Saturday, May 10, 2008

The A-holes fight back

No doubt stung by my attacks, the Burmese Generals have launched a huge image upgrade campaign consisting of printing their names in large letters on the aid packages coming in from abroad. No, I am not making this up:

Myanmar's military regime distributed international aid Saturday but plastered the boxes with the names of top generals in an apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise...State-run television continuously ran images of top generals — including the junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe — handing out boxes of aid to survivors at elaborate ceremonies. One box bore the name of Lt. Gen. Myint Swe, a rising star in the government hierarchy, in bold letters that overshadowed a smaller label reading: "Aid from the Kingdom of Thailand."

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country. "It is not going to areas where it is most in need," he said in London.

The George Bush Story:

Coming soon to a theatre near you!!!!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Come Upstairs, and See the Size of My Alpha

Can individuals beat the market? Consistently?

Apropos the recent question about Warren Buffet, I mean. (Buffet, of course, has access to someone named "Munger," which gives Buffet a huge advantage....)

Paulville part deux....

Some more on Paulville....

(Yes, it's a joke. You may, or may not, find it funny....)

The Federal Bee-reau of Apiation

Bees, externalities, and the "custom of the orchard."

You'll like it.

Warren Buffet and Efficient Market Theory

Can Warren Buffet make money? Consistently?

Or is he like an ace fighter pilot?

(Nod to El Zorno, who can make money disappear)

Darned "Elite Economists"

Do you think that she means, by "elite," that they can add, subtract, and read complete sentences?

An Unfortunate Truth

"[Obama's] first instinct -- the academic instinct -- is to explain and analyze, which is impressive to political writers who share that particular vocation. But this approach always places the explainer in a position of superiority...The issue of the lapel flag pin is a good illustration. Obama's explanation for its absence -- that it had become a 'substitute' for 'true patriotism' in the aftermath of Sept. 11 -- is perfectly rational. For a professor at the University of Chicago. ...A president is expected to be a patriotic symbol himself, not the arbiter of patriotic symbols. He is supposed to be the face-painted superfan at every home game; to wear red, white and blue boxers on special marital occasions; to get misty-eyed during the most obscure patriotic hymns." [Gerson, WP op-ed]

(nod to KL)

Political Violence Produces Soccer VIolence

National Cultures and Soccer Violence

Edward Miguel, Sebastián Saiegh & Shanker Satyanath
NBER Working Paper, March 2008

Can some acts of violence be explained by a society's "culture"? Scholars have found it hard to empirically disentangle the effects of culture, legal institutions, and poverty in driving violence. We address this problem by exploiting a natural experiment offered by the presence of thousands of international soccer (football) players in the European professional leagues. We find a strong relationship between the history of civil conflict in a player's home country and his propensity to behave violently on the soccer field, as measured by yellow and red cards. This link is robust to region fixed effects, country characteristics (e.g., rule of law, per capita income), player characteristics (e.g., age, field position, quality), outliers, and team fixed effects. Reinforcing our claim that we isolate cultures of violence rather than simple rule-breaking or something else entirely, there is no meaningful correlation between a player's home country civil war history and soccer performance measures not closely related to violent conduct.

Here's an A-hole we can all agree on

Yeah "Senior General" Than Shwe, you KNOW I'm talkin' about you. The putative leader of Burma's now 46 year young military dictatorship won't allow US planes to land with aid, and won't allow UN aid workers. Now the "government" has seized initial UN shipments of aid and the UN has suspended further deliveries.

Apparently the generals would rather have secure rule over a kingdom of corpses than risk any threat to their power no matter how dire the emergency, and for that they are now the official KPC A-holes of the decade.

Poll-cats and telemarketers

Robert S. P. commented earlier, in part: "As a poor student who does polling ...I really have no sympathy for people who abuse and are rude to telemarketers and even more so pollsters. They're mostly students and low-income people. If you don't want to talk, don't answer the phone. "

Robert, I appreciate your perspective. And Angus and I acknowledge that you are one of our best readers, and almost always correct (meaning you agree with us).

