Sunday, February 07, 2010

Corruption: Munger Investigated!

I feel SO SPECIAL. My campaign for governor is being investigated by a special inquiry of the State Board of Elections. I have FINALLY arrived as a real politician.

Governor "I am Easley the most corrupt governor in NC history" has decided to offer a defense to the charge that he routinely accepted illegal, unreported free private air travel as if it were a perq of office. And having the Highway Patrol "lose" the records of sending troopers to accompany Easley on these secret trips.

Here is an interesting video on the lead-up, and the charges against Ruffin Poole, head thug in charge for the Easley admin.

My main man, Don Carrington, was the one who broke, and has followed, the "Air Easley" story.

So, Easley's defense? Three Republican goob candidates did it, too! (My mom: "If someone else accepts illegal air travel, you would do it, too?" Or something like that).

Anyway, the state board of elections sent me a letter, on real letterhead, with a signature from an actual person, demanding all my campaign travel records! I am suspected of having received illegal contributions of air travel, on private jets!


I'm already planning for my perp walk video. What goes better with steel handcuffs, the grey pinstripe, or the dark charcoal, suit?

Except... that I don't have friends who have private jets. Not all of my friends have private cars. Every bit of travel for the campaign was in my OWN car, and I paid for my own gas.

Still, it is flattering to think that a Libertarian candidate might be the target of bribes from corporations. Implausible, since my platform was to END the payoffs and corporate welfare that those blood-sucking, rent-seeking leeches depend on. But flattering nonetheless.

Ezra Klein Asks For Something He Already Has!

Ezra Klein has his silk prancing pony boxers in a slip knot over the following:

"No single vote by any single senator could possibly illustrate everything that is wrong with Washington today," writes Fred Hiatt. "No single vote could embody the full cynicism and cowardice of our political elite at its worst, or explain by itself why problems do not get solved." But, as he says, Mitch McConnell's vote against the Conrad-Gregg deficit commission came pretty close.

McConnell wasn't some closet supporter of the proposal. He was a constant advocate. Here he is last May, for instance: "As I have said many times before, the best way to address the crisis is the Conrad-Gregg proposal." But when it came up for a vote last week, McConnell filibustered it. Asked for an explanation, McConnell offered some nonsense about how people serious about getting the debt under control should have opposed the stimulus. Yawn. If he's not going to try to offer a coherent explanation, I'm not going to bother with a detailed rebuttal.

The issue here isn't whether McConnell is a disingenuous opportunist. That goes without saying. What I'd like to see, however, is for people to begin predicting this sort of behavior rather than being surprised by it.
ATSRTWT

Golly, Ezra! If only there were....something....call it "Public Choice" theory. There could even be a journal to study this sort of thing. If only there were a university, perhaps one in the DC metro area, that taught Public Choice theory. Let's make one up, and call it "George Mason." If only there were think tanks.... call them "Mercatus" and "Cato"... that publish dozens of articles and monographs every year taking EXACTLY the perspective that Mr. Klein appears to believe he has originated.

Public Choice: Predicting self interest since 1964.

(Nod to Tony V., who is not surprised)

Best Birth Control: Obstinance Training?

Study finds focus on abstinence in sex-ed classes can delay sexual activity
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010; 4:35 PM

"Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases...The study released Monday involved 662 African American students from four public middle schools in a city in the Northeastern United States. It was conducted between 2001 and 2004. Students were randomly assigned to go through one of the following: an eight-hour curriculum that encouraged them to delay having sex; an eight-hour program focused on teaching safe sex; an eight- or 12-hour program that did both; or an eight-hour program focused on teaching them other ways to be healthy, such as eating well and exercising...Over the next two years, about 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex, compared with about 52 percent who were taught only safe sex. About 42 percent of the students who went through the comprehensive program started having sex, and about 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy did. The abstinence program had no negative effects on condom use, which has been a major criticism of the abstinence approach." [WaPo]


Journal reference for article cited in WaPo....

