Saturday, May 08, 2010

QOTD

"People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election." Otto von Bismarck

hat tip to Keith Gaddie

Markets in everything: Pork-o-meter edition

Sadly this isn't for the kind of pork we really need protected from (which I should have realized right away given that it was invented in Kazakhstan), but it's still awesome nonetheless:


ALMATY (Reuters) – Scientists in mainly Muslim Kazakhstan have come up with an instant test for the presence of pork in food, a popular newspaper reported on Monday.

The plastic-stick test detects food molecules that are found only in pork, which is forbidden by Islam but is easily found in the Central Asian state, Megapolis weekly said.

"It's no secret that some chefs cheat and add pork to beef to make the dish cheaper," the newspaper wrote on Monday, saying the practice was widespread in Kazakhstan.

"When you get your beef patty, cut off a couple of small pieces and drop them in a glass of water. Stir, shake, put the test stick in ... In a minute or two you will see the result."

Megapolis said it was unclear when the test, in which the stick changes color as in a pregnancy test, would become widely available.

I have to say that I think it IS pretty clear when this product will actually become widely available: Never!

Plus, I really admire the onions of a newspaper in Kazakhstan calling itself "Megapolis".

Kudos!

Laptop Dance: How Could This Go Wrong?

If you are going to steal laptops, you might not want to give full descriptions of same on Craigslist, within a week, and try to sell them in the same city.

Or, maybe you would.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bass Ackwards Redux

I have been claiming that Greece is not ruining the Euro, but that the Euro ruined Greece. Now, compulsive tweeter Felix Salmon provides a provocative tidbit in support of this thesis:

"Greece had a primary budget surplus for every year from 1992 to 2000"

In other words, joining the Euro somehow got lenders to believe that Greece was no longer Greece.

People, they (the lenders) deserve whatever haircut they end up getting.


A good jobs report

+290,000 in April (231,000 in the private sector (yes we still have one)), and March's number was revised upward from 162,000 to 230,000.

More details:

More confident employers stepped up job creation in April, expanding payrolls by 290,000, the most in four years. The jobless rate rose to 9.9 percent as people streamed back into the market looking for work.

The hiring of 66,000 temporary government workers to conduct the census helped overall payroll growth last month. However, private employers -- the backbone of the economy -- boosted jobs, too. They added a surprisingly strong 231,000 positions last month, also the most since March 2006, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The unemployment rate rose from 9.7 percent in March to 9.9 percent in April, mainly because 805,000 jobseekers -- perhaps feeling better about their prospects -- resumed their searches for work....

Also encouraging: The employment picture in both March and April turned out to be stronger than previously thought. Payrolls grew by 230,000 in March, better than the 162,000 first reported. And, 39,000 jobs were actually added in February, an improvement from the previous estimate of 14,000 losses.

QOTD: British election edition

"The country has spoken — but we don't know what they've said,"

--former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown


Well Hung Parliament

Brit Labour Gov Goes Up in Flames, Down in Seats!

Actually, Labour lost, and should have lost power, but the districts are so distorted in terms of seats/votes ratio that I don't see how the Brits even call these things elections. Also, the LD surge turned out to be just puff, no real blow.

And so the pound gets pounded.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

This just in: A = A

From the comparable Scott Sumner:

"I think the Great Depression was caused by NGDP falling from $106.7 billion in 1929:3 to $49.8 billion in 1933:3. "

In other words, the Great Depression was caused by..... THE GREAT DEPRESSION.

Yikes!

What part of non sequitur do you not understand?

In reference to immigration, I keep seeing and hearing the phrase "what part of illegal do you (insert derogatory epithet here) not understand?" given as the beginning and ending of any debate.

I guess this is supposed to mean that fact that something is illegal means we should have zero tolerance for it?

Well,

Speeding is illegal but.....
Driving while texting is illegal but....
Not reporting all tips or gifts on your income tax is illegal but.....
Making sales in cash and not reporting the income is illegal but....
Smoking marijuana is illegal but......

We could literally list scores of things that are clearly illegal but cause most people little or no consternation. There are also tons of things that are illegal but carry inconsequential penalties.

Hey, that is immigration reform I could really get behind.

Fine all illegals $5.

There, two problems solved.

Pickin' & Grinnin'

Speech Unrecognition

This is one of the coolest things I have read in a long time. Worth reading the whole (very long) thing.

It is very interesting that there is a huge difference between speech to text, and text to speech. I often use Adobe's listen-to-text feature to be able to hear a dissertation or a paper read aloud to me on a long drive. Just plug my laptop into the auxilliary jack on the BMW (it's supposed to be for your iPod or MP3 player, but it works on anything that has an audio jack). Start up the PDF reader by clicking on "Read out loud" (which, bizarrely, is in the "View" menu on Adobe).