But: I have to answer the phone. I have two teen-age sons, and they get into scrapes. Flat tire, forgot something, locked keys in car, got lost, etc.

Further, IT IS MY PHONE. I paid for it. I am on the "Do not call" list. Unless you want to pay me for my time, that means, "Do not call." I am happy to consider offers to do phone interviews, for pay. Just send the contract via U.S. mail, and we'll negotiate it.

Finally, the "I was just following orders" defense didn't fare well at Nuremberg. Why should we credit it now?*

So, I will answer the phone. And if it someone calling me for their commercial gain, at a waste of my time, then abuse will occur. I have zero sympathy for involuntary exploitation of phone-owners just because they happen to be polite. Angus and I, unafflicted by this politeness malady, strike a blow for justice.

I owe civility to invited guests, and to strangers who need my help. If your car breaks down in front of my house, then come on in, use the phone, and I'll make tea and break out a plate of pecan sandies while we wait for the tow truck.

But no civility is owed to people who call me for their gain, against my expressed wishes.

[*Yes, of course this is a ridiculous comparison. What are blogs for?]

Thursday, May 08, 2008

CHILL--EE--PUNK'D! Oh, the humanity

This was at once the best, and worst, experience of my week.

Telephone call: It's someone taking a poll. I usually don't do this, but I'm interested in how they will word my candidacy.

So, the lady goes through the Prez comparisons, and I answer. (My answer: McCain would come below a dead snake in the road, but above a live though wounded skunk).

Then, she gets to the NC Gov race. I begin to swell with pride, though I plan on playing it cool, and just saying that I would vote for Munger.

She says: "The candidates for Governor are Beverly Purdue and Pat McCrory." Who do you plan to vote for?"

Me: " "

Caller: "Sir, the candidates for Governor are Beverly Purdue and Pat McCrory." Who do you plan to vote for?"

Me: "I'm going to vote for Munger."

Caller: "Sir, that's not an option."

Me: "Ah, but it IS an option. I happen to be Mike Munger, the Libertarian candidate, and I am in fact on the ballot. Your information is incorrect."

Caller: " "

Me: "Ma'am? Are you there? There are three candidates for Governor in NC."

Caller: [CLICK]

Now, I am very proud that I got a telemarketer to hang up on ME (Angus can achieve this more than 50% of the time, but I have never been as good at it.)

Still....A bitter reminder that I am going to have to do a lot of work to convince the "professionals" that there really are three candidates. If the polling firm would mention my name, that would be some really important free advertising.

Chill. EEEE. Punk'd.

Holy Cow! Angus Chilipunk'd by Munger Minions

One of the great mysteries of life is how Germany managed to convince people that Hitler was an Austrian and Beethoven a German.

Now Mungowitz has worked a similar magic with his journalistic minions in Raleigh:

Duke profs on Hillary

Mike Munger, chair of the Duke political science department and Libertarian candidate for governor, weighs in on Hillary Rodham Clinton's future, along with his colleague David Rohde.

Found on Munger's personal blog , which often is a pretty fun read.


Respect v. Tolerance

Christoph raises an interesting question, on an earlier post.

To wit, isn't one of the core values of Libertarianism the respect for other people's opinions, and lifestyles? Including desiring that other people get to express their views, and that I have a chance to listen to them?

After thinking about it, I find I disagree. There is a big difference between two things:

1. Respect: A positive affect for other people, for their views, and for their choices. Meaning, I actively like other people, regardless of their worldview.

2. Tolerance: An acceptance, both as a matter of personal conduct and as a matter of policy, for views and choices toward which I have negative affect. Meaning, I leave other people alone, even if I think they are making a mistake. If they ask me, I'll give them advice. But I will not use the coercive power of the state to FORCE them to act as I want them to, even if my "want" is genuinely motivated by love and good feelings.

I have no respect for the choices of men who decide to raise their children as fundamentalists, rejecting science in favor of mysticism. Doesn't matter if you are Taliban, or Baptist, you're wrong to do that. I have no respect for women who use abortion as a casual birth control device.

In fact, I dislike them. Those are stupid choices.

