Friday, November 30, 2007

That's What I'm Talking about!

Mr. C. Dolan:

Mr. Ainge's Celtics expressed my concerns far more eloquently than I ever did in my
recent letter.


(And this in a game where KG took 5 shots and scored 8 points!)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Does poor Economic Performance help Cause Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Yes and No (what else would you expect from economists?)!

Are civil wars partly caused by low economic growth? And do democratic institutions attenuate the impact of low growth on the likelihood of civil war? Our approach to answering these questions exploits that international commodity prices have a significant effect on income growth in Sub-Saharan African countries. We show that lower income growth makes civil war more likely in non-democracies. This effect is significantly weaker in democracies. So much so, that we do not find a link between growth and civil war in countries with democratic institutions. Our results therefore point to an interaction between economic and institutional causes of civil war.

The full paper by Bruckner and Ciccone is here.

An Open Letter to Charles Dolan

Hi Chuck. Listen, I know it's not easy having a loser son (just ask my dad, he'll tell you), and I know you have been busy trying to take Cablevision private for 10 billion or so, and I know the Knicks payroll is just chump change to you, but.......

Chuck you gotta do something about that kid of yours and what he's done to the Knickerbockers!! Sure, everybody's got to do something and better he screws up the Knicks than one of your real businesses, but there's got to be a limit.

Look at it this way Chuck. Danny Ainge is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. He's a chucker, a biter, and pretty much a loser. But even he has figured it out in Boston. Not that the Celtics are the be all and and end all, not that the solution there is very long term. But they are in the top of the Atlantic, winners of 8 out of their last 10, whilst your boy's toy is already 7 games behind them, losers of 8 of their last 10. I'd point out that the Celtics payroll is "only" 75 million compared to the Knicks' 89 million, but I know that you'd walk by 14 mil on the sidewalk without bothering to bend over and pick it up (just not worth your time, it's only Zach Randolf's salary).

I guess it's sweet how you indulge Jimmy's boycrush on Isiah and all, but maybe just give the two of them $50 million each and unlimited multiple trips around the world airline tickets (or maybe their own plane and pilot) and get someone who knows and cares about basketball in the executive offices of the Ga-den.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I hate myself for loving this

I shouldn't post this. But...who would ever have done this?

Dumb ass of the year award

Add to My Profile | More Videos

(Nod to Bayou Jack. He writes: "Guys rule! And, no woman would think this is funny, which PROVES that guys rule." True dat, BJ)

The unstoppable American consumer?

The power of the KPC gift guide keeps showing up in the marketplace. Monday was "Cyber Monday", the online equivalent of last week's brick and mortar "Black Friday" and sales were up 21% from last year.

Some details:

While the first Monday after Thanksgiving kicks off the online holiday shopping season, it's not the busiest day for retailers, according to comScore.

Last year, the busiest online shopping day was Wednesday, Dec. 13, generating $667 million in sales. The Monday after Thanksgiving was actually the 12th busiest day in terms of sales for the 2006 holiday period.

Nevertheless, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, known as Cyber Monday, represents the first big sales surge, as consumers return to their office and click on their computers to shop. ComScore said that Monday's sales results represented an 84 percent jump from the average daily online spending totals during the preceding four weeks.

More than $10.7 billion has been spent online from Nov. 1 through Nov. 26, marking a 17 percent gain from the corresponding days last year, comScore said.

Cool. I guess Daniel Gross was right.

Don't Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

Fundman sends this link.

I don't know the answer. If you have kids, a gun in your house
is far more likely to kill your own kid, through accident or play.

We have several guns, but they are locked in a cabinet, with trigger locks inside that. I couldn't possibly get to them in time to defend myself against a home invasion.

If I didn't have kids, tho, I'd probably have a handgun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Get a Sack

From Betsy's Page: the ugliest bride I have ever seen.

Endorsement #457 for Ron Paul

Hookers for Paul: An odd endorsement...Who can come up with the best joke about this?


Nevadans for Paul: Westward, Ho!

(I didn't say it was a GOOD example)

(Nod to CG)

Thank you, folks. I'll be here all week

The Putincrats are gearing up for a big big vote this Sunday for his party United Russia.

In the push to get out the vote, the absentee ballot has become a popular new tool.

A teacher in St. Petersburg said the school administration told staff members to get absentee ballots from their neighborhood polling stations ahead of the election. They are to vote together Sunday at a polling station at the school.

"They didn't tell us necessarily to vote for United Russia, but you can read between the lines," said the teacher, who was willing to give only her first name, Yelena, out of fear of being fired.

Similar accounts have been given by teachers, doctors, factory workers and others around the country. Some have said they were warned they would lose their jobs if they did not comply.

Hundreds of people have called an election hot line to complain about the use of absentee ballots, the Central Elections Commission said in a summary of the complaints posted on its Web site.

Some complaints came from hospital patients, who said they had been threatened with early discharge if they did not produce absentee ballots.

"It is unbelievable. The use of bureaucracy is on an unprecedented scale," said Marina Dashenkova of Golos, an election-monitoring group. "People are complaining that their bosses are forcing them to take absentee ballots and vote for whom they say."

The use of absentee ballots in this way is new, she said, and kills two birds with one stone for the Kremlin: By getting absentee ballots, people are registered as voting even if the votes are never cast, boosting turnout; and when they vote under the supervision of bosses they are likely to vote "correctly."

People also have complained of being required to round up a certain number of votes for United Russia. Yelena, the St. Petersburg teacher, said she was told to compile a list of five relatives or friends.

More than anything, this reminds me of the old Yakov Smirnov joke:

"In America you can always find a party. In Russia, the party finds YOU!"

Case Closed

Almost a year ago, a Penn econ prof Rafael Robb's wife was beaten to death in their home. A month later, the professor was charged with the murder and his attorney said he would be pleading not guilty.

Yesterday however, Robb pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the case and is expected to serve (what to me seems an incredibly light) 4.5 - 7 year sentence (another report on the story is here).

The circumstances seem somewhat contradictory. On the one hand:

Robb, 57, said Monday that he got into an argument with his wife about a trip she was taking with their daughter and whether they would be returning in time for the daughter to return to school.

"We started a discussion about that. The discussion was tense," Robb said. "We were both anxious about it. We both got angry. At one point, Ellen pushed me. ... I just lost it."

"It's a classic heat-of-passion killing," said Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor.

On the other hand though:

Detectives believed the scene had been staged to look like a burglary. The murder weapon - a grab-rail exercise bar that had not yet been installed, Robb said - was not found.

Robb was an expert in game theory, a complex melding of psychology, human behavior and economics - all aimed at determining what one's adversary will do next. With that background, police said, Robb probably thought he could outsmart them.

To a certain hideous extent, given that the crime was so heinous and that original charge was murder while the final plea was for "only" voluntary manslaughter and a light sentence, I guess he kind of did.


I just realized that the gubmint has been pulling the wool over my eyes. Found out in the New York Times of all places, where Stephanie Coontz asks why the State is in the marriage business. And that is a very good question indeed; sad that I never questioned it before.

From the article it seems like the US States got into the marriage business for reasons of racism/eugenics:

The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

and now it's all about control; you can't get your "benefits" if you don't have the government papers.

As Nancy Polikoff, an American University law professor, argues, the marriage license no longer draws reasonable dividing lines regarding which adult obligations and rights merit state protection. A woman married to a man for just nine months gets Social Security survivor’s benefits when he dies. But a woman living for 19 years with a man to whom she isn’t married is left without government support, even if her presence helped him hold down a full-time job and pay Social Security taxes. A newly married wife or husband can take leave from work to care for a spouse, or sue for a partner’s wrongful death. But unmarried couples typically cannot, no matter how long they have pooled their resources and how faithfully they have kept their commitments.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tax Law Test for "Abode"

One of the cool things about knowing a lot of lawyers is that one realizes that "the law" is a silly concept. No such thing, no way.

