Saturday, December 15, 2007

Norman Ice Storm in Pictures!!

These were taken by our friend Tommy Blue, who didn't get his power back until this evening (6 days!!!), and immediately emailed us the pics when he did get power.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn Bolivian!

Recently KPC has reported on the increasing divisiveness of Bolivian politics here and here.

The situation is further heating up as Santa Cruz and three other Departments (i.e. states) are voting/declaring "autonomy" from the central government after Cocalero Presidente Morales decided to just push his new constitution through by any means necessary.

To prevent such ship jumping, Morales has quixotically dispatched 422 police officers to Santa Cruz!! I wonder how that precise number was determined?

It seems like Bolivia is going to figure out what works by first experimenting with all the things that won't / don't work and then settling on something else.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is the Fed fighting the wrong battle?

I am just an Okie outsider, not privy to the forecasts and deliberations of the FOMC. But I do know these things (1) Output is still growing and unemployment is not rising. (2) Inflation is rising (3) The last time our monetary authority accomodated energy price increases in a big way didn't work out so well.

On point (1): Unemployment was steady at 4.7% last month and new jobs went up by 94,000. Third quarter real GDP growth was above 4% and productivity rose by 6.3% in that quarter. Even industrial production rebounded from its October fall to post a November gain.

On point (2) CPI inflation was .8% in November and is running at over 4% for the last 12 months and over 5% (annualized) for the last three months. Even "core" inflation is rising and rising faster than predicted. The real return on 10 year t-bonds is slightly negative now.

On point (3) of course I am refering to the stagflating 70s.

So either the Fed is making mistakes, or is being politically pressured into this policy path knowing it's probably a mistake, or the Fed foresees something really really bad in the near future that it doesn't want to talk about publically.

I am not sure which of these three scenarios I hope is the correct one.

Update: This well reasoned gentleman has a slightly different view of the situation.


On following up the toad smoking question, KPC uncovers the jenkem epidemic.

When I was in college, I remember a friend saying, "Man, THIS is some good shit." Never thought he might be speaking literally.

My suspicion: a hoax. Has anyone ever met anyone who has ever met anyone who did jenkem?

A Boy and his Toad

Man arrested for toad possession.

Man makes bail, toad still in custody.

Best line:

"There are a lot of things that are created naturally but they are still not legal.”

To which I say:

The only reason a lot of things are illegal is that they happen to be against the law.

One picture is better than 31 pages.

I came across an article entitled: "A Dynamic Enquiry into the Causes of Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe".

I was stunned to see it was 31 pages long when it should have just been this.

Of course, one could reasonably inquire into "The Causes of Mugabe in Zimbabwe". That paper should consist of this.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dumb Water

Somebody fix it.

Best Pop Music of 2007

I have a top 5 and a second 5, no particular subordering in each group. In my opinion, it was a very good year in music.

Top 5:

Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Britt Daniel does more with less than anyone since John Cage)
Sunset Rubdown: Random Spirit Lover (Over the top madness. essential)
Black Cab: Jesus East (hard to find Aussie psycho-drone. try
The National: Boxer (I slept on these guys for years. they are the real deal)
Seabear: The Ghost that Carried us Away (lovely, simple and fun)

Second 5:

MIA: Kala
Okkervil River: The Stage Names
Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity
LCD Soundsystem: The Sound of Silver
Bill Callahan: Woke on a Whale Heart

Honorable Mentions: Blonde Redhead: 33, Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortadala, Les Savy Fav: Let's Stay Friends, Panda Bear: Person Pitch.

Disappointments: Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (guess they were one album wonders), Band of Horses: Cease to Begin (ditto), Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Some Loud Thunder (ditto ditto), Liars: Liars (this just plain sucks), Modest Mouse: We were Dead before the Ship Even Sank (ditto).

Separated at Birth?

As suggested by sharp-eyed reader NewBigPrinz....

Robyn Hitchcock

My son Kevin

I survived the Oklahoma Icestorm of 2007!

(t-shirt forthcoming).

Wow. Me and Mrs. Angus have been refugees. No power for 3.5 days. Cold weather. About 15 trees on our property destroyed. No damage to house or dog though. Spent the first night sleeping in my office on my yoga mat (not too comfy), the next two with our friend Charlie (much much better). Back home now, grading finals and thinking about buying a chainsaw.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Full Metal Christmas at the North Pole

No common decency here. Not for kids, not work safe.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Suppose you take some schmoe, give him a whiteboard, a marker, and a video camera.

