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?