Sunday, September 30, 2007

Guest Post from Mrs. Mungowitz: UPS Performance Art

Mrs. Mungowitz was at the UPS store. This is from an email to her friends. I am just using it verbatim:

My husband tells me about helicopter parents who call their sons/daughters at college to make sure they get up in time for classes. Think we need new term for this, to account for new dimensions of services parents provide.

Went to the UPS store Friday to mail letters. Next door is a large grocery store. While waiting, in dashes a mother with a grocery cart full of food in bags, and she announces, "My son at college is out of food." (NOTICE, she said, SON.) The person waiting on me stops and stares (as do other patrons in the room). Mom then says, do you have a box large enough to fit all this?" It was quite a lot of food. Employee insured her that they did have a box large enough. She asked how much. He said about $10.00. She said fine, it was cheaper than DRIVING IT to HIM! I wanted to ask what college her son was at, but didn't and left in amazement.

He was "out of food"?

They don't have stores? Having parents send money is an old tradition, but boxes of groceries?

And, she said "at college," not "on Junior Year Abroad in the Galapogos." What sort of college doesn't have food service?

A real helicopter parent would have driven the food there herself, I suppose. This way, the abused, deprived boy still has to cook the food. Poor devil.

Lange to Hayek: Laugh while you can, market boy!

It seems our latest attempt at central planning, viz. mandating the use and subsidizing domestic production of ethanol, while also putting a tariff on imported ethanol, has hit a few bumps in the road. Besides the myriad effects of the concomitant increases in corn prices, ethanol production has outstripped its distribution capacity and surpassed the government mandated 2012 required use quantity already this year.

Congress essentially legislated the industry’s expansion by requiring steadily higher quantities of ethanol as a gasoline blend, a kick-start that was further spurred by the proliferation of bans on a competing fuel additive used to help curb air pollution.

But the ethanol industry, which is also heavily subsidized by federal tax incentives, got far ahead of the requirements of the law, rapidly building scores of plants and snapping up a rising share of the corn harvest. Many of those plants have gone into operation in recent months, and many more are scheduled for completion by the end of next year.

The resulting ethanol oversupply is buffeting the market. Here in northern Iowa, deep in the corn belt, newly cautious farmers and ethanol executives are figuring out how to cut costs and weighing their options should the situation get worse.

“We don’t know what, ultimately, the marketplace will price ethanol at,” said Rick Brehm, president and chief executive of Lincolnway Energy, a midsize distillery here. “It could go lower.”

Since construction crews broke ground on the Lincolnway plant in 2005, the price of ethanol on the local market has fallen to $1.55 a gallon from about $2, Mr. Brehm said. Over the same period, the price of corn, representing 70 percent of production costs, has risen to $3.27 a bushel from $1.60. “We’re trapped between two commodities,” he said.

Of course, our modern world operates exclusively on the "hair of the dog" theory: If government intervention has caused a problem, the only way out is...... MORE GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION.

Aaron Brady, a director at the consulting firm Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said the current market problems could worsen if combined with other “unintended consequences that may be lurking” from increased ethanol production. He said pressure on corn and other food prices, water shortages, soil and fertilizer runoff could hurt political support for the industry.

“If Congress doesn’t substantially raise the renewable fuel standard,” Mr. Brady said, “then this is not just a short term problem but a long term issue, and there will be more of a shakeout in the industry.”

The Senate has approved a bill that would require gasoline producers to blend 36 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline by 2022, an increase from the current standard of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. The House did not include such a provision in the version it passed, and it is uncertain whether any final legislation will emerge this year and what it will say about ethanol if it does.

Ethanol proponents say a new energy law is virtually inevitable at some point, and that even if it does not pass this year, lower ethanol prices will provide an incentive for refiners to blend more ethanol into expensive gasoline. A higher renewable fuels standard would force refiners and blenders to work faster to process increased amounts.

“This is an industry that is going to continue to grow,” said Bruce Rastetter, chief executive of Hawkeye Renewables, a private company based in nearby Ames that has two distilleries and two more under construction. “Once you see an energy bill, I think you will see the industry respond again.”

I think even Lange and Lerner would agree with me when I say: Central Planning: yer doin' it wrong!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The poop on poop in North Carolina

Fact: North Carolina is the #2 hog raising state in the nation (btw, kudos to #1 Iowa).

Fact: The traditional way of dealing with hog waste is making huge lakes of it.

Fact: It is technically possible to capture the methane rising from these stinky carolinee swimmin' holes and make electricity from it.

Fact: It is however prohibitively expensive to do so.

Fact: A lot of people don't care about the cost.

Fact: Mungowitz, libertarian candidate for NC governor has railed about the waste of un-economical recycling.

Question: Is this any different?

Back in February one Carolina utility, Progress Energy agreed to pay farmers $0.18 per killowat hour of hog methane generated electricity. It typically pays $0.05 to indie producers of solar or wind generated electricity. Seem crazy? Well think again!

"This is a major step forward," said Dan Whittle, a program director for New York-based Environmental Defense. "The fact that Progress Energy is willing to pay triple of what it normally pays farmers is great news."

For who exactly is this great news Dan?

Now the NC state government has legislated a tripling of hog-methane generated electricity and apparently approved a series of fees for residential consumers and firms to cover the cost (I say apparently because this info is from the WSJ editorial page and thus of questionable provenance).

The bill also mandates capturing electricity from chicken waste. I recommend they run that pilot program right at the Capitol building.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Who's Happy Now??

The latest news flash is that there is a growing happiness gap between men and women. Now I just assume that I am much happier than Mrs. Angus because I get to hang around with her while she has to hang around with me. She however keeps insisting that she is very happy.

Nonetheless, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

Leave it to the NY times to immediately see a role for government policy:

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

Holy Crap, Holy Crap, Holy Crap!!

The research reported on doesn't compare the happiness of women with access to preschool or maternal leave against those without such access, nor does it compare the happiness of women with and without loutish husbands. Neither the words "preschool" or "parental leave" appear in the Stevenson-Wolfers paper or the Krueger paper (nor does any other kind of paid leave).

Does anybody else find the Times' conclusions bizarre and bogus?

Angus like!!

These are a pair of one channel amps that together produce stereo sound.

These were made by a guy named Josh Stippich.

This is more or less how they work.

They are pretty sweet!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Separated at Birth??

Oh Yeah!! No doubt!!

Lightning Strike

The UAW-GM strike lasted all of two days. However, that was enough time for the NY times to editorialize that the strike was a wake up call to the Government to provide health care and for Tyler to wonder why there are strikes at all.

In my limited but colorful experience as a union rep for the United Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (I worked night shift as a welder while in college), a strike was an imagined Xanadu for the line workers. Any management affront, real or imagined (and there were plenty of both) brought a stream of guys past my station urging us to "Wildcat!" or saying "lets shut this m%#$*f%*er down big K". When our contract expired, the rank and file was adamant that we strike, and strike we did, though the offer we ended up accepting was slightly worse than the initial offer the company had made. For the first few weeks at least, the strike was a big party.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Waiting in Line For Halo, With the Salt of the Earth

Waited in line last night, at GameStop in Brier Creek Shopping Center.

Reminds me of the LAST time I waited in line to buy Halo 2. Pretty funny then, too.

This older son Kevin and I had an interesting talk about the problem of "wait-minimizing arrival time." The object is NOT to minimize the amount of time spent waiting after the store opens, at 12:01 am Tuesday. The object is to minimize TOTAL wait time.

We decided that arriving at 11:35 pm on Monday was a good guess. When we got there, the line was pretty long, stretching around the block. But the GameStop boys had it set up well. You go in (you had to have pre-ordered, and we did, four months ago) and pick up your pick up slip. That ticket is then to be exchanged, in seconds, for the copy of the game AFTER midnight passes and the game goes legally on sale. So, all the financial/ID stuff is done beforehand.

