representation may induce individuals to embrace a group-based notion of identity. Conversely, acknowledging group distinctions by using the group as a unit of political representation may induce individuals to embrace a more universalistic conception of identity, and thus may make group distinctions less salient.

(Nod to Kevin L)

A Provocative Thought

A loyal reader sends the following email:

If I were President Obama, I would be hoping for a Republican takeover of Congress in the 2010 elections. And not just any takeover, but a takeover by hard-core fiscal conservatives. Here's why:

(1) If the current Democrat-controlled Congress cannot pass Obama's core agenda before the 2010 elections, then it probably never will, especially in the context of persistent deficits. Meanwhile, as pundits have noted before, it's hard to blame the other party for policy outcomes when the other party has very little power.

(2) If, as I (and others like Niall Ferguson, Richard Haass, and Fareed Zakaria) fear, we may be entering a Dark Age of the modern era -- a decades long period of stagnation and retrenchment -- then our best hope is to accelerate the timeframe for a wholesale, draconian reinvention of the social contract. This, in turn, requires precipitating a fundamental political crisis, and it seems like the best chance for this in the near term is a no-holds-barred government-shutdown battle after a
fiscal-conservative sweep in the 2010 elections.

This is quite an interesting thought. And, it is precisely for an analogous reason that I am glad that the Prez and Congress are both Dem-controlled. I think they WILL pass the Obama program. And I think that THAT will cause a government shutdown battle, because of the deficit and huge new taxes that will be "required" (always, this "required" thing, for tyranny).

Either way, not an optimistic view....

Wisdom and Ethics

The Wisdom of Many in One Mind: Improving Individual Judgments With
Dialectical Bootstrapping

Stefan Herzog & Ralph Hertwig
Psychological Science, February 2009, Pages 231-237

The "wisdom of crowds" in making judgments about the future or other unknown events is well established. The average quantitative estimate of a group of individuals is consistently more accurate than the typical estimate, and is sometimes even the best estimate. Although individuals' estimates may be riddled with errors, averaging them boosts accuracy because both systematic and random errors tend to cancel out across individuals. We propose exploiting the power of averaging to improve estimates generated by a single person by using an approach we call dialectical bootstrapping. Specifically, it should be possible to reduce a person's error by averaging his or her first estimate with a second one that harks back to somewhat different knowledge. We derive conditions under which dialectical bootstrapping fosters accuracy and provide an empirical demonstration that its benefits go
beyond reliability gains. A single mind can thus simulate the wisdom of many.


No Harm, No Foul: The Outcome Bias in Ethical Judgments

Francesca Gino, Don Moore & Max Bazerman Harvard Working Paper, April 2009

We present six studies demonstrating that outcome information biases ethical judgments of others' ethically-questionable behaviors. In particular, we show that the same behaviors produce more ethical condemnation when they happen to produce bad rather than good outcomes, even if the outcomes are determined by chance. Our studies show that individuals judge behaviors as less ethical, more blameworthy, and punish them more harshly, when such behaviors led to undesirable consequences, even if they saw those behaviors as acceptable before they knew its consequences. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that a rational, analytic mindset can override the effects of one's intuitions in ethical judgments. Implications for both research and practice are discussed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Opinion and Persuasion

Can you imagine Lee Epstein and Richard Posner in the same room.

Nope. I can't.

Inferring the Winning Party in the Supreme Court from the Pattern of Questioning at Oral Argument

Lee Epstein, William Landes & Richard Posner University of Chicago Working
Paper, May 2009

Chief Justice John Roberts, and others, have noticed that the lawyer in an oral argument in the Supreme Court who is asked more questions than his opponent is likely to lose the case. This paper provides rigorous statistical tests of that hypothesis and of the related hypothesis that the number of words per question asked, as distinct from just the number of questions asked, also predicts the outcome of the case. We explore the theoretical basis for these hypotheses. Our analysis casts light on competing theories of judicial behavior, which we call the 'legalistic' and the 'realistic.' In the former, the questioning of counsel is a search for truth; in the latter, it is a strategy for influencing colleagues. Our
analysis helps to distinguish between these hypotheses by relating questioning practices to the individual Justice’s ideology and to the role of a 'swing' Justice.


Strategies for Revising Judgment: How (and How Well) People Use Others'

Jack Soll & Richard Larrick
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, May
2009, Pages 780-805

A basic issue in social influence is how best to change one's judgment in response to learning the opinions of others. This article examines the strategies that people use to revise their quantitative estimates on the basis of the estimates of another person. The authors note that people tend to use 2 basic strategies when revising estimates: choosing between the 2 estimates and averaging them. The authors developed the probability, accuracy, redundancy (PAR) model to examine the relative effectiveness of these two strategies across judgment environments. A surprising result was that averaging was the more effective strategy across a wide range of commonly encountered environments. The authors observed that despite this finding, people tend to favor the choosing strategy. Most participants in these studies would have achieved greater accuracy had they always averaged. The identification of intuitive strategies, along with a formal analysis of when they are accurate, provides a basis for examining how effectively people use the judgments of others. Although a portfolio of strategies that includes averaging and choosing can be highly effective, the authors argue that people are not generally well adapted to the environment in terms of strategy selection.