There is "the statute," but often that tells you too little, or too much.

This is more true in taxes than in other areas, as far as I can tell.

But sometime I am still surprised. Here is Joe Craven, on the concept of "abode."

Where is one's abode, for tax purposes? Joe is able to say more than "I don't know." The answer is, "NO ONE knows." The statute doesn't say. You have to guess.

Given all the folks working in the Middle East, trying to serve their country, or even just trying to make a buck...well, WTF? WTFingF?

I reproduce Joe's last section in full:

A Potential Storm of Cases May be Brewing

As these US Citizens come home and prepare returns claiming the exclusion of their income earned abroad while living in Iraq and Afghanistan, there could emerge a firestorm of confrontation between those taxpayers and the US government. Unless the courts move toward a test that is more focused on defining “abode” as the place where, for the time being, a taxpayer exists to meet the conditions of the daily life encounter outside the US, our jurisprudence will continue to focus on location of houses and other assets, family, voting registration, licenses and the like. The fact that citizens are thoroughly investing their lives in another country for and with another people may be of little significance if the test for a taxpayer’s abode is not modified.

Fix this, for heaven's sake. The IRS can't fix. The courts MIGHT be able to fix it, but that is chewing gum and bailing wire. The STATUTE. Fix the STATUTE, Congress. The Dems say they can't do much to help the troops. Do THIS. No one is stopping you. Just give a clear definition.

Trent Lott: Retired, or Just Tired?

Duke put out a "news tip" this afternoon, on Trent Lott's possible retirement.

Tremendously insightful, I'd say. You'll like it.

Dog Bites Man

Duke fires head coach Ted Roof.

His record was 6-45, in four seasons.

Interestingly, the single key difference was....a kicker. Duke would have won at least six more games in the last two years if they could kick a freakin' field goal, or extra point.

Coach K, on Duke football, in the Sporting News:

"...Men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski -- widely considered the public face of the university -- to urge Duke's administration to act quickly, one way or another.

"Whatever happens ... let's make quick decisions," Krzyzewski said after his team's victory over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. "You support Ted, let's give him an opportunity to grow and don't let this linger. Something's going to happen otherwise, then do that. But we need to do that. And then we need to develop an attitude that we can win here, which we can. Duke football can win.

"You have to start out believing you can win," he added. "Our goal, for any sport, Duke should not play a sport where our goal is to be competitive. We shouldn't field a team for that. We should field teams only where our goal is to win with class and dignity. If it's to be competitive, then we shouldn't fund that program. ... Duke should be competitive in everything. For a championship, not just to compete."

Um....look, I'm a UNC fan, so I'm biased. UNC should be able to field a football team that goes .500, and at least competes for a bowl berth. Not BCS, but something. I don't see how Duke can hope to do that. We have 5,800 undergrads. You need 80 football players to have a team. That's 1.4% of the entire student body, playing football.

I Love Me! Now Buy My Stock.....

It's All about Me: Narcissistic Chief Executive Officers and Their Effects
on Company Strategy and Performance

Arijit Chatterjee & Donald Hambrick, Administrative Science Quarterly, September 2007, p351-386 (not yet published!)

This study uses unobtrusive measures of the narcissism of chief executive
officers (CEOs)--the prominence of the CEO's photograph in annual reports,
the CEO's prominence in press releases, the CEO's use of first-person
singular pronouns in interviews, and compensation relative to the
second-highest-paid firm executive--to examine the effect of CEO narcissism
on a firm's strategy and performance. Results of an empirical study of 111
CEOs in the computer hardware and software industries in 1992-2004 show that
narcissism in CEOs is positively related to strategic dynamism and
grandiosity, as well as the number and size of acquisitions, and it
engenders extreme and fluctuating organizational performance. The results
suggest that narcissistic CEOs favor bold actions that attract attention,
resulting in big wins or big losses, but that, in these industries, their
firms' performance is generally no better or worse than firms with
non-narcissistic CEOs.

Sometimes, studies come up with EXACTLY what you would expect. Having an ubermensch as a CEO, or maybe just someone who perceives himself as THE ubermensch, couldn't have a net positive effect on mean earnings. If it did, firms would hire ubermenschen until, at the margin, the net bump was competed away by idiotic ubermenschen who weren't CEO material, but were well suited to be university chancellors.

But, since you can't tell which ubermenschen actually have some talent, or maybe which ones are going to get lucky by taking high-risk strategies, the variance of returns should be higher. And they are.

Still, should a firm hire an ubermensch? Sure, the entertainment value, and the new entries for DILBERT cartoons, make it worthwhile. At least, it's worthwhile for people who don't own stock in that firm. The amusement value is a public good.

Mad Money: Don't Do It

"Does Mad Money make the market go mad?"

John Neumann & Peppi Kenny, The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, December 2007, Pages 602-615

Empirical studies of numerous popular investment advisory services find
statistically significant abnormal returns at the time of their broadcast or
published investment recommendations. Our analysis of returns and trading
volume around stock recommendations aired on charismatic host Jim Cramer's
Mad Money program reveals statistical evidence of response to both his buy
and sell opinions, with most of the full-day return following an on-air buy
recommendation captured by that day's opening price. Trading strategy
analysis suggests that individuals with limited funds should be wary of
short-term trading to exploit the show's suggestions, while professional
investors may be able to exploit buy picks with a contra strategy.

Why do people watch this show? More importantly, why would they expect to be able to make money by acting on Jim's advice?

Now, sure, if I could get the names of the companies Jim is going to hawk, the morning BEFORE he hawks them, that would be useful. In fact, KPC volunteers to provide that public service: Jim Cramer, email us before you go on the air, and we will post your "buy" and "sell" recommendations. After we drop a dime to the ol' broker.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sorry Nouriel, but that's the power of KPC!

At the start of Black Friday, we posted a gift guide and sent our readers out with instructions to "disappoint (uberbear) Nouriel Roubini". Well the results are in and retailers racked up sales of around $10.3 billion (which is 8.3% higher than last year, almost double the expected growth rate).

In a prepared response, spokesbears for Roubini pointed out that the sales figure was "only 9.5 billion Canadian Loonies" and that Americans "still should not buy any green bananas".

[please note that while I am making up all the stuff in the previous paragraph the strong holiday sales figures are real]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cry Havoc and unleash the......

Camels of War? Really? In 2007? You betcha!

Hang in there because it's pretty confusing (full story here).

Last week the head of the UN department of peacekeeping operations, said they may fail to protect civilians in Darfur without the required air mobility and firepower.

The United States also said it was "deeply troubled" by the government of Sudan's "foot-dragging and obstruction" on the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

But diplomats say several Western countries able to provide hardware such as helicopters are reluctant to do so because of a lack of confidence in the command and control structure for the joint force.

However, all their worries are over now because they have the magnificent fighting camels of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), right? Well not so fast.

"In principle the BSF has agreed to the request and will wait for the UN to approach it through the ministry of home affairs," said the chief of India's elite 200,000-member frontier force, A. K. Mitra.

Oh no, agreement in principle? I'm pretty sure that means no agreement at all.

The BSF in India also warned that any deployment of trained camels to transport foot soldiers in Darfur may be some time away.

"All our camels are engaged in border-guarding duties and this whole process could take a long time," said BSF spokesman Vijay Singh, adding the agency could currently spare up to 60 of its 700-plus battle-ready animals for Sudan.

Lol, I got your camels right here, Darfur! Oh and what makes a camel battle ready you ask?

