Saturday, October 03, 2009

Here we go again

Why do so many people think that economic progress is some kind of zero sum game?

Here is a recent NY Times article about the size of the Japanese and Chinese economies.

The headline is "Chinese economic juggernaut is gaining on Japan" and the first sentence reads: "For years, Japan as been readying itself for the day that it is eclipsed economically by China."

Here is some more:

 ..many economists expect Japan to cede its rank as the world’s second-largest economy sometime next year, as much as five years earlier than previously forecast.

At stake are more than regional bragging rights: the reversal of fortune will bring an end to a global economic order that has prevailed for 40 years, with ramifications across arenas from trade and diplomacy to, potentially, military power.

China’s rise could accelerate Japan’s economic decline ...

From there it gets downright funny:

China has also surpassed Japan in having the biggest trade surplus and foreign currency reserves, as well as the highest steel production. And next year, China could overtake Japan as the largest automobile producer.

To be fair, there is a flash of sanity near the end of the piece:

Some economists say Japan does not need to fear its neighbor. China became Japan’s largest trading partner in 2006, and China-bound exports were among the first to show signs of recovery in the recent slump. As the global auto market stagnates, carmakers like Toyota and Nissan are making a renewed play for the Chinese market.

Indeed.

People, the UK, France and Germany all seem to have survived being "surpassed" by China.  They probably didn't even notice. 

Further, even if China doubled its current GDP, where would you rather live, in Japan or in China? For me that is a no-brainer. Japan would still be massively richer than a doubled GDP China, have better infrastructure, less pollution, and more freedom. 

China's rise is undeniable, but it is still a very poor country with a long way to go. And the mere fact that China is rising does not mean that others have to be falling.



Friday, October 02, 2009

A Fine Zombie Cartoon From Bizarro

The Lovely Ms. Mungowitz saved this for me, in the funnies. And now I share it with YOU.


And this is not a bad followup, by the way.

Dumbest Ads--College Edition

Here are some pretty amazing, and unintenionally funny, ads I have received via email in the last couple of weeks....

1. Don't miss a remarkable opportunity taking place in Raleigh, North Carolina in April, 2010. Hundreds of educators across disciplines will come together at the 2010 On Course National Conference (http://www.oncourseworkshop.com/Conference.htm) offered on April 8-10, 2010. Featured keynote speaker Ann Hermann (CEO of Hermann International) will present an invigorating opening session on brain-based thinking and learning styles.

Brain-based thinking? Really? That WILL be invigorating....

2. The Department of Politics and Geography at Coastal Carolina University is accepting applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of Associate Professor. Appointment effective August 16, 2010. Successful candidate must be able to create, implement, and direct a new B.A. in Intelligence and National Security. Ph.D. is preferred, but an M.A. or J.D. with relevant experience will be considered.

So, they would prefer a PhD to be in charge of a program on intelligence, but they'll also consider a lawyer. (Nod to RL)

3. Seton Hill University seeks Assistant Professor of Political Science for tenure-track position starting August 2010. The faculty member will teach a range of courses throughout the discipline, including Comparative Politics and International Relations, as well as methodology and other courses in undergraduate Political Science. Ph.D. required. Background or teaching experience in genocide and/or Non-Western area studies desirable.

Background in genocide??!?! (And, yes, there is a "Seton Hill U") (Nod to RL)

Newsflash: Lula + Pele >> Obama + Oprah

In a stunner, Chicago was the first of the final four cities to eliminated from hosting the 2016 Olympics despite the presence of President O and mega-entrepeneur O (Oprah). The winner was Rio, championed by Brazil's President Lula and soccer immortal Pele.

Ouch.

Earlier in the week, Pele called out Michael Jordan for not going with the US delegation to lobby for Chicago and maybe he was right?

In the byzantine world of Olympic politics, Obama is somehow being faulted for not have spent enough time on task:

Chicago had long been seen as a front-runner and got the highest possible level of support — from President Barack Obama himself. But he only spent a few hours in the Danish capital where the vote was held and left before the result was announced. Former IOC member Kai Holm said that the brevity of his appearance may have counted against him.

The short stopover was "too business-like," Holm said. "It can be that some IOC members see it as a lack of respect."

That's funny, because, if anything, I would fault him for going and doing this in the first place.



Roamin' Polanski

Ken presents an argument from Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques, which I found appalling, amusing, and not surprising.

Ken does a fine job discussing the merits, and assumptions, of the Société.

And, as we should all see clearly, this is an excellent opportunity. All we need now is persuade Dick Cheney to make a trip to Switzerland. I know! The SACD can offer to give him an award.....