Games start flying out the door at 12:01. We were about 100th in line, but had our game by 12:10 am, amazing. Headed home, let the mayhem begin. "FINISH THE FIGHT!" Total wait time: 35 minutes. We should have arrived at 11:50, would have had the game by 12:15, for a TWT of only 25 minutes. Live and learn.

Highlight of the waiting: For some reason, people in line were really scornful about, as they called it, "the helmet." As in, "I hope I don't see anybody over 12 carrying THE HELMET."

I didn't know what was meant, but my sons told me that THE HELMET is this. Comes with the "Legendary edition," which is a lot like the regular edition, only twice as expensive.

Since it was pretty clear that most of the unshaven, overweight 35 year old men around me who were shouting at anyone carrying THE HELMET had never had the thing called THE DATE in their lives....well, it was a little pathetic to see these permanent bachelors criticize others.

Several 13-14 year old kids tried to hide THE HELMET as they walked by, but THE HELMET is pretty big. Forever scarred.

Coffee, Tea or YIKES!!!

Americans are fed up with domestic air service. A "passenger's bill of rights" is under consideration in Congress, and airlines report that uncivil passenger behavior is at an all time high.

But, things could be worse, you could be flying in Africa, as Micheal Gurshowitz testifies in the NY Times.

First, scheduling can be a problem:

Since few cities in Africa are connected by daily flights, the only routing my travel agent could find was one departing Accra on Dec. 23. I would arrive at 1 a.m. in Lagos, Nigeria, with a connecting flight to Douala, Cameroon’s largest city, 12 hours later. Then I would have a four-hour bus ride to Yaoundé. I passed.
A second travel agent suggested taking a bus to Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, and then flying to Douala on Kenya Airways. This seemed like a better choice. The cheapest round-trip ticket was $666. The bus trip took 16 hours and the outbound flight was over two hours late. But the flight, when it did arrive, was very pleasant.

And it's not always easy getting through the airport either:

Offloading baggage took more than an hour. A porter nagged me to hire him, which I declined. But he insisted, telling me the customs inspector would open my bags and help himself. I relented. As we approached customs, the porter told me to give him $20 to bribe the inspector. I handed over my $20, and we sailed through. But the porter demanded another $20 for his services, and when I balked, he shouted and I was immediately surrounded by several tough-looking men. Goodbye, $20.

Then there's the cancellations:

I arrived at the Douala airport, but the flight wasn’t listed. An airport major-domo told me someone from Kenya Airways had come by saying that the flight was canceled and that he should tell passengers to return Wednesday. This was Sunday, and I was scheduled to lead a grants workshop in Ghana on Tuesday. Air Chad was checking in passengers for a flight to Lomé, the capital of Togo, in two hours. I could get from Lomé to Ghana by bus. I was overjoyed — until the ticket clerk told me Air Chad only accepts cash. The ticket was $407 and I had $200. The airport’s A.T.M. was broken. I took a cab downtown and tried three others. All were broken. No banks were open. I convinced a hotel manager to give me a “cash advance” disguised as a purchase. I hurried back to the airport and ran to the gate. When I got there, there was no plane. Four hours later, it did arrive, a 1960s Fokker F-28, all but extinct elsewhere in the world. My extra costs were more than $700. Kenya Airways would give me only a 50 percent refund for the unused return ticket.

I actually have some personal experience in the opposite direction with Rwanda Air. We bought our tickets in advance with a bank transfer, but when we got to the airport (in Tanzania), there was no record available. We showed a copy of the the transfer receipt and the manager took the name of our hotel in Kigali and said "OK you can take the flight and if there is a problem Jimmy will contact you at your hotel." She then issued us round trip paper tickets and boarding passes. Another family was trying to buy tickets at the counter but faced the same no credit cards accepted and no ATM at the airport situation as Mr. Gurshowitz describes above. However, the airline sent an employee on the flight with them to accompany them to a bank in Kigali and collect the money ex-post!

What goes around comes around

It is a surrealistic scene in Peru right now with both Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán and his nemesis Alberto Fujimori in jail at the same time (to say nothing of Fujimori's hatchetman (or master as some would have it) Vladimiro Montesinos, who's also in the slammer).

Fujimori risked everything by leaving his safe haven of Japan to return to South America, Chile to be precise, to apparently try and re-start his devastated political career. He now will stand trial for misappropriation of funds and for human rights abuses related to a military "death squad's" operations in the 1990s.

I have very mixed feelings about this case. Peru was totally screwed and Fujimori saved it. He broke the Shining Path and brought stability, but apparently via systematic extra-legal means.

I also have some doubts about the possibility of a fair trial given that current President Alan Garcia, who lived in exile between the end of his previous term as president in 1990 and when he returned after Fujimori's departure, was subject to two attempts by the Fujimori regime to extradite him back to Peru to stand trial for corruption.

Karma sure can be a beeyoch.

H3 quick review

Visually very similar to H2, with subtle improvements. I like that very much. Didn't try to go overboard on moving plants or water that no one cares about after seeing it once.

New weapons. Spike grenade: weak at distance, disgustingly deadly at zero range. A good meaty "thwack" means the thrower needs to go hide for a few seconds. It's supper time.

Spartan laser: hard to use, but presumably gets easier with practice.

Assault rifle: nice. Default spawning weapon. Shoots well in bursts.

Gotta go. Master Chief needs taught a Covenant lesson tonight.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Halo 3: T-1 hour

In one hour and 2 minutes, the Mungowi will have our copy of Halo 3.

A report at 12:45 EDT on the early returns....

A Tussle with Russel

A podcast, with Russ Roberts in the interviewer chair, as always.

But the first part might not make sense without the previous podcast we did, or at least the essay on recycling.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four.....

According to the Economist, inflation in Argentina is running at 9.1% for the year so far. Not bad by their historical standards, but still the second highest rate among the 42 countries tracked by the magazine. The head of the Argentine central bank recently stated that it was cause for worry, which prompted the following response from the Kirchner government delivered by Cabinet chief Alberto Fernández: "En la Argentina no existe inflación" (Inflation does not exist in Argentina).


Alberto claims people are confounding a change in relative prices with an overall rise in the price level: "Descubren que la papa sube y entonces todos hablan de la papa, pero que la papa sube no quiere decir que hay un aumento generalizado de precios"

translation: They see potato prices go up and then everyone talks about potatoes, but a rise in potato prices doesn't mean there is a generalized rise in all prices.

cojones no le faltan.

Bad News: Saad is back in the cross-hairs

Saad Edn Ibrahim is my relative (by marriage: he is my father's wife's daughter's husband. I think that makes him a step brother-in-law). His history is interesting, and poignant.

Anyway, new problems have arisen. (Saad was released from Egyptian prison four years ago. He was held on trumped up charges for 14 months)

The state-controlled media is after him, which is a bad sign. When the newspapers stumble, the thought police rumble. Saad may go back to jail if he returns to Egypt.

Far from the public eye a drama is playing out that will have the utmost consequences for the Bush administration's goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East. The region's most prominent dissident, Egyptian sociologist Saad Edin Ibrahim, suddenly finds himself in a kind of perambulatory exile, hopping from conference to conference--in nine countries in the last three months. The one place he dare not go is home to Egypt because well-placed officials have warned him not to put himself within President Hosni Mubarak's grasp.

What has Mr. Ibrahim done to enrage President Mubarak? He has loudly advocated democracy in public writings, interviews with Western reporters, and, most unforgivably, in a face-to-face meeting with President Bush. As a result, members of Mr. Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party filed nine formal requests with the state prosecutor's office this summer for indictments against Mr. Ibrahim, for "damaging the state's economic interests" and even "treason." The state-run press has conducted a smear campaign against him.