What's the worst that could happen?

This. This is the worst that could happen.

Note that if you take out global climate change, and put "asteroid strike" or "killer virus" or "nuclear holocaust" or ANY OTHER doomsday scenario, his "argument" leads to the same "inescapable conclusion."

The problem with expected value is that you need probabilities. Bozo here appears to believe that we should spend an infinite amount of resources on multiple problems. If you multiply infinity by an integer, where the integer is determined by the number of "problems" that at least one bedwetter is worried about, then you get.... well, you get Al Gore winning a Nobel Prize.

And that, my children, is the worst that could happen. Good night, and sleep well.

Happy / Merry!

A fine merry Christmas from the Mungowitz compound!

Try to guess the name of the idiot not smiling and looking at the ceiling. That's right, that would be.... "Kevin"... click the pic, you'll see what I mean.

Also, about three seconds after this picture was taken, the tree fell over right on my wife's head, causing most excellent shrieking. (Yes, really). This is already my favorite xmas picture EVER. Oh, the memories of xmastime, with the family.

"At Least There Was A Toilet...."

Man trapped in the loo. 100 hours. Ick.

(Insert your own joke at this point)

Buggles? We don't need no stinkin' Buggles!

Great cover version of the first video ever played on MTV. Done here by "The Wrong Trousers" and showing the influence Joanna Newsome is having on our youth.

Hat tip to Pitchfork.

Be Fair....Be Patient....And Be Happy

Cliches often contain truth....

Procedural Fairness, Outcome Favorability, and Judgments of an Authority's Responsibility

Joel Brockner, Ariel Fishman, Jochen Reb, Barry Goldman, Scott Spiegel &
Charlee Garden
Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2007, Pages 1657-1671

Fairness theory (R. Folger & R. Cropanzano, 1998, 2001) postulates that, particularly in the face of unfavorable outcomes, employees judge an organizational authority to be more responsible for their outcomes when the authority exhibits lower procedural fairness. Three studies lent empirical support to this notion. Furthermore, 2 of the studies showed that attributions of responsibility to the authority mediated the relationship between the authority's procedural fairness and employees' reactions to unfavorable outcomes. The findings (a) provide support for a key assumption of fairness theory, (b) help to account for the pervasive interactive effect of procedural fairness and outcome favorability on employees' attitudes and behaviors, and (c) contribute to an emerging trend in justice research concerned with how people use procedural fairness information to make attributions of responsibility for their outcomes. Practical implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research also are discussed.


Patience is a virtue: Cooperative people have lower discount rates

Oliver Curry, Michael Price & Jade Price
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming

Reciprocal altruism involves foregoing an immediate benefit for the sake of a greater long-term reward. It follows that individuals who exhibit a stronger preference for future over immediate rewards should be more disposed to engage in reciprocal altruism - in other words, 'patient' people should be more cooperative. The present study tested this prediction by investigating whether participants' contributions in a public-good game correlated with their 'discount rate'. The hypothesis was supported: patient people are indeed more cooperative. The paper discusses alternative interpretations of this result, and makes some suggestions for future research.

(Nod to KL, who is always fair and cooperative. ALWAYS, I'm telling you)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


My boy T. Schaller asks, "Where are the moderate Republicans?"

The answer is that one of them turned into....Tom Schaller!

Fred Lays the Smack Down on Manny

Philosophical trash talking.

(Nod to PDF, who KNOWS from trash)

Are Chile and Venezuela really the Same??

Over at Oil Wars, they say the answer is yes (it's the first post there as of my posting this, dated December 9th and titled "Is this the way to go?" I can't get a unique link to the post).

It's really worth reading the whole thing to try and see how to make an untenable argument as best you can by playing with the data and abusing the language.

For example we are told that Venezuela has made better progress in combating unemployment though the graph we are shown shows the Chilean unemployment rate is lower than the Venezuealan one in every observation depicted!

The main argument is Chile is dependent on a single commodity export (copper) just like Venezuela (oil) but Ven is actually doing as well as if not better than Chile.