But I also believe strongly, as a Libertarian, that we have to tolerate those choices.

No way I want to have to listen to those people justify their bad choices, or to force me to pay for their living expenses. In fact, if they come to my door to ask for money, I'll show 'em my gun collection. They had better stay away from me.

But, the government had better stay away from THEM.

If Libertarianism requires that we have a sense of love for idiots, then I don't think Angus and I are Libertarians. We can't do it, and we can't fake it.

Careful, don't step in that guanxi

The changing Chinese culture and business behavior: The perspective of
intertwinement between guanxi and corruption

Yadong Luo
International Business Review, forthcoming

Despite the enormous economic progress it has made over the past thirty years, China is increasingly demoralized, manifested in part in the intertwinement between guanxi and corruption. This change has fundamental repercussions on business culture, practices, and performance, and even more so in years ahead if corruption continues to be ubiquitous there. In this article I briefly explain why and how guanxi and corruption are intertwined, define the level of intertwineability that differs between weak form and strong form, and provide the taxonomy along the level of power abuse and the strength of intertwineability. This taxonomy can be used as a reference framework by future research within which to analyze the dynamics of guanxi-corruption interrelationships as well as organizational responses to such dynamics.


(Nod to KL)

Other predictions

I thought I would see how my OTHER predictions are faring. (Angus, being a PUSSWEILER, made only one actual prediction, that McCain would win. The rest was pretty tame).

Here are my baseball predictions, from January 1:

The Yankees suck, and wish they had not fired Joe Torre.

(the Yankees are under .500, thank you very much. 17-18. But they don't REALLY REALLY suck).

Boston's Manny Ramirez, ever trendy, also threatens to take the UFO shuttle back to his home planet, "Always Happy World." But he misses the UFO flight, apparently looking for the toilet inside the "Green Monster" in Fenway's left field. Asked later by a reporter how he had missed the flight, Manny said: "Forget about the flight, man. This is the place I want to be, man. It's great, man. They love me here, man. This is the place to be. 'Manny being Manny,' he's great, man... we've been through a lot, this is the place for me, I'm just happy to be here... I'm back!"

(Manny is batting .316, with 7 HR and 24 RBI. And he's been quiet, on the psychotic front. The hair is getting a little long, but who am I to criticize about that?).

The Arizona Diamondbacks win the World Series in seven games, beating the Cleveland Indians.

D-backs have best record in baseball. The Tribe....well, the Tribe sucks. Why does the Tribe suck? Still, Tribe plays in a really weak division, and even a brief run of non-sucking could put them in first.

Fausto Carmona (AL) and Brandon Webb (NL) are the Cy Young winners.

Fausto Carmona is 3-1, with 2.95 ERA. And, Cleveland's sucking is not helping him. But he is not throwing strikes, or strikeouts, like he did last year.
Brandon Webb is 7-0, with a 2.49 ERA. If you are keeping score, that's one for me.

RBI machine Matt Holiday wins the NL MVP, though the Rockies barely miss the playoffs.

Holiday is .305 BA, with 5 HR. Not terrible, but not close to MVP. And the Rockies are 13-21 (though they scored 4 in the 8th last night to ruin my boy Wainright's shutout, and beat that poseur Isringhausen, who has four blown saves already).

Victor Martinez wins the AL MVP, leading the Tribe to the Series with his bat and defensive dominance behind the plate.

Martinez has thrown out 8 of 19 stealing, which is respectable. And he's batting .336, which for a catcher is a lot more than just respectable. But he's suffering a power drought: zero homers. That means he's on pace to hit: zero homers. Obviously, he'll hit some, but he averaged over 20 homers per year over the last four years.

OVERALL: The only really accurate predictions are Brandon Webb, and the D-backs. The Yankees aren't great, but they are no worse than last year under Torre. All the Tribe predictions proved nonsensical, and Matt Holiday is a non-factor.

So, I'd say I'm no better at predicting baseball than I am at predicting politics.