Wouldn't work well on a diss with a lot of tables and equations, but works fine for lots of theses in poli sci.

It is rather amazing that the reverse process, speaking and having the computer record the words, basically doesn't work at all. Optical scanning works quite well, with error rates below 5%. But audio speech-to-text... 80%, tops, and even then you are better off typing it straight from voice, for most purposes.

Reform Bites

Betsy has a good story on election reform in Arizona.

I am not a fan of taxpayer financing of elections. If you want to get money out of politics, get government's hands off our money. The reason that election outcomes are so crucial right now is that government has metastisized into nearly every aspect of our lives.

To make elections less expensive, make them less important.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ph(UNNIES)d

The Ward Boss supplies some excellent comic material, here.

I would add, to the list of things you will never see in a published paper:

"The reason that some of the indep vars are logged and some are squared and some are linear is that none of the results come out right otherwise."

Cinco de What?

Here are my favorite Cinco de Mayo songs.

First, the incomparable Liz Phair:




Next, the comparable Lil Rob:



Finally, it turns out that Obama's Spanish is even worse than Mungowitz's!






Zombie Joseph Beuys?

FYI, Mungowitz, here are the top 5 reasons why I don't vote:

5. So Bryan Caplan can't make fun of me

4. No tax deduction given for voting

3. It only encourages them

2. I work in a university, so I already interact with plenty of officious bureaucrats

1. No jury duty


(context for title is here)


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Libertarians Dissed, and I Commit Election Fraud

Very interesting. I went to vote today, of course. (Angus does not vote, which mystifies me. Of COURSE he is right that voting because you affect the outcome is silly. But voting because it makes normal people nervous....THAT is really fun. Of course, at this point Angus has 34 years of virginal non-voting streak at risk, so perhaps I don't blame him after all).

Anyway, I went to vote. I was #306, and I went to the poll 10 minutes before closing time. ("You.... you are number #306! Get in line!" I love being an arbitrary number chosen by the state. Perhaps I should get used to it, if laws like the Arizona "Extra Real ID" rules spread to other states).

Except there was no line. I was the only one there. Four poll workers, and me. Yes, they are volunteers. But they are volunteers working for the state. And... well, let me tell you.

I give the front line lady my name. She finds my entry in the "Giant Special Book of People Who Have the State's Permission to be Citizens, and Other Secret Things." And says, "Please state your name." Since that is what I had just done, and that is how she found my listing, I was giggling. (Angus, see what you are missing, man?) Then, "State your address."

I said, "10020 Bushveld." She looks up, suspicious. "Bushveld WHAT?"

"Lane," I said, amazed. "10020 Bushveld LANE." She nods, still suspicious. Now, I was #306 for the day, in a place where the polls had been open since 6:30 am. They are only getting a little less than 4 people every 10 minutes, or 24 people per hour, voting. There couldn't have been much demand for vote fraud. She just didn't like the look of me, I think. (Yes, I was wearing dirty shorts, a ripped t-shirt with a spaghetti sauce stain, and flip-flops. Again, Angus, man, so many chances to enjoy this).

She starts to explain to me which ballot I can vote. North Carolina's D and R parties have chosen to have semi-open primaries, where D registered voters vote D, R registered voters vote R, and unaffiliated voters can vote either.

Except that there is a third party, the Libertarians. Actually on the ballot. Except there were no ballots. This may make some sense, because I think that no Libertarian primary is contested this time around. Still, we have a Senate candidate, Dr. Michael Beitler, and I was looking forward to voting for him. We did all that work to get on the ballot, and I was looking forward to it. If you look at the list of candidates who filed for office, and paid fees (pdf here), you'll see there are more than 20 Libertarian candidates for statewide, federal, or state assembly seats. We did all that work, and got on the ballot. And then I got more than 2% running for governor. So we are ON THE BALLOT.

The lady is flustered by my Libertarian registration, which is there plain as day on the record. She goes to ask Uber-voting-spiel-fuhrer. They argue, she gestures, he peeks at me. Then he comes over and asks, "Sir, what is it you want to do?"

Now I start to giggle again. I did not say that I was there to watch the baseball game, and have some margaritas. Instead, I said, "I want to vote. I thought this was the voting precinct for my address, and..."

He interrupts, though not rudely, and says, "Yes, but who are you going to vote for?"

I raise my eyebrows, and my voice (there were two people behind me now): "I have to tell you who I'm going to vote for? Is this some kind of profiling? I thought we had secret ballots!"