The camels conscripted into the BSF are trained not to react to gunfire and are taught to crawl and follow other "soldierly movements".

I am not sure which is funnier, "conscripted" or "other soldierly movements". All I can say is thanks very much to Pratap Chakravarty.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Took the Younger Younger Munger down to the property today, to answer some questions that needed answering.

1. Will a K98 8mm Mauser shell pass completely through a 14" pine tree?

2. Will same type shell break a piece of granite the size of a basketball?

3. What happens to a well-shaken soda can when hit with a shotgun shell at a range of 5 yards?

4. If you are careful, can the Mauser hit a soda can on a rock at a range of 75 yards?

1. Incredibly, yes. The shell was seen to hit in a puff of dust at least 100 yards behind the tree. But there are clear entry and exit holes in the tree. It's a steel-jacketed slug, so it kept its shape. That was a big pine tree. You know when cops on tv hide behind car door for protection from rifle fire? I don't think so. They couldn't even hide behind a freakin' TREE, if the other guy has a real rifle.

2. The rock literally explodes. I thought it would chip, and we would get a cool ricochet sound. Nope. Explodes. 20 pieces. To be fair, this rock apparently had an invisible crack, or at least cleavage line, that broke cleanly. A more solid rock might have performed as expected.

3. It ceases to be. We found pieces of aluminum, but no traces of anything that might be called a can. Visually spectacular, too. I recommend it. It actually looks like a movie special effect (can-POW-gone*), but it is just little pieces of lead flying at high velocity.

4. Unbelievably, yes. And this is standing, without a scope. Fifth or sixth shot. Brian hit it in four, and even I, not nearly as good a shot, hit it on the sixth shot. (Brian hit two in a row at one point). That is one accurate rifle. The sights are extremely simple, and well set up. And the bolt action.....sweet. You pump tht massive bolt back, and that thumb-sized cartridge flies out in a puff of smoke, and you ram another round into the chamber. Extremely satisfying.

*I think I had this in a Cantonese restaurant in San Francisco a few years back.

Borda Counts, JRoll, and Ted Williams

An email from KPC friend RL, in Toronto:

JRoll is the MVP of the NL!!!

The results of the modified Borda count are on Borda designed his method solely for "honest individuals" because it is easy to give a boost to your favorite pick by lowering your estimation of the other candidates. Indeed this is what happened infamously decades ago when two NYC sportswriters left Ted Williams off the ballot, giving Joe DiMaggio the AL MVP.

This could have happened in 2007. If two voters who thought Matt Holliday of the Rockies deserved to win left Rollins off the ballot instead of giving him a second place vote (worth 9 points), Holliday would have won by a single point. Instead, all 32 ballots included both Rollins and Holliday.

In 2007, either the stakes were less or the sportswriters were a bit more honest. Holliday won 18 second place votes. Only three sportwriters listed him worse than second. Oddly, one did give him a 6th place vote (worth 5 points). One (the same Rollins fan?) gave Prince Fielder an 8th place vote (worth only three points). The four extra points Holliday might have received if this voter placed him second would obviously not have been enough to name Holliday MVP. Consensus that Rollins deserved to be one of the top two vote-getters was less clear. This could be indicative of strategic efforts to lower Rollins' vote totals, but this is unlikely: all 32 voters rated him no worse than 5th.

You can check the totals, and see that RL is quite correct. Interesting.

An Interesting Game, and Some Dumb Humans


Are humans selfish by nature, or competitive, or fair?

Suppose you and another person participated in an exercise with two choices: either you receive five dollars, and the other person receives three dollars, or you receive seven dollars and the other person gets nine dollars? And suppose that you get to choose, all by yourself, every time?

Interestingly, there are three groups of results: People who want to win, and so choose less, as long as other player gets less still. People who are rational, and so choose more money, even if other player gets more. And (strangely) people who mix.

Dave Munger, COGNITIVE DAILY, on same topic, and root of thread.

KPC Holiday Gift Guide

Ok, it's the busiest shopping day of the year, but what the heck should you buy?? Fret no more, here's the scoop.

Consumer electronics:

Nintendo Wii. You ain't seen nothin' til you seen Mrs. Angus playin' Dance Dance Revolution on the Wii. Highly recommended.

Nikon D-40 digital SLR (or the D-80 if your budget so allows). We used the D-80 with the 18-200 zoom lens on our trip to Tanzania and Rwanda and got stunning photos. These are great cameras.


(a) literature. Tree of Smoke. Denis Johnson has pulled off the rare trick of trying to write an important book and succeeding (Haruki Murikami succeeded with the Windup Bird Chronicles, Don DeLillo failed with Underworld).

(b) fun fiction: Jasper Fforde: The big over easy or The fourth Bear. Is the gingerbread man a cake or a cookie? Are you a person of dubious reality? Can you speak binary? These are really fun, engaging, clever, and funny books.

(c) non-fiction. Stuart: a life backwards, by Alexander Masters. A writer's account of his experiences with a rough sleeper. Humorous and harrowing by turns.


(a) classical. Simone Dinnerstein's Goldberg Variations. New and very nice, though ultimately I prefer this.

(b) pop: Boxer, by The National; Random Spirit Lover by Sunset Rubdown. You really can't go wrong here.

Post modern Ephemera:

My Guys by Meredith Ditmar very funky and fun.

Uglydolls by David Horvath. Ox and Icebat rule our master bathroom!

Good deeds:

Global Giving. Tons of vetted projects, you know where your money is going. You can follow up on project progress. I think this is the future.

Ok people that's it. Now get out there and disappoint Nouriel Roubini!!

(disclaimer: KPC has absolutely no financial interest in any of the products / companies mentioned in this post. We are a truly zero revenue operation (just like General Motors)).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a Rawlsian Thanksgiving

"A major part of John Rawls' theory of justice, justice as fairness, is the difference principle. The difference principle requires that 'social and economic inequalities be arranged so that they the greatest benefit of the least advantaged.' According to Rawls, in a just society, deviations from social and economic equalities are permitted only provided that such deviations maximize the social and economic goods received by the typical person in the least advantaged class in society...The paradox is that by Rawls' own empirical premises - the very premises he uses to argue for the difference principle - in the long run, directly aiming to satisfy the difference principle would almost inevitably prevent the principle from being satisfied...Directly aiming at something is no guarantee of achieving it. For example, in the familiar paradox of hedonism, the act of aiming for pleasure is what prevents the agent from getting pleasure...Rawls' argument for the difference principle crucially relies upon certain premises about economics and incentives. The reason that deviations from strict economic equality are justified, Rawls thinks, is that it is necessary in order to improve everyone's economic condition. Permitting inequalities generates incentives to those with better capabilities and greater ambition, who then turn the wheels of economic growth. Rawls himself states that attempting to satisfy the difference principle (or any other egalitarian principle) lowers incentives and interferes with efficient market allocations, such that economies that are more egalitarian will not grow as quickly as 'unfair' economies...It is difficult to classify western nations under Rawls' categories of social systems...For example, current imperialistic American military institutions seem to belong to an archaic mercantilist rather than a capitalist system." [Jason Brennan, Constitutional Political Economy, December 2007]

(Nod to KL, who had the following comment in an email on this paper:
Like Krugman, this (erudite) author lets his ideological bias undermine the quality of his argument. Rawls' writing is certainly susceptible to criticism, but it is a stretch to claim that a paradox arises in pursuing the difference principle simply because someone might feel more strongly than Rawls that, for example, market-driven economic growth accrues equally for everyone. No one disputes that market incentives are important for growth/ innovation/ efficiency. The question is really about the extent to which market-driven inequality produces incentive produces effort produces innovation/ efficiency produces growth produces improved welfare for the least advantaged. If all of the response-functions in this chain only slope upwards, then the case is closed: allow as much inequality as the market will bear. If not -- which would be consistent with the many inverted-U response-functions seen throughout social science -- then interventions to constrain inequality might be justified.)

