Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some good advice for Mungowitz

Here is how at least one wise person deals with a bountiful breakfast buffet:

Gmail Kerfuffle

Interesting copyright dispute. A downright Rechtsstreit.

Gmail (yes, regular old Gmail) cannot be used directly in Germany.

If you have Deutsch settings on your search engines, they will take you here

And the reason is here....

At first, I thought, "That is dumb." But, in fact, the name "Gmail" is taken in Germany. And, if you just linked German searches for "gmail" to the American Gmail....well, that's not right either. If the guy owns the trademark in Germany, then he owns it. You can't use a link to bypass his business, in case people are actually looking for the German "G-mail."

So, Herr Giersch, I see your point, and you are correct, sir.

Still, it's a hassle. I think I'll demand a 50% refund from Google....

UPDATE: Luc points out, in comments, that Google Mail solves the problem. And, of course, it does. But I thought it didn't, because I could NOT sign on in Germany. At least, I could not sign on using a German KEYBOARD. The @ sign and the # sign are in different places, and they must have a different digital hex address on the keyboard. Or something. Because when I changed my google password, getting rid of the odd symbols, now Google Mail Dland works fine.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

KPC exclusive: What Steve Jobs has been up to lately

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 4

A very busy, somewhat productive day.

Breakfast today smashing. EXTRA crusty brown bread. I thought I´d get tired of leberwurst on brown bread, but not yet.

The most intrepid Jans-Jorg took down to visit the trolls of the OIT grotto twice today, and scored a major victory: my laptop is now registered on the University system! If you didn´t know it was OIT, you still would know: there is just an OIT "way" of dressing and acting. I wonder if there troll manuals, and grotto design books?

Worked a lot preparing for class. Lots of complaints that my class is "too hard." They are probably right, on reflection. I am expecting them to read in English, and there are too many readings. And, as I noted in class, there IS a language problem: MINE. I don´t speak German. So I asked what topics we should narrow down on, and that worked out pretty well.

A strange thing: after class, all, or nearly all, the students, knocked their knuckles pretty hard on the table. It was like applause, except it was even more like they all knocked their knuckles on the table. Is this common? I´ve never heard of it before. It was a thank you sort of thing, or maybe a thank God it´s over thing.

Finally: I am OUTED as a blogger; mz colleagues are reading. Hope I don´t get fired. Sorry about the Belgium, thing, really. "Advancing through Networks" is an excellent motto, and I mean that.

This week's sign of the apocalypse

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 3

By comparison, today was just boring....which is great, because that means it was academically productive.

I had breakfast (ummmmmm.... leberwurst and prosciutto on hard brown bread), and then rode the big girl's bike to the office. (Short movie of the office attached to this post).

At lunch, I walked down to the Erlangen Arcaden. Very fine mall. Not sure why I was surprised, but in that mall I felt like I was IN the U.S. McDonald's (no ice in the drinks, though, American pig!), Burger King, and 20 different pizza places. LOTS of people, spending E's. Siemens is the big employer here, and they are still doing fine.

Took the Gbike up to scout the location of my apartment (I am in a hotel until Sunday). Beautiful. It is the basement of a house owned by Herrn. Ludwig, also a prof at Erlangen. Near the Berch, and right across the street from a terrific park.

For dinner, I persuaded the intrepid Jans-Jorg to leave his habilitation work, and show me a nice place. He finds, I pay, was the deal, and a fine deal it was.

We walked over to Mein lieber Schwan, a very old restaurant near the river to the north.

And, since it is now asparagus season here in was time to cast asparagus! I had a truly delightful bowl of wild garlic soup, and then a giant plate of asparagus with bowls of butter and hollandaise on the side. I got a small plate of Franconian wurst, and began the feast. The asparagus is not what I am used to, yellow green and with less of the soft upper tip. But it is extremely fine, and the dark bier is a fine compliment. As always, representin' Herb, going YUMtown.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Words to live by

Uncle Sam does NOT believe in photoshop

I thought this administration was cutting edge and tech savvy. You know, like cool and all.

Guess not as the "White House Military Office" approved flying a 747 low over Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty while being trailed by a fighter plane without letting the public know what was going on.

Why in the hell would they do something so sadistic?

"An administration official said the purpose of the photo op was to update file photos of the president's plane near the Lady Liberty."


Air Force 1 has glamor shots? Really? And now is a good time to take them?

Here's how the photos were taken:

"An Air Force combat photographer took pictures from one of the fighter jets, administration officials said."

I'm sorry, a WHAT??

"Hello I'm Lance O'Reilly, Air Force combat photographer at your service!"

Dear President Obama. I have some ideas about budget cuts for you!

Are you kidding me??

I still think this may be a hoax. Denver 121, New Orleans 63??


Hornets score 24 points in the entire second half?

Hornets have 10 assists and 26 turnovers?

People, this was a HOME GAME for the Hornets.

Wow. Take the fork out of the corpse of the Pistons and stick it in the Hornets. They are done.

On the plus side, the price of this bad boy probably just went up:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 2

I wake up at 4:30 a.m. Now, you think, "Ah, the time difference." Well, no. 4:30 am in Dland is 10:30 pm in Raleigh. So that's not it.

After reading until 6 a.m., I go for a run. Quite a bit of traffic already, coming into Erlangen. No drunks, no beggars, no derelicts that I could see. Had a nice long run, beautiful morning. Shower up, and then go to plug in my computer.

This should not be a problem. I have an adaptor, and the transformer on nearly all laptops is 100V - 240V, so I don't even think about it. "It" being the in-line aftermarket surge adaptor I have plugged into the transformer. I plug it in, and there is a loud "whap" sound. Lights go out. I hear footsteps, excited discussion in German in downstairs. Should I just play dumb? Actually, not a problem: I *was* dumb, and I should fess up.