The voting-spiel-fuhrer, who was painfully earnest, actually dropped his mouth open and then turned beet red. "Da... boh... No, I meant which party do you want to vote for?"

"I want to vote in a way that doesn't violate North Carolina's election law. I am registered Libertarian. I want to vote for my party, as the law dictates. Are you telling me I can vote in another party's primary?"

He said, "We can't have a different ballot for each party. What if the Greens, or the ... the...." (he couldn't think of any other parties) "....wanted to vote? It would be too expensive to print ballots for every party."

So, I said that the Greens, the Constitution, the Socialist Workers, the Farm Union, and Moonies couldn't possibly ask for a ballot, because they are NOT recognized parties in the state of North Carolina. The Libertarians, by contrast, are fully recognized, and are on the ballot. So his example made no sense. None of those parties were authorized to field candidates, but the Libertarians are authorized, and in fact do have candidates, including Mike Beitler who is running for the Senate nomination.

The poor fellow held up pretty well. He said, with an air of finality, "You just tell us which ballot you want, Democrat or Republican, and we'll give it to you."

I said, "Republican." (I wanted to vote for my friend BJ Lawson, since there were no Lib ballots). And I voted, and I got one of those "I voted" stickers, and I went out to the car.

But I still think that the poll workers were mistaken, and that I should not have been allowed to vote in a partisan primary other than the one I am registered for.

And, I was struck by a question whose answer I don't know, at all. What is rule for the Libertarian Party? When we have primaries in 2012 (we are likely to have contested primaries for both Governor and President), will our ballot be open, semi-open, or closed? I do not know the answer to that.

what if Yakov Smirnov had been from North Korea?

I think things would have gone much like this.

Here is my favorite:

Chang Man Yong works on a collective farm in North Korea. He goes fishing, gets lucky, and brings a fish home. Happy about his catch, he tells his wife: "Look what I've got. Shall we eat fried fish today?"

The wife says: "We've got no cooking oil!"

"Shall we stew it, then?"

"We've got no pot!"

"Shall we grill it?"

"We've got no firewood!"

Chang Man Yong gets angry, goes back to the river, and throws the fish back into the water.

The fish, happy to have had such a narrow escape, sticks its head out of the water and cheerfully yells: "Long live General Kim Jong Il!"


Hat tip to LeBron!

Why Hate?

My op-ed published today in the Durham Herald.

It's primary day here in NC. Be careful out there.

Has it really come to this?

We are now going to give awards to soldiers who don't kill innocent civilians?

Really?


Really!!

NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing soldiers for "courageous restraint" if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives.

The concept comes as the coalition continues to struggle with the problem of civilian casualties despite repeated warnings from the top NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the war effort hinges on the ability to protect the population and win support away from the Taliban.

Those who back the idea hope it will provide soldiers with another incentive to think twice before calling in an airstrike or firing at an approaching vehicle if civilians could be at risk.


People, please join me and other libertarians around the world in deploring and protesting these senseless, state-sanctioned murders.

Just So You See What I'm Dealing With....

People meet me, and my wife, and everything seems normal. You have to understand what I'm dealing with here.

The LMM has a cousin / aunt (for Italians in RI, it's hard to tell the difference) who sent us this. Thanks, Shirley!

THE DIFFERENCE IF YOU MARRY A RHODE ISLAND GIRL

The first man married a woman from North Carolina . He told her she was to do the dishes and house cleaning. It took a couple of days, but on the third day, he came home to see a clean house and dishes washed and put away.

The second man married a woman from Florida . He gave his wife orders she was to do all the cleaning, dishes and the cooking. The first day he didn't see any results, but the next day he saw it was better. By the third day, he saw his house was clean, the dishes were done and there was a huge dinner on the table.

The third man married a girl from Rhode Island . He ordered her to keep the house clean, dishes washed, lawn mowed, laundry washed, and hot food on the table for every meal. He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything, but by the third day, some of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye, and his arm was healed enough that he could fix himself a sandwich and load the dishwasher. He still has trouble sitting down, though.
(Note: Last line revised, in response to comments)

Monday, May 03, 2010

China and the US Debt

China and the United States: The Bonds of Debt, by Donald D. Hester
Professor of Economics, Emeritus
The University of Wisconsin – Madison

Abstract
This paper explores the large and growing indebtedness of the United States to the People’s Republic of China. Beginning with the 1971 reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, international trade between them expanded but was very modest until the mid 1980s. At that point, China under Deng Xiaoping adopted a variation on the successful export strategy that had been pioneered by Japan and the smaller Asian “tigers”. The first section of the paper analyzes the distinctive features of this variation and provides tabular information about trade and foreign exchange balances and the exchange rate between the dollar and yuan. The second section proposes a crude game-theoretic discussion of what each country might gain and lose from their large growing financial entanglement in the short and long run. The third section is a discussion of the limits of the imbalance and how U.S. debts to and Chinese claims on other countries impact the relation between the P.R.C. and the U.S. The concluding section focuses on the paradox of a poor and rapidly growing authoritarian country financing an undisciplined and relatively declining democratic superpower.