(Nod to Kevin L)

(Update: Yes, the title is intentional)

Obviamente

Binge drinking can hurt grade performance, study says.

Next up: over-eating can cause weight gain....

(Nod to Angry Alex)

(UPDATE: On the "that's why they play the game!" front, it has been pointed out that in fact the relation is NOT obvious, if one actually READS THE ARTICLE. So, does that mean I can overeat!?)

Easy to Explain

There's nothing confusing about this outrage. The job of "health inspectors," and in fact the job of all government regulation, is to protect the politically and economically powerful. In this case, restaurants that use expensive prepared foods made in factories from low-nutrition sources need protection from the little people who might actually use fresh, nutritious food. We can't have THAT, right? Excerpt:

One mom prepares hundreds of pounds of frozen fruit. The Chicago Department of Public Health says she doesn't have the correct license to make it into candy and sell it. Can she still give it to her son? Not in Chicago.

In a sad struggle that unfolded in a West Town kitchen Thursday night, Department of Health inspectors seized, slashed open and poured bleach over thousands of dollars of local peaches, pears, raspberry and plum purees owned by pastry chef Flora Lazar. She'd purchased the fruit from Green City Market farmers last summer and had planned to use it to make local fruit gelees for her business, Flora Confections.

More than $1,000 of food owned by the Sunday Dinner Club caterers was also destroyed by health department inspectors.

Inspectors cited no health problems with any of the food. They even encouraged Lazar's son to eat the confiscated granola bars from Sunday Dinner Club. They only said the food was prepared by chefs who didn't have the proper business licenses to prepare and sell it. But apparently in Chicago, you also need a license to give fruit to your child.

Even after Lazar had given the cooler to her son, health department inspector Greg Nelson refused to let him keep it. Instead the inspector called the Chicago Police Department to take it away from him. When I asked the inspectors why her son couldn't take the frozen bags of fruit, Nelson said "no comment." He gave the same reply when I asked if it posed any health risk.


These regulations have nothing, NOTHING, to do with protecting consumers. They are designed to protect campaign-contributing producers, and preserve the economic hegemony of corporations. There's no mystery here, except the mystery of why people think health inspectors are here to help them. ATSRTWT (Nod to MJE)

Cuisine: A Problem?

Interesting controversy. If the idea of "soul food" has any meaning, then it can't be inappropriate for Black History month.

On the other hand, it is such a stereotype, I can see why people might be upset. Anyway, a kerfuffle. Make sure and watch the short video by the cook who chose the menu that day.

Some interesting background, on a MLK day menu, and history.

"Elon James White, on the timely, "Look, I really like watermelon. But don't offer me any" question..." (I like the part where Elon admits he is afraid of Melissa Harris Lacewell, a friend of mine, and a fine Duke PhD). (And, I had to watch the whole TWIB video twice. It is extremely funny. You'll see.)

As for the issue: It's complicated.

(Nod to Angry Alex)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Scott Brown Commercial

One of Brown's commercials from the Mass Senate race.

The LMM was disappointed. She was hoping to see Scott Brown in a Speedo, I think.

The cool thing is that the craven Mass Dems hadn't changed the law, none of this would have happened, probably. Cool. (Remember this post? Wonder how the 9:15 pm Anon commenter feels about the outcome?)

60 % Female

The EYM chose to go to UNC. This may be why...

AT has some thoughts...

(Nod to Anonyman, who never needed good odds to win)

Waffley Wedded Wife

Poor Girl, couldn't stop laughing.


A lot of women say, about men they like, "He makes me laugh." This marriage might work. He certainly makes her laugh.

Fiscal follies

Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and Paul Krugman are all beating the drums for a second stimulus, more spending, and no current fiscal re-trenchment.

Let me politely as possible say that these drumbeats have everything to do with politics and nothing much to do with economics.

(1) GDP growth has turned the corner and job growth will follow. Job growth almost always lags GDP growth coming out of a recession. According to Jeff Frankel, a member of the NBER business cycle dating committee, this recession is not unusual in that regard.