Most recently, Egypt's largest paper, Al Ahram, carried a front-page editorial signed by Osama Saraya, its editor in chief, that branded Mr. Ibrahim an "agent" of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and a "criminal." Still more ominously, the author averred that Mr. Ibrahim had "repeated his old crime itself by giving false information to a foreign reader" to obscure "the environment of freedom and reform that Egypt lives in."

Saad is an optimistic guy. One of his central positions is that Islamic countries can, and should, vote. This op-ed is particularly passionate on this point.

(Nod to RL)

Universe to Greenspan: ZIP IT MISTER!!

Ex-Fed jefe Alan Greenspan has certainly put the "tire" in retirement in record time. He just won't shut up. He's ripping the Dems on trade, Bush on deficits, the Republican Congress on underfunded entitlements, talking about how "fear still grips" the markets, causally tossing out recession probabilities, endorsing a candidate in the IMF chief race, and has even offered up his opinions about attacking Iran. Holy Crap!

Bob Woodward in the throes of his man-crush labeled Al "the Maestro" but it seem clear that more accurate nicknames would be "the Narcissist" or "the Amnesiac".

Ben Bernanke is doing his best to clean up Greenspan's mess and is not publically laying anything at Alan's door. Paul Volcker left the Fed quietly without become an all purpose guru and stepping all over new appointee Greenspan. Apparently the Maestro believes neither in paying it forward nor the golden rule. On second thought he seems to believe in a modified golden rule: Do whatever you gotta do to get the gold!

I can't decide whether to urge people to boycott his book or just have everyone in the world buy a copy, so that maxed out Al can then just go away.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

HappeeEEE, Happy Birthday!

My birthday Sunday.

Got up and read the paper, had some coffee.

Took younger younger Munger to antique gun show.

Purchased (with some help from the in-laws; thanks!) a 1944 Mauser K-98.
Got a nice bayonet, and a fine leather sling for carrying.

Also, 40 rounds of Rumanian ammunition. The 8mm rifle shell looks like a small cannon shell instead of a large rifle bullet. I can't believe people fired these things in combat. Effective range of half a mile, with a good scope. That's EFFECTIVE range, mind you. The shell will travel three miles or more. Don't fire in the air.

Then we went to an all you can eat Chinese buffet, the height of elegant eating. At one point, the manager was peaking out the kitchen door at us. I thought he might offer us a discount if we would leave, but he gamely refilled all the steam trays that had gone empty.

Got home, had some of my favorite cake, which my wife makes once a year, on my birthday.

After this post, I am going to take a nap while pretending to watch the Panthers pretend to play football.

A most excellent birthday.

And, soon, in season: Bambi's mother is going down. The 8mm shell is likely to go clean through her (2400+ fps muzzle velocity, and a vertical drop of just over 1/4 inch at 100 yards). I'd hate to be cruel; she'll never feel a thing.

For what it's worth

The house across the street from us has been "for sale" for almost 18 months now, first with a realtor then by owner. I often treat Mrs. Angus to a morning rant about how it's not really for sale as the asking price is far above the market clearing price. I regale her with how they should simply put up a big sign saying "we're idiots" as it would make the situation much clearer to everyone.

In today's NYT, the ever-interesting Austan Goolsbee writes about this phenomenon:

ECONOMISTS and other humans don’t always see eye to eye. “Economists tend to think people are crazy because they won’t sell their houses for less than they paid for them — and people think economists are crazy for thinking things exactly like that,” said Professor Christopher Mayer, director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia Business School and an authority on real estate economics.

With house prices falling in many markets around the nation, this particular quirk of the human psyche might end up costing the economy a great deal, Professor Mayer says.

Classical economics can’t explain this behavior. That’s because people who refuse to sell their houses for less than they paid for them are violating a cardinal rule of the market: stuff is worth what it’s worth. It doesn’t matter what you paid for it.

Mayer also has great advice for such loss averse people contemplating selling their upside down house:

“If you want to sell your house then you list it at the market price and you sell it,” he said. “If you don’t really want to sell then don’t put it on the market. But don’t say you want to sell and then set the price so high that you spend the year cleaning up every morning, having people walk through your living room and look in your medicine cabinets and reject you. That’s just painful — and expensive.”

And KPC would add, just put up the Idiots live here sign as a cheap substitute

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Well, That Sounds Right

Don B speaks truth to powerful halfwits.

Boredom as Exploitation, Part Deux

In a previous post, I noted this problem, about video games, according to the aptly named Mr. Blow:

"That kind of reward system is very easily turned into a Pavlovian or Skinnerian scheme," he says. "It's considered best practice: schedule rewards for your player so that they don't get bored and give up on your game. That's actually exploitation."

The downside (and I mean that) of boredom is that...well, read it yourself:

A 24-year-old man arrested in the US state of Pennsylvania for holding up a convenience store wearing nothing but a hat has told police he did it because he was bored, according to local reports.

Police were questioning Carl Wagner over a separate incident of indecent exposure when they recognised him from a surveillance video in which he can be seen entering the store naked but apparently covering his manhood with a hand.

"We actually had an incident where the gentleman lives where he was exposing himself to two females. He was initially brought in on that accusation," Carbondale police sergeant Thomas Heller told local television channel WNEP.

"We put two and two together, it was definitely him," he added. Police said that Wagner had admitted carrying out the stick up and had been charged with robbery, open lewdness and indecent exposure.

The surveillance video shows a man with heavy tan lines, apparently from a "wife-beater" style vest, approach the counter. Officials said the man demanded money from the clerk, who refused to hand anything over and called the police.

The robber then fled the store empty handed.

Wagner appeared in court on Tuesday fully dressed. Asked by police why he carried out the attempted robbery, he said he was bored.

Boredom as exploitation, Part I: Say It Ain't So, Blow!

An article on the dangers of video games:

A prominent independent developer labelled modern games such as World of Warcraft "unethical" at a recent Melbourne conference.

Jonathan Blow, creator of upcoming time-bending game Braid, told the Free Play conference at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image that games can be art but he is concerned about what they are really teaching players.

"I believe that games are important to the future of humanity," Mr Blow says. "It sounds like a grand statement but it's obviously true for other forms of art that we're very familiar with. Films and novels have drastically shaped the society that we live in; without them our lives would be very different.

"I don't think games are there yet but if we are good about it we can develop games into a medium that's more relevant to the wide swathe of humanity."

Mr Blow believes developers need to think about what their games are teaching players when they reward them for performing certain actions.

"That kind of reward system is very easily turned into a Pavlovian or Skinnerian scheme," he says. "It's considered best practice: schedule rewards for your player so that they don't get bored and give up on your game. That's actually exploitation."

Halo III comes out tonight. No boredom at the Munger house for a long time.

Of course, Mr. Blow may be right: Wow may just be too sexy.

Intramurals Heat Up, Lit Department Early Favorite

Intramural basketball season here at Duke is heating up.

A secret picture of the new guy the Duke Literature Department hopes
will provide the organization and leadership necessary to show what
is to be done.

Apparently, the guy doesn't pass at all. But give him the rock, and he is a stone gunner.

Mickey Rivers take me home

Mrs. Angus was grading the first assignment in one of her classes this week and noticed a name on a (failing) paper that was not familiar to her. In due course it turned out to belong to a young squire who, while sporadically attending, had not bothered to register for the class. But my initial reaction was to tell Mrs. A that she was having a Mickey Rivers moment.