Confidence and Overconfidence

This is interesting. I have always been overconfident. In fact, I brag about my skills at tasks that I actually know I am not very good at. (Ask Angus about the Putt-Putt incident, which is just one of many...)

Now I find out I can blame my dad? Excellent.

Forgetting We Forget: Overconfidence and Memory

Keith Marzilli Ericson
Harvard Working Paper, February 2009

Do individuals have unbiased beliefs, or are they over- or underconfident? Overconfident individuals may fail to prepare optimally for the future, and economists who infer preferences from behavior under the assumption of unbiased beliefs will make mistaken inferences. This paper documents overconfidence in a new domain, prospective memory, using an experimental design that is more robust to potential confounds than previous research. Subjects chose between smaller automatic payments and larger payments they had to remember to claim at a six-month delay. In a large sample of college and MBA students at two different universities, subjects make choices that imply a forecast of a 76% claim rate, but only 53% of subjects actually claimed the payment.


Heritability of Overconfidence

David Cesarini, Magnus Johannesson, Paul Lichtenstein & Björn Wallace
Journal of the European Economic Association, April 2009, Pages 617-627

Empirical evidence suggests that people on average overestimate their own ability in a variety of circumstances. Little is known, however, about the origins of such overconfidence. To shed some light on this issue, we use the classic twin design to estimate the genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in overconfidence. We collect data on overconfidence among 460 twin pairs. Overconfidence is measured as the difference between the perceived and actual rank in cognitive ability. Cognitive ability is measured using a 20-minute test of general intelligence. We find a highly significant joint effect of genes and common environment, but our estimates of the relative contributions of genetic and common environmental variation are less precise. According to our point estimates, genetic differences explain 16–34% of the variation in overconfidence depending on the definition of overconfidence used and common environmental differences explain 5–11%.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Problem with being an Economist....

So...Monday morning this week. We are in Paris, ready to go out for a big day. We get up, breakfast hearty at the hotel buffet (croissants....yum. Coffee, yogurt, fruit...a fine start).

And then we go out to try to catch a taxi. Now, it is June, which means tourists, and it is raining hard. We wait for a taxi for 20 minutes, at the taxi stand. Two other people are in front of us in line. One leaves, giving up. We decide to try to take the Metro. But after walking 30 meters, a taxi stops when we wave!

We start to get in. But I look back, and the woman who had been ahead of us in line (I would guess she was 70) has taken two steps toward us, and is now standing, staring. We can't seriously be going to steal a taxi from an old woman, right? On a rainy day? The LMM, who has gotten into the cab, gets out, leaving the door open for the lady. I wave to her, and the woman smiles and walks quickly over. She nods to acknowledge the gesture. All fine. Except that:

1. The cab driver pulls up, after the lady gets in. He rolls down his window, and yells at my wife for leaving the door open. The LMM is just mystified, as am I. I guess I don't expect credit for doing the right thing, and letting the other lady take the cab. But to get yelled at? True, leaving the door open meant he couldn't take off. But that's his problem. And, the elderly woman did in fact get into the cab, through that very open door. And it wasn't raining that hard.

2. We are still stuck, cabless, in the rain. And the rain started to pick up. It is pretty miserable. How can the city be so messed up, that there aren't enough cabs? We have been waiting now for 30 minutes, and have pressed the "call" button a dozen times! This is obviously a poorly thought out system. We shouldn't have to fight with old ladies over taxis. There should be enough taxis. Clearly a market failure.

(Now, the problem with being an economist....)

The downside of understanding economics is that I know the truth. This is NOT a poorly thought out system, and it is not a market failure. It is a peak load problem. There couldn't possibly be enough profitable ride-fare opportunities to pay the average costs of enough taxis to satisfy demand on a rainy summer day in Paris. Many people in the city will be taking taxis, and of course all the Americans who are afraid of the Metro will be taking taxis, also. The answer is: Get....on..... the....Metro. It is underground, it is fast, and it goes everywhere. And if you say, "But I'd rather take a taxi," that's fine, but you have to recognize that since taxis are not allowed to raise their rates on rainy days there can't be, and normatively SHOULD not be, enough taxis to satisfy demand. Some other rationing mechanism (in this case queuing) has to take over.

So, I couldn't even complain. The Paris transport system is perfectly rational, if you accept the large subsidy that goest to Metro as rational. Darn it, nothing to whine about. I hate it when there is nothing to whine about.

Choosing "By the Bean"

An election tie is broken in Arizona.....

Had a great discussion in class the other day (my man, and frequenter commenter, Martin can attest to this) on the possibility, and perhaps even value, of random selection in politics.

The Greeks did it. Aristophanes mentions it in "The Birds," in fact. Plutarch mentions it also. Ditto Thucydides. Choosing "by the bean" was common.