(2)  I cannot help but laugh when I read people saying the first stimulus was too small or that we need a second stimulus. People, something like $500 billion of the first stimulus (i.e. more than half) has not even been spent yet. What the first stimulus definitely was is TOO SLOW! This is not surprising because the stimulus bill enacted had a lot more to do with politics than with economics.

(3) As we look at the world scene today, the problem of excessive sovereign debt seems to be at least as big of an issue as does the problem of insufficient aggregate demand.

(4) Yes, unemployment is bad. Yes, people are out of jobs due to no fault of their own, victims of bad corporate management, short sighted unions, and financial hijinks. If we had a program that would increase employment at a cost that was less than what the people employed in the program would earn, I would have favored it a year ago.
But no matter how much evidence we see, somehow we still can't face up to the fact that, while in theory it may be possible to do so, our government as currently constituted cannot create jobs in anything resembling a cost effective manner.

(5) One of the last things we need right now is more cost-ineffective pro-cyclical fiscal policy.

 

Friday, February 05, 2010

Free Books, From Duke Press, For KPC Readers!


In recompense for my faux pas in trying to circumvent the fact that the Gillespie paper is actually PUBLISHED in a book, available for sale, let me suggest the following:

The intrepid Laura Sell has offered two free books to KPC readers! I will mail them, at my expense.

If you want to enter the drawing, just send me an email, we'll have a "draw two from the hat" day on Friday, Feb 12. And then I'll contact the winners for their addresses.

And, NO, I did not get a free book, so the FTC can just work that knot right out of their boxers/panties!

Just send me an email right now! Only one entry per customer, even if you send multiple emails. (And that goes for you, too, Angus you ballot stuffer!)

Lagniappe: Laura Sell sent a letter about those bizarre FTC rules. Interesting...

The Biggest Swinging Ambassador

Frequent Commenter* Scott writes:

I must not be caught up on your blog, because there's no way you missed this.... Well, we HAD missed that, and I don't see how. How could we miss that, Angus?

*Though here, not on this blog. As he said, he apparently doesn't READ KPC.

Anyway, I tried to find out what "An gus" means in Arabic: "That the Gus" is the answer. And that sounds right to me.

"mun go witz" is closest to "depart from witt." Wow. Right again.

Don't blame me if the translations are wrong. I got them here. It is hard to type from right to left.

And if I just spell "Mungowitz" phonetically it looks like this:

مو نجو ويت

.

Long term musical greatness

I was deep in my music collection last night playing "There's nothing wrong with love" by Built to Spill from 1994 and re-realized that the first four songs on that record are just astonishingly good. Then I realized that BTS is still good as of 2009 and never made a record that sucked. That's pretty rare, so I started trying to think of who else could fit that bill, limiting myself to American groups. Here's what I came up with:

Built to Spill
Luna
Spoon

People, that's it! That's the list!

Modest Mouse now officially sucks. 

The National has been good for a while and never made a record that sucks, but haven't done it long enough to qualify yet (they have a new album coming out soon!!), 

Neil Young was good for a long time but has gone on too long (not heeding his own advice), he's the musical equivalent of Willem de Kooning, only his family isn't destroying his late works. 

I love Guided by Voices, but I have to admit that a lot of what they did sucked. They are the musical equivalent of Picasso; lot's of very high highs but also lots of nasty lows. 

Nirvana didn't last long enough.

Who am I missing?


Sports

My man Michael Gillespie, questioning the status of sports, cited by David Brooks.

Can't find a copy of the paper on line, but here is the reference:

Michael Allen Gillespie, Players and Spectators: Sports and Ethical Training in the American University, in Debating Moral Education, edited by Elizabeth Kiss and Peter Euben (Forthcoming 2009), Duke University Press.

And if you ask nice, Michael might send you a pdf....

Thursday, February 04, 2010

beware the PIGS

The sovereign debt crisis is heating up in Europe. The so-called PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) have weak economies, very large deficits, and no national monetary policies to ease their sufferings. Many are skeptical of whether or not they can internally resolve this problem and if they can't whether the EU can or will bail them out.