Price Controls don't have to be "Soviet" to really screw things up: Venezuela Edition

Seems like it's easier to find a Hummer than a drumstick in Hugolandia:

The lines for basic foods at subsidized prices are paradoxical for an oil-rich nation that in many ways is a land of plenty. Shopping malls are bustling, new car sales are booming and privately owned supermarkets are stocked with American potato chips, French wines and Swiss Gruyere cheese.

Yet other foods covered by price controls — eggs, chicken — periodically are hard to find in supermarkets. Fresh milk has become a luxury, and even baby formula is scarcer nowadays.

To which I can only add: DUH!

Peanut: the thanksgiving miracle!

This is Peanut.

Mrs. Angus rescued her from a grocery store parking lot beside a busy street (if that is possible) in Norman. Dumped. No collar, no ID. She brought her home, put up posters, an ad in the paper etc. We called three no kill shelters in the area but they were already at capacity. I even offered them $$$ to take the dog but no.

So we took her to the vet, got her her shots, started her on heartworm meds, got her spayed, and then Mrs. Angus (no slouch herself in the hero department obviously) found a real Oklahoma hero, Dana of Pet Angels Rescue.

Dana's full time job is waitressing in a mall restaurant in OKC. However, her vocation is being a pet matchmaker. She runs a clearinghouse for people who have found strays or no longer want their current pet and people looking to adopt. She posted Peanut's picture (Mrs. Angus named her Peanut, I voted for Simba but it turned out I didn't actually have a vote) on her website and someone called about it.

Last Sunday, we dropped Peanut with Dana for an adoption event Dana was holding. Peanut and 5 other dogs were adopted that day (the woman who saw Peanut on the website was waiting for Dana at the adoption site). Dana got over 100 dogs adopted last year alone.

So from Peanut, me and all animal lovers, big ups to Mrs. Angus and to Dana.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Huckabee Ad

When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he is not lifting himself. He is pushing the earth away.

(Nod to Robert P)

Live at the Witch Trials

According to the WSJ, there's something rotten in Oklahomee (the article is gated but reproduced in part here). Three members of a group leading a signature drive to get a TABOR (tax payers bill of rights) proposition on the ballot are in legal trouble. The group used non-residents to collect signatures which is illegal in Oklahoma and the signatures collected were tossed out in court on that grounds. In what does appear to be an egregious case of piling on, the three leaders of the initiative drive have been indicted for employing the out of state signature collectors.

What's incredibly wacky though is the WSJ's insistence that it's all a liberal plot: "Like many other ambitious AGs, Mr. Edmondson (the indicter) has his eye on higher office, and indicting TABOR supporters will win him friends among the unions and liberal interest groups that can sway a fight for the democratic nomination."

Friends, either the WSJ thinks Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson is on the verge of running for president, or they've never actually been to, or read anything about, Oklahoma, or they are again pulling their biased, ideologically driven, logic-free nonsense.

Unions & Liberal Interest groups? In Oklahoma? The average rate of union membership across the US states is around 12%. In Oklahoma it's around 5%. Oklahoma passed a right to work law in 2001. Oklahoma voted for the Shrub over Kerry 66% to 34%, almost 2 to 1. And don't even get me started on our congressional delegation. Plus, Drew Edmondson actually literally is an "Okie from Musgokee". People, you can't get more conservative than that.

Bottom line: While I agree that indicting the initiative organizers is pretty extreme on the face of it, I am pretty sure that it's not being done to pander to unions and liberal interest groups.

More likely it's just another manifestation of good old Okie xenophobia.

Harry Cipriani: You....You're not good

A savage, savage restaurant review from the NYT.

OVER the years the Cipriani restaurant family and its employees have faced charges of sexual harassment, insurance fraud and tax evasion, the last leading to guilty pleas by two family members in July.

But the crime that comes to mind first when I think of the Ciprianis is highway robbery. Based on my recent experience, that’s what happens almost any time Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue serves lunch or dinner.

In this gleaming room in the Sherry-Netherland hotel, the Ciprianis charge $22.95 for asparagus vinaigrette — 12 medium-size spears, neither white, truffle-flecked nor even Parmesan-bedecked — and $34.95 for an appetizer of fried calamari. That’s at dinnertime, I should clarify. At lunch there’s a whopping $1 discount per dish.

A dinner entree of fritto misto costs $48.95, even though it amounted to an extra-large portion of fried calamari with a few decorative shrimp and token scallops strewn, to negligible effect, among the generic calamari rings.

I assure you of the accuracy of those numbers, and of these: $66.95 for a sirloin, $36.95 for lasagna, $18.95 for minestrone. It’s tempting to devote the rest of this review to a price list. Nothing else I can present is nearly as compelling.

Besides, prices are the point of Harry Cipriani, which exists to affirm its patrons’ ability to throw away money.

It’s the epitome of a restaurant whose steep tariffs justify themselves, subbing for membership dues and assuring that the spouse, in-law, client or canine psychic being treated to a $16.95 piece of chocolate cake will be impressed.

Regulars accept and revel in this, or have bit by bit deluded themselves into believing that the $36.95 spaghetti with tomato and basil has something special to recommend it. (Trust me: it doesn’t.)

(Nod to Mr. Overwater)

NYT Piece on Tenure and Adjunctery

University officials agree that the use of nontraditional faculty is soaring. But some contest the professors association’s calculation, saying that definitions of part-time and full-time professors vary, and that it is not possible to determine how many courses, on average, each category of professor actually teaches.

Many state university presidents say tight budgets have made it inevitable that they turn to adjuncts to save money.

“We have to contend with increasing public demands for accountability, increased financial scrutiny and declining state support,” said Charles F. Harrington, provost of the University of North Carolina, Pembroke. “One of the easiest, most convenient ways of dealing with these pressures is using part-time faculty,” he said, though he cautioned that colleges that rely too heavily on such faculty “are playing a really dangerous game.”

Mark B. Rosenberg, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, said that part-timers can provide real-world experience to students and fill gaps in nursing, math, accounting and other disciplines with a shortage of qualified faculty. He also said the shift could come with costs.

Adjuncts are less likely to have doctoral degrees, educators say. They also have less time to meet with students, and research suggests that students who take many courses with them are somewhat less likely to graduate.


(Nod t Anonyman)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hugo: Porque no te callas?

Eh, Hugo: I've got your ringtone right here!

The king of Spain lays down the smack.

Un cancion, para todo el mundo, como "The Dean Scream."

(and, you will NOT get that song out of your mind, I'm warning you)

An Interview

An interview, in which I talk for 40 minutes to the nicest guy in the world.

About myself.

What could be better than that? For me, at least.

Actually, this interview did go pretty well, I thought.

But then, I would think that.

Matt Ridley and the Bank

The thrust....

The riposte....

Both articles are rather strange.

But, can banks work on their own? This "lender of last resort" thing means we "resort" to it all too often.

Is Dracula in charge of the Blood bank now?

Both the FT and Mark Thoma have noted the apparent disconnect between Fed personnel pronouncements and the expectations/desires of "the markets" regarding next month's Fed funds rate decision.

The FT puts it this way: Fed and markets set to clash on rates
Thoma puts it this way:
Fed Watch: Headed For Another Game of Chicken?

Basically, Fed guys are talking up inflation risks, saying that an economic slowdown is inevitable, and implying or flat out saying not to expect a rate cut, while at the same time that the markets appear to have priced a rate cut as 80% likely.

