Thursday, October 07, 2010

There are no pan-asian supermarkets down in hell

The Mountain Goats just absolutely killed it Wednesday night in OKC. I am a big fan of the old Goats (i.e. John Darnielle playing guitar and screaming), but the current 3 piece line up has an incredibly good rhythm section and John has become quite an accomplished player. At times JD carried the beat and bassist Peter Hughes was playing the melody.

Anthropologically speaking, what impressed me about the show was that JD has really a second career now with a whole new audience of kids who seem to only know his 4AD stuff.

Before the show, one young'un was telling his buddy how he hopes they'd play "their old stuff" and I mentioned Golden Boy, Alabama Nova, Going to Scotland, The Last Day of Jimi Hendrix's life, and they'd never heard of those songs. By "old stuff" they meant Your Belgian Things (which they did play).

At several points in the show the audience was singing along like it was a Springsteen show or something, which was tremendous to see.

The opening bad was Wye Oak, who I'm still trying to decide about. I love to see a girl wailing on her guitar, but the two of them were trying to get too much stuff done all at once. I'm gonna pick one of their CDs and give it a try though.

Anvil Shooting

I see this in my future, right after deer season ends.

Just Legalize It

Jeffrey Miron....nicely played, sir.

(Nod to Richard S.)


A woman in a bar....pretty clever.

(Thanks to the LMM)

Life Hackers

Article in NATURE

And five questions....

(Nod to Bobby E.)

Psychology: Enemy of 1st Amendment?

Steven Pinker gives an interesting and provocative lecture on psychology and the first amendment...

(Nod to Angry Alex)

Peruvian Political Potboilers

As Tyler has reported Vargas-Llosa has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Whatever you may think of this award (I am not a big fan), his country, Peru, is both wonderful and deeply weird.

Considering the fact that their current President, Alan Garcia, pretty much turned the country into a basket case during his first term as President in the 1980s, electing him again was a supremely reckless act. However, the Peruvian economy has performed very well during his regime. Now it turns out that there are plans afoot to put him on trial for human rights crimes after his term ends.

Of course, this has already happened to Alberto Fujimori, who during his term as President, rescued the economy and put a massive hurting on the Shining Path, albeit with some unsavory methods and allies.

Just to make this soup even weirder, the current "front-runner" to be the next president is Alberto's daughter, Keiko Fujimori!

People, I am not making any of this up.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A Cautionary tale

I loved this mini-story / blog post by John Scalzi. It's titled When the Yogurt took Over" and is self recommending!!

One quick nugget:

A week later, during breakfast, the yogurt used the granola she had mixed with it to spell out the message WE HAVE SOLVED FUSION. TAKE US TO YOUR LEADERS.

It's not just me anymore

The latest progressive meme is that the government should run like a business and any business in the government's situation would rationally and profitably borrow a lot of money and invest it right now. Mark Thoma and P. Krugman have made arguments like this and Ezra K. has a recent plaintive one in the WaPo.

The problems with this line of reasoning are many. For example, (1) the government ISN'T a business. Profit (or even ROI) is not its bottom line. (2) If the government were a business, its shareholders (i.e. us) wouldn't have to wait til November to boot our current management team. (3) In most businesses that I am aware of, management cannot vote to help themselves to more money from their shareholders.

People, it's not just me anymore; the "American street" simply doesn't trust the government to do things right.

At least Ezra does recognize that our government doesn't "do" infrastructure in a business-like manner:

The problem is that the way we choose our infrastructure projects is an embarrassment. About 10 percent of infrastructure spending comes from politicians securing earmarks. Most of the rest depends on a formula in which the government just hands money over to the states. There's no requirement for cost-benefit analysis or rate-of-return calculations. The decisions are horribly politicized.

Nice, but then he just hand-waves it away by saying we need to tie further massive borrowing to vague "reforms".

Good luck on that one, EK!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Never play soccer with a politician

Pay close attention around the 35 second mark of this lovely video:

Ignominy, thy name is Ginepri

Squirrel 1, Robby Ginepri 0 !!