It is not impossible that we are looking at the end of the Euro as we know it, as one or more of these countries may have to drop out and inflate a new national currency to get out from under their fiscal situation. I would put this probability at something like 37%.

The situation appears to be getting worse rather than better as Greek workers have started striking and Portuguese legislators appear to be thinking about increasing spending and raising rather than lowering their deficit. The Spanish stock market fell 6% today, Portugal's 5% and Greece's 3.5 %

And to think that last year I finally stopped telling my students that, despite its apparent success, it was from from obvious that the Euro would really last as it had yet to weather a major crisis.

Dinosaurs walk the earth!

While everyone has seemingly gone miniature and digital, there are still a lot of folks out there keepin' it real. Here, courtesy of the WSJ is one of them:



The article in the journal is unintentionally funny as it sets up a weird dichotomy between "$1 songs and $100 players" and "$20 CDs and $1,000 stereo systems".

People, if you are planning to spend $1000 on your home stereo, I'd suggest sticking to your iPod. Even going the used route, that is just not going to cut it. I built most of my stereo myself and even that won't get you there for $1000.

The article also implies that mp3 is the state of the art for portable digital recording which is far from the truth.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

We Get Letters: Gubmint ID Edition

A little while ago, we heard the first installment of the "No ID why yew cain't git service" saga. The second edition is even better, or worse but funnier, or something. I'll let our intrepid correspondent tell the story:


Return one week later to ID office for second attempt to pick-up new and improved gubmint standardized ID.

Me: Hi, I'm here to pick up my ID. I have a 10:30 appt (It's 10:15)

Office Drone: Have a seat, someone will call you.

(While sitting there and waiting, an employee/father asks them to register his already existing ID to work on the electronic lock at the entrance to the child care center so he can get in to drop-off and pick-up his kid. He is informed immediately (in a dismissive tone) that this is something they can not do, and they have never done it before. When he asks (rather politely) why other employees cards work on the doors, a supervisor comes over and tells employee/ father that he understands the request, but clearly they can not help him. The father (still being polite) asks them to call the child care center, who sent him there, to ask what to do. They tell him to take a seat).

45 minutes later:

OD: Why are you here?

ME: I had a 10:30 appt. (now almost 11)

OD: Who are you?

ME: Tell them I made an appt. on the on-line system to pick-up ID.

OD: We don't have your ID, so why are you here?

ME: Tell them I got an email saying to come in, show her copy of email, she tells me to follow her.

OD: Checks computer in cubicle, tells me my finger prints came back as unreadable, so you have to do them again.

ME: Why doesn't the email indicate this? It says my ID is ready.

OD: We don't control the emails that this office sends out.

ME: Putting fingers on scanner and watching prints come up on monitor: "Why didn't my electronic fingerprints work last time? Wouldn't your computer tell you if they were unreadable?"

OD: There's a glitch in the system, happens all the time.

ME: So what happens now, I did this 2 months ago?

OD: I don't know.

So I ask to see a supervisor, and following lead of employee/ father, introduce myself and explain situation and am very polite.

Super: Checks computer, says that the agency that checks the prints couldn't use them, so now back at beginning of process.

Me: What happens if these prints don't work?

Super: Then we run your name through the system instead.

Me: How long does that take?

Super: That only takes a few minutes, just a click of a button and it runs it through.

I must have had a look of absolute astonishment on my face, because after a long pause the Super sits back in her chair and sighs. She tells me that after 9/11 Homeland Security wanted to centralize the gubmint ID process, so individual federal agencies no long control it. Now it's spread out among several security agencies, and after a three year delay, and millions in costs overruns, they just started to use it. The problem is that no one knows how it's supposed to work, and as of yet it hasn't worked for anyone they've tried. So I should keep my fingers crossed and hope that someone figures it out.

I thanked her and was leaving when saw the employee/ father still sitting there. I spent remainder of the day looking for work in the private sector.