I open the door, and the hotel proprietor "Tilo" is coming up the stairs. I say, "It's unplugged, and I won't plug it in again, ever." Tilo nods gravely, and goes back down to flip the circuit breaker.

Go down to breakfast. Pretty elaborate but to the English / American breakfaster, strange. Now I see why Germans are pissed off when I take them to an American hotel breakfast buffet. That's not what they eat. There are several kinds of breads, including some wonderful dark brown bread. Cereal. Fruit. Yogurt. And huge trays of stuff to put on bread, including large tins of potted leberwurst. And....a big tray of cold cuts and cheese. Salami, olive loaf.

I am pretty excited about this. Because this is traditional Munger food. Not at breakfast, but when you are in heaven who looks at the clock? My dad, Herbert Elmer Munger, had two rules: 1. Everything is better when it is put into a sam'ich. 2. Leberwurst is the single finest food on earth.

So, I make a fat leberwurst sam'ich, with the brown bread. I have some yogurt and fruit. And then a hot roll with cheese and salami/olive loaf. And then a hot roll with marmalade, part blackberry and part strawberry. All good, but the leberwurst stands out as the finest. Here's to you, Herb: I'm representin'.

I am picked up at 9 am by the intrepid Jans-Jorg. We go to the Ausland office, to get my paperwork done. And in the International Office is Xenia. Xenia is the university "fixer." Her job is to take foreign faculty through the bureaucracy, in hopes that they get signed up and can teach before they have to return to their home country after a year. Xenia is truly remarkable; I asked what she did before this, and she answered, "I was an attorney, but I like the challenges of this job." Wow.

We get the forms filled out, put them with the forms I already filled out, and head for the state office. It's like a DMV office in the U.S., only (I have to admit) way cleaner, way less crowded, 10 times faster, and with employees who have at least neutral attitudes toward the "customers." At U.S. DMV offices, the most polite thing you will hear is "Eat shit and die, loser" from the employees. I suspect that the difference is that Germany has a long tradition of bureaucracy being an honest, respectable job, instead of organized theft. Overall, I'd prefer my bureaucrats pissed off and surly, so we don't get used to having them around. But I have to admit that the service ethic was a little more fun here than in, say, the D.C. DMV.

Then we go for the final three steps: file the forms and pay the money, talk to the chief bureaucrat, and then get my work permit. Filing/paying is easy. We wait in line, about 20 minutes (1/5 of the time I waited at the Raleigh Social Security Office, just to get a new card in a country where I was already a citizen). Then we are ushered into the august and very placid presence of....Frau Rastoder-Dragon.

Frau Rastoder-Dragon looks over the forms with great care, occasionally making approving noises (about lines on forms that are particularly well filled out?), and then signs the paperwork. She lines up six forms vertically on her desk, like a spread of cards on blackjack table, exactly equally spaced. Then she stamps them with a large stamp (black), a small round stamp (red), and another large stamp (black). This takes her much less time than it takes me to tell it: 18 whaps on the ink pad and the form, no wasted motion and almost faster than the eye can see. Frau R-Dragon has excellent helmet hair, with bangs in front sprayed and teased a good 4 inches out in front of her face, a grey-blonde visor. But she is both fast and helpful, making some suggestions to Xenia (who has now been working on this for two hours, making it take about six hours less than it would have taken me alone).

Xenia is fired up now. She charges up the stairs (she never walks less than 5 miles per hour, and I have to trot to keep up, which must look pretty ridiculous. We get the work permit, and the "research" visa is pasted into my passport. It even has a biometric digital photo. I have a very cool passport now, because of this. You are welcome to mention to other people that you know me, if you want.

Then, off we go, Xenia race-walking, me trotting, and the indefatigable Jans-Jorg bringing up the rear. We go to most feared place on earth: the University HR office.

At HR, I need four things. I have three things. Xenia makes impassioned pleas, as if I were a client in the dock, facing the noose. She presents evidence, makes her closing arguments. The HR lady, who seems nice enough, is unmoved.

Here are the four things I need:

1. Form filled out, and letter with notarized seal and date, certifying that I have no criminal record in the U.S., and no current outstanding warrants.
2. Proof of health insurance that works in Germany.
3. The signed contract for employment by DAAD.
4. A letter certifying that I will continue to be employed at Duke, and will not be fired in the next four months, which would entitle me to German unemployment benefits if I tried to stay in the country.

I have, believe it or not, 1-3. Xenia had told me before that I needed #4, but I had forgotten. The HR lady said that I needed a letter from my department chair saying I would not be fired. I pointed out that *I* was the department chair, and that I was prepared to state right here and now, for the record, that I would not fire me, at least not in the next four months.

Xenia translated this (perhaps taking out some of the sarcasm). HR lady stands firm, standing for principle and the bureaucratic way. They work out a deal: I send an email to Duke, with the exact language needed (I will be employed by Duke for at least the next four months, and my retirement will be withdrawn from my Duke paycheck in that time). They can make a PDF of this, and send it back via email, provided it is signed by "a dean." We all shake hands, as if this concession from HR (I get my email account at Erlangen TODAY, instead of when this very important final letter arrives) is a major arms reduction agreement.

We go outside. Xenia is elated; another important case won, the dragons slain, the princess (me) saved. Xenia speed walks back to her office, disappearing in seconds. Jans-Jorg and I head back to the Institut für Politische Wissenschaft, my new summer job, where I am to meet the Lehrstuhl II, Clemens Kauffmann, for lunch. Jans-Jorg has to go off to teach....I owe him big.