Firms: Because that's how we roll

A Naturalistic Approach to the Theory of the Firm: The Role of Cooperation
and Cultural Evolution

Christian Cordes, Peter Richerson, Richard McElreath & Pontus Strimling
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming

One reason why firms exist, this paper argues, is because they are suitable organizations within which cooperative production systems based on human social predispositions can evolve. In addition, we show how an entrepreneur - given these predispositions - can shape human behavior within a firm. To illustrate these processes, we will present a model that depicts how the biased transmission of cultural contents via social learning processes within the firm influence employees' behavior and the performance of the firm. These biases can be traced back to evolved social predispositions. Humans lived in tribal scale social systems based on significant amounts of intra- and even intergroup cooperation for tens if not a few hundred thousand years before the first complex societies arose. Firms rest upon the
social psychology originally evolved for tribal life. We also relate our conclusions to empirical evidence on the performance and size of different kinds of organizations. Modern organizations have functions rather different from ancient tribes, leading to friction between our social predispositions and organization goals. Firms that manage to reduce this friction will tend to function better.

(Nod to KL)

Angus 1.5 - Mungowitz 0.0

On January 1st, Mungowitz predicted that Rudy G. and Hillary would be their parties' nominees with Hillary winning the presidency. That same day, I predicted John McCain would be the GOP nominee and that "Hillary will not be our next president". I personally would score it 2-0, but want to preclude any whining so I made it 1.5 to 0.

I am now going outside to do my victory dance.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Aces and Spaces

Theory of Aces: High Score by Skill or Luck?

M.V. Simkin & V.P. Roychowdhury
Journal of Mathematical Sociology, April 2008, Pages 129-141

We studied the distribution of World War I fighter pilots by the number of victories they were credited with, along with casualty reports. Using the maximum entropy method we obtained the underlying distribution of pilots by their skill. We find that the variance of this skill distribution is not very large, and that the top aces achieved their victory scores mostly by luck. For example, the ace of aces, Manfred von Richthofen, most likely had a skill in the top quarter of the active WWI German fighter pilots and was no more special than that. When combined with our recent study (Simkin and Roychowdhury, 2006), showing that fame grows exponentially with victory scores, these results (derived from real data) show that both outstanding achievement records and resulting fame are mostly due to chance.

Munger is CHILIPUNKED! Again......

Multiple newspapers have gotten the story bizarrely wrong on my testimony at the ballot access lawsuit in Raleigh on Monday. The Traingle Independent did a story, the Greensboro News and Record, and also the Winston-Salem Journal, all had variations on this story.

They point out the following two things:

1. Munger testifies, under oath, that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a third party to win any elections under current law. The reason is that the new party has to use up all its money to pay petitioners to collect signatures.

2. Munger "admits, under cross-examination" that the Libertarian Party has failed to win any elections.

Given #1, how hard would a cross-examiner have to work to get me to "admit" #2?

True, I also said that, if the law were eased, that at some point a party's viability would have to be judged by winning at least some elections. But that is only if the law were eased. Under the current law, I specifically said, "Impossible." Not difficult, not really hard: IMPOSSIBLE.

Since it is impossible to win, wouldn't you expect that no one has won?

I hate it when I get chilipunked like that!

UPDATE: In fairness, I should note that the News and Observer played it straight, wrote a balanced story, and made no egregious errors of logic. Nicely done, Titan Barksdale.


Paulville, where everybody knows your name.

And they're always glad you came.

(Nod to KL, who should go to Paulville. And get asked the three questions: what is his name? And his quest. And his favorite color.)


Fla. Teacher Accused Of Wizardry
Man Made Toothpick Vanish In Class

Teacher Jim Piculas does a magic trick where a toothpick disappears and then reappears.

Piculas recently did the 30-second trick in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land 'O Lakes. Piculas said he then got a call from the supervisor of teachers, saying he'd been accused of wizardry.

"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue, you can't take any more assignments you need to come in right away,'" he said. Piculas said he did not know of any other accusations that would have led to the action.

The teacher said he is concerned that the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.

Um.....a wizard? Will they use the "wood / duck" test, from Monte Python?

(Nod to JK, a wizard himself)

Ouchie Ouchie Ouchie!