It also appears that Randy Kroszner, Fed governor and smartest guy in any room I've ever been in, may be caught in the middle. The same day that he gave a "rate cut unlikely" speech, Senate Banking committee chair Chris Dodd announced that was thinking about scuppering the vote on Kroszner's re-nomination to a new term at the Fed.

So "market" and political pressure is turned up on Bernanke and crew. Regardless of the merits (and I don't think another cut is advisable on the merits) I just don't see how they can afford to cut rates again in December in this atmosphere, but maybe they are thinking that they can't afford not to. It has been argued that the Fed has kept its vaunted independence by not really exercising it too often or too vigorously.

PS: someone told me that Dodd was running for president, but that can't be true. I would have heard SOMETHING about it by now, wouldn't I? He would have been in the debates, wouldn't he? How do rumors like this get started?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Take a life to Save a Life?

“Capital punishment may well save lives. Those who object to capital punishment, and who do so in the name of protecting life, must come to terms with the possibility that the failure to inflict capital punishment will fail to protect life.”

So say Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule in their 2005 Stanford Law Review article, as quoted in today's NY Times on the new consensus about the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

I am not comfortable with instrumental arguments in favor of the death penalty, and while several researchers cited say they are against the death penalty but..., others do seem to be making exactly such an argument (eg Sustein and Vermeule). There are a LOT of things we as a society could do to deter crime (public shaming, putting people in stocks, flogging) that we do not do that are far less extreme than execution. Giving a government the power to kill its own citizens is not something I favor no matter how lovely one particular side effect may be.

ps. as an example of why we economists are not really welcome in polite circles, consider Justin Wolfers' answer to the question of whether or not it is conceptually possible to determine if the death penalty has a deterrent effect (Wolfers is skeptical of the existing studies due to limitations of the data):

Professor Wolfers said the answer to the question of whether the death penalty deterred was “not unknowable in the abstract,” given enough data.

“If I was allowed 1,000 executions and 1,000 exonerations, and I was allowed to do it in a random, focused way,” he said, “I could probably give you an answer.”

ummm, ok Justin, thanks. We'll have to get back to you on that. In the meantime, why not write it up as an NSF proposal?

Saturday, November 17, 2007


MIA collaborator Afrikan Boy tosses out this excellent remix of Soulja Boy. Very very nice!

Isiah Deathwatch Update

Earlier this week we reported on Isiah and the Knicks continued woes. Now Marbury has returned to the team and is playing despite the other players' unanimous vote to have him not return and play.

In his first game back, Starbury shot 4-12 with no rebounds and 4 assists in 33 minutes.

Currently the Knicks are 2-6, on a 5 game losing streak and the laughingstock of the L. According to Peter Vecsey, James Dolan has flown to the west coast and Zeke could be fired at any minute. Marbury of course can't be fired, only traded, bought out of his contract, or left on the court to continue to "lead" the Knicks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Roach Bot, Roach Bot, Whatcha Gonna Do? Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come for YOU!?

Roach Bots ride.

(nod to MAG)

I DID! I DID! I DID Shoot Dat Puddy Tatt

"Jurors heard opening arguments on Tuesday in the trial of a bird-watching
enthusiast who fatally shot a cat that he said was stalking endangered
shorebirds. The defendant, James M. Stevenson, is the founder of the
Galveston Ornithological Society and leads bird-watching tours on this Gulf
Coast island 60 miles southeast of Houston. If convicted on animal cruelty
charges in the shooting last November, he faces up to two years in jail and
a $10,000 fine...In her opening statement, Paige L. Santell, a Galveston
County assistant district attorney, told the jury of eight women and four
men that Mr. Stevenson 'shot that animal in cold blood' and that the cat
died a slow and painful death 'gurgling on its own blood.'...Testimony
followed from police officers and the veterinarian who performed the autopsy
on Mama Cat, a white and gray tabby mix. The jurors were shown several
photographs of the bloodied cat, reminiscent of an episode of 'CSI:
Miami.'...The prosecution and defense wrangled repeatedly about whether
witnesses could accurately assess the cat's state of mind. 'He's not
qualified to know what the cat was feeling,' said Mr. Nelson, when a police
officer, John P. Bertolino Sr., testified that the cat was in terrible pain
when he arrived at the crime scene. The cat died en route to a Humane
Society facility."

Has it really come to this?

In today's WSJ, Robert Frank and his Wealth Report breaks down the water bills of rich people in Palm Beach FL. Really. Some dude has a 14 acre lot and used 21 million gallons last year while the average use for a single family home is 54,000 gallons per year. Don't he know there's a drought? The pig! The swine! The bastard!

Oh, but it turns out that (a) he's reduced his water use over last year by 4 million gallons, (b) is abiding by all the municipal rules governing water use, and (c) is paying a 30% surcharge on usage above 6000 gallons per month.

This is some top flight muckracking journalism here. Looking up rich people's water bills. Oh yeah, Jimmy Buffett got fined $100 for "unspecified water violations". String his sorry butt up.

I say let's appoint R. Frank water czar and have him personally allocate water to every person in the country. Say, should illegal aliens be allowed to drink any of our water at all? Mr. Frank??

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sermon on the (Food) Mount: The BeFATitudes

Could THIS:

Body Composition and Wages, Roy Wada & Erdal Tekin, NBER Working Paper, November 2007

This paper examines the effect of body composition on wages. We develop measures of body composition - body fat (BF) and fat-free mass (FFM) - using data on bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) that are available in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III and estimate wage models for respondents in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. Our results indicate that increased body fat is unambiguously associated with decreased wages for both males and females. This result is in contrast to the mixed and sometimes inconsistent results from the previous research using body mass index (BMI). We also find new evidence indicating that a higher level of fat-free body mass is consistently associated with increased hourly wages. We present further evidence that these results are not the artifacts of unobserved heterogeneity. Our findings are robust to numerous specification checks and to a large number of alternative BIA prediction equations from which the body composition measures are derived. Our work addresses an important limitation of the current literature on the economics of obesity. Previous research relied on body weight or BMI for measuring obesity despite the growing agreement in the medical literature that they represent misleading measures of obesity because of their inability to distinguish between body fat and fat-free body mass. Body composition measures used in this paper represent significant improvements over the previously used measures because they allow for the effects of fat and fat free components of body composition to be separately identified. Our work also contributes to the growing literature on the role of non-cognitive characteristics on wage determination.

Be explained by THIS:

Personality traits and eating behavior in the obese: Poor self-control in
emotional and external eating but personality assets in restrained eating

Kristina Elfhag & Lesley Morey, Eating Behaviors, forthcoming

Personality traits can give a fuller understanding for eating behaviors in obesity. The objective was to describe eating behavior (Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire) in terms of the Big Five personality traits (NEO Personality Inventory - Revised) in obesity patients (n=442). Emotional eating was strongly positively associated to Neuroticism, in particular impulsiveness and depression, and further linked to lower Conscientiousness mainly seen in lower self-discipline, and lower Extraversion. External eating was likewise mainly associated to the facets impulsiveness and lower self-discipline. Restrained eating was on the other hand related to higher Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Openness, and lower Neuroticism. These results imply that poor self-control seen in impulsiveness and lower self-discipline was most important for eating due to negative emotions as well as in response to external food stimuli, suggesting that the inhibition of eating and difficulties to govern ones behavior are major aspects of these eating behaviors. Attempts to control food intake and body weight seen in restrained eating were associated with more character strengths and ambitions, and also a more outgoing personality style with more stable emotions.

(Nod to KL, who is always restrained, even if it costs him extra at the Mustang Ranch)

Karma comes a'calling!

The DC Judge who tried to collect $54 million in a dry cleaning dispute has been relieved of his position.