Let's put them in charge of health care!

The official state scent of Oklahoma!


We got a state bird, song, and tree, so why not a state odor?


A Little Goose is Always Nice

Okay, not always.

(Nod to the NCM)

Oh! Canada!

Our northern neighbors are hosting the latest G-7 Finance Ministers meeting this week. In Iquluit Nunavut!

Canada's Finance Department, the organizer of the G-7 event, has been limited in the activities it could plan. There are only 300 hotel rooms in town. And because some 500 guests, including ministers, security and media are expected, some will have to sleep in dorm rooms.

With a dearth of limousines in Iqaluit, ministers will use the 15 rental cars available from the town's single car-rental agency. After those are full, school buses will ferry around attendees further down the diplomatic food chain.

Local residents are anxious to see how the dignitaries respond to Saturday's traditional Inuit feast, which has muskox, caribou and seal on the menu—some of it skinned and served raw.

But, people I come not to bury Canada but to praise her. Why? Well because Timothy Geithner is the guy who goes to these meetings right? Who knows, maybe he'll get stuck riding a bus to his dorm room. Maybe he'll get slush kicked up on him by a passing snowmobile. Maybe he'll have a run in with some amorous caribou! Maybe he'll turn out to be allergic to seal heart!

Consider all the possibilities.....


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Damn, I'm not the greatest Kevin in Oklahoma anymore

People, check out Kevin Durant's stat line for the month of January:

In 15 games, Durant averaged 32.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals. He shot 51.9 percent from the field, 53.2 percent on 3-pointers, and 89.8 percent from the foul line.

I have sent out a paper, done 3 referee reports, taught my classes, put together a dissertation committee for one of my students and almost completed a draft of a new paper.

Somehow, it's just not the same, is it?



Haiti gets the shaft again

Just when you think things couldn't be worse, word comes that an "all star cast" is re-making 1985's abomination "We are the World", this time for Haiti.

In no way do I mean to make light of the ongoing tragedy there, but haven't those poor folk suffered enough?

And talk about lazy, if you're a community of artists, why recycle an old, hackneyed, crappy, schmaltzy, song like that. No one can be bothered to write something relevant to the case at hand? Was Michael Jackson really the only modern pop star capable of such a feat? 

I think we should stop stealing Haitian kids, start letting Haitians emigrate, and if we have to have another overwrought pop star ego fest, they should at least have to come up with an original song that is about Haiti.

Of course there will be a video of the event so that all can see just how wonderful this current group of artists actually are.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Great Moments in Seminars....

Went to a seminar at the Law School today. Speaker was the irrepressible, and quite irredeemable, Mat McCubbins (yes, one "t")


Seminar started at 12:15 pm. Pretty good crowd, considering the ice on the ground and sidewalks.

Well into it, by 12:45. Then at precisely 1 pm, precisely: Armageddon! The powerpoint presentation on the computer shuts down, the window shades roll up, the projector shuts off, and the lights come up. We are surrounded by sound and lights flashing. Apparently Hal the self-aware computer of the Law School had had enough of this crap.

Cheering, and abuse, rain down on McCubbins. Voted off the island, by the computer! Most excellent. Of course, he isn't sure how to start everything back up, and it takes a while to restore order. Mat was much calmer than I would have been. Hee hee!

My NASA budget

People, it's exactly 0 dollars and 0 cents. If I was king, getting rid of NASA would be one of the first things I would do. Instead, President O has found room somewhere in his newly announced 3.8 trillion dollar austerity budget to bump NASA's funding up to 19 billion dollars. Now I know 19 billion doesn't amount to a hill of beans when considered in the light of a projected 1.6 trillion dollar deficit, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

My second choice for a zero budget is the Transportation Security Administration. There's another 7 billion or so we could stop smacking ourselves over the head  with every year.

Who's got next?


Roaring Lion was wrong?

One of the many things I have learned from Tyler is an appreciation of calypso music from Trinidad especially the founding fathers, Roaring Lion and Attila the Hun.