When I was a lad in college (Jimmy Carter was president! Dinosaurs walked the earth!) Mickey Rivers was in his weird whacky prime. In an astronomy class where we had to sign an attendance sheet each class, I took to adding the name Mickey Rivers to the list. On the first exam, I grabbed an extra scantron (oh yes it was a rigorous course indeed) and randomly filled it out and affixed Mickey Rivers' name to the top. My comedy dreams came true when the exam was returned with the professor walking up an aisle of the room saying "Mickey Rivers? Mickey Rivers?"

Mrs. A's squire needs the class to graduate, but the deadline for adding a course is long past. Of course that may be good news for him as he is actually failing a class in which he is not enrolled!!

Boomer Sooner.

PS. my favorite Mickey Rivers quote is his response to Reggie Jackson's claim that he (Jackson) had an IQ of 160: "What, out of a thousand??"

Friday, September 21, 2007

The next bubble

One can tell a story that the Fed's policy response to the Asian Crisis and LTCM collapse helped create the tech stock bubble, and Fed policy response to the tech stock bubble bursting helped create the housing bubble, so now the question is, given the emerging Fed policy response to the housing bubble bust, where is the next bubble and how do I get in on it??

The WSJ suggests it may be in emerging markets:

Now that the fallout from the downturn of the housing-loan market has prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates, the race is on to find the next bubble.

Emerging markets are a popular answer.

Stock markets around the world rallied in response to the Fed's half-percentage-point cut on Tuesday, with shares in emerging markets -- generally defined as countries that have modest incomes but are growing fast -- posting the biggest gains. Mexico's benchmark IPC index on Tuesday rose 2.8% and Brazil's Bovespa rose 4.3%, trumping the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 2.5% gain.

Yesterday, Asian markets, which had been closed when the Fed announced its rate cut, joined the party, with India's Bombay Sensex climbing 4.2% to cross 16000 for the first time.

The rush into emerging-market stocks is in part because of a belief that the Fed's rate cut, as well as easier policy stances at the European Central Bank and the Bank of England, will end up bolstering fast-growing emerging-market economies more than any others. Proponents of this view say that in 1998, easy money flowed into fast- growing technology stocks following the Asian financial-market crisis and collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. The belief that tech stocks were immune to any downturn helped fuel the dot-com bubble.

"It's like 1998 in reverse," says Michael Hartnett, an emerging- markets strategist at Merrill Lynch. "A bubble is more likely than not. But I think we're only at the beginning of that process." He is bullish on emerging markets as a result.

Mr. Hartnett isn't the only one to draw the 1998 analogy, or point to the possibility of a bubble developing.

A month ago, Morgan Stanley emerging-markets strategist Jonathan Garner wrote that the current market environment is "the mirror image of 1998." In early August, Christopher Wood, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CLSA Group, wrote that "just as, first, American tech stocks and then American housing finance were bubble beneficiaries of Fed easing post-LTCM and post-Nasdaq collapse, so Asia and emerging-asset markets will be the likely bubble beneficiaries of the coming Fed easing."

Of course, I don't mean to imply that the Fed has/is creating serious moral hazard problems, but.....

What is striking, says Investment Technology Group economist Robert Barbera, is that the idea that there could be a bubble on its way in the emerging markets is a cause for glee rather than caution. "Very few people are saying, 'Oh my God, it's a bubble,'" he says. "They're saying, 'Whoopee, it's a bubble.'"


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Closing the barn door after all the cows have left

Duke to establish Justice Center.

DURHAM, N.C. - In the wake of the now-debunked rape case against three lacrosse players, Duke University will establish a center devoted to justice and training lawyers to fight wrongful convictions, president Richard Brodhead said Wednesday. Duke will invest $1.25 million over the next five years for the project at the law school, which will also expand its Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Innocence Project. The clinic and the Innocence Project investigate claims of innocence by the state's convicted felons and raise awareness of problems in the criminal justice system.

"The lacrosse case attracted a lot of publicity, but is not the only case in which innocent people have suffered harm through the state's legal system," said James Coleman, a Duke law professor who led a university committee that examined the team's behavior in the weeks following the 2006 accusations.

Coleman and Associate Dean Theresa Newman, both of whom teach at the clinic and serve as faculty advisers to the law school's student-led Innocence Project, are expected to be involved in the development of the new center.

No word yet as to whether the Group of 88 will be required to take mandatory training classes at the new Center

Turn out the lights, the party's over....

Folks, it's the end of the world as we know it. The Loonie is now level with the once proud American Eagle. In clearer terms, the Canadian dollar is now trading 1 to 1 with the US dollar. Not since the ignominious stagflationary days of Gerald Ford and his WIN (Whip Inflation Now) campaign has such a thing occurred.

What's next, parity for Mexico? Zimbabwe? AAARGH!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

They're an American Band (and a good one too)!

In my most recent post on music and books, I extolled Spoon and Okkervil River. An anonymous commenter axed me about the band The National. I have since purchased and repeatedly listened to their latest release "The Boxer" and have to say that it is really excellent.

The overall mood and voice of the singer reminds me of The Tindersticks (this is a very very good thing), though the lyrics are here are more coherent and cohesive than those of the 'Sticks. Some of the drum patterns and shambling percussion remind me of Broken Social Scene, but I would not say that The National was derivative of these groups.

"The Boxer" is consistently good throughout. The songs create a single overall mood, but also stand alone as good individually. It really struck a chord with me and with Mrs. Angus too. She hung out with me through the whole CD.

Highly recommended and my thanks to the commenter.

On the other side of the street, I cannot recommend "Marry Me" by St. Vincent (Annie Clark). Pitchfork liked it, she plays with Sufjan Stevens, she likes "Arrested Development" but its a no go. Too self-conscious and precious.

I'd recommend instead The Blow (Khaela Maricich). Its a little more rough around the edges, unpretentious and fun, especially "Poor Aim: Love Songs". Here is a cool Blow video.

Price System Rules!

The NYTimes, a paper of fable and light fiction (as well as tragic, misleading fiction when it came to their witch hunt against Duke students), has made a decision:

Times to Stop Charging for Parts of Its Web Site
The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight tonight.

The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

The Times said the project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.

“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site,

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

I have a different interpretation: The Times discovered that they couldn't consistently charge over the market price: zero. The Times has become, no matter how much Neanderbill tries to deny it, "The Newspaper of Discord."

So, the NYT didn't stop charging, they just lowered their price to its market-clearing level.

(Nod to Anonyman, who asks: "Does this explain why Maureen Dowd's books are in the bargain bin at bookstores? Can it be that people don't want to pay for the "truth" after all?")

Whacky Tobaccy

In 2004 the US junked its arcane and expensive program of tobacco quotas and subsidies with a 10 billion dollar golden handshake to the existing quota owners.

As yesterdays WSJ described the old situation: In 1938, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act, a New Deal-era law crafted to support the thousands of small farmers of all sorts who had been financially devastated by the Depression. The law guaranteed tobacco farmers in many states a minimum price for their crops. It allotted quotas to farms that produced tobacco at the time the law was enacted, which dictated how many acres they could plant. Tobacco buyers were penalized for buying from growers without quotas. Growers who didn't own a quota had to buy or rent one from those who did. The system propped up prices and limited production to narrow geographic areas and to plots of land rarely larger than 10 acres.

The dissolution of the system initially produced a notable fall in tobacco prices and a reduction in acreage devoted to the noble weed. But then.....

Predictions from some quarters that tobacco farming was headed for extinction in the U.S. proved incorrect. Today, farmers can grow as much tobacco as they want, wherever they want. Economies of scale have kicked in.

Arnold O'Reilly, for one, figured it made sense to grow even more. Before the buyout, he says, the tobacco he grew on his Hardinsburg, Ky., farm was selling for about $1.98 a pound, but he paid up to 80 cents per pound to rent a quota, knocking down his effective price to as low as $1.18. These days, he says, his tobacco fetches about $1.60 a pound, and there's no quota payment taking a bite out of it.