(Nod to SdM)

Better Than Angus

This kid not only sings better than Angus, she plays better gee-tar.

(Nod to MG)

Is Hillary Washed Up?

David Rohde and Mike Munger give their views.....

Turns Out "60 Minutes" is a KEY Scholarly Source

I was on the Joy Cardin show, on Wisconsin Public Radio, this a.m. Quite a few callers. You can listen, if you want.

I claimed that it would be easier to make John McCain look like a war hero than it was to make George Bush look like a war hero. And I claimed that, since the Repubs HAD made John Kerry, who has a Silver Star, look like a coward, Barack HUSSEIN Obama had better look out.

And I said that John McCain could claim that he had had tougher moments, like when he was tortured and wouldn't sign the form denouncing the U.S. the North Vietnamese put in front of him.

A caller, clearly outraged, called in and said that John McCain HAD in fact signed such a form, and that it was on "60 Minutes."

I admit, I brushed this off, because my real claim is simply this: John McCain is MORE of a war hero than George Bush. Barack Obama is LESS of a war hero than John Kerry. So, the Repubs will use ads saying that Michelle Obama has "never been proud of America," and Reverend Wright, and "bitter white foks", and so on. If they could do it to John Kerry, they can clearly do it to a guy whose middle name is "Hussein."

The caller is no doubt correct; my example is no doubt wrong. I won't use it again.
But who cares? I think you have to agree that McCain's military service is more than Bush's, and Obama's is less than Kerry's. If the Repubs could "swiftboat" Kerry, they will "bitter-God Damn America!-Never proud" Obama.

So, I get an email from the caller. He was apparently mad that I didn't take him more seriously. He said:

Dear Mr. Munger,
I was the caller this morning who refuted your assertion that John McCain had not recanted despite years of torture. When I told you that he had called himself a war criminal and signed a confession to that effect you said, "well, we've heard that from one person, Bill, and we'll never hear it again". That you can rise to a position of prominence at a university such as Duke and not know the rudimentary biography of the Republican candidate for President is lamentable at best. Watch the interview McCain gives to Mike Wallace(60 minutes) and see him say it in his own words.
Here's to knowing your subject matter. (Name)

Wow! I shouldn't be a Duke prof because I don't watch "60 Minutes"?

(UPDATE: Last paragraph above edited, after the fact, in acknowledgement of KPC friend "Prison Rodeo"'s comment-remark that I was, in fact, being an ass. Mea culpa; you are right.)

Vote by Mail?

Interesting article from "Campaigns and Elections", on national vote by mail rule.


The bill, called the Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act, was approved by the House Administration Committee, of which Davis is a member, in early April. Davis' office says the next step is to get a full House vote, and Lisa Sherman, Davis' chief of staff, said at least one member of Congress is currently considering sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.

"We believe it is the constitutional right of every voter to vote by absentee ballot," said Sherman. She added that Davis believes the bill can become law in time for the 2010 elections. Federal election law reforms, however, have been rather rare in recent legislative times...

Leaders with the American Civil Liberties Union have already hailed the bill as a way to eliminate "the unnecessary, burdensome, and often intrusive requirements that some states impose on voters requesting absentee ballots."

"The bill levels the playing field for all voters," said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU policy counsel for civil rights and civil liberties. "We firmly believe that there shouldn't be unnecessary and artificial barriers to vote-and certainly there shouldn't be different standards for voting in the same election just depending on which state that you're in."

Whoa. The ACLU says there shouldn't be different standards for voting in the same election depending on which state you are in?

I have to ask: isn't it a problem for the ACLU that Article I, Section I in the Constitution says:

Section 4. The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

Debate on this question, from 1788, in VA ratifying convention.

The point is that Congress does have the power to command the states to hold the elections in a certain way. But unless EVERY ASPECT of elections is commanded by the Congress, then the states will ALWAYS have different rules. Vive le difference!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


(Nod to Alex H)

Ban those danglers!

The state of Florida acts to ban those silver metal bull-balls replicas that some people put on their trailer hitch receivers.

Rather unexpectedly, the bill has actually passed the Senate in FL.