Have a nice lunch, sitting outside on a beautiful day, and talk about political theory. The Institute has a a number of things for me to do, talks and lectures, and it sounds like it will be a lot of fun. Herr Kauffmann wastes much of his afternoon getting me a library card, opening a bank account, and driving past the apartment he found for me (nice, very nice location, it will be really fun to move in on May 3, when it becomes available, though I will miss breakfast at the Hotel Antik). Herr Kauffmann has a meeting at 3, and I work for a while in my new office.

And, a pretty cool office it is. It is the Library of the Eric Voegelin Archiv, so I am surrounded by Voegelin's books and papers. A fine office, big windows, big desks, internet connection, and two printers. Very quiet. I'm all set up.

Except, that I need a bicycle. Back at the hotel, at 4:30 pm, I sit and brood. How can I find a place that sells bicycles? And how can I manage to buy one, without speaking any German.

At that moment, poor Jans-Jorg makes the mistake of calling to see if I need anything. I say, "Why...YES. I need a bicycle." So Jans-Jorg agrees to walk with me to go get a bike. We walk at least two miles around the city, looking at bike shops. There are pretty much NO used bikes to be had. The ones that are for sale are unbelievably expensive: 120 euro for a small rusted girl's bike with a flat tire. 350 euro for a used (extensively used) mountain bike. Erlangen has an amazing number of bikes on the street, clogging the courtyards. How can there be no used bikes? (Answer: It's a week into summer semester. Two weeks ago, I could at least have had a big selection of used bikes, though the price would have been high).

Jans-Jorg says we can go to the grocery store. Well, it's the Handelshof, a kind of super KMart arrangement. (great, great store, by the way. Excellent stuff, and quite cheap if you look around. Wonderful produce. I am happy just to find the store.)

And they do have bikes. I get a very fine bike, a big sturdy one with fenders, lights, front basket and rear clip. It's a girl's bike, but a big strong corn-fed German girl's bike. I buy my groceries, and peddle home. THe seat is low, and loose, so it gets lower. But I am now mobile, officed, and email ready. Thanks to Xenia and Jans-Jorg, I feel like a REAL boy now.

A final note: this day has made me rethink how Duke, and the U.S., treats visitors. The immigration and HR stuff would have taken a week in the U.S., and the offices are miles apart. How horrible must that be for visitors? Second, we don't generally have anyone like Jans-Jorg, who voluntarily makes visitors feel welcome (like Eva and her family did last night.) And we certainly don't have a "lawyer for the defense," like Xenia Lightning, to speed walk around and help people get through the process. Since I really, really appreciated the help, I have to say I will need to work on the Duke process when I get back. We can do better.

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 1

So....we DID, in fact, take off.

And fly to Frankfurt. Now, I am a bulky man, 120 kilos of twisted steel and sex appeal. (Well, the kilos part is true. I'm batting .333). And the only seat I could get is in the middle. It's a 767-400, so there are 7 seats across, in a 2-3-2 pattern with the dashes being aisles.

I'm in 24D, in the middled of the middle. I have to wait until the last
group. As I walk down the aisle carrying my enormous carry-ons, I see with terrified looks, real animal fear, from the people in the aisle seats. This is a 9 hour flight. And they are all mentally invoking the names of their private deities: "Please, God. Not the fat guy. NOT the fat guy! NOT...THE...FAT....GUY!"

I hear audible, breath-whistling sighs as I pass each row. Then I get to my row. And see....a very scared little guy, an empty seat (mine), and a reall, REALLY fat guy. Fat man and lock eyes, and nod. This is going to be a battle of wills. Who gets the armrest as they try to sleep? Les jeux sont fait, les jeux sont fait. No more bets, please.

Not one minute did I sleep. Couldn't get the armrest at all, and the little guy on my left was very talkative. Arrive in Frankfurt. German customs is a breeze. The "nothing to declare" lane is just a walk through a doorway to the exit. Trundle downstairs, and have a little trouble because I have a (wait for it, Angus) steamer trunk. (I famously put an older steamer trunk on Robert Barro's foot as he tried to get on the elevator at the 1985 AEA meetings. Barro yelped and hopped back off the elevator, and the doors closed before he could get back on. Angus, who was on the elevator, immediately announced to the elevator that this proved that Barro was correct, and that crowding out is a real effect. I claimed that all it proved is that steamer trunks can stimulate both voice and exit. But Angus won the argument, as he always does.)

Anyway, I had a steamer trunk. (A 35" x 22" x 17" steel beauty. It looked like the Millenium Falcon, if the MF were shaped like a steamer trunk.) I have another suitcase, full of books, and a big backpack, and this ridiculous steamer trunk (it weighed 68 pounds, just under the megadeath charge on overseas flights.) (Try curling 68 pounds with one hand, for several hours. It's tiring). I schlep it all to the Fernbahnhof ticket office, to take a fast ICE train to Erlangen. I need to connect through Nuremberg. I buy the ticket, splurging for first class so I can get some help with the steamer trunk. I ask the ticket guy if I can check baggage. His eyes get wide: "No! You must take own baggage on ze tren!"

And, by golly, he was right. I asked two DB employees where first class was to board on the platform (can't run fast, or at all, with the steamer trunk). The first one looked ready to slap me, and said, "It says, right on the platform." The second one said the same thing, and I pointed that whatever it said, it said it IN GERMAN, she just turned her back on me.

They finally announced that first class should board at "E" spot, and I trundled over there, sweaty and out of breath. The train arrived PRECISELY on time. The conductor got off. The other people get on. I grunt and try to roll the steamer trunk up the steps, end over end. The conductor actually said, "Man, that looks heavy!" in perfect English. He was actually pretty sympathetic, in a "No way I'm actually going to help" way.