The main data in support is a graph showing that since the end of 2004 Venezuela has been growing faster than Chile (sorry but I don't see how accumulating more international reserves is a sign of superior economic performance).

However, the author cleverly has omitted pre-2004 data which tells a very different story (sorry this is so small, click it and watch it grow!!):

These data,from the Penn World Tables tell a different story. (Data are adjusted for variations in PPP. The series is called RGDPL). Venezuela was poorer in 2004 than it was in 1977! Chile caught them in 1991 and in 2004 Chilean per capita income was hugely greater (note that much of this excellent relative performance is post Pinochet).

The oil wars guy concludes as follows:

It would seem Chile is not all it has been cracked up to be. The sad reality here is that neither of these countries are in very good shape. Venezuela is poor and very heavily dependent on one export commodity. And so far attempts to diversify the economy seen either not to exist or not to have had success. Chile, contrary to popular perception, is also very dependent on export of a single commodity. And while it has had more success than Venezuela in increasing other exports those other exports seem also to be commodities or agricultural products. In other words, both countries are on the bottom of the world wide food chain exporting only natural resources and agricultural products - for some reason value added manufactures seem to be beyond them.

But one point is crystal clear. Chile, being to a large extent stuck in the same swamp of underdevelopment that Venezuela is, can hardly serve as a model for how Venezuela is to get out that underdeveloped state. For that Venezuela would do MUCH better to look east towards South Korea and Taiwan than to look south towards Chile.

Now I'm not here to say Chile is a model for anybody, but I do say that they have gotten quite a bit further out of the "swamp of underdevelopment" than has Venezuela.

While we wait for the Fed...

Okie Pete bought a donkey for $100 cash with delivery for the following day. The next day the seller drove up and said "Sorry Pete but the Donkey is Dead and I already spend your money". Pete thought a spell and said, "OK, just give me the dead donkey and I'll raffle it off"

"You can't do that"

"Watch me"

A week later the seller saw Pete and asked "how'd the raffle go?" Pete said, I sold 500 tickets at $2.00 each and made a profit of $998?"

"No one complained?"

"Just the winner, so I gave him his $2.00 back"

from "Plato & a Platypus walk into a bar: Understanding philosophy through jokes"

Monday, December 10, 2007

Some Subprime Mortgage Facts

As Mrs. Angus and I dig our way out of ice sheets and downed trees, I recommend this Boston Fed working paper written by a couple of PhD students from Boston Univ.

The abstract: This paper provides the first rigorous assessment of the homeownership experiences of subprime borrowers. We consider homeowners who used subprime mortgages to buy their homes, and estimate how often these borrowers end up in foreclosure. In order to evaluate these issues, we analyze homeownership experiences in Massachusetts over the 1989–2007 period using a competing risks, proportional hazard framework. We present two main findings. First, homeownerships that begin with a subprime purchase mortgage end up in foreclosure almost 20 percent of the time, or more than 6 times as often as experiences that begin with prime purchase mortgages. Second, house price appreciation plays a dominant role in generating foreclosures. In fact, we attribute most of the dramatic rise in Massachusetts foreclosures during 2006 and 2007 to the decline in house prices that began in the summer of 2005.

So yes subprime mortgages for home purchase do end up in foreclosure "too often" and it's price declines, not interest rate increases, that are the key driver of foreclosures. Not only is the Paulson plan weird, it's pretty much misdirected and likely useless.

Some Good Questions from JinC

John in Carolina asks some interesting and useful questions, in this post.

I try here to respond, at least in summary form. I have gathered and summarized some of John's comments, perhaps unfairly. But it seemed like a useful way to broaden the issues. John's queries are underlined, in the text below, to make clear what he was asking. And, let me emphasize, I shortened and abridged some of the queries. To judge whether I changed their meaning, check the original post.

JinC Query 1: I assume a principal reason, if not the principal reason, you’d not tolerate protests and shouts in your classroom is because they’d interfere with the presentation of information, including opinion, and orderly discussion of same.

Why shouldn’t the same conditions hold for a public lecture at a university?

Why shouldn’t the rest of the student body, the faculty and others have the same chance to hear Rove under the same reasonable circumstances you’d enforce in your classroom?

Why could they only hear and interact with Rove and he with them in the face of harrassment which you justify as part of "the show?"