Anniversary of Chille's

We are coming up on the 1-year anniversary of the single most commented, most cited, most read, and most downloaded single post in the history of KPC.

It was.... "The Worst Mexican Restaurant on Earth." Enjoy.

Financial Regulation Will Help! Not....

So, now the government is going to fix the financial industry, because markets don't work?

Look, the genesis of the financial crisis was a trap, set by federal government offiicials and regulators.

It was a trap baited with four kinds of tasty cheese:
1. Down payment subsidies, encouraging people to buy houses more expensive than they could actually afford
2. Changes in the definitions of "conforming" loans, with much looser requirements for packaging and reselling by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.
3. Artificially low interest rates that served to finance an asset bubble in housing and commercial real estate.
4. An implicit guarantee, made by all of the last four Treasury secretaries, that any decline in housing prices would be treated as a "market failure," prompting government action to prop up prices.

While it is clearly true that private investors behaved both greedily and in some
cases foolishly, these four factors ensured that the financial disaster would be
larger, and last longer, much longer, than would have happened if government had
just left housing markets alone.

Given the temptations to meddle, and given the inability of government officials to
obtain the accurate information that unfettered markets provide through prices,
there is no reason to believe that these new attempts at regulation will turn
out any better than the old ones.

In short, given that government had a substantial role in causing the crisis through
misguided regulation, there is no reason to believe that the new regulatory policies will help.

YYM in Erg Contest

A video of the YYM owning an erg contest. (He's the second from the front, going left to right) He had his best time ever, 6:42 mins for a 2k race. And won his heat.
video

Information and Portion Size

When Healthy Food Makes You Hungry

Stacey Finkelstein & Ayelet Fishbach
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

Abstract: Do subtle cues for imposed healthy eating make consumers hungry? Imposed healthy eating signals that the health goal was sufficiently met, and thus it increases the strength of the conflicting motive to fulfill one's appetite. Accordingly, consumers asked to sample an item framed as healthy later reported being hungrier and consumed more food than those who sampled the same item framed as tasty or those who did not eat at all. These effects of healthy eating depend on the consumer's perception that healthy eating is mandatory; therefore, only imposed healthy eating made consumers hungrier, whereas freely choosing to eat healthy did not increase hunger.

----------------------

The largest Last Supper: Depictions of food portions and plate size
increased over the millennium

B. Wansink & C. S. Wansink
International Journal of Obesity, forthcoming

Abstract: Portion sizes of foods have been noticably increasing in recent years, but when did this trend begin? If art imitates life and if food portions have been generally increasing with time, we might expect this trend to be reflected in paintings that depict food. Perhaps the most commonly painted meal has been that of Jesus Christ's Last Supper, chronicled in the New Testament of the Bible. A CAD-CAM analysis of the relative food-to-head ratio in 52 representative paintings of the Last Supper showed that the relative sizes of the main dish (entree) (r=0.52, P=0.002), bread (r=0.30, P=0.04), and plates (r=0.46, P=0.02) have linearly increased over the past millennium.
----------------------

Promoting Healthy Choices: Information versus Convenience

Jessica Wisdom, Julie Downs & George Loewenstein
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, April 2010, Pages 164-178

Abstract: Success in slowing obesity trends would benefit from policies aimed at reducing calorie consumption. In a field experiment at a fast-food sandwich chain, we address the effects of providing calorie information, mimicking recent legislation, and test an alternative approach that makes ordering healthier slightly more convenient. We find that calorie information reduces calorie intake. Providing a daily calorie target does as well, but only for non-overweight individuals. Making healthy choices convenient reduces intake when the intervention is strong. However, a milder implementation reduces sandwich calories, but does not reduce total calories due to compensatory effects on side orders and drinks.


(Nod to Kevin L, who always has the skinny)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The EYM Gets His Tooth Back!

A year ago, from Germany, I told the story of how the EYM, dancing on a chair, tried to break that chair with his face. An on-looker described the resulting sound of tooth fragments hitting the floor as "like someone was playing Yahtzee."

Here is the EYM recently.
Here is the EYM after the dentist performed the adatoothtome. (Three operations, total).
He looks good! Of course, being the EYM, he then promptly got a haircut, apparently from someone using a weedwhacker.

Appholes

John Stewart on Apple. Heh.

(Nod to Angry Alex)