"Before the buyout I couldn't expand," he says. As a result, "we weren't competitive on the world market." Today he is growing 120 acres, double the 60 acres he grew just before the buyout. He has invested more than $300,000 in new farming equipment, barns and land. "I'm unlimited in my opportunities," says Mr. O'Reilly, 42. "I have nobody that can hold me back now."

This heartwarming story is similar to what happened in New Zealand when farm subsidies were eliminated.

I'll give the punchline to one David Ogden, a super-clueless academic (are there any other kind really) from Virgina Tech: "we are finding that farming can be done without subsidies".

Imagine that.

Fed's stock rises

Bernanke and the Fed took KPC's advice to heart and came up big in their own building so to speak with a big bold move in favor of economic growth. The markets went nuts, foreign markets went nuts during the night and domestic stock futures point to a positive opening today. Even though I advocated for a big move in the opposite direction, I have to give the Fed a lot of credit for being clear, taking a stand, and not tossing out a pusillanimous .25 cut as a bureaucratic CYA move. Kudos Ben!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hotz on the Trail

Most Science Studies Appear to Be Tainted by Sloppy Analysis
September 14, 2007; Page B1

We all make mistakes and, if you believe medical scholar John Ioannidis, scientists make more than their fair share. By his calculations, most published research findings are wrong.

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. "There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims," Dr. Ioannidis said. "A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true."

The hotter the field of research the more likely its published findings should be viewed skeptically, he determined.

Take the discovery that the risk of disease may vary between men and women, depending on their genes. Studies have prominently reported such sex differences for hypertension, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, as well as lung cancer and heart attacks. In research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Ioannidis and his colleagues analyzed 432 published research claims concerning gender and genes.

Upon closer scrutiny, almost none of them held up. Only one was replicated.

(Nod to Robert Higgs, who knows from bad science)

Hold the phone, Calderón!!

There is good news and bad news from Mexico.

First the good news: President Calderón is working with opposition parties in the legislature and getting things done in a way that his predecessor Vicente Fox never could / would.

Now the bad news: President Calderón is working with opposition parties in the legislature and getting things done in a way that his predecessor Vicente Fox never could / would.

His current achievements? A convoluted tax increase and a gutting of the independent electoral board (IFE) that helped bring real democracy to the county over the last 7 years.

Lets use the NY Times as our perfect negative indicator for all things economic:

President Felipe Calderón won his first major legislative victory Friday when the Mexican Congress passed a comprehensive tax bill aimed at one of Mexico's biggest economic problems: its meager tax take and miserly public spending.

Ah, yes Mexico's problem is that the government is too small. Thank you Elisabeth Malkin. Holy Crap. Meager and Miserly, not to be judgmental or anything.

Mexico's problem is that it is a lower middle income country stuck in a rut. It needs sustained economic growth. Improving the country's educational system and infrastructure would definitely help, but there is nothing like this being discussed for these revenues, and not even the Times yet advocates tax increases as the path to higher economic growth.

The real problem with Mexican tax revenues is non-compliance. Evasion, off the books transactions, underreporting are legendary there. Adding a new "alternative minimum tax" on companies is not likely to improve this issue.

The IFE overhaul is just plain bad. In the old days, the incumbent party (always the PRI) counted the votes and regulated the election. Needless to say, this didn't always please the opposition. To me, Ernesto Zedillo is the real unsung hero of Mexican democracy. As he was the PRI president who was instrumental in creating an independent electoral commission. And, this commission showed exceptional fortitude in the face of incredible political pressure, when it certified Calderón as president.

The Times actually gets this one right: Getting rid of the institute’s board members before the end of their term in 2010 would make a mockery of the autonomy that was meant to protect the institute — and Mexico’s electoral system — from the vagaries of Mexico’s politics. It would also open the door for the loser of the next election to try the same gambit again.

Man, if this is success, give me gridlock!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ayn Rand, Robert Reich, and CEO Pay: A Neo-Rawlsian Non-Stynthesis

NYT piece on Ayn Rand, mentioning a guy I admire very much, John Allison:

"One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page
novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957...'I know from talking to a
lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.'s that 'Atlas Shrugged' has had a significant
effect on their business decisions, even if they don't agree with all of Ayn
Rand's ideas,' said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the
largest banks in the United States. 'It offers something other books don't:
the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call
it complete,' he said...She was born in 1905 in Russia. Her life changed
overnight when the Bolsheviks broke into her father's pharmacy and declared
his livelihood the property of the state...Shortly after 'Atlas Shrugged'
was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to
counter a critic's comment that 'the book was written out of hate.' Mr.
Greenspan wrote: ''Atlas Shrugged' is a celebration of life and happiness.
Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and
rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid
either purpose or reason perish as they should.'...Every year, 400,000
copies of Rand's novels are offered free to Advanced Placement high school
programs. They are paid for by the Ayn Rand Institute, whose director, Yaron
Brook, said the mission was 'to keep Rand alive.'...Mark Cuban, the owner of
the Dallas Mavericks, who was born in 1958, and John P. Mackey, the chief
executive of Whole Foods, who was 3 when the book was published, have said
they consider Rand crucial to their success. The book's hero, John Galt,
also continues to live on. The subcontractor hired to demolish the former
Deutsche Bank building, which was damaged when the World Trade Center towers
fell, was the John Galt Corporation.
." [NYT]

And, then, from someone I admire MUCH less, Robert Reich:

"There's an economic case for the stratospheric level of CEO pay which
suggests shareholders -- even if they had full say -- would not reduce it.
In fact, they're likely to let CEO pay continue to soar. That's because of a
fundamental shift in the structure of the economy over the last four
decades, from oligopolistic capitalism to super-competitive capitalism. CEO
pay has risen astronomically over the interval, but so have investor
returns...CEOs have become less like top bureaucrats and more like Hollywood
celebrities...This economic explanation for sky-high CEO pay does not
justify it socially or morally. It only means that investors think CEOs are
worth it...if America wants to rein in executive pay, the answer isn't more
shareholder rights. Just as with the compensation of Hollywood celebrities
or private-equity and hedge fund managers, the answer -- for anyone truly
concerned -- is a higher marginal tax rate on the super pay of those in
super demand." [Reich, WSJ op-ed]

(Nod to KL, who could NEVER get paid enough, in my book!)

Dear Ben: Do something bold tomorrow

Tomorrow is the showdown at the OK Corral for Bernanke and the FOMC. I personally think Bernanke is a terrific economist who has inherited a truly tough situation and done well so far.

I think the Fed would be best served by making a clear stand one way or the other. Either hold steady against moral hazard and inflation or make a real, significant, sizeable rate cut to try and forestall (or minimize) a recession.

A .25 rate cut doesn't do anything really, it's the conventional wisdom, but really it's an empty gesture that leaves the Fed's intentions unclear, and people on both sides of the issue dissatisfied.

So stand pat or go big I say! Personally, I'd stand pat. I'd send a clear message that, as long as I am Chair, the Fed will focus on inflation first and foremost, but I could accept a clear signal of the other kind.

Greenspan Spills the Beans: Fed NOT Independent

Since my dissertation (completed in 1984 but not published in the Journal of Monetary Economics until 1991) I have argued that there is strong statistical evidence that political events like presidential elections and changes in the partisan control of Congress and the White House have systematic impacts on monetary policy(see this, this, this, or this). Needless to say, this view is not widely shared by macroeconomists.

Now, Alan Greenspan, the "maestro" has a book coming out and he's basically pulling a Jose Canseco, going on media outlets and saying outrageous things, like he was against the Bush tax cuts even though he repeatedly testified in favor of them, to try and move some product.