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Angus plays games

Wow! We just got the Wii motion plus thingie and EA sports Grand Slam Tennis. It is way cool. The EA game with motion plus completely destroys the tennis game that came in the original Wii sports package. I haven't figured out how to serve fast, but you can come to net, put spin on the ball and really place your shots on the court with a precision and realism that was lacking in the original Wii tennis game. 

I am hacked though because Chris F. Evert beat me in a tie-breaker on my maiden match with the EA game!

Just comparing original tennis to the new tennis with motion plus, it is an entirely different game and experience. Way way better. A huge upgrade.

Close to you, part two

Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?




Why do stars fall down from the sky, every time you walk by?





Just like me, they long to be, close to you.





On the day that you were born, the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true....

Cool Beans

One of the greatest American bands, Spoon, are releasing their first four albums for digital downloading in multiple formats ("premium" MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless) with extra stuff included. Albums are available individually or in increasingly grandiose packages. If you don't have these works, or only have crappy MP3s of these works, I highly recommend getting them. Note that they do cost money though!

Besides being great musical artists, the band apparently are savvy bidnessmen as well. This download stuff is coming from spoontheband.com, so I guess they have gotten control of their own back catalog.

Here is an earlier KPC post about Spoon.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TMIMITW

The Most Interesting Man in the World.... "He's been known to cure narcolepsy just by walking into a room. His organ donation card also lists his beard. He's a lover, not a fighter, but he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas."

Craig Newmark links to this amusing roundup.

47% Pay No Federal Taxes!

From CNN....47% of American pay ZERO federal taxes.

A number of people have emailed me asking if this makes me mad.

Answer: No, not really. But I think this benefit of zero taxes ought to be extended to the other 53%. THEN you're talking. For now, here is the breakdown....
Percent AGI / Percent of total fed tax revenues
Top 1% 40.42
Top 5% 60.63
Top 10% 71.22
Top 25% 86.59

So, 15 million Americans (including Angus and me) are paying for 61% of all the foreign misadventures and cluster firetrucks of our government. You are welcome, all you deadbeats!

Part of the problem is that all the government programs, ALL of them, are being paid for by a small number of productive people. But the bigger problem is many of the "government programs" involve using my money to go kill civilians and poor people in other countries.

Stop doing that, Mr. Obama. Just stop it. (Yes, we complained about Mr. Bush, also...so shut up)

Is Thomas Friedman "the stupidest man alive" ?

Well he certainly has stiff competition (most notably Donald Luskin (see here and here), but this NY Times column puts Sir Thomas directly in the running.

His argument is that "Red China has decided to become Green China" and since (according to him) going green is a zero sum game, they are going to bury stupid dumb corrupt America under a green on red avalanche:

Unfortunately, we’re still not racing. It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star. Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we’re always No. 1...

There are, as you might imagine, a few problems with his argument. First off, he has no evidence that China has actually decided to go green. He mentions exactly two things. (1) An American "solar equipment maker" has opened a research center in China, and (2) A Chinese solar panel manufacturer told him that the party secretary of the town where the company is located told the Chinese business man that he wanted the party to support the business.

Oh my!


Even dumber than the notion that China, the world's biggest polluter, has gone green is the notion that going green is a zero sum competition. Friedman doesn't even try to argue for this point, he simply assumes it as self evident.

Friedman does find another idiot to quote here:

“If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they’ll win,” says David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy.

Oh my!

He then concludes, in classic stupidest man fashion, by completely undercutting his argument:

Of course, China will continue to grow with cheap, dirty coal, to arrest over-eager environmentalists and to strip African forests for wood and minerals. Have no doubt about that. But have no doubt either that, without declaring it, China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. We ignore it at our peril.

My conclusion: Thomas Friedman is a prime challenger for the position of stupidest man alive. We ignore him at our comedic peril.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jaa-Jaa

People, I have been asleep at the switch, out of the loop, up the proverbial creek. Did you know that there has been an Ong Bak II out for a while now

Me neither.

It is going to be released in some theatres in the States on October 23rd according to Yahoo Movies.

Even better, Ong Bak III is supposedly in production now too.

Tony Jaa is an amazing martial artist. I loved the original Ong Bak, even though it made little to no sense.

There is an awesome sequence in the Ong Bak II trailer (viewable from the Yahoo Movie link above) where Jaa runs up the front of an elephant, does a back flip and kicks the bejesus out of a bad guy on his way down.

Sweet!


The unholy trinity of health care reform

I actually think we are going to get a reform that is both worse than the status quo and worse than a pure single payer system. 

Kudos to our Congress!

As I understand it, insurance companies will not be able to refuse to cover some one, nor will they be able to charge high risk people a premium that reflects their risk. The price won't be uniform, but the maximum variation will be well below what it would take to correctly price the variation in risks.