As one friend of mine put it, "This is crazy. Most women would LIKE to have a big pair of balls dangling out of their receiver."

I should note that this friend has been married three times, and is currently "between wives," as he puts it. Few women find him as funny as he finds himself. And since he alone finds himself funny, he generally finds himself alone.

(Nod to Mr. Reasonable)

More On Majors and Success

College majors and social mobility

Gregory Wolniak, Tricia Seifert, Eric Reed & Ernest Pascarella
Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, forthcoming

To further our understanding of social mobility in the United States, this study examines the role of major field of study during college, and the relationships between origin characteristics and education attainment. Data, collected in 2001, consisted of information on the college and labor market experiences of 4435 alumni from 30 colleges, as well as matched ACT data on alumni background and pre-college characteristics from three cohorts of college graduates up to 25 years after college. Results indicate that both placement on and movement along the social ladder are affected by college major, and the extent to which status is awarded based on merit relative to inherited economic resources is partially dependent upon major.

Video (Note the short hair....)

Video from News 14 Carolina, on the ballot access trial.

Effectively Impossible, or Impossibly Effective

News and Observer story today on the ballot access lawsuit.

That's where I have been: in court. An interesting process.

Then, there was this story in the Greensboro News and Record.

"Munger admitted"? Let me get this straight:

1. I testified, under oath, that it is "effectively impossible" to run a successful grassroots campaign under the current law.

2. Then, under cross-examination, I "admitted" that no Libertarian candidates had won?

If in fact a Libertarian candidate had won, and I knew it, I think I would have been guilty of perjury, right? Of COURSE no Libertarian candidates have won. That's what it means to be "effectively impossible" to win. The laws are impossibly effective in protecting incumbents.

Still, the reporter here is right: This is the case that the state is trying to make. Wow.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Younger Younger Munger Gets Haircut

Here is Brian, without the uber-fro.

Tom Schaller Column

My boy, Tom Schaller, offers some opinions.

On Hillary.

Oh, sweet fancy Moses

Mr. Card expresses a view of J. K. Rowling.

(nod to Dr. Newmark, who knows things)

Update: Data on NC

John in NC shares some interesting data on the NC primary tomorrow.

Into your heart it will creep...

Wow. My finals remain unwritten, my morning shower un-taken because I am mesmerized by the fascinating case of Priya Venkatesan.

If you've missed all the hubbub, she was a lecturer at Dartmouth (and also an alumna), and currently has a fellowship at Northwestern (and a PhD from UC-San Diego), who is threatening to sue her students and the leadership of her department essentially for being too stupid and racist to understand her erudition.

The WSJ provides a summary of the case here, and Ivygate is a treasure trove of info on the subject.

The Dartmouth Review presents a long interview with Dr. Venkatesan here. I reproduce a long but choice excerpt below where Dr. V decodes the hidden meaning behind one hated student's spelling question:

TDR: There is one specific incident where I heard from one of the girls in your class who was pretty outspoken, and one day she hadn’t spoken for a while and you said, “Could we have a round of applause for this girl, she hasn’t spoken in ten minutes?”

PV: She was probably the most abrasive, the most offensive, the most disruptive student. She ruined that class. She ruined it. She ruined it. That class actually had a lot of potential, there were some really bright kids there, but every time she would do a number of things that were very inappropriate. For instance, I had basically gotten a hold of Blackboard technology, but I was making some mistakes too because I was new to the system, and every time that some link was wrong or some link wasn’t set up right, [girl x] in the beginning of class would point this out to everybody. Then what happened was, I was lecturing on morals and ethics and she just gave me this horrible look, and I was pretty disturbed. I just said what is going on here? The problem with [girl x] is that she can’t take criticism. She can’t take the fact that there is something wrong with her work. Now, some people are like that, a lot of people are like that, unable to take criticism, but the fact of the matter is that I have the PhD in literature, I make the assessment if someone has talent for philosophy, literary theory, and literary criticism. A student might say, well, the hell with you I’m still going to become a literary critic, I had to do that, there were people who criticized me while I was a student, you’re not a good writer or whatever, but I said well I’m still going to go ahead with my goals, but I never made any personal attacks on them or made life difficult for them or was rude to them. I just did the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism, and [girl x] is the kind of student who does not know the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism. She thinks the way to go about doing it is to go to my superior or to try to undermine my ability to teach the class. One of the things that she did, this is also really interesting, was that she would always ask me how to spell things. That was her thing. She would say how to do you spell this? How to you spell that? I mean—what am I supposed to do?—so I would tell her. One time Tom Cormen was sitting in the class, and she asked me, how many T’s are in Gattaca. This was the kind of question she was asking, “how many T’s are in Gattaca?,” and I was about to answer her and Tom Cormen pre-empted me, “two t’s.” I’ll leave you to interpret it.