The bad thing about choice by lot is that the elected official might not do what voters want. And the good thing, of course, is that the elected official might not take public money to do what some voters want.

(nod to RL)

Sixth Grade Photo

Just saw my sixth grade photo on Facebook. (Thanks, Jan S!)I'm the really handsome guy, orange shirt, back row, fourth from the left. Sorry, ladies (and guys), I'm already married.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The WHOLE book?"

I do have to mention that last week I asked my students in the "American Political Thought" course here in Erlangen to read all of the Thomas Paine's COMMON SENSE, and be ready to discuss it.

And one of the students actually said, "The WHOLE thing?"

COMMON SENSE is about 40 pages, if you print it in large type with generous borders.

Yes. The WHOLE thing. Lordy.

To be fair, there is clearly a different system here. The professor summarizes, argues, presents. The students read on their own. The idea that reading is required for class is apparently a bit unusual.


Two Days in Paris: TOO tiring

And probably dumb. We were there from Sunday evening (arriving 4:30 pm at the Paris Gare Est train station) through Wednesday morning (8:30 am flight out of Orly, on Air Berlin).

I have to go teach. So I can't really blog now.

But, if you want to know a restaurant that you might otherwise miss, may I suggest La Gitane. If you are a kidneys fan, I'd suggest the "Rognons de veau en cocotte." Remarkable. The YYM ordered grilled pig's trotter, but they were out already. Apparently they ran out at lunch. The old guys wait for grilled pig's foot day, every Tuesday, and chow down.

You have to have the onion soup. Embarrassing, but you have to. Such a naive tourist thing to order. But I have to give La Gitane credit. They did NOT do the usual horrible thing of an inch of cheese, roasted like a pizza. The onion soup was about....onions. Incredibly hot, very tasty, just enough bread and cheese to give a contrast.

And, though the restaurant emphasizes "Tradition," and "Cuisine bourgeoise," they were EXTREMELY willing to redo menu items to work with the LMM. The LMM is one of those, "I'd like a cheeseburger with fries. Hold the cheese, meat, bun, pickle. Oh, and hold the fries, too. Can you just give me some steamed broccoli, with tomatoes?" In other words, she rewrites the menu.

But the guy at La Gitane, though they were OUTRAGEOUSLY busy, was both patient and helpful, delivering a very pretty plate of steamed and sauteed vegetables that was nowhere on the menu. They added turnips, and green beans, and a fine large portion. The LMM was well pleased, though disgusted that I ate kidneys.

The desserts were extremely generous, and genuinely beautiful. Bringing them out elicited streams of French from cusomers (many of whom seemed local regulars), but I can recognize "Oh yes, Oh yes!" when I hear it.

La Gitane is on the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet (53) (that's the Motte Picquet Grenelle Metro stop, on the 6 or 8 trains, and it's close to other lines also), just west of the Ecole Militaire, at the south end of the Champs du Mars. So, if you are sick of the Tour Eiffel, have a seat and have some country food in the city. And have a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, at a sidewalk cafe. La Gitane is not cheap, but it is hardly expensive (30 Euro per person, if you have drinks or dessert, less if you are frugal). Much better than the other sort of tourist places we ate at. And of course the unintentional street theater is always worth looking at.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Paris: Rain, Rain, Go Away

It was a rainy night in Paris
And I'm sittin' by the Seine
It's a pleasure to be soaking in
the European rain

And my belly's full of fancy food and wine
But I know that it's going to get me
Somewhere down the line

(Thanks to Billy Joel for that intro!)

Second day in Paris. Yesterday hotter than HADES. Nearly 30 c, muggy, dirty feeling, polluted. Not a good intro to the city of lights.

Took the ICE from Frankfurt; the cool thing about the ICE in France is that it HAULS ASS. 280km / hour plus. That is some moving your hiney down the road. From Saarbrucken to Paris is half the trip in terms of distance. In fact, MORE than half. But much much less than half the time.

We got into the Paris Est stop, and took a taxi. I swear I was questioning the whole decision to visit, for the first two kilometers. Not a good neighborhood, nothing there that says, "NOW you are in just the place you want to be." In fact, it was more like "NOW you are in a third world country with no traffic laws and little chance of escaping with your property intact."

Mr. Taxi man was defending us pretty well, though. Using the "French emergency brake" (ie, the horn) liberally, he got us out into busy traffic by the simple expedient of....simply pulling out into traffic. It is true that this show of bravado did cause traffic to stop, at the cost of many Commodore Hornblowers attacking us broadside. But our Mr. Taxi was unmoved...literally. He waited until there was an inch, and took a mile. And we were off, down footpaths and goatpaths.

We got to our hotel, after learning that the idea of "stop" and "lane" have not really arrived in Paris. Not that we were complaining, since we were big fans of the "getting out" idea. And, when we did get out, we found our hotel was....odd.

But that is a story for tomorrow. Tomorrow is the rainiest day in the history of the world. Or at least the rainiest day this month.