As I noted before, this will make premiums for healthy people extra high. And as the WSJ pointed out yesterday, at least on the margin, it will make healthy people want to hold off from getting any insurance until they are actually sick. 

Problem solved, you say?

Ahh, but now it appears that the third leg of the trinity will be rule that it will be illegal to not have insurance!

So young healthy people will be forced to buy way overpriced (relative to their risk) insurance. Plus if said young healthy people make good money, they can look forward to paying more taxes to subsidize the purchase of said insurance by others.

Guaranteed Issue, Community Rating, Individual Mandate.  They sound so reasonable and innocuous, but they are freakin' lethal.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Caplan's Libertarian Quiz: Redux

So, some time ago I took Bryan C's "Libertarian Purity Quiz." (to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, if you care more about testing purity than about actually affecting policy in the world....you MIGHT be a Libertarian). As I noted then, I got a 54.

Took the test again. This time, 66. George Bush, you did this to me. I have jumped up more than 10 "purity percentiles" in a little less than four years.

Germany to the Left: NaNaNAHNa, Hey-Hey-Hey--Goodbye!

Wow. The German electorate spanked the parties of the left in the election yesterday.

Here was the final poll, not quite two weeks ago: And now for the actual results:
CDU--34%
SPD--23%
FDP--15%
Green--10%
Linke (Left)--12%
(Other--5%)

Some interesting things:

1. D-land's next foreign minister will likely be FDP head Guido Westerwelle. This may be the highest world office ever held by an openly gay person. And that's part of the reason I like the FDP, even if they are sort of fuddy-duddy. They are pro-market, want to cut spending, and actually walk the walk when it comes to libertarian principles on sexual freedom.

2. That pompous ass Steinmeier got reamed. SPD should fire him. But SPD should fire a lot of people. They got smashed. Just smashed.

3. Oskar Lafontaine, with his ridiculous move to Der (correction: Die) Linke in 1999.... what now, dude?

4. Germany: A fundamental realignment? Will the US go the same way in 2010? Perhaps Obama really IS the best cure for what is wrong with the Repubs, by reminding us what nut jobs the Lefty Dems are?

5. Turnout in this race was historically low, just over 70%. That's way, way down. Fact is, nobody cares very much. That's how Angus and I like it: if politics becomes boring, because we all know that ALL the parties are corrupt, and government is incapable of doing anything but harm, the world would be a better place.

One more thing, though: Much of the "promise," such as it was, that got the CDU/CSU /FDP coalition into power is "We are going to cut taxes." Folks, deficits are future taxes, it's just that simple. If you don't cut spending, then tax cuts are actually tax increases on the future. If the new German government does not come to grips with the "gimme other peoples' money" mentality that has come to dominate German society, then the tax cut approach (already discredited by the Busholistas) will be disastrous.

Zombie Movies: An Appreciation of Slow

Had dinner Friday night l'etoile, here in Charlottesville. (Yes, I had the sweetmeats. Yum....lamb balls). Since Loren Lomasky was paying, we all did serious work in terms of wine and food. (Thanks Loren! And, to be fair, your "work" was more serious than any of ours. Well done, grabbing the full wine bottle from the waiter's hand and hugging to yourself, so it became, as you shrieked, "Mine! My baby. Mine.")

Anyway, at dinner we had the sort of excellent analytic conversation that often happens when you get academics and terrific wine together. I happened to be sitting across from Garrett Fagan, a truly capital fellow, a classicist from Ireland, now at Penn State. Kudos also to Ben P and Rachana K, though I won't "out" them completely.

Here is the question: what makes for a great zombie movie? What are the classes of zombie movies, and how are they distinguished from other similar, but non-zombie, movies? Dr. Fagan was clearly the smartest person at the table, since his knowledge of zombies revealed a deeply troubled mind, but the classification scheme we all came up with is important enough to share.

1. Most movies where baddie status is irrevocably conferred by being bitten by a baddie are NOT zombie movies. Obviously, this is true for vampire and werewolf movies (if a vampire bites you, you become a vampire, not a zombie), but it is even true for "almost zombie" movies like "28 Days Later." The point is that 28 Days Later, though a scary movie where the baddies all want to bite the remaining people, is simply not a zombie movie. Nonetheless, any true zombie movies must have biting-baddies. Necessary but not sufficient. That's the conclusion of the assembled worthies.