For my purposes though he did say something interesting to the FT:

Critics say the Fed should have tried harder, raising rates sooner and faster. Mr Greenspan counters that that would not have been acceptable “to the political establishment” given the very low rate of inflation. He says “the presumption that we were fully independent and have full discretion was false.”

Thanks Al !!!!

Bill Gates, pauper?

All-time richest Americans with wealth reported in billions of 2006 valued dollars according to Bernstein & Swan:

John D Rockefeller: 305.3
Andrew Carnegie: 281.2
Cornelius Vanderbilt: 162.4
John Jacob Astor: 1o2.1
Stephen Girard: 95.6
Richard Mellon: 82.3
A.T. Stewart: 80.8
Fredrick Weyerhauser: 72.2
Marshall Field: 60.1
Sam Walton: 58.6
Jay Gould: 58.2
Henry Ford: 54.3
Bill Gates: 53.0
Andrew Mellon: 50.5
Warren Buffett: 46.0

Of these 15, 3 were born in the 1700s (Vanderbilt, Astor, Girard), 9 in the 1800s and 3 in the 1900s (Walton, Buffett, Gates). The biggest time gap between mogul births is 55 years (from 1863 (Ford) to 1918 (Walton)).

Most of these names are quite familiar, but I'd never heard tell of Girard or Stewart.

Stewart was apparently the original Sam Walton: Stewart knew that the key to success was not where the store was placed, but rather where “to obtain wholesale trade to undersell competitors.”

Girard was a banker and political gadfly.

hat tip to Tyler

Who's better, Who's best?

In individual sports, we are currently blessed with seeing the two greatest players in the history of their sports performing at their best. They transcend their own sport rivals so greatly, that the best point of comparison for one is the other, even though the sports are very different. I have previously opined that of the two Tiger's body of work was more impressive, but after this summer and meaning no disrespect to Tiger, I have to reverse myself and give the KPC endorsement for GOAT to Roger Federer.

In 2007, Tiger Woods won 7 times, including one major (the PGA). He won just over $10,000,000 in prize money. He won the inagural FEDEX cup playoff and its $10,000,000 annuity first prize. He was tied for second at two other majors, the Masters and the US Open. He has won 13 majors and is closing in on Jack Nicklaus' record. Woods has won 5 of the last 12 majors and also has 3 second place finishes in that stretch.

In 2007, Roger Federer won 6 times, including 3 of the 4 majors and he lost in the final of the other major, the French Open). He won just over $7,000,000 in prize money. He won the US Open Series which when combined with his win at the US Open gave him a $1,000,000 cash bonus. He has won 12 majors and is closing in on Pete Sampras' record. Federer has won 6 of the last 8 majors and lost in the finals of the other two. Going a bit further back, he has won 11 of the last 16 slams contested in Tennis.

Fed is one crazy Spaniard away from having won back to back grand slams! He has won the US Open 4 straight years and Wimbledon 5 straight years. As great as Tiger is, his best streaks are won back to back Masters in 2001-02, back to back US Opens in 2005-06, and back to back PGAs in 2006-07. He did win 4 slams in a row in 2000-2001.

Everyone knows about Tiger, he's an American and golf is a lot more popular than tennis. But Federer is even more transcendent, at least right now.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What's bred in the bone

Central Banker turned annoying gadfly Alan Greenspan had a well deserved reputation for talking without actually saying anything, especially when testifying before Congress. Apparently this was a lifelong skill as evidenced by this 1957 letter to the Editor of the NY Times defending his mentor's book Atlas Shrugged against a negative review:

Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. Mr. Hicks (the reviewer) suspiciously wonders "about a person who sustains such a mood through the writing of 1168 pages and some 14 years of work." This reader wonders about a person who finds unrelenting justice personally disturbing.

Holy Crap! I really hope he was trying not to actually say anything there, because if he was trying to say something, what he says is pretty freakin' scary.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Heresthetics in Action!

When Mungowitz and I were little lads in grad school, the late great William Riker was a frequent visitor to Wash U. Riker coined the term heresthetics to refer to the art of changing political outcomes without changing people's underlying preferences. One way he claimed this could be done was by introducing a new policy dimension into the debate, which is pretty much exactly what the Anti-Evo movement in Bolivia has been able to do.

I don't know how much they read Riker, but somehow by starting a seemingly frivolous campaign to have the capital moved back to Sucre from Morales stronghold La Paz, the anti-Morales folks have effectively stymied Evo's bid to re-write Bolivia's constitution in a way that improved indigenous rights and also allowed Evo to remain in office for the forseeable future!! The million strong Evo "street team" is reduced to demanding that the capital stay in La Paz rather than demanding restitution for centuries of abuse at the hands of the Santa Cruz elite.

Somewhere, wearing a deafeningly loud sport jacket, Bill Riker is looking on and smiling.

Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry.....

As you may have gathered by now, I live in Norman OK. Besides OU football and Native American Gaming, there isn't much going on 'round here.

My neighborhood, which features a wooden bridge (pictured on the left) and a big barn, is actually a tourist attraction. People come to have their photos taken on/by the bridge in their prom dresses/wedding dresses/glamor-shot gowns/mullets etc. (really!).

Often the photo taker has backed well out into the road and you gotta decide whether to swerve/stop/or thin the gene pool. Mrs. Angus and I have become inured to all these shenanigans, or so we thought until yesterday when we happened upon a big boned lass in cowboy gear posing on the bridge with her sheep!!! (Really!) Mrs. Angus took in the scene, turned to me and said "that was the prettiest sheep I've ever seen. I'd get my picture taken with it". (I swear that I am not making any of this up)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Charter Schools In LA

Our good friend Hispanic Pundit gives some interesting cuatro uno uno on charter schools in Los Angeles.

The empire strikes back.....

Greenspan Acknowledges He Failed to See Early on the Risks of 'Subprime' Mortgages

When he was at the helm, Greenspan maintained there was little the Fed -- which also oversees the safety and soundness of banks -- could do about the subprime situation. One of the Fed's governors, however, had raised a red flag about questionable lending practices.

"Well, it was nothing to look into particularly because we knew there was a number of such practices going on, but it's very difficult for banking regulators to deal with that," Greenspan said in the interview.

Some blamed Greenspan's interest rate policies for feeding the housing frenzy. Sales had hit record highs and house prices galloped from 2001 to 2005. Then the market fell into a deep slump.

The Greenspan Fed from early 2001 to the summer of 2003 had slashed interest rates to their lowest level in decades. It was done to rescue the economy from the blows of the bursting of the stock market bubble, the 2001 recession, the terror attacks and a wave of accounting scandals that shook Wall Street.

Critics say the Fed kept rates too low for too long, encouraging a Wild West mentality in housing.

Greenspan, however, defended the institution's actions.

"They are mistaken," he said of the critics. "It was our job to unfreeze the American banking system if we wanted the economy to function. This required that we keep rates modestly low," he said.

Bear with me folks while I make a couple of observations.

1. As I recently pointed out, the fed funds rate was too low according to the Taylor Rule in 2004 and 2005 as well as in 2001-2003. Even though the Fed was raising rates in 04/05, economic conditions were calling for larger and faster rate increases.

2. We have GOT TO STOP ALLOWING/EXPECTING THE FED TO MICRO MANAGE THE ECONOMY!!! "It was our job to unfreeze the American banking system if we wanted the economy to function". In 2001-2003? Are you freaking kidding me?

The Fed needs to target either the price level or inflation and forget all this unfreezing and bubble popping and fine tuning nonsense. Central Bankers: get over yourselves. Yer doin' it wrong!