Markets in Everything: Mexican Century Bonds Edition

This is a pretty amazing turn of events. Mexico is selling 100 year government bonds and the expected yield is around 6%!

I admit that I am impressed with Mexico's macro management over the last 10 years, but a 6%, 100 year bond?? I don't think I'd be that bullish on Mexico.

I would suggest to our own government though that borrowing long now, rather than short is a good idea.

Republicans "Minor Party" in Colorado?

There's a lot to like about this...

If nothing else, it means we will hear a lot about "Gov. Hickenlooper." I like that.

But I really like the fact that the idiot Republicans are going to get hammered with the barriers to entry that they built up against "minor parties," so called.

(Nod to Sparktatstic Dave)

Donald Duck and Glenn Beck

Not sure what to think of this. But it is amusing...

Monday, October 04, 2010

Non-markets in some things: South Korean Edition

People: there's a Kimchi Crisis in South Korea. Prices for 2.5 kilos of Napa cabbage (the preferred base ingredient) have risen from 2,500 won a month ago to 11,500 won.

The WSJ has a (partly gated) article on this headlined "South Korea Faces Pinch in Kimchi Supply".

The article alleges that this is due to too much rain and poor harvests in South Korea.

I call Bulls**t!

Napa cabbage is a transportable commodity. South Korea is a geographically small country. No way a bad harvest there would cause world prices to rise so dramatically.

Now sure, perhaps the harvest was bad everywhere. But also perhaps it's this:

"The government responded to the price spike Friday by suspending its tariffs on cabbage and radishes and announcing plans to import 150 tons of fresh vegetables from China with special emphasis on napa cabbage."


Hey WSJ, you kinda buried the lede there. Tight supplies and high prices for Kimchi (relative to the free trade outcome) are SOP for South Korea.

How about "Protectionest policies rise up to bite South Korea in the Butt" for the headline?

Smart Groups

Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human

Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher Chabris, Alexander Pentland, Nada Hashmi
& Thomas Malone, Science, forthcoming

Abstract: Psychologists have repeatedly shown that a single statistical factor — often called "general intelligence" — emerges from the correlations among people's performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. But no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of "collective intelligence" exists for groups of people. In two studies with 699 individuals, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group's performance on a wide variety of tasks. This "c factor" is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

Surprising, and also easily testable. Corporations with boards, or top executives, that have these features should on average be more profitable. And if the effect is as strong as suggested here, then ALL corporations should have such decision structures, because to do otherwise would be much less profitable. Any company that uses a different firm would be competed out of existence, or bought out in a hostile takeover. At worst, these schmoes could start their own company, with this decision structure, and rule the world. The fact that the they don't means that they know these idiotic results are no bigger than the third order of smalls.

I should note that government, on the other hand, since it faces no profit constraint or takeover discipline, could continue to use whatever system it wants.
So the schmoes should take their little paper over to the government, and suggest that their system be adopted there.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Peter Principle

Peter Principle is an old laugh line.

But it is plausible, it turns out.

Universities promote administrators WELL beyond their level of incompetence. After all, I was a chair for ten years. Just THINK about that.....scary.

Universities, it appears, actually use the Dilbert Principle: The least competent people are "promoted" to administration, where they can do the least harm.

Scots wa hae

Went to an excellent, if somewhat retro, show at the new to me location of the 9:30 club in DC last night. Radar Brothers - Vaselines - Teenage Fanclub.

Didn't know the Radar Brothers, who looked like they should be called Radar & Sons, but they were good. I will look them up.

Vaselines were amazing. Eugene Kelly is one of my favorites and their new album fits in well with their classic songs. Their drummer was *awesome* as was the interplay between Eugene and Francis. Only downside was they or their soundman decided to turn things up to 11 so that extended guitar playing turned to white noise fairly quickly.

Teenage Fanclub were incredible. They had the soundsystem mastered and were pristine. Played an excellent set mix of old and new. I am old and was very tired, but I didn't want it to end.