One piece of advice the Lion gave me was:

"If you want to be happy and live a king's life, never make a pretty woman your wife

All you've got to do is just what I say, and you'll be always happy and gay

From a logical point of view, always marry a woman uglier than you."

Now in my case, following this advice was problematic, well, because, there just aren't that many women out there uglier than me! So I had to turn my back on the Lion and go in a different direction.

Now Science has spoken and it turns out I was right and the Lion was wrong:

 "the relative difference between partners' levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives."

Maybe now it's a little clearer why Mrs. Angus deigned to marry me.


Efficient Market Hype?

Collective Hallucinations and Inefficient Markets: The British Railway Mania
of the 1840s

Andrew Odlyzko, University of Minnesota Working Paper, January 2010

Abstract: The British Railway Mania of the 1840s was by many measures the greatest
technology mania in history, and its collapse was one of the greatest financial crashes. It has attracted surprisingly little scholarly interest. In particular, it has not been noted that it provides a convincing demonstration of market inefficiency. There were trustworthy quantitative measures to show investors (who included Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and the Bronte sisters) that there would not be enough demand for railway transport to provide the expected revenues and profits. But the power of the revolutionary new technology, assisted by artful manipulation of public perception by interested parties, induced a collective hallucination that made investors ignore such considerations. They persisted in ignoring them for several years, until the lines were placed in service and the inevitable disaster struck. In contrast to many other bubbles, the British Railway Mania had many powerful, vocal, and insightful critics. But the most influential of them suffered from another delusion, which misled them about the threat the Mania posed. As a result, their warnings were not persuasive, and were likely even counterproductive, as they may have stimulated increased investments. The delusions that led to the financial disaster of the Railway Mania arose from experience with the railway mania of the mid-1830s. Seldom even mentioned in the literature, it was about half the size of the big Railway Mania of the 1840s (and thus still far larger than the Internet bubble). The initial financially exuberant phase of it did collapse. But it appears to have been unique among large manias in that a few years later it was seen as having collapsed prematurely, as projects started during its exuberant phase became successful. That mania demonstrates the difficulty in identifying bubbles that are truly irrational. Both railway manias provide a variety of other lessons about the interaction of technology and financial markets.


(Nod to Kevin L)

Stimulating, Stimulating--"Push the Private Sector"

Near the end of his truly terrible pop song, "I do the Rock," Tim Curry starts mumbling to himself, "Stimulating....Stimulating..." (Video, if can stand it). Makes me think of the Porkulus package.

Here's a terrific example, sent in by Jason S. JS writes: "[Here] is a hyperlink to how the San Antonio transit agency is going to fund their match for more federal funding for a street car application to the Feds. Clearly this shows how stimulus money is fungible, or laundered if you want to be more crass. It also demonstrates that the transit agency is not spending any more money at all in the short run and its essence is to shift funding to lower return investments for the public, but higher returns to the transit service providers. I am sure that this is not the only example of such behavior but just a good example.... "

Excerpt from the article:

VIA President Keith Parker has said his agency would commit $20 million from its capital budget. Because of federal stimulus funding VIA has secured to buy new buses, the transit agency can divert the money from its capital budget for use on a streetcar system.

Officials also underscored the need for help from others.

“The mayor and I feel very strongly that we need to push the private sector,” Wolff said.

A public improvement district could be formed that would levy an additional tax on property owners within a certain distance from the track alignment. The private sector helped fund the streetcar line in Portland, Ore., a model for other cities seeking streetcar programs.


So, they got "Federal money" (whatever that means). They are moving "city money" from one line item to another. And all this spending of tax money is an excuse for... raising taxes! If you look at a taxpayer, how do you tell if she is a Federal taxpayer, or a state taxpayer, or a city taxpayer? The answer is, "YES!"

Bonus link: The Transportation Department is now exempt from worrying about things like costs and benefits. Instead, the goal is to improve "livability." I think that means that people with Volvos also to get to ride street cars at public expense.