I have to admit the train ride was good. The ICEs go fast enough it's actually disconcerting to look out the window. They are BUSTIN' through some German territory. I consider suggesting they rename the ICE trains "Pattons," but my grouchiness dissipated as I watch the rolling rurual countryside fly by. We arrive at Nuremberg 15 seconds after the scheduled time, I get off, and the track for my Erlangen train is adjacent. Don't have to move the steamer trunk.

The Erlangen train leaves 5 seconds early (assuming my watch is that accurate), and we arrive in Erlangen precisely on time. I am picked up by Eva and her husband Sebastian. And they are....the nicest people in the world.

I should point out that Angus and I don't always do that well with truly nice, sincere people. We admire them, we honestly do, but they don't know what to make of us. Eva is....well, if you are a guy, and you are twenty five, and you have these fantasies about the perfect German girl, blonde, 5 foot 10, extremely fit, shockingly beautiful? That is PRECISELY how Eva looks. (I should note that I am NOT 25, and that my own fantasies are exclusively about the lovely Ms. Mungowitz).

Eva is not sure what to make of me. She gives me her card, which has her office number (she is the department assistant, and so does lots of chores for the admins who employ me). She has already (carefully, caligraphically) hand-written her cell phone number, so I can call her and Sebastian if I need a ride or some advice on stores. I point to the bright blue writing, and say, "Wow! That's impressive. My printer doesn't have that font."

Eva stares at me, and says, "But Dr. Munger, dot ist handwritten. It is not a font." I just nod, and try to remind myself that Angus is the only one who thinks I'm funny, and he is not here.

They take me to my hotel (Hotel Antik), where I will stay for a week until my apartment is ready. I crash for three hours, and then Eva and Sebastian come to take me on a walking tour of Erlangen. Eva's mother, Sylvia, is the tour guide, and they really do a good job on the whole Hugenot thing, and the "Berch" thing. Well, we looked at the Huguenot church, and the plan of the city, and the Markgraf's castle, and etc. And we went up the hill to the Berch biergarten, and had ....bratwurst mit kraut, und bier. (I speak THAT kind of German). I was feeling tired, and jet-lagged, so I had two liters of extremely fine lager. (Eva is disgusted, I should note, though Sylvia approves and joins me in a third round). There is some singing, which may have involved me, with Sebastian loyally following along.

They drop me off at the hotel. I fall asleep, and wake up the next morning. But I take pride in the fact that I feel bad because I am hung over, NOT because I am jet-lagged. Ich must have das priorities, ja?

That's nacho cheese

This graph is floating around the interwebs (click on image for a larger version):

It's from Daniel Wilson of the SF Fed who wrote a short piece entitled, "Are fiscal stimulus funds going to the "right" states?" He defines "right" as "have the funds been allocated in a way that maximizes their potential impact on national economic growth?"

Wilson says that the answer is basically yes.

My first reaction was to wonder what exactly is going on in Connecticut?

My second was to look at the fine print. Here is what I found.

(A) The stimulus is $787 billion. The graph covers $144 billion in the Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Fiscal Relief Fund.

(B) The data in the graph are projected state deficits and estimated state allocations from the two funds. In other words, neither variable has actually happened yet! Both estimates come from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

(C) 12 states are excluded from the graph.

(D) The regression line is from a population weighted least squares regression and all the piece says is that "The figure clearly shows a strong positive correlation between a state’s degree of fiscal strain and the amount of federal stimulus funds it is expected to receive", with no indication if "strong" means significant.

My third reaction was to remember Gavin Wright's classic 1974 RESTAT paper on the political economy of new deal spending where he claimed that a "political" model ex-plains between 58.7% and 79.6% of the variance in per capita spending over the whole period !"

If Team Obama can make the overall stimulus as economically well targeted as the above graph suggests one particular chunk of it might turn out to be, that would be progress indeed.

Hat tips to Bob Tollison and Menzie Chinn

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stick a fork in 'em

Pistons are mercifully out of the playoffs after their "stars" stunk up the Palace losing two home games to the Cavs to complete the sweep.

In two home playoff games Rasheed Wallace shot 2/13 in 60 total minutes on the court.

T. Prince? 4/15 in 65 minutes. "R.I.P." Hamilton? 8/29 in almost 79 minutes.

So their big three was a combined 14/57 or 24.5%

That's a disgrace, people.

A case of misplaced indignation

Bob Frank is all over the place in this Sunday's Economic View. I actually thought he was going to be writing a column about open borders given his first sentence: "The link between success and luck is stronger than many people think".

And then there was this bit:

"Another important message of recent research is that a person’s salary depends far more on where she is born than on her talent and effort.

For example, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal long ago, I hired a cook who had no formal education but was spectacularly intelligent and resourceful. Beyond preparing excellent meals, he could butcher a goat, thatch a roof, plaster walls, resole shoes and fix broken alarm clocks. He was also an able tinsmith and a skilled carpenter. Yet his total lifetime earnings were less than even a very lazy, untalented American might earn in a single year."

I really thought he was gonna go all Lant Pritchett on us by drawing the obvious implication of his observations and calling for increased immigration, but no, he just wants to tell people they have no business opposing tax increases.

Oh my, that's very different.

Here is probably my favorite sentence of the piece:

"The current system is much fairer than many people believe, and the president’s proposal will make it both fairer and more efficient."


Isn't there supposed to be a tradeoff between equity and efficiency? What is the magic sword that BHO wields to cut this Gordian knot?

(and on a snarkier note, if "the current system is much fairer than many people believe", why does it need to be made "fairer"?)

Here is Frank's argument for how we get a free lunch by raising taxes.

First, higher marginal tax rates are pretty much irrelevant to labor supply: "There has never been a shortage of talented people willing to work hard for success — even in countries with top rates much higher than 50 percent."

