Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Italian-American Christmas Greeting

With all proper respect and much love to Jenn Musirolla, who posted this video. I put it up for the enjoyment of KPC friend Shirley, who has lived it.

The menu at the Mungerella House tonight:

salami, olives
various cheeses
shrimp cocktail
hot peppers

The main event:
calimari in a white wine and garlic sauce
meatballs in homemade sauce (cooked for two days with stew beef and hot sausage and sweet sausage)
melanzane parmigiana
broccoli in sauce
cauliflower breaded and fried in olive oil
fried fish
bread for boonging


Salad with olive oil and vinegar
More bread

After after:

Can I be an honorary gorilla too?

Mrs. Angus and I have been on 4 mountain gorilla treks and saw this same group of gorillas in Bwindi this summer. However, we had to hike for over 3 hours to reach them. This video is AMAZING. OK, the blathering guy for the first minute is a pain, but it gets real good around the 1:55 mark and just keeps getting better from there.

If I ever go again, I'll be sure to wear a black shirt and have plenty of gray hair (one way or another).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

As in medicine, so in development?

Jonah Lehrer has a great article in Wired documenting the difficulty of truly understanding causal forces.

Here is a representative section:

The story of torcetrapib is a tale of mistaken causation. Pfizer was operating on the assumption that raising levels of HDL cholesterol and lowering LDL would lead to a predictable outcome: Improved cardiovascular health. Less arterial plaque. Cleaner pipes. But that didn’t happen.

Such failures occur all the time in the drug industry.

To recap. HDL is the "good" cholesterol and LDL the "bad". Pfizer found a drug that did what the quote describes, but it turned out to kill subjects in the phase III trial and ended up costing the company billions in market capitalization.

In my opinion, much of macro development advice has worked the same way.

Experts observe that successful countries exhibit qualities A, B & C. Developing countries are advised, subsidized, threatened to emulate the successful countries on these attributes. But the patients do not improve!

Education, Institutions, "getting the prices right", openness to trade, the list goes on of macro advice given and to a surprising extent taken by the developing world, without the implicitly promised results.*

The only real difference in the medical and developmental analogy is that Pfizer lost billions of dollars due to their misreading of cause and effect, while the World Bank just chugs on and on with an ever growing size and budget, producing a new World Development Report every year and acting as if the past had never happened.

That is to say, there is little to no accountability for bad advice or improper diagnoses among the IFIs compared to pharmaceutical companies.

* In our 2007 JDE paper, Robin and I show that school enrollment rates, government spending, openness to trade, political constraints on the chief executive,bureaucratic quality, corruption, and overall law and order are all converging over time.

Secular Theocracy

David Theroux on secular theocracy....

That's part un. Part deux coming in January.

Portugal Fires Back!

Portuguese are outraged at Tommy the Norwegian Butter Waif! They respond in kind, pointing out the REAL crisis: no money.

Perhaps a drag race could settle this.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tamils gotz Autotune??

Me, Lebron & the TicketCity Bowl

Our latest piece is up at Grantland.

Money quote:

In sum, we have a system where the games are not designed to produce the best on-field matchups, the competitors often lose money but fight fiercely to participate, outsiders and observers complain vehemently, and the organizers amass and waste a great deal of money with little oversight.

Welcome to capitalism, American style. Get back to us when you’ve found a better system.

What is the capital account?

Writing in the Economist, Mark Thoma says something remarkable:

"A COUNTRY that runs a current account deficit is borrowing money from the rest of the world. As with any loan, that money will need to be paid back at some point in the future. The cost of these loans is the interest that must be paid, and any vulnerabilities to speculative attacks that come with them."

We know that a current account deficit means there will be a roughly equal sized capital account surplus. But there is nothing about the capital account that requires the net foreign investment be in bonds!

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is part of the capital account. If companies around the world build more factories in country A than country A companies do around the world, then country A (all else equal) will have a capital account surplus and a current account deficit. Net foreign purchases of equities are also part of the capital account. If more foreigners buy stocks in Country A that citizens of Country A buy in foreign countries, that contributes to Country A's capital account surplus (and current account deficit).

I don't consider net FDI or net foreign purchases of equities loans. Do you?