Universities frequently spend ten of thousands of dollars to bring speakers such as Rove to their campuses, we’re told for educative purposes.

Why not treat the appearances of such people as academic events?

I hope you come to agree that others at the University and those who traveled to Duke for the event should have had the chance to hear and question Rove under circumstances similar to those you’d have assured for your own students.

I think of there being a continuum of types of events. On one extreme, the classroom, where the professor is responsible for presenting information and controlling the atmosphere. If I invited Karl Rove to my classroom, I would ask that students neither applaud, nor boo. It is a small, intimate setting, and everyone gets their chance to ask a question.

At the other extreme, there are political debates. I oversaw one of these recently, the Durham mayoral debate, where I was moderator. People cheered, or booed, or otherwise made some demonstration of their approval or disapproval. It was not intrusive, and the candidates were not interrupted.

I think of the Karl Rove talk, or Rick Santorum talk, as being closer to the debate setting than the classroom setting. People hear what the person has to say, and respond. They can applaud, or not. No one is guaranteed that the audience approves of their message.

Part of the reason is that not everyone, by a long shot, gets to ask a question. It is different from a classroom. The speaker speaks, the audience reacts, in a big public lecture.

There is a line, I'm not sure just where, between expression and interruption. I thought the Rove talk was well over on the side of expression. There were a few shouts, and one pair of protesters walked down the SIDE of the auditorium with a sign, for about 30 seconds. He was not interrupted, and I did not even find it distracting.

And, by far the most common reaction, was ....applause! Mr. Rove was often interrupted by applause, and in some cases cheers. I would not expect, and would in fact dissuade, such demonstrations of approval in a classroom setting. I think it important to allow people to applaud at a lecture, if they want to.

To summarize: there were no interruptions, other than a shout or two, or maybe four, and some applause. The applause interruptions were the most noticeable, and distracting. Why are you not objecting to applause, John? You wouldn't see that in a classroom.

Now, I recognize that at some point interruptions, and hostility, cross a line where it becomes first unseemly, and then downright distracting. You are quite right that people came to hear Rove, and not the protesters. In fact, this was the argument I was making when I posted the following on the BLUE NC site, on just this subject. THe context was this: several folks had claimed that THEIR freedom of speech meant that they got to interrupt and disrupt the Rove talk. I responded:

I'm always confused on how the "free speech" thing goes. But I have learned a lot here.

Since I am myself one of the primary sponsors of the Rove visit, I am looking forward to having Duke students and the Durham community get a chance to ask questions, after hearing what he had to say.

But, if I understand the content of this thread, "free speech" seems to mean two things:

1. You think that protesters' free speech rights include the right to enter private property and disrupt an event planned and paid for by someone else. I should point out that the audience will be there to hear Karl Rove, not you, but for some reason that doesn't matter. "Free Speech" should be getting a chance to have YOUR message heard, not drowning someone else's.

2. You think that there is no reason to protect anyone's speech rights against the "heckler's veto" that I see being proposed here. I think that is just flat wrong. When I hosted George McGovern, for example, I persuaded a number of students who WANTED to protest that it would be inappropriate. When I hosted the Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference, I got several student groups to have an alternative event, instead, and use it as a way to try to affect public opinion.

The answer to speech you disagree with is a forum to offer YOUR truth. Why would you want to prevent someone else from being heard? It makes you look cowardly.

So, let me make an offer. I will be happy to secure Duke facilities for anyone wanting to hold an alternative event, or wants to use this opportunity to get their message out. Contact me at We'll put something together.

The difference, then, is a matter of degree. So long as the speaker is not interrupted or the talk disrupted, I think applause should be allowed. THat's not true in a classroom, at least not in my classroom. Same with a quick boo, or a shout: if you don't interrupt, go ahead, if the setting is a public lecture where there is not nearly enough time for everyone to ask their own question.

So, in my view, your last paragraph quoted above is just plain wrong on the facts. And, I was there, at the talk, and so have some handle on the facts.

People who came to hear Karl Rove should indeed get to hear him without interruption, except for quick boos or applause. And that is what happened!! If they had NOT been able to hear, I agree that that would be a problem. But I had already said that, and you knew it. So I don't understand your question, sir.