TDR: No. No, I don’t understand that.

PV: I have to tell you: it means tenure track.

TDR: Oh, okay.

PV: Because I wasn’t tenured track.

TDR: Oh, okay, yes.

PV: They were trying to intimate that I wasn’t ready for tenure track.

TDR: Yes, okay, I didn’t realize that’s what that meant.

PV: I’m kind of making this leap because this is the kind of subversiveness that was going on in that environment. That [girl x] would ask how many t’s are in Gattaca and that Tom Cormen would respond, “two T’s” as if I had no grasp on tenure track. ..but with [girl x], something’s going on with her. I’m not a doctor, but she’s not all there.

Wow, now THAT'S paranoia!

Is more regulation always the answer?

As we dig out from the rubble of the housing bubble, calls for more government regulation / involvement abound, including Alan Blinder's piece in Sunday's NYTimes.

But let me just play devil's advocate and suggest that perhaps the problems we encountered didn't arise from insufficient government involvement, but rather that government involvement actually helped cause the problems.

1. There has been and still is a huge government push for people to buy houses. We give a tax deduction for mortgage interest, even on some types of second homes. We have a plethora of policies to make homeowners out of everyone.

2. Our monetary authority, in its infinite wisdom, sometimes pushes interest rates extremely low, encouraging people to borrow a lot and for some investors to take unusual moves to chase returns.

3. Uncle Sam is known to have a soft heart. He is a sucker for a sad story. Put another way, Uncle Sam is a moral hazard creating machine.

While I am sure we will get more regulation, and as suggestions go, some of Blinder's are pretty good, I don't think it's correct to view the housing bubble as an example of the free market going nuts on its own and government having to step in to fix a private sector problem.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Markets in everything: Dromedary Edition

Some things just go together, like roads and serfdom, like Mungowitz and Cheetos, and as KPC readers know, like India and camels!

And now, thanks to soaring oil prices, the bond between Indian and Dromedary is tighter than ever!

Camel demand soars in India

By Jo Johnson in New Delhi

Farmers in the Indian state of Rajasthan are rediscovering the humble camel.

As the cost of running gas-guzzling tractors soars, even-toed ungulates are making a comeback, raising hopes that a fall in the population of the desert state’s signature animal can be reversed.

“It’s excellent for the camel population if the price of oil continues to go up because demand for camels will also go up,” says Ilse Köhler-Rollefson of the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development. “Two years ago, a camel cost little more than a goat, which is nothing. The price has since trebled.”

Market prices for these “ships of the desert”, which crashed with the growing affordability of motorised transport, are rising again as oil prices soar.

A sturdy male with a life expectancy of 60-80 years now fetches up to Rs40,000 ($973), compared to Rs5,000-Rs10,000 three years ago, according to Hanuwant Singh of the Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan, a non-profit welfare organisation for livestock keepers. Entry-level tractors cost around $4,000.

“It’s very good news,” says Mr Singh, whose organisation aims to dispel the image of backwardness associated with camel ownership and tries to promote higher economic returns for breeders. “We had started to see camels, even female ones, being slaughtered for their meat. Now they are replacing the tractor again.”

Ah yes, Mr. Singh, that is very good news indeed.

"the league for pastoral peoples"? "even-toed ungulates"? "little more than a goat, which is nothing"?

People, India and Camels is comedy gold.