Suppose Toyota buys a factory from Ford. Does that mean the US is borrowing money from Japan? Suppose Lionel Messi buys shares in IBM. In what sense is that the US borrowing money from Argentina? There is no requirement that the government or domestic individuals buy these items back later. Suppose I buy a factory from Ford. Is the rest of the country borrowing money from me?

Maybe Mark is speaking broadly, metaphorically, and considers profits of foreign owned factories and dividends on foreign owned stocks as "interest on loans"?

Even if this is so, FDI is decidedly NOT "money that will need to be paid back", nor am I aware of any studies showing that FDI inflows (except perhaps by the indirect channel of creating currency appreciation).

In his blog, Mark says he consulted the Krugman & Obstfeld text before writing the Economist post. Does the book make a similar claim?

People, what am I missing here?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two Excellent Emails on the "Laptops in Classrooms" Question: Part Deux

Another email I got after posting the "Laptops in Classrooms" screed.

Hi Prof. Munger, I very strongly disagree with you, and I'll try to say why to get my thoughts on the table:

All through my undergraduate years, I brought my laptop to class with every good intention: more than any of the reasons you present, a searchable record of computerized notes is, I think, the most compelling reason for allowing computers in the classroom, and that was my goal.

But when I actually opened up the computer, I found myself struggling to accomplish this. I'd just check this one email, look at this one funny website, just have one more line of gchat with my girlfriend (who would have been doing the same from a different seminar), and then get back to the lecture. And suddenly, class would be over, and I'd be kicking myself, vowing never again to use my laptop that way during class.

Sure enough, the next class would come, and my laptop would be out, primed and ready for excellent, attentive note-taking, and a little message would pop up on my sidebar. Or I'd get bored for ten seconds and find myself sucked in as a result to a half-hour-long wikipedia quagmire.

The extent to which I was kidding myself every time I brought my computer to class, thinking it would help me to be productive, is a fascinating study in self- delusion, but I know that I was not alone in this addict-like behavior. Everyone else was doing it too --- some of my gchats were with them! It took me four years, but by my last semester of undergrad, I had quit taking my laptop to class, and I haven't taken it once since entering graduate school. It turns out that forcibly limiting your options is a great way to focus your attention. Human are impulsive --- too many choices can be crippling rather than liberating, because what seems in the moment like a good idea is not, of course, always what you really want to be doing. Feel free to deny this aspect of our nature if you will, but caving to students' demands about having laptops in class is like untying Odysseus from the mast at his first pathetic cry.

By telling your students you do not allow laptops in class, you are not enslaving them: you are setting them free. They are free from the constant distractions of the rest of the world. They are confined in a way, yes: confined to the path they have chosen for themselves --- to the education they are supposedly receiving and the classes they have supposedly chosen.

Pandering to psych studies about attention will not save you. Yes, paying attention is hard. But our minds are not simply ticking attention timers. I have had good teachers who have engaged my attention for 2 full hours (without gimmicky "activities"), and bad teachers who couldn't hold it for 2 minutes. A laptop would have provided an easy escape in the latter case, but it would also have prevented me from having the kind of direct, intense, and full experience in the former. I know because it did, many times, as an undergraduate, and freeing myself from my laptop was a revelation.

Perhaps you will say that this sort of experience is one that all students should have for themselves, but I disagree. The classroom is not a polity, and it is not a typical exchange relationship, as you seem to envision it: it is meant to provide students with an education --- and if a student (or, in most cases, their parents) wants to pay for a Duke degree, then we have the prerogative to decide what that means. And in this case, it should mean helping students form the good habits that my own undergraduate professors didn't have the guts to help me form. We are training them to pay attention in a world that does not simply consist of 15-20 minute segments punctuated by the naptimes or clapping games of our kindergarten teachers.

And this, in turn, should give us a greater sense of responsibility. I agree that there are too many professors out there who "suck" at teaching (inevitable, given the incentive structures in academia, but that's another story). But laptops are not a solution --- agreeing to have laptops in the classroom is simply giving up on good teaching at all. At least without laptops, there are no excuses.

"Pandering to psych studies"? Yikes. To be fair, the author is a political theorist, and the whole empirical thing tends to escape them. Still, a useful analysis.