And they wrote it all down as the Progress of Man*

Hi, I'm Angus and I am an audio luddite. I make my own amps upstairs in my "project room".
I own and use an old Tektronix
oscilloscope to help test out my designs. I build my own
speakers in the garage. My CD player uses vacuum tubes (FWIW, this is
all true).
But I can't realistically run my own recording studio and progress and philistines are

ruining my music. Everyone uses IPODs. Most everyone puts compressed MP3s
(or some other compressed format)
on them and listens through piece of crap earbuds.
This is so popular that recording engineers are
starting to optimize recordings for being
heard in this manner.


It's so. supposedly some recording artists want to hear the producers mixes of their tracks on an
ipod before
deciding if it sounds good enough.

Here are some quotes from industry pros "courtesy" of the ever gated WSJ:

"Right now, when you are done recording a track, the first thing the

band does is to load it onto an iPod and give it a listen," said Alan Douches, who has worked with Fleetwood Mac and others.

"Years ago, we might have checked the sound of a track on a Walkman, but no one believed that was the best it could sound. Today, young artists think MP3s are a high-quality medium and the iPod is state-of-the-art sound."

For example, says veteran Los Angeles studio owner Skip Saylor, high frequencies that might seem splendid on a CD might not sound as good as an MP3 file and so will get taken out of the mix. "The result might make you happy on an MP3, but it wouldn't make you happy on a CD," he says. "Am I glad I am doing this? No. But it's the real world and so you make adjustments."

As a result, contemporary pop music has a characteristic sound, says veteran L.A. engineer Jack Joseph Puig, whose credits include the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. "Ten years ago, music was warmer; it was rich and thick, with more tones and more 'real power.' But newer records are more brittle and bright. They have what I call 'implied power.' It's all done with delays and reverbs and compression to fool your brain."

I'm not totally crazy, I gotz an IPOD. But I download to it in apple's uncompressed (lossless) format.
Sure it holds fewer songs that way, but I still have a few hundred on there with room for more.

The difference in sound is astounding. Please don't make me have to build a recording studio
in the back yard.

Stand up for real music today!

* John Prine: Paradise

Durham Bulls Game

Last home game of the season last night at the DBAP. For some reason, not many people come to the "Governor's Cup" games, even though it is the World Series for the International League of AAA baseball.

So, we got excellent seats, fifth row behind the visitors on-deck circle.

Bulls won, 5-1, behind a dominant pitching performance by Jeff Neimann.

Some highlights, at least from my perspective:

1. In the "sumo" contest, where two people put on fat suits and wrestle, one guy falls down. The other grabs the downed guy's sumo diaper, yanks it up, and runs forward. This has the simultaneous effects of giving downed boy an excellent wedgie, and run his face through the grass for nearly three feet. Best sumo ever.
(YouTube video of a different, but also enjoyable, sumo contest)

2. A very fine brawl. Unusual in AAA. But Bulls pitcher Neimann (6'9", 260 lbs!) threw (uncorked, I think I have to say) a 94 mph sailer that went about six inches BEHIND Richmond batter Doug Clark's head. It was also at least 18" ABOVE Clark's head, to be fair, but Clark got (as KPC friend Jim Bouton put it) the "red ass." Clark started fussing at Neimann, waving his bat, fuming. Clark is 6'2", 210, not small, but I don't think anyone really wants to fight Neimann. He is monstrous. Two pitches later, Clark hits a single just past the first baseman, and pitcher Neimann moves toward first in case Bankston (1st baseman) made the play. Clark starts fussing again, pushes are exchanged, both benches clear, there is some vigorous debating and genealogy questions ("YOUR mama was so....) are raised.

Order is restored. But then Richmond coach, Brundage, gets into it with the third base ump. Brundage gives it the full Lou Pinella (Lou is the original red ass, of course). They are yelling and moving around each other. I say, "come on, let's play!" My son turns to me, aghast. "Are you kidding? This is great!" And, of course, it was.

3. A towering fly ball was hit. I mean, it was above the lights, you could barely see it. And then it starts coming down...pretty much right at our seats! We all stand, hoping (not really) to get a chance to catch this ball (it had to be smoking on atmospheric reentry). It lands about four seats to our left, down one row. As my eye followed it, I saw this little morality play:
a. young woman, bent over forward, in her seat, yelling, hiding her head.
b. young man, gamely standing over her, hands over her back, to protect her.
c. young man, seeing that ball is coming RIGHT AT THEM, ducks his own head, and runs across two other people to get to the aisle. Just bails, a total morale break.
d. ball lands about 8 inches to left of young woman.
e. young man returns to seat, laughing.
f. young woman stares at him, gives him a pretty solid straight right to the chest. "You wimp!"

Other fans start the "Aaaaaaahhhhh-lice" cheer. Young man no longer laughing. Young woman pretty much stared straight ahead, arms folded, for the next two innings.

4. Best part of the night for me: A confirmation that the younger generation is getting the information needed about the classics, the REAL classics. I notice (it's 9:30 pm) that my younger son is wearing sunglasses. I mention this. My sons, in unison, say: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we are wearing sunglasses. HIT IT!" Brought tears to my eyes. Who says that today's youth aren't learning the canon?

(YouTube of Durham Bulls 2007 Fan Appreciation Video) What a guy....makes ya cry....UNT I did.

For the 1,000th Post: Prez Pong

Usetabe, you had to go to Stuckey's for really horrible, schlocky stuff.

Now, it's on the internet. But will future generations see it? It's not made out of plastic any more, it's...virtual!

For example, this is as bad as anything Stuckey's sells. But will it last? An excellent bit of Americana, schlock, and history all in one. The various "begin!"s and the music....excellent.

(1,000th post on this blog. Whodathought!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Too Insure Promptness

Why tip? Why not tip?

I was fascinated to read that "In Iceland, tipping in a restaurant is considered an insult." Is the norm, "I give you sullen, indifferent service as a matter of choice. Do not try to bully me with offers of riches, American pig! I cannot be bought. Here is your cold dinner. I'll be back in half an hour with your silverware."

Well, in the union shop I used to work at, working AT ALL was considered an insult. You could get beaten up (I was threatened by two guys with shovels) for working at more than a snail's pace.

Presumably, the cost of labor is the same total, regardless of whether the hourly wage is lowered in anticipation of tips, or if there is no tipping and hourly wages are higher.

Of course, that's not true empirically. The recent decision of American, and other airlines, to charge $2 per bag is KILLING the skycaps out front of the terminal. Their wages have not increased, but tips have dried up almost completely.

So, a question for all you life-arrangers out there: should tipping be outlawed? Required? Or is the current system, where discretion of the customer at the end improves service throughout, the best?

Consider this.

Or, this. Craig Newmark says, "that uncertainty—that freedom to exercise discretion, to leave as little or as much as you wish—is why tipping has flourished as a social institution. (In the same spirit, Americans prefer giving charity privately rather than through their government.) Diners—eighty per cent of whom say that they prefer tipping to a set service charge—like the power that the ability to tip gives them. Waiters like tipping because it gives them the chance to distinguish themselves from the crowd and to score an occasional windfall. Tipping, curiously, has gone from being the antithesis of individualism to its apotheosis." Or is it, as a commenter on Craig's post notes, really just a tax issue?

Freedom? Freedom! Freedom....

Ms. Kay Hymowitz delivers certain opinions regarding libertarianism.

Two excerpts:
More than perhaps any other American political group, libertarians have suffered the blows of caricature. For many people, the term evokes an image of a scraggly misfit living in the woods with his gun collection, a few marijuana plants, some dogeared Ayn Rand titles, and a battered pickup truck plastered with bumper stickers reading "Taxes = Theft" and "FDR Was A Pinko."