No evidence given here, and maybe it's just me but I thought he'd been arguing vociferously that it was luck, not talent and hard work that brought success

Second, more Federal tax revenues will automatically increase the efficiency of public service provison:

"It would, however, promote more efficient provision of public services, in much the same way that contingent fee contracts often promote more efficient provision of services in the private sector. For example, when lawyers are willing to waive fees unless their client wins, wrongfully injured accident victims often gain legal representation they couldn’t otherwise afford. Similarly, when government levies higher tax rates on the wealthy, we can provide public services that the wealthy and others greatly value but that would otherwise be beyond reach. Under such a tax system, the heavier tax bill becomes payable only if we’re lucky enough to end up among life’s biggest winners."

People, that has to be one of the 5 worst analogies I've read this year. I've read it 4 times and am still scratching my head. The best I can come up with is this:

The government is my lawyer and my career is a wrongful injury suit against the universe.


Of course, even if the analogy made sense, it still would have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE EFFICIENCY OF THE PROVISION OF PUBLIC SERVICES!!!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 0

Got on the plane today. Kissed the lovely Ms. Mungowitz, hugged the younger younger Munger at the airport.

Arrived in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Immovable Airport.

I have a middle seat, on a 767, can't change it. Plane is packed.

10 mins after pushback time, the pilot comes on. Announces we have to get off.

"There is a SUBSTANTIAL fuel leak...." (His emphasis).

We got off, rather spiritedly.

Now, after losing fuel, they are blowing smoke. "We'll get ANOTHER 767 for you, right away." Like they have a bunch of them, lined up like at the Hertz lot.

NEWWS FLASH: They claim to be boarding. Perhaps I'll still get out today. I'd much rather be lost in Germany than spend the night in some horrible Hotlanta airport hotel.

Are these substitutes or complements?

Another eggsellent "markets in everything"!

Hat tip to Greg Weeks for the vid and LeBron for the meme.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Me and Mungowitz's boy, Albert Pujols, is off to a great start. Cards are 11-5 and Albert leads the NL in homers (6) and RBI (21) while batting .345, slugging .724, only striking out 4 times and amassing an OPS of 1.184!

If only he could pitch!!

A match made in heaven

Back in my Northern Virginia days, Tyler and I shared a pair of season tickets to the (then) Washington Bullets. One of the best parts of the games was the performance art of one Robin Ficker, a leather lunged fan who sat right behind the visitors bench. He would scream non-sequitors like "YOU CAN"T BEAT OUR WASHINGTON BULLETS" or other gems like "PHONE CALL FOR MICHEAL JORDAN". You could hear him throughout the building.

He is a lawyer and we used to joke about how he behaved in court. "YOU CAN'T CONVICT OUR LITTLE PURSE SNATCHER" or "PHONE CALL FOR CLARENCE THOMAS".

People, now he's a Republican political activist. Isn't that just about perfect? He just won the GOP nomination for the Montgomery Md. county council.

Phone call for Steny Hoyer!

hat tip to Zach M.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Incomplete Markets

This was almost a "markets in everything" post but the product was "recalled" two days after its debut. The product was an Iphone app called "Baby Shaker"!


"According to screen shots posted on several Web sites, "Baby Shaker" displayed black-and-white line drawings of a baby. The iTunes description included the line, "See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down!" Once the iPhone owner finishes shaking the device, the on-screen baby is depicted with large red X's over its eyes."

Is this a great country or what?

Grade inflation

Robert Reich takes to the interwebs to grade Obamanomics:

Read the whole thing, but here's the pithy essence:

"The 10-year budget gets an A. It's an extraordinary vision of what America can and should become, including universal health insurance and environmental protections against climate change.

The stimulus package gets a B. Good as far as it goes but doesn't go nearly far enough.

The last grade is for the bank bailouts. I give them an F. I'm a big fan of this administration, but I've got to be honest. The bailouts are failing."

Well Bob, that's a hell of a curve you're using. Here are an alternative set of grades.

10 year budget: C-/D+. Remember this is supposed to be about economics, not social engineering and the budget leaves government too large and the deficit way too large.

Stimulus package: C/C-. Even if one grants the administration the existence of a decent sized multiplier, there were too many conflicting goals to make the spending truly timely and stimulating.

Bank bailouts: B-. We put public money into bank capital to avoid a meltdown of the financial system. To my mind what made the great depression so protracted and hideous was the meltdown of the financial system, so I applaud these actions as necessary. However, the stops and starts, the changes in plan, the non-transparency, the politicization makes giving a truly good grade impossible here.

Here's another Obamanomics grade:

Auto Industry restructuring: F. So far, it's just talking tough while continuing to shovel money into non-functioning firms (and, no it's not the same thing as the bank bailout, not nearly). Especially nuts is the idea that banks who have taken TARP money should take a big loss on the Chrysler bonds they hold, essentially to show they are "team players". You can't really simultaneously prop up and undermine them can you? Well I guess you can, but maybe you shouldn't.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009



This is my last post from American soil.

I am moving to Germany, until August, anyway.

Okay, not "moving," exactly. But I'll be teaching at Univeristat Erlangen-Nurnberg
April - August.

The motto of the Universitat is "advance through networks." I do like that one. It is much better than the old German motto: "advance through Belgium."

A good German reason to shop online (courtesey of Robert Porter)

Britain's got Talent??

More like Britain's got Freaks.

LeBron has a post asking why is Susan Boyle so popular? I think it's because most people haven't actually heard what classical singing is supposed to sound like so they go gaga over a crummy version of it like that offered by Boyle or Potts. Either that or it's just Eraserhead style sick voyeurism.

Markets in everything, antique cellphone edition

Here's the deal:

"Got an old Nokia 1100 sitting around? You may be sitting on a fortune... albeit with a catch.