By the way, if you can find the EPs that Eugene Kelly released under the moniker of Captain America, they are well worth having.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

People unclear on the subject

Was out on the Mall in DC today with Tyler, museum hopping and people watching. No really big protest crowds anywhere, but a lot of small, weird, hanger-on type protesters. You know your protest is failing when you and your 3 friends are the whole group, carrying the 150 signs you had printed up.

Some people really really really don't know how to protest though.

We saw one group with the sign "Socialism is the Alternative", and I said to them, "yes you are exactly right, thanks for reminding me that things could be worse". The sign is like an inkblot test. You can read it however you want.

Another strange one was, "Private Armies are Dangerous" to which Tyler observed "they better be"!

I really don't get this one; it's like printing A=A on a sign. Why walk around in the heat waving a tautology?


UPDATE: I guess we left too soon to go for a late lunch, because I see on the TV that there are a good amount of folks out on the mall now.

What really happened in Ecuador?

A coup, sez Correa (people, what the heck do they teach folks in Illiniois' econ PhD program?)!

A US backed coup, sez Hugo and Evo (still waiting to hear from Oliver Stone on this).

But it actually doesn't appear to have been anything so grand. Correa and his congress passed a law cutting police bonuses. He then went to a police barracks to "address" them. Apparently he taunted some of them saying stuff along the lines of "Kill me if you're so brave". They didn't kill him but they did tear gas him and "pelt him with water" (people, does this mean shoot him with a water cannon? or just dump a bottle of Perrier on his person?), and then hold him hostage in a hospital for a while.

No evidence of a pre-meditated plot, no evidence of a plotter who planned to take over post coup. Just a hot-headed econ PhD president and a shockingly undisciplined, unprofessional, and disrespectful group of cops.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Jon Stewart nails it

Jon Stewart comes up big....

We came. We saw. We sucked.

(nod to Angry Alex)

We are all criminals

From the comments on the Freedom Update post:

"Saying illegal immigrants have less freedom is like saying people in jail have less freedom. Of course they do, they're criminals for cryin' out loud!"

People, we are all criminals! All of us have broken the speed limit or maybe smoked a reefer, or hired a worker that we didn't pay taxes for, or bought something on the internet without forwarding a sales tax payment to our state of residence, or brought Cuban cigars back from Europe, or didn't declare everything we bought abroad on our customs form.

Saying someone is a criminal is kind of meaningless. There is a big difference between being a criminal and actively doing harm to others.

Sorry for this rant, but I get really tired of this selective labeling and at times demonizing of groups that some people don't like. I am not accusing the commenter of demonizing, but many people do, with a label that could just as well be applied to themselves.

So maybe we should all look in the miror and say, "Hi, my name is (state your name), and I am a criminal".

Economics vs. Political Science

I was a guest panelist in a grad polysci class Thursday afternoon on the topic what do Economists and Historians think of Political Science, and I got to talking about the differences I perceive between Econ and PolySci:

1. In virtually all Econ grad programs, the first year students all take the exact same set of classes and comprehensive exams. This happens in very few PolySci programs, to my knowledge. The result is that different sub-fields of Econ share a common language and socialization and communication that I don't see so much in PolySci.

2. PolySci works more to place research in context; more examples, more citations, longer reference lists. Econ is a bit more autistic in that regard.

3. Many political scientists seem to view conference papers as a final goal, where in Econ, they are at best a means to an end. There is little professional reward or recognition in Econ for work that does not get further than conference paper.

4. PolySci is more polite. People speak at length without interruption. Comments at conferences are vague and pleasant. Econ seminars are rude free for alls and comments can be very direct.

5. Polysci is more socially aware. They boycott conference locations due to state or local laws or the presence of non-union labor. I cannot imagine anything like this even being considered in Econ.

6. Econ journal editors are more decisive and autonomous that Polysci journal editors. Polysci usually uses more referees per paper, and it seems to me that editors have a bit less discretion than in Econ.

It may be presumptuous of me, an economist, to write this list, but I've published in Polysci journals, presented and commented at Polysci conferences, even spent a year visiting in a high quality Polysci department (Duke) and another visiting at Caltech which has economists, political scientists and historians all under one divisional roof (or at least they did when I was there).