So, It was Crack Cocaine?

Actual Central Florida Headline:

Man eats cocaine in brother's butt, dies

Police: Man trying to hide drug evidence in squad car

You could read the rest of the story, but frankly there's not much more to tell.

(Nod to Jackie Blue, who misses Florida....not so much)

Two Excellent Emails on the "Laptops in Classrooms" Question

I got quite a few emails about the "Laptops in Classrooms!" screed.

Thought I'd post two of the emails I got from people who thought I got it wrong. Here is one. It is a bit long, but quite thoughtful, and from someone who has seen how things work.

Person 1: I appreciated your post, and I agree with you wholeheartedly that poor teaching deserves 90% of the blame for extended periods of student distraction.
But my anti-laptop views began to take shape during my first semester as a TA at [redacted] University. The professor was a phenomenal teacher, one of the best in our top-ten department. (I don't think I've ever seen a longer or heartier standing ovation for an instructor than the one s/he received at the end of his/her intro course.) There was a significant amount of student-teacher interaction (course enrollment was 80). And yet, a ridiculously high number of students had Facebook and other non-course-related sites up on the screen for ridiculously long portions of the class. From my perch at the back of her classroom, I could see most student laptops. Of course I knew students sometimes check email or Facebook or, but the sheer magnitude of the thing struck me (and I admit, scandalized me). I don't have any way of quantifying this in retrospect, but I can only say that I would bet a small fortune on the proposition that they spent more time more profoundly distracted with laptops than they would have spent distracted without them.
(Of course, I TA-ed for other classes with less talented professors, and level of web-wandering was astronomically high in these cases--approaching 90% of screen time spent on non-class-related pages. As you suggest, those professors were asking for it in some measure.)
This is my case study evidence, but I would make three further random points on this topic.
First, while I appreciate your point about web-based distraction as a mere substitute for daydreaming or doodling, I think there are important distinctions to be made here. This is probably a task for real social scientists, but my hunch is that web content is far more engrossing and tends to account for far lengthier bouts of distraction than daydreaming or doodling. Daydreaming can be fun, but checking Facebook updates is just so much easier on the imagination. I can't remember the last time I've daydreamed or doodled for, say, two hours. But two hours wasting time online? No problem. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone here.
Second-- and this is an explanation that I often give to students in small seminars (20 or under)-- laptops constitute not only source of distraction but also a physical barrier. It is hard to imagine having an excellent dinner conversation with little ten-inch plastic walls sitting in front of each guest. I think these little walls somehow denature or degrade the conversation. I'm here, but not completely. I would also add that they introduce seemingly endless voices and minds into the room whereas (inky view) the high-octane seminar is about the 10 minds in the room engaging one another and a text.
Third, I think laptops encourage stenography as opposed to listening and real note-taking. The pen and paper forces the student to digest material then and there, to discern what is most important, and to get it down. This requires listening, and it even leaves little time for critically evaluating what you're hearing and asking questions about it. Stenography not only doesn't require listening, I think it suppresses listening and critical thinking. (The court reporter is the last person I'd ask to tell me the highlights of the day's testimony. I'll talk to the journalist with the Steno pad.) So in this light, it seems that even the best students--those with Word open rather than Facebook-- are bad laptop users.
Fourth, and most intangibly, I think there is something freeing about removing the web as an option for students. (Here's dangerous claim about positive freedom.) They spend every minute of every day with the web as an option. For one blessed hour, three days a week, my students are free, absolutely free, from the alluring glow of the iPhone and the MacBook. Believe it or not, I think this makes them happy. I think they like to pay attention. But of course, they won't admit it...

Dr. James Harrigan on why laptops should NOT be allowed in the classroom....

The response, also at KOSMOS, taking the "No Laptops!" view.

James Harrigan

Butter Crisis Prompts Desperate Video

"What if it was YOU who didn't have any butter? What if I took your butter away from you?"

TOMMY! Listen. YOUR. GOVERNMENT. is doing this to you, sweetie. There is no butter shortage. It is the state who is f***ing you. You are hilarious because the shortage is entirely a product of your protectionist trade policies. If you needed actual help, we'd be there for you. But if we tried to ship in emergency supplies of butter, we would be ARRESTED. Just like those Swedish butter thugs...