Hat Tip to Betsy

I eat Doritos 'cause they're good for the Environment

Did you know that Toyota has reduced the energy required to manufacture one of its vehicles by more than 24% in the last 5 years? Or that Frito-Lay has reduced its water use by 38 percent, natural gas by 27 percent and electricity by 21 percent since 1999 for a savings of $55 million a year in utility bills? Me neither. The best part of this info though is that I found it in the NY Times!

The article mainly discusses how Frito Lay is trying a test case of taking one of its chip plants "almost completely off the grid", via gray water recovery, solar power, and using left over chip sludge to create methane (though I'm pretty sure Mungowitz has already perfected and patented that process)!

But I am left wondering whether Toyota and Frito Lay are ahead of the curve and such large savings are still on the table for a lot of other companies (which would be good), or whether their cases are typical and there isn't much room left for energy efficiency gains while retaining the same basic infrastructures and production methods (which might be bad)?

Anybody know? Bueller?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

China is a lot poorer than we thought

So says Albert Kiedel of the Carnegie Endowment in the FT:

...The Asian Development Bank presented official survey results indicating China's economy is smaller and poorer than established estimates say. The announcement cited the first authoritative measure of China's size using purchasing power parity methods. The results tell us that when the World Bank announces its expected PPP data revisions later this year, China's economy will turn out to be 40 per cent smaller than previously stated......The number of people in China living below the World Bank's dollar-a-day poverty line is 300m - three times larger than currently estimated.

Why such a large revision in the estimates of China's economic condition? Until recently, China had never participated in the careful price surveys needed to convert accurately its gross domestic product into PPP dollars. The World Bank's estimates based on summary data from the late 1980s probably overstated China's PPP gross domestic product even then. Up to now, the bank has revised its estimate very little. In the meantime, China has repeatedly raised the prices of food, housing, healthcare and a range of other non-traded goods and services. These reforms should have lowered the PPP adjustment, but the bank left it basically unchanged.

These PPP adjustments affect poverty measures because the World Bank's dollar-a-day poverty line is a PPP dollar poverty line. Reducing PPP consumption estimates drops large numbers of additional households below the poverty line.

For China, the correction needs to be made back to the 1980s and 1990s, when instead of World Bank estimates of roughly 300m people below the dollar-a-day poverty line, the number was more likely more than 500m. China has made enormous strides in lifting its population out of poverty - but the task was perhaps more gargantuan than most people thought and progress has been overstated by bank estimates.

Hat Tip to Jonathan Dingell

Falling Star(bury)

This is a good one people. As you may remember, I predicted the Heat would go winless 'til D-Wade came back, but Sunday they beat the Knicks in the Ga-den 75-72 (no, the fourth quarter was not canceled).

Even Isiah realized that was unacceptable and he chose one Stephon Marbury Esq. to blame. By Tuesday, it was leaking to the NY papers that the Knickerbockers wanted to reduce Steph's role or better yet deal him (good luck with that given (a) his play and (b) his contract).

Then we get word that Starbury has left the team "with permission".

Then the rumor mill pipes up that he and Zeke threw down on the team's charter flight to Phoenix. The upshot is that Steph missed the Suns game and was fined 1/110 of his salary as per league rules (around $182,000).

Then Starbury is quoted as saying: "Isiah has to start me," Marbury fumed, according to the Daily New source. "I've got so much (stuff) on Isiah and he knows it. He thinks he can (get) me. But I'll (get) him first. You have no idea what I know."

So I guess that Steph's quotes are why there was a physical altercation and I also guess that what came out at Zeke's sexual harassment trial was only the tip of the proverbial iceburg.

There may be teams with worse records than the Knicks, but none in worse shape or with a dimmer future. One the one hand, it makes me sad 'cause I loved the Knicks when I was a little kid, especially Earl Monroe. On the other hand, Isiah is not exactly a sympathetic character, is he?

Looks like our pal Karma is making house calls.

Hat Tip to Mrs. Angus

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Never Too Late to Hate....WalMart!

Some schmendrick named "Munger" turns hater on Walmart.


Web site for the film.

Coffee Grrrrrlllll!

A story about discrimination.

Women get bad service at coffee shops.


And why doesn't competition yield coffee shops that provide better service?

(Nod to Anonyman, who if anything services women too quickly)

Japan is actually growing again

Japan is climbing out of the pit.

And "the pit" is where a 90%+ drop in real estate values will put you.

Does this sound like California, if you change a few words?

Prices were highest in Tokyo's Ginza district in 1989, with some fetching over US$1.5 million per square meter ($139,000 per square foot), and only slightly less in other areas of Tokyo. By 2004, prime "A" property in Tokyo's financial districts were less than 1/100th of their peak, and Tokyo's residential homes were 1/10th of their peak, but still managed to be listed as the most expensive real estate in the world. Some US$20 trillion (1999 dollars) was wiped out with the combined collapse of the real estate market and the Tokyo stock market. (WP)

Please Join my World Bank Re-Location Campaign!!

The managing operations director of the World Bank just flew in from Bhutan. He sez we all could learn a lot from and should even emulate Bhutan. Why is Bhutan so sexy? Well they don't want to talk about GNP but rather GNH (gross national happiness). AAARGH. Bhutan ranks very near the bottom of the HDI (human development index) which is an attempt at a not completely GDP based development metric (it uses GDP, Life expectancy and Literacy). Bhutan came in 135th in 2004.

So, the World Bank, failed promoter of development and progress, is now offering up Bhutan "one of the most isolated and least developed nations in the world" as a model.


Poverty: if you can't beat it, endorse it!

People let's all get together and take up a collection and move them Bankocrats! From DC to Thimpu. I know that would increase our GNH!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Man, I wasted my High School Years!

At least compared to Jovana Sarver who made this cool video to one of my favorite Joanna Newsom songs while a high school student in Harrisburg PA.

This is real real good.

Are You a Dem, a Repub, or a Texan?

Are you a Democrat, Republican or Texan? Here is a little test that
will help you decide. The answer can be found by posing the following

You're walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic Terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a Glock cal 40, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family. What do you do?

Democrat's Answer:

Well, that's not enough information to answer the question! Does the man look poor! Or oppressed?
Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack? Could we run away?
What does my wife think? What about the kids? What does the law say about this situation?
Why am I carrying a loaded gun anyway, and what kind of message does this send to society and to my children?
Does he definitely want to kill me, or would he be content just to wound me?
Should I call 9-1-1? Why is this street so deserted?
We need to raise taxes, have paint and weed day and make this a happier, healthier street that would discourage such behavior.

Republican's Answer:

Texan's Answer:

Click..... (Sounds of reloading)
Daughter: "Nice grouping, Daddy! Were those the Winchester Silver Tips
or Hollow Points?
Son: Can I shoot the next one!
Wife: You Ain't Taking That To The Taxidermist!

(From the internet, many places)

Markets in Everything?

Ladies and Gentleman, without further ado I give you The Islamic Car!!!!

Malaysian automaker Proton plans to team up with companies in Iran and Turkey to produce "Islamic cars" for the global market, a news report said Sunday.

Proposed by Iran, the collaboration would include installing features in automobiles such as a compass to determine the direction of Mecca for prayers, and compartments for storing the Quran and headscarves, Proton's Managing Director Syed Zainal Abidin told national news agency Bernama."What they (Iran) want to do is to call that an Islamic car," he was quoted as saying while on a visit in Iran. "The car will have all the Islamic features and should be meant for export purposes. We will identify a car that we can develop to be produced in Malaysia, Iran or Turkey."

So let me get this straight: a compass and a glove compartment makes it an Islamic Car? Holy Crap. My baptist grandad would be spinnin' in his grave if he knew that he drove Islamic cars for 40 years!! He even had an Islamic RV!