2. All true zombie movies require putrefaction, and severe mutilation of the zombie bodies. The advantage of this, in addition to be being visually horrifying, is that it introduces idiosyncratic locomotion and gestures. One zombie might be pulling himself along, because his legs are gone. Another limps and shuffles in a rotation way, because all the flesh is gone from one leg, and the opposite shoulder has been torn off, so that he has trouble keeping balance. Further character differentiation occurs because, though putrefaction occurs at a constant rate, the start time for putrefaction is the "death" of the human the zombie used to be. Thus, some zombies are relatively fresh and only slightly sour-smelling. Others are truly rotten, with pieces falling off just because the worms have crawled in, the worms have crawled out, the worms have played pinochle in his snout.

3. In all true zombie movies, the zombies are slow. No, don't argue, you are wrong. ZOMBIES. ARE. SLOW. There are scary, putrid sickness-acquired-by- biting-afflicted things in movies that are not zombies, because they are fast. Saying "I like fast zombies" is like saying "Zima is my favorite beer." Now, you are welcome to like Zima.^1 But Zima is not beer. Our table-jury was split on the question of whether slow thinking was sufficient. Garrett and I held out for the pure "slow means slow!" position, based on #2 above. How could something with no flesh below the knee be fast? Please. And, of course, since my authority is limited on these questions of...well, authority, I appeal to a real authority, none other than Simon Pegg, of "Shaun of the Dead" fame, who wrote this.

4. In the best zombie movies (and, yes, Day of the Dead, the 1985 Romero version, is THE best zombie movie, and if you don't think so you are likely not enough of a zombie fan to have read this far in the first place) actually teach you something about zombies.
a. What do they want? (they want to bite and eat human flesh)
b. Will other kinds of flesh satisfy, or at least distract them? (no. dead animals, pieces of dead humans, or even live animals will not distract zombies in the least. They want living human flesh, and they are drawn irresistably, though slowly, to human flesh.)
c. Does human flesh somehow sustain, or strengthen, zombies? In the strictest sense, no. Zombies do not digest, or derive satisfaction, or even really notice, human flesh. Zombies simply MUST draw close and bite. That's how they roll. Or shuffle.

5. Edged weapons, rocks, even physical blows....all of these are NOT part of the true zombie arsenal, though many of these will be used by the doomed human defenders. A real zombie movie is absolutely obliged to restrict its horror to exactly one kind of attack: overwhelming (in fact, limitless) numbers of slow-moving, silent, putrefying zombies shuffle toward the victim. The victim kills thousands, using every weapon, garden shears, or table leg that is close to hand. But ultimately the victim is overwhelmed, and is consumed or becomes a zombie (either outcome, after a spirited discussion at table, was deemed acceptable.)

An excellent review of some more serious literature on zombie movies here.

FURTHER READING, for newbies:
Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, by Annalee Newitz, Durham: Duke University Press, 183 pages, $21.95
Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema, by Jamie Russell, Surrey: FAB Press, 309 pages, $29.95
The Dominion of the Dead, by Robert Pogue Harrison, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 159 pages, $14
World War Z, by Max Brooks, New York: Random House, $14.95
Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, New York: Random House, $17.00 (to be published in early October!)

LAGNIAPPE: Red Dawn is NOT a zombie movie. It is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies ever made, and it was Patrick Swayze's second movie (1 was "Outsiders"). But the band of renegade teenagers are MUCH too stupid to be real zombies. And zombies cannot shout, "WOLVERINES!" (WOW! Jennifer Grey, or "Baby" from Dirty Dancing, was also in Red Dawn. I did not know that...And, yes, Dirty Dancing WAS in fact a zombie movie.)

^1: I lied. No, you aren't.

UPDATE: Thanks to the commenter for pointing out I am an idiot, and linked Zima when I said "Day of the Dead." But, I submit that "Zimaroll" has considerable potential, now that "Rickrolling" is such a tired cliche. (No, I will not link a Rickroll)

UPDATE II: This, in commments, from Alex Zarley: An excellent new zombie movie, although it is in Greek (doesnt really take anything away from movie because dialogue isnt that essential in them), is to kako (the evil). The sequel, Evil in the time of heroes, a zombie movie that takes place in ancient greece starring billy zane, is due for release in Greece October 1. Alex: You are SO RIGHT! So, watch for To Kako II.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

redefining excellence


The Cards have clinched and A-poo has locked up the MVP. Life is good for me and Mungowitz.  We went to a lot of Cardinal games during our grad school summers, sitting in the uber-cheap left field bleachers, smoking cigars and chanting bad things about the people in the right field bleachers, all the while wondering if we would pass our exams, finish our theses, and obtain gainful employment (depending on the year).

This NY Times article proposes changing the definition of what it means to win the triple crown and talks about what a great year Prince Albert is having:


"If the Triple Crown tips a cap to the singular season, then attention must be paid to Pujols, who entered Saturday leading the National League home run race (with 47); third in R.B.I. (129); and first in OBP (.447). His .331 batting average was second to Hanley Ramirez’s .351."