The stereotype is not entirely unfair. Even some of those who proudly call themselves libertarians recognize that their philosophy of personal freedom and minimal government can be a powerful magnet for the unhinged. Nor has recent political history done much to rehabilitate libertarianism's image as an outlier.


Libertarians come in many flavors, of course, but they share certain enthusiasms beyond free-market economics. They are often great consumers of science fiction, with an avid interest in space travel. And they have an almost unlimited enthusiasm for biotechnology, especially for advances that might allow us to manipulate our natures and extend our lives. Taken together, these elements constitute what might be called the libertarian dream--the dream of shaping your own meaning, liberated from family, from the past, from tradition, from biology, and perhaps even from the earth itself.

Such utopian ambitions are difficult to satisfy or even contain in the mundane world of American politics. For some time to come, they are likely to make libertarianism the natural home of assorted cranks and crazies, and thus to continue to provide fodder for its at least partly deserved caricature.

Angus and I are both libertarians, after a fashion. But our views have roots rather different from those described in the books Ms. Hymowitz reviews.

We don't trust people.

We actually pretty much don't even LIKE other people, with a few temporary exceptions. (This includes each other, but I have to admit he has cause. He has CAUSE, I'm sayin'.)

Both of us worked in the private sector. Angus ended up being a union steward (yes, he did!), just because he wouldn't back down to the dickhead foreman on the welding crew. (Yes, imagine that: Angus with a blow torch. And this was before he achieved his current, heavily muscled physique!).

And I...well, I worked a bunch of different places, and have little love for the hierarchy and repression of the industrial workplace.

Most jobs suck. Most corporations are rapacious, and most foremen are dickheads.

But you can leave a job. You can't leave a city / county / state / nation, at least not without paying your "fair share" of taxes. ("What do I owe you?" "Well, what have you got?")

Angus and I aren't utopian libertarians. (And I think the Bishop is with us on this). Things can be really bad in the private sector. But they are rarely SO bad that attempted meddling by bed-wetting, tree-hugging do gooders can't make things much, much worse.

So, Kay Hymowitz is wrong. We are not trying to be liberated "from the earth itself." We would be satisfied just to be sure we are free from Kay Hymowitz.

(Nod to C-Greg)

This is the mess that the Fed hath made....

.....let us rejoice and ask them to fix it??

One big reason why we are in the mess we are in today is that the Fed kept short term interest rates too low for too long compared to the benchmark that many policymakers pay homage to, namely the Taylor Rule.

The classic version of the Taylor Rule takes the inflation target to be 2%, the long term real interest rate to be 2% and calls for raising rates when inflation is above 2% and when output is above potential. From 2001 through 2005 the Taylor Rule called for an average Fed Funds rate of 4.92% (I used actual inflation not core inflation and measured potential output using the Hodrick Prescott filter to generate these numbers), while the actual rate averaged 2.9%. The graph below shows the quarter to quarter details.

So during Greenspan's last five years, the Fed Funds rate was on average two full percentage points below the benchmark, and the benchmark takes economic conditions into account!!!

Ironically, everyone is clamoring for the same organization to rescue them using the same tactic that helped to create the original problem: lowering rates.

A Utilitarian Rationale for "Social Insurance"?

My good friend Price Fishback has an interesting paper:

Striking at the Roots of Crime: The Impact of Social Welfare Spending on
Crime During the Great Depression

Ryan Johnson, Shawn Kantor & Price Fishback
NBER Working Paper, January 2007
(slightly older, free version)

The Great Depression of the 1930s led to dire circumstances for a large
share of American households. Contemporaries worried that a number of these
households would commit property crimes in their efforts to survive the hard
times. The Roosevelt administration suggested that their unprecedented and
massive relief efforts struck at the roots of crime by providing subsistence
income to needy families. After constructing a panel data set for 83 large
American cities for the years 1930 through 1940, we estimated the impact of
relief spending by all levels of government on crime rates. The analysis
suggests that relief spending during the 1930s lowered property crime in a
statistically and economically significant way. A lower bound ordinary least
squares estimate suggests that a 10 percent increase in per capita relief
spending during the Great Depression lowered property crime rates by close
to 1 percent. After controlling for potential endogeneity using an
instrumental variables approach, the estimates suggest that a 10 percent
increase in per capita relief spending lowered crime rates by roughly 5.6 to
10 percent at the margin. More generally, our results indicate that social
insurance, which tends to be understudied in economic analyses of crime,
should be more explicitly and more carefully incorporated into the analysis
of temporal and spatial variations in criminal activity.

(Nod to KL, who would still commit crimes no matter HOW much the government offered to pay him. It's the thrill, you see)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Terrorism: yer doin' it Wrong!

Islamic militants claim foiled attack This from the AP not the Onion, I promise!

BERLIN - An Islamic militant group designated as a terror organization by the U.S. claimed responsibility for foiled bombings that targeted the American air base at Ramstein, as well as U.S. and Uzbek consulates in Germany, the government said Tuesday.

The Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police and internal security, said the Islamic Jihad Union made the announcement on the Internet and that government computer experts viewed it as genuine. Three men were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of planning massive bombings against U.S. and other facilities in Germany.

"In an Internet appearance, the Islamic Jihad Union has taken responsibility for the foiled attacks in Germany and addresses the arrests of Sept. 4, 2007," the ministry statement said. "The attacks planned according to this for the end of 2007 were directed against the U.S. air base at Ramstein as well as U.S. and Uzbek consular facilities in Germany."

Uh, hi, we're the Islamic Jihad Union. Y'know those dudes that got arrested in Germany, the ones who didn't hurt anyone or blow up anything. The ones who didn't notice when the cops swapped out their explosive materials for dirt? Yeah, that was us. Ready to give up your wicked western ways NOW? No? Dam! Kthxybai!

All bad news, All the time

US exports are at an all time high and grew 2.7% last month. It was robust export growth that largely caused the recent upward revision of the second quarter GDP number. This is good economic news, but it gets buried in trade deficit hysteria.

Even though the headline is "Trade Deficit Declines Slightly" the story goes negative real fast. We are told by an "expert" that the number will probably be revised upward, we are told our "deficit with China" is at its "second all time highest" level, and we are treated to expert analysis by thug-o-conomist James Hoffa:

"Americans realize that our bloated trade deficit erodes our standard of living," said Teamsters President James Hoffa, whose union is leading a fight to overturn a Bush administration decision last week that opens up the nation's southern border to Mexican trucks.

With a little Mexico bashing thrown in, por gusto.

The 9th paragraph mentions the export record and the 11th paragraph points out its economic importance but again in the most negative way possible:

The boom in exports is helping cushion the U.S. economy from the adverse effects of the worst downturn in housing in 16 years and a serious credit crunch stemming from growing losses in subprime mortgages. Without continued export gains, some analysts worry that the country could be pushed into a recession.

If exports are so important to our economic growth (and they are), wouldn't it seem like a bad time to start up new protectionist measure and invite backlash/reciprocity?

Citizen Self-Arrest Form

An alert, but anonymous, reader sends in a delightful revelation!

The University of Oklahoma (The Angusian crib!) has a helpful website designed to make it easier for people to get to know police on the "beat." I have always thought "beat cops" was redundant, but that is their metaphor.

Still talking may not be enough: What if you need actually to ARREST yourself? As the site notes, it would save tax dollars.

Well, the OU information people are up to the job: Here is your citizen's self-arrest form. Ideally, you would put on handcuffs, on yourself, and wait for a big sweaty campus policeman to come "beat" you with a nightstick. In New Orleans, that will cost you an extra $100, but in Norman, you can get it for FREE.

That is one progressive place!

(Also, check this picture of the "chief": note the halo effect, a kind of medieval saint thing).

(Yes, I understand this may precipitate attacks on Durham. But these days, that is almost too easy)