Real v. Nominal prices and "all time" records

It is commonly asserted that gold is at or near its previous all time high set in 1980. But lost in these statements is the fact that despite our lionization of P. Volcker and A. Greenspan, the general price level has risen a lot in the last 27 years. Any inter-temporal comparison thus needs to be done in real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) terms.

Melanie Burton provides such an accounting in today's WSJ (not the editorial page so it has > 50% chance of being factually accurate). The article is gated, but the free preview makes the point:

Gold made headlines last week by flirting with its 1980 peak price, but the precious metal remains far short of its inflation-adjusted record -- and probably won't see it soon.

On Friday, gold traded in the cash market at $831.50 a troy ounce, nearing the $850-an-ounce record that 27 years ago was briefly touched (too briefly to be captured by the monthly chart at right). Adjusted for inflation, the 1980 price translates to $2,250 now.

So we still have a little way to go

Serf 'n Turf

College football is big money. In 2005 the big boys generated 1.8 billion in revenues with several schools (Notre Dame, Texas, & Ohio State) racking up over 50 million each.

Other sports (non-revenue) are subsidized. Coaches make big money, school endowments swell. But the guys getting their heads bashed in all fall make nothing. Squadoosh!

I don't like it (even though my school is a football factory) and Michael Lewis (Moneyball author), doesn't like it either, as you can read here in his NY Times piece. Here's an excerpt:

College football’s best trick play is its pretense that it has nothing to do with money, that it’s simply an extension of the university’s mission to educate its students. Were the public to view college football as mainly a business, it might start asking questions. For instance: why are these enterprises that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with profits exempt from paying taxes? Or why don’t they pay their employees?

This is maybe the oddest aspect of the college football business. Everyone associated with it is getting rich except the people whose labor creates the value. At this moment there are thousands of big-time college football players, many of whom are black and poor. They perform for the intense pleasure of millions of rabid college football fans, many of whom are rich and white. The world’s most enthusiastic racially integrated marketplace is waiting to happen.

But between buyer and seller sits the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to ensure that the universities it polices keep all the money for themselves — to make sure that the rich white folk do not slip so much as a free chicken sandwich under the table to the poor black kids. The poor black kids put up with it because they find it all but impossible to pursue N.F.L. careers unless they play at least three years in college. Less than one percent actually sign professional football contracts and, of those, an infinitesimal fraction ever make serious money. But their hope is eternal, and their ignorance exploitable.

Put that way the arrangement sounds like simple theft; but up close, inside the university, it apparently feels like high principle. That principle, as stated by the N.C.A.A., is that college sports should never be commercialized. But it’s too late for that. College football already is commercialized, for everyone except the people who play it. Were they businesses, several dozen of America’s best-known universities would be snapped up by private equity tycoons, who would spin off just about everything but the football team. (The fraternities they might keep.)

The bottom line is this: Big time college athletes need to be paid. It's way, way, way, past time for that to happen

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What Were the Chances the South Would Win?

Victory or Repudiation? The Probability of the Southern Confederacy Winning
the Civil War

Marc Weidenmier & Kim Oosterlinck
NBER Working Paper, November 2007

Historians have long wondered whether the Southern Confederacy had a
realistic chance at winning the American Civil War. We provide some
quantitative evidence on this question by introducing a new methodology for
estimating the probability of winning a civil war or revolution based on
decisions in financial markets. Using a unique dataset of Confederate gold
bonds in Amsterdam, we apply this methodology to estimate the probability of
a Southern victory from the summer of 1863 until the end of the war. Our
results suggest that European investors gave the Confederacy approximately a
42 percent chance of victory prior to the battle of Gettysburg/Vicksburg.
News of the severity of the two rebel defeats led to a sell-off in
Confederate bonds. By the end of 1863, the probability of a Southern victory
fell to about 15 percent. Confederate victory prospects generally decreased
for the remainder of the war. The analysis also suggests that McClellan's
possible election as U.S. President on a peace party platform as well as
Confederate military victories in 1864 did little to reverse the market's
assessment that the South would probably lose the Civil War.

This use of financial markets data is far too rare in political science, and history.

The Old "Randomize Your Choices" Doge

Old doges can teach modern political scientists new tricks, according to a
paper by two computer scientists who analyzed the long and cumbersome - but
ultimately very effective - means by which the Venetian Republic elected its
sovereign-for-life. From 1268 to the fall of the republic, in 1797, Venice's
council of oligarchs took 10 rounds to choose each doge, with the first nine
rounds determining the electors for the next round and the final round
picking a winner. Five of the first eight rounds were decided not by
election but by the drawing of lots. This injection of randomness into the
process, the authors argue, conferred considerable advantages over
proportional-representation or simple-majority systems, and may explain the
republic's great durability. The element of uncertainty forced electors to
weigh minority opinions with special care; it also encouraged compromise and
guarded against corruption. Moreover, by accepting an arduous selection
process (which in the days before probability theory must have seemed highly
arbitrary), Venice's oligarchs demonstrated to the people their collective
commitment to the republic. [Atlantic Monthly]

The actual paper, which is quite interesting.

(Nod to KL)

Stupid Filter

The Filter Strikes Back.

Now, if they would just make a "stupid filter" for faculty meetings.

(Nod to KL)

The Great Debate

Over at MR, an ebullient Tyler reports that he and resident CATO pretty boy Will Wilkinson opened up a big can of whoopass on Jeff Sachs and Betsey Stevenson last night in NYC.

I don't doubt the outcome, but I must confess to not understanding the debate at all. The proposition in question was: "America is failing at the pursuit of happiness". I can understand debating whether Americans are ACHIEVING happiness, but I can't see how anyone might deny that we are PURSUING it with all our might.

I also can't accept the implicit notion that it's the government's responsibility to make people happy. Hey Congress: really want to make me happy?? DISBAND!

Finally (if anyone is still with me at this point in the proceedings), if you feel that maximizing human happiness is extremely important but you personally are failing at achieving happiness, let me inform you that Mrs. Angus and I are fiendishly effective at turning $$ into happiness.

As a public service, and taking a page from the brilliant Cat and Girl concept, send us your contribution and we will describe exactly what we did with the dough and how happy it made us.

Really. No need to thank us, we live to serve.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cállate la boca!!

Here is a verbatim translated text of the Ibero-American Summit:

"Are too!!"

"Am not!!"

"Are too!!"

"Yeah well so's your Mom!!"

It seems that Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Aznar a "facist"

Then current Spanish Prime minister Zapatero (literally, shoemaker) criticized Chavez for being disrespectful.

Then Chavez interrupted Zapatero's remarks.

Then Juan Charlie, King of Spain (KING I say!!!) starting yelling at Chavez to shut up and pointing his finger at him.

Socialist Solidarity indeed!!

You can read more about it here.

Leijonhufvud takes on Inflation Targeting

Monetary Economist Axel Leijonhufvud (who wrote one of the funniest pieces about economics ever) is not enthralled with inflation targeting. Here is a tidbit:

With the demise of Monetarism, more and more central banks around the world have come to adopt a policy strategy known as ‘inflation targeting.’ This is the case, for example, with the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, and the Swedish Riksbank. The Central Bank of New Zealand was a pioneer in committing itself publicly to this policy. Some other important
central banks, such as the Federal Reserve System of the United States and the Bank of Japan, have not officially declared inflation targeting as their strategy, but they have behaved as if it were, and the markets have believed that to be the case. Many influential advocates of this policy have argued that keeping the inflation rate very low and maintaining it within a very narrow band of variation should bea central bank's exclusive goal. If it is known that this is the Bank's exclusive objective, its policies will be transparent and, the proponents believe, as long as the markets understand clearly what the monetary policy is, they will take care of other matters, such as unemployment, as well as can be. If, on the other hand, the central bank from time to time trades off unemployment versus inflation, or one of the two versus the exchange rate, the private sector will not be certain what is going on and this will lead to various mistakes and inefficiencies. I have a number of reservations concerning this fashionable policy doctrine. In particular, I maintain that stabilising the consumer price index (or its rate of growth) does not guarantee stability of the financial system. Moreover, under certain conditions, concentrating on year-to-year monetary stability, in the sense of keeping to a CPI inflation target, can lead you to follow policies that are inimical to financial stability over the longer run.