If you think that ALL applause should be prevented, like in a classroom, at all public lectures, then we disagree. I think you should get to applaud in a lecture. If you think applause should be allowed, then you yourself think that the classroom and the large public lecture are different, and so I don't see why you say they are the same.

JinC Query 2. What concerns me about your letter and some of your subsequent comments is that you are, IMO, setting the bar for acceptable public conduct on campus much too low.

For example, when you say, as you did in your letter, the Rove evening was “as close to flawless as you are going to get with a controversial speaker.”

The evening was certainly much better than the recent event at Emory during which administrators and police, fearful they could no longer assure the safety of David Horowitz, convinced him to break off his speech and leave the campus.

And as regards the invitation to Rove, almost all Duke faculty showed themselves more tolerant than the University of California system faculty who recently pressured the Board of Regents into cancelling their invitation to former Harvard President Larry Summers to be their dinner speaker.

But just because something is not the worst or near worst of its kind, doesn’t make it acceptable or deserving of praise.

I’m one of those concerned by the growing intolerance, including violent acts, on many campuses; and by the threat that intolerance poses to something both wonderful and vulnerable: The Academy.

You may just be right about this, sir. I was relieved that Duke had not embarrassed itself, in the just the way that others embarrassed themselves in the other examples you (correctly) cite.

Whether my relief gives a pass, when a higher standard should be enforced, is a question I think your readers are better able to judge than I am.

I have had jobs at several universities. And Duke is the place most committed to open debate and real free speech of all of those. Whether that commitment is less than it should be is a fair question.

But, in the specific case of Karl Rove:
1. He is used to people being rude
2. He characterized his treatment at Duke as being acceptable, and better than he had expected, at the dinner later
3. Had Karl Rove spoken at pretty much any of the other "elite" schools you might name, I am convinced there would have been a riot.

Surely that counts for something. If you think that EVEN more civility is required, I think I disagree. The speech went off without serious interruption or distraction. THere is a qualitative difference, not of degree but of kind, when one compares this outcome to places where visitors have been shouted off the stage, and not allowed to speak.

Further, that same week there was a visit by Rick Santorum, also a controversial figure (And, if it matters, my program co-sponsored this visit, as we did Rove, to make sure there are conservative voices on campus!).

There were NO interruptions of any kind, except for applause. The room was nearly full, and the audience was entirely of the sort you say is appropriate. (I assume, again, you think applause are okay, yes?) That is the sort of atmosphere that Duke cultivates. Why do you give us no credit for that? I had thought that the Rove talk was about as good as one could expect, but the Santorum talk went even better.

To close: Let me emphasize that I value John's questions, and appreciate
the chance to have this discourse. John is extremely fair-minded, and has posed his concerns as questions rather than leaping to conclusions. Now, after reading my responses, readers may well conclude that I am just mistaken. But it will be after hearing a fair and extended discussion, rather than just one side. Thanks to John for initiating this, and for pursuing it.

Best Software Message, All Time

Marc A offers a nomination for the "best software message."

And, he has a point. This is a good one, even for the MicroSoftian Empire.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Whither the Fed?

Over at Economist's View, Mark Thoma asks if anything bad could come from the Bernanke Fed's seeming commitment to an "appease the markets" policy rule:

"I've been thinking about the way in which the Fed has been validating the expectations of financial markets when it makes rate decisions recently, or at least has appeared to do so, and wondering about the features of such a policy (whether or not expectation validation actually characterizes the Fed's behavior).

I've been asking around, and I don't know of a model that actually shows this, but it seems like continuous validation of financial market expectations could lead to unstable paths for the economy, at least over some time frame. If that is in fact a worry, and I think it is, then the question becomes how to avoid it."

This is exactly why I've been urging the Fed not to cut again on Tuesday. In my view, we cannot afford to have, or be perceived to have, a complete pander to the markets monetary policy. The Fed has to let people know: "Hey, we are independent. We don't just lick our finger and stick it up in the air. We are the proud sons of Paul Volcker for pete's sake."

We are partly in this mess due to ill advised discretionary monetary policy and I don't think more of the same is going to get us out of this mess. The Fed should follow a rule and I guess at this point, I'd pick an inflation targeting rule, say 2.5% annually for "headline" (i.e. actual) inflation?

Whattya say? Rule, yes or no? If no why not? If yes, what rule?