(If you have missed the story, check out our man Angus, with his finger on the private parts of Norway and the butter crisis.)

Grandma Got Indefinitely Detained Now

They took her rights in order to protect her rights....
The most genius plan ever in history!

Scandinavian follies

KPC recently broke the story of Norway's tragic, self-inflicted butter shortage (or as Matt Yglesias would have it, Norway's heroic defense of a diversified economy).

Now let me ask you a question? What do you call buying butter at $35 a pound?

Well in Norway apparently it's a bargain and in Sweden it's a profit opportunity.

Yes people, the marauding Swedes are trying to bring down brave little Norway by smuggling in butter!

Two guys "sneaking" across the border with 550 pounds of butter. In 18 oz. packages. Tragically the article is silent on how exactly these packages were concealed.

The article treats the shortage as somehow exogenous and talks about how it has led to "blackmarket trafficking", like butter was heroin. As we noted before, idiotic trade barriers have produced this bogus "shortage".

Norway: We're not just oil, we're oil and butter! (except when we run out of butter).

Norway: No Dutch disease here, just take a peek at our dairy industry!

Student Brings Typewriter to Class

The Ward Boss sends this little gem. Student brings typewriter to class to take notes.

Ya gotta love the little "ding" when he puts it away.

Where did the kid FIND a non-electric typewriter? Impressive.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Sweet Tribute

I had missed this. A sweet tribute of the young Buck to his very famous father.

Jack and Joe Buck call their respective Game 6's from Kidd Video on Vimeo.

Also sad to see #5 in the thick of the celebration. Bon chance, #5.

Laptops in Class: I say "Allow Them"

So, a debate between truth and craven falsehood over at KOSMOS.

With me, as always, taking the side of truth. Should laptops be required / allowed / prohibited in class?

Falsity gets its chance, arguing the "ban laptops! They are da debbil's woikshoppe!" tomorrow.

Excerpt: If you have to pay someone to attend you, that’s prostitution. If you have to force someone to attend you, that’s slavery.

I have never understood why so many professors believe that students must be prostituted or indentured. But that is what the “ban laptops” crowd is arguing: We can’t count on students to learn voluntarily. So we have to bribe them, or we have to force them to leave their laptops home.

Look, profs: If you seriously find that most of your students are daydreaming, facebooking, or cruising porn sites (not that that’s a bad thing…), you might want to try an old and honorable solution. Two words.



Men Think Women Dig Them, Women are Surprised By This

The Misperception of Sexual Interest

Carin Perilloux, Judith Easton & David Buss
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Abstract: The current study (N = 199) utilized a "speed-meeting" methodology to study sexual misperception. This method allowed us to evaluate the magnitude of
men's sexual over-perception bias, whether and how women misperceive sexual interest, and individual differences in susceptibility to misperception. We found strong support for the novel prediction that women underestimate the sexual interest of male interaction partners. Men inclined to pursue a short-term mating strategy and men who rated themselves as attractive were especially likely to over-perceive women's sexual interest. As targets of misperception, women's physical attractiveness predicted the magnitude of men's sexual over-perception bias. We discuss implications of gender differences and individual differences within sex in susceptibility to sexual misperception.

Interesting that the prettier the woman, the more the man thinks she is interested in him. All men think they are good drivers, good dancers, and know.

To be fair, though, this is clearly adaptive. Type 1 and type 2 error problem. If only one out of ten women who smile at you actually thinks she wants you, it makes sense to be embarrassed nine times and have a shot at reproducing once. There is no fitness penalty for embarrassment. But there is a fitness penalty for thinking you are ugly and not trying. The fact that most men are in fact ugly is irrelevant.

Nod to Kevin Lewis, who is always a gentleman.

She's Just Capturing the Regulators

(with apologies to Elvis Costello)

Venn diagrams = good. And here are several describing the overlap companies and the fed gov.

Nod to MAG

We are ALL Humean Beings Now

My favorite philosopher, by a wide margin, is David Hume. (Never mind the epistemology stuff, not sure what he was doing there, forget that).

Very nice article in NYT on Hume, and why he gets disrespected.