Certain circles are said to be paying upwards of $32,000 for the handsets, at least those made in Nokia's Bochum factory in Germany.

Why? According to reports, the criminal underground has found a way to hack into the phones' firmware to allow for illegal bank transfers by reprogramming the phone number on the handset.

Changing the phone number would give hackers the ability to send and receive text messages via the handset, which would in turn open the door for completing basic bank transactions, particularly in Europe."

As always, a big hat tip to LeBron for the meme

A Somali pirate in King Arthur's court!

Yes, people, we got ourselves a pirate trial coming up in NYC!

"Wali-i-Musi is the first person to be tried in the United States on piracy charges in more than a century. He was flown from Africa to a New York airport and taken into custody ahead of a court hearing Tuesday."

Here are some fun quotes. First Wali's mom:

his mother appealed to President Barack Obama for his release. She says her son was coaxed into piracy by "gangsters with money."

"I appeal to President Obama to pardon my teenager; I request him to release my son or at least allow me to see him and be with him during the trial," Adar Abdirahman Hassan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her home in Galka'yo town in Somalia.

Next up is the executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center (based in Minnesota!!!), Omar Jamal:

"What we have is a confused teenager, overnight thrown into the highest level of the criminal justice system in the United States out of a country where there's no law at all," Jamal said. Wali-i-Musi speaks no English and may never have attended school, he said.

Finally, Ron Kuby esq., barrister extrordinaire:

"I think in this particular case, there's a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas," said Kuby. "This man seemed to come onto the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age."

Comments: (1) is Obama somehow stopping Wali's mom from attending the trial? We won't give her a Visa?(2) it is so awesome that the SJAC is in Minneapolis! (3) God, I love lawyers!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Words of wisdom from Naomi Klein??

I say yes! Here is her WaPo piece from Sunday:

"I vote to banish Larry Summers. Not from the planet. That wouldn't be nice. Just from public life.

The criticisms of President Obama's chief economic adviser are well known. He's too close to Wall Street. And he's a frightful bully, of both people and countries. Still, we're told we shouldn't care about such minor infractions. Why? Because Summers is brilliant, and the world needs his big brain.

And this brings us to a central and often overlooked cause of the global financial crisis: Brain Bubbles. This is the process wherein the intelligence of an inarguably intelligent person is inflated and valued beyond all reason, creating a dangerous accumulation of unhedged risk. Larry Summers is the biggest Brain Bubble we've got.

Brain Bubbles start with an innocuous "whiz kid" moniker in undergrad, which later escalates to "wunderkind." Next comes the requisite foray as an economic adviser to a small crisis-wracked country, where the kid is declared a "savior." By 30, our Bubble Boy is tenured and officially a "genius." By 40, he's a "guru," by 50 an "oracle." After a few drinks: "messiah."

The superhuman powers bestowed upon these men -- and yes, they are all men -- shield them from the scrutiny that might have prevented the current crisis. Alan Greenspan's Brain Bubble allowed him to put the economy at great risk: When he made no sense, people assumed that it was their own fault. Brain Bubbles also formed the key argument Greenspan and Summers used to explain why lawmakers couldn't regulate the derivatives market: The wizards on Wall Street were too brilliant, their models too complex, for mere mortals to understand.

Back in 1991, Summers argued that the subject of economics was no longer up for debate: The answers had all been found by men like him. "The laws of economics are like the laws of engineering," he said. "One set of laws works everywhere." Summers subsequently laid out those laws as the three "-ations": privatization, stabilization and liberalization. Some "kinds of ideas," he explained a few years later in a PBS interview, have already become too "passé" for discussion. Like "the idea that a huge spending program is the way to stimulate the economy."

And that's the problem with Larry. For all his appeals to absolute truths, he has been spectacularly wrong again and again. He was wrong about not regulating derivatives. Wrong when he helped kill Depression-era banking laws, turning banks into too-big-to-fail welfare monsters. And as he helps devise ever more complex tricks and spends ever more taxpayer dollars to keep the financial casino running, he remains wrong today.

Word is that Summers's current post may be a pit stop on the way to the big prize, Federal Reserve chairman. That means he could actually make "maestro."

Mr. President, please: Pop this bubble before it's too late."

pretty good, no? Geithner could go on this list too, I think.

Note From An Old Friend: Credit Markets Need Some Fiber

A note from an old friend in high school. Interesting perspective. Disintermediation is a disaster.

Dear Mike:

I’ve been in the RV business for 29 years now, and I own Travel Country RV center along with my business partner.... We have 3 stores located in Lake City Florida, Valdosta Georgia, and Augusta. And I can tell you that this is the toughest market I have ever seen, and I see no signs of improvement. We’ve lost our floorplan financing which was a credit line of $15 million and don’t know if we can replace it. The only two major players left are Bank of America, and GE and you know what’s been going on with them. So here we are, that small business that everybody talks about, and we’re on the verge of going down the drain just like so many others, and the government is doing nothing to help us. All the bailout money and stimulus, and we can’t get banks to lend to dealers for inventory, and we can’t get banks to loan to customers without making the conditions so unbelievably unreasonable that we lose 50% of the deals we write now. We’re hanging in there, and liquidating our inventory and hoping that something happens that will loosen this market up but it’s not looking promising, as your article so clearly points out.

He's referring to the Limbaugh Letter interview. It's not available without a subscription, but here is an excerpt:

What a pleasure to speak with the very insightful economist Dr. Mike Munger — chair of the political science department at Duke University, North Carolina’s 2008 libertarian candidate for governor, and all-around brilliant guy:

RUSH: Dr. Munger. I’m really looking forward to this — thank you for making time here.

MUNGER: I’m glad to speak to the leader of the entire conservative movement.