Friday, November 09, 2007

All Roads lead to Crawford

This is what makes blogging so great. Alex over at MR posts about Cheatneutral, a "company" that provides infidelity offsets (that is actually a satire of carbon offsets). Then a bunch of his commenters go crazy complaining that carbon offsets are not a joke. I, thinking they are a joke, google the phrase "Al Gore Carbon Offset Fraud" and then in the muck and the mire I find this old but fascinating (to me anyway) information:

The 4,000-square-foot house is a model of environmental rectitude.

Geothermal heat pumps located in a central closet circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground where the temperature is a constant 67 degrees; the water heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer. Systems such as the one in this "eco-friendly" dwelling use about 25% of the electricity that traditional heating and cooling systems utilize.

A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof runs; wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers goes into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the four-bedroom home. Plants and flowers native to the high prairie area blend the structure into the surrounding ecosystem.

No, this is not the home of some eccentrically wealthy eco-freak trying to shame his fellow citizens into following the pristineness of his self-righteous example. And no, it is not the wilderness retreat of the Sierra Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council, a haven where tree-huggers plot political strategy.

This is President George W. Bush's "Texas White House" outside the small town of Crawford.

Holy Crap! Maybe Al can buy the carbon offsets he needs for his oversized, 20 room, $30k annually in electricity and gas bills, home from the SHRUB!!!

All I can say is, thank you Al for inventing the internet tubes.

Heat - Dolphin Deathmatch: Who will win first?

The NBA roll of shame is still long: Seattle, Golden State, Miami, Washington, and Minnesota. In the NFL, the wannabes have dropped away and the winless now include only Miami and St. Louis. Alone atop the confluence of these rosters of woe stands the city of Miami like a colossus! Congratulations to Miamians for living in the worst sports city in America right now.

Our question though, is which hapless Miami franchise will get a W first? Sunday, the Dolphins play the 4-4 Bills at home. That's gotta be a tossup at worst. The Heat play the Suns at home Friday (I'm penciling in an L) and travel to the Garden to play the Knicks Sunday (ditto).

The bottom line for the Heat may well be that until D-Wade walks through the door, they aren't going to win a single game. Shaq is averaging 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 turnovers and doesn't really look very Shaqlike so far at least. Aside from Haslem, the rest of their roster is a horror show. Jason Williams shooting 34%? Penny Hardaway playing 18 minutes a night? Smush Parker shooting 28%? Daequan Cook? Dorrell Wright? Ricky "shoot at my own basket to make a fake triple double" Davis? Say it ain't so Pat Riley.

Given that Wade is practicing now, I'd say that the Dolphins must win Sunday or else it will turn out to be the Heat that gets the city of Miami off the sporting schneid. Either way, it's going to be a long, long, warm and humid winter in Miami.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rep. Ron Paul at today's JEC meeting with Bernanke

The best way I could describe the problems that we face here in this country, as well as the problem the Federal Reserve faces, is that we are indeed between a rock and a hard place because we have a serious problem but we don't talk about how we got here. We talk about how we're going to "patch it up". The bubble has been burst - we saw what happened after the Nasdaq bubble burst and we don't ask how it was created and then we had a housing bubble and it's deflating and it's spreading.

Yet nobody says, "Where does it come from?" and what is the advice that you generally get? Inflate the currency. They don't say "inflate the currency", they don't say "debase the currency", they don't say "devalue the currency", they don't say "cheat the people who have saved", they say "lower the interest rates". But they never ask you and I never hear you say, "the only way I can lower interest rates is I have to create more money".
Unless we get down to the bottom of it and define what inflation is and not look at only prices... this was taught by the free market economists all through the 20th century, they said, "Beware, they will increase the money supply but they will make you concentrate on prices and they will give you CPIs and PPIs and they'll fudge those figures and they'll talk about wage and price controls to solve our problems".

We ignore the fundamental flaw and that is that not only have we had a subprime market in housing, the whole economic system is subprime in that we have artificially low interest rates. And it wasn't under your tenure in office - it's been going on for ten years or longer and now we're bearing the fruits of that policy. A one percent interest rate and that's not a distortion? Instead of looking at consumer prices, that nobody in this country really believes, we need to talk about the distortion, the malinvestment, the misdirection, the bad information that is gotten from artificially low interest rates.

Well said Ron! (hat tip to Tim Iacono)

Excuse, I'm Going to the Head

President Bush, regarding President Musharraf: "You can't be the president
and the head of the military at the same time." (Yahoo link)

1. Wouldn't a strict constructionist point out that the U.S. Constitution says "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States"?!

2. Haven't MANY of Pres. Bush's claims of executive privilege been based on PRECISELY the fact that he is Pres and Head "at the same time"?

3. Now that I think of it, Pres. Bush is right, and can use his own example as proof.

(Nod to KL)

Time to Short Sell Domestic Pisco Manufacturers?

I am a free trader. I understand that multilateral agreements are probably the better way to go over bilaterals, but I generally like the bilateral ones as well, though it always troubles me that the text of a "free trade" agreement can be more than 2 or 3 sentences long (NAFTA runs into the thousands of pages I believe).

However, I am not sure that anything George Bush and Nancy Pelosi agree on can be very good economic policy, so I am stumped by the following from the NY Times:

In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appealed Tuesday for passage of a free-trade agreement with Peru in a vote scheduled for Wednesday in the House of Representatives.

If approved by the House, the pact could revive the administration’s trade agenda and propel faltering trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, all of which are awaiting Congressional approval.

Nearly all 200 Republicans are expected to support the Peru deal, making it possible for the measure to pass with only a small number of Democrats. Some put the number of Democratic votes in favor at 75, and it could go higher. A favorable Senate vote is considered likely.

What do other prominent Democrats think, you ask?

Former Senator John Edwards opposes the Peru deal, Senator Barack Obama has endorsed it and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has not announced a position but has expressed skepticism about trade deals generally.

Don't fret Hill, I'm sure you'll figure out how to get on both sides of this issue too!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More good economic news (no wonder the mkt is tanking!)

Specifically, labor productivity grew by 4.9% in the 3rd quarter.

The Labor Department reported that productivity -- the amount of output per hour of work -- jumped at an annual rate of 4.9 percent in the July-September quarter. That was double the 2.2 percent rise in the second quarter and represented the fastest surge in worker efficiency since 2003.At the same time, wage pressures eased with unit labor costs dropping at an annual rate of 0.2 percent, the best showing in more than a year.

Both outcomes were far better than had been expected and should relieve some of the concerns that a remarkable surge in productivity that began in the mid-1990s was in danger of being reversed.

The slight drop in wage pressures was especially welcome after hefty increases over the past four quarters. Rising wages are good for workers but if they are not accompanied by strong productivity gains, they raise concerns among Fed policymakers about inflation.

The 0.2 percent decline in unit labor costs in the third quarter followed a 2.2 percent increase in labor costs in the second quarter and even bigger jumps of 5.2 percent in the first quarter and 10.3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

The article even gives its own punchline!!

Wall Street was not impressed with the big rise in productivity and slowdown in wage pressures, preferring to worry about the weakness of the dollar against other currencies. The Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 240 points in afternoon trading.