In fact, it seems to me that Ron Paul is the modern political version of David Hume. Everyone says that he's right about a lot of things, perhaps wrong about some things, but in any case they certainly can't take him seriously, because.... hard to say why, actually.

As Bertrand Russell put it: "Rousseau was mad but influential; Hume was sane but had no followers."

Same as it ever was

While we either resent or enjoy cheap Chinese imports, most of us think of them as a relatively recent phenomenon.

Check out this description of Chinese imports:

"much prettier articles than are made in XXXX and sometimes so cheap that I am ashamed to mention it" The trades "pursued by the XXXXers have all died out because people buy their clothes and shoes from the [Chinese]"

Hmmm, floods of cheap textiles and footwear that are killing domestic industries? Is XXXX the USA and 2011 the year?

No, XXXX is Spain and the time period is the 1580s!

The quotes are from Charles Mann's fascinating book 1493. (page 153)

At least the 16th century Chinese got paid in silver; their unlucky modern day disciples have to take green pieces of paper or electronic IOUs from Uncle Sam.

The Real Reason the State Opposes Charters

In North Carolina, we have many places with overcrowded schools and the need to build more. The cost per student is on the order of $8k or more.

But charter schools can quickly gear up, in places that are overcrowded, and use rental space (as opposed to purchasing land, required by state law). Charters can go without sports facilities (as opposed to having a full set of sports and recreation facilities, as required by state law). Charters can contract out for janitorial services, can do without a full service cafeteria, can go without hallway lockers, and can make do without full service school buses. Regular schools have to have all those things, as required by....well, you know.

So, charters can operate about 1/2 to 2/3 the cost per student of regular schools in NC. And they can be up and running in a year, where it takes five years or more for a new state school.

Why would anyone be against charters?

Because the job of schools is NOT to provide education to children. That's a myth. The job of state schools is to provide JOBS to people who will vote Democrat. It's not clear that charter school faculty will have the correct ideology, since they are hired by the parents who pay the bills, not the bureaucrats who depend on the state for their livelihood.

In New York, the authorities went so far as to send the money BACK, rather than allow flexibility and choice in school provision.

Here is what the state of NY had to say about it:

An audit of the public pre-K system by the city comptroller’s office places the blame for the lack of seats squarely on the city’s Department of Education, saying that in 2010, it got enough money from the state — $29 million — to finance an additional 8,000 seats. When those funds went unspent, they had to be returned to the state. But the department said those funds would have paid for only 2.5 hours of teaching daily, making the programs impractical for working families. What city families need is full-day programs, according to the department, and the state money will not pay for those.

In other words, parents are paying taxes into the system. Since it is unable to provide the educational services it promised when it took the money, at gunpoint, the state could rebate that money, either as vouchers or as part of a charter agreement. Either would solve the overcrowding problem.

But, instead, the state insists that only a full day would serve "working families." This concern for "working families" means that they get....nothing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kobe: He's Not Good

With apologies to P. Boettke, who will continue to insist that Kobe is not just the best player in NBA history, but also a fine human being. Pete is wrong about some other things, too, but he is wrongest about Kobe. Kobe is a worthless, worthless man. This is a spoof, but it captures the essence of the man.

This from Boondocks, August 4, 2003:

Quotes of the week

Great article by David Roodman on getting to the bottom of conflicting econometric results.

Money quote:

The process is standard in econometrics and is called Maximum Likelihood. It is analogous to a blind ant searching for the highest point in the Himalayas. The ant starts somewhere. It explores the immediate neighborhood. It determines which nearby point is highest and goes there. And it repeats, maybe millions of times, until it gets stuck at place where all neighboring points are downhill. Then the ant assumes it is at the highest point.

Hat tip to Roving Bandit

Jon Chait on Krugman's impact on the NY Times Editorial page.

Money Quote:

The most remarkable attribute Krugman has brought to the Times is rudeness.

Article on the Lakers' travails showing the wit and wisdom of Andrew Bynum.

Money Quote:

Lakers center Andrew Bynum isn't fretting the failed trade at all. In fact, he thinks the Lakers are better off with it falling through. "I'm happy we didn't do it," Bynum said. "I don't think you trade two 7-footers for a point guard. Ever."

Hat tip to LeBron