RUSH: (Laughs) First, I want to go back to something you said a while ago, and then ask you to update it. You had an interesting analogy from Milton Friedman to describe Obama’s economic policies: you said it’s like steering a huge ship with an old rubber band for a steering cable; the cable stretches, it gets hung up, and you turn it and turn it, nothing happens; finally it does turn, you go too far, and then you turn it back and you can’t stop it. Can you relate what you meant to Obama’s stimulus and budget, and whether things have changed since that analogy?

MUNGER: Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winner in economics, said that there were two problems with monetary policy. One, people might not want to do the right thing. But even if people want to do the right thing — the Federal Reserve, the fiscal
policies of the federal government — the economy is like a giant ship; it takes a long time to turn it. But even worse, in our attempts to coordinate economic policy, the steering cable is like an old, stretchy rubber band. So if we turn one way, the ship does nothing for a long time, maybe months; and we pour in more and more
resources, and it looks as if nothing’s happening, and so we start to try to do too much. Eventually, the great ship of the economy starts to respond. But as it starts to turn we say, “Okay, okay, that’s enough,” and we start to turn back the other way, but nothing happens.
Now, in the time since I originally talked about that analogy Milton Friedman made famous long ago, the high-powered money supply of the United States has been growing at a rate that we haven’t seen I think ever. It’s grown at a rate of ten percent per
month over the last six months.

RUSH: Which means we’re printing money, right?

MUNGER: In effect, we’re printing money. We’re raising the pressures for inflation, to the point where there’s no way we can stop it. Once the ship does start to turn, we’re going to have inflationary pressures the likes of which we have not seen since the ’78, ’79 huge increase, which was then due to the Arab oil embargo. This time, we’re doing this to ourselves. I would say two or three years from now the inflation rate is going to be at least 12 or 15 percent, and it may be higher. We can’t turn that fast, and we’re trying to turn too much too quickly. We don’t know what we’re doing; we’re as likely to make things bad as good. But the one thing that we do know for sure is that there’s going to be a period of inflation.

Oh yeah, we're all that (and a bag of chips)

"To be a complete economist, a man need only be a mathematician, a philosopher, a psychologist, an anthropologist, a historian, a geographer, and a student of politics; a master of prose exposition; and a man of the world with experience of practical business and finance, an understanding of the problems of administration, and a good knowledge of four or five languages. All this in addition, of course, to familiarity with the economic literature itself."

---G.L.S. Shackle

Hat tip to Ed Lopez

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tenure trouble?

In today's WAPO, Francis Fukuyama writes the following pithy op-ed:

"I'm a tenured professor. But I'd get rid of tenure.

Tenure was created to protect academic freedom after a series of 19th-century cases when university donors or legislators tried to remove professors whose views they disliked. One famous instance in the late 1800s involved progressive movement leader Richard Ely, whose critics accused him of socialism and tried to remove him as an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin.

The rationale for tenure is still valid. But the system has turned the academy into one of the most conservative and costly institutions in the country. Yes, conservative: Economists joke that their discipline advances one funeral at a time, but many fields must wait for wholesale generational turnover before new approaches take hold.

The system also hamstrings younger untenured professors, making them fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline: Thus in economics, people have "utility functions" instead of needs and wants.

These problems are made worse by a federal employment law that bars universities from instituting mandatory retirement. Deans and provosts can't remove elderly professors who take up slots that could fund two or three younger colleagues. Two developments are about to exacerbate this problem: a decline in university enrollments as the baby echo generation passes through college, reducing overall demand for professors; and the financial crisis, which has decimated professors' retirement savings, giving them incentive to hold on to their sinecures even longer.

Things don't have to be this way. Academic freedom can thrive in think tanks and research institutes. U.S.-style tenure doesn't exist in Britain or Australia. Japan grants tenure but forces professors to retire at a relatively early age (60 at Tokyo University).

The freedom guaranteed by tenure is precious. But it's time to abolish this institution before it becomes too costly, both financially and intellectually. "

Before we begin, it behooves us to remember that Mr. Fukuyama also wrote the following:

"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

After that lovely cheap shot, let's go back to his current essay.

Starting with the simply weird, consider the notion that: "The system also hamstrings younger untenured professors, making them fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline: Thus in economics, people have "utility functions" instead of needs and wants. "

Does Francis really think that only people in a narrow subdiscipline can understand the concept of a utility function? Does he think that utility functions are something other than a way to put needs and wants into an equation for modeling purposes? Does he really think that only untenured economics professors use this "jargon".

Now going to the deeply flawed, consider the idea that: "Academic freedom can thrive in think tanks and research institutes."

Wow. People, do you think there is academic freedom at the Cato Institute? The Economic Policy Institute? That is a VERY disingenuous sentence!

One part of the essay I do agree with is the idea that tenure plus no mandatory retirement can cause some problems, but not because " Deans and provosts can't remove elderly professors who take up slots that could fund two or three younger colleagues." To me the real problem with the combination is that elderly professors will have an extremely difficult time relating to students, doing quality research and making appropriate choices about who to tenure among a department's untenured faculty. Of course there are exceptions, and I do not know how real this problem is (does anyone know how many working professors in the US are over 70?), but it is a problem for academia, just like it is for the US Supreme Court.

So, I'm a tenured professor, and I'd keep tenure, but I promise to quit before I'm 70!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tea Party: Raleigh

Deficits are Future Taxes

"I thought he was a zombie, your honor"

Woody Harrelson attacks a zombie in an airport.

Woody Harrelson defended his clash with a photographer at a New York airport Wednesday night as a case of mistaken identity -- he says he mistook the cameraman for a zombie.

The TMZ photographer filed a complaint with police claiming the actor damaged his camera and pushed him in the face at La Guardia Airport, according to an airport spokesman.

"We're looking into this allegation and if it's warranted, we'll turn it over to the proper authorities," said Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Ron Marsico.

The photographer, who was not identified, captured the encounter on a small camera after his larger one was broken.

Harrelson, who is being sued by another TMZ photographer for an alleged assault in 2006, did not deny his involvement.

"I wrapped a movie called 'Zombieland,' in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character," Harrelson said in a statement issued Friday by his publicist.

"With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie," he said.

Well, yes, once he explains it, it makes perfect sense.

(Nod to Lord Sutch, as always)

A Burr Under His Saddle, for 2010

I think that Burr is dead, if the Dems play this right.

Did you see this? I mean, did you SEE IT?

When the banking crisis hit last fall, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr told his wife to take as much money from the ATM as she could.

It's an anecdote that Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, has told for a while when talking about the nation's financial woes. But after he used it in a speech Monday before the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, it began to ripple across the political world.

In the 40-minute speech, Burr told an audience of about 70 business executives about the recent banking crisis and the federal government's response. He said he was so spooked after a briefing in Washington last fall that he called his wife, Brooke, back in North Carolina.

I mean, here's a guy on the Banking Committee, with better access, to better info, sooner, than the rest of us.

And his response to a crisis is to make a private call to his wife, to empty the bank account?

Suppose for a moment that he thought that if EVERYONE knew what he knew, then they would want to bail out of the banking system, also. He kept the info secret, until he was sure that HIS OWN cash was safe?

Thanks, Senator. Thanks very much, for all your f***ing help.

( are THE man)

It's Not Theft, If You are Elected

"If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district." [Rep. John
Murtha (D-PA


When Misconduct Goes Unnoticed: The Acceptability of Gradual Erosion
in Others' Unethical Behavior

Francesca Gino & Max Bazerman
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Four laboratory studies show that people are more likely to accept others' unethical behavior when ethical degradation occurs slowly rather than in one abrupt shift. Participants served in the role of watchdogs charged with catching instances of cheating. The watchdogs in our studies were less likely to criticize the actions of others when their behavior eroded gradually, over time, rather than in one abrupt shift. We refer to this phenomenon as the slippery slope effect. Our studies also demonstrate that at least part of this effect can be attributed to implicit biases that result in a failure to notice ethical erosion when it occurs slowly. Broadly, our studies provide evidence as to when and why people accept cheating by others and examine the conditions under which the slippery slope effect occur.

(nod to Kevin L)

The REAL Reason for Greg Paulus' Departure for Michigan......

"Paulus said a strong graduate program means a lot to him, and Michigan would certainly qualify." ( video)


Oh, so Duke Poli Sci is chopped liver, is it?

I think that Paulus ought to have to sit out a year before he starts taking Michigan classes.....

Intergenerational Theft Contest

An intergenerational theft contest.

And you can play....for FAAAAAABULOUS prizes!

Top 20 List: Things Economists Say

Geoff Brennan and I spent twenty minutes in the beautiful Pavilion coffee shop here at Duke, thinking about what are the 20 aphorisms that most usefully capture economic wisdom.

The problem with aphorisms is that it takes considerable background to understand them, of course.

But here is our top 20 list. If there is more than one version, we try to give both. If there is an obvious source, we try to give that source. If there is a more general principle, we welcome "other sayings on...."

Starting with #20, and working our way up:

20. Economics is extremely useful, as a form of employment for economists. (Credit to JK Galbraith)

19. If all the world's economists were laid down end to end, around the earth, it would be hilarious. But they still would not reach a conclusion.

18. Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. (Other sayings on value of human capital.)

17. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (An unstable cooperative equilibrium, unless the PD is iterated indefinitely. Then, stable)

16. People want economy. And they'll pay any price to get it. (Credit to Lee Iococca, and kudos to all you Prius owners out there!)

15. Government economists have the same impact on the economy as National Weather Service meteoroligists have on the weather. And the economists and meteorologists are about as good at predicting what will happen tomorrow.

14. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. And if you have more than $100,000, don't put all your cash in one FDIC bank.

13. A stitch in time saves nine. (Other sayings on compound interest and present value)

12. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. (Other sayings that show that, in equilibrium, there is no economic profit on risk neutral investments)

11. There is more than one way to skin a cat. (Other sayings on advantages of competition for spurring innovation)

10. A rising tide lifts all boats. A falling tide smells really bad.

9. The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. (Credit to F. Bastiat)

8. In economics, things happen at the margin. The majority is always wrong. (Credit to JK Galbraith)

7. Incentives matter more than intentions

6. The best time to buy real estate is two years ago. The best time to buy a computer is two years in the future.

5. The first law of economics is, there isn't enough to do everything. The first law of politics is to repeal the first law of economics. (Credit to Thomas Sowell)

4. You can't eat your cake, and have it, too. (Other opportunity cost sayings)

3. Whatever is going to happen is happening now. The exception is
equity markets, where whatever is going to happen already happened, yesterday. (Credit to Sylvia Porter)

2. Bygones are bygones. No use crying over spilt milk. (Other sunk cost saysings)

And....a drum roll, please....The #1 best insight of economists, reduced to its most
simple form:


Thursday, April 16, 2009


I was going to post on l'affaire Tancredo, at UNC.

But I really couldn't do better than what El General has already done, on that subject. So, read him. And I second that.

Stimulating Discussion

My man Nick "I have lots of black clothing" Gillespie has an interesting piece in the print edition of Reason this issue.

Lots of different folks, including KPC pal Mark Perry. Oh, and including me, too.

Wrestling Greased Capitalist Pigs

Interesting article. Very interesting, in fact.

I began to ask myself: how will I be able to defend capitalism from those who seek to destroy it when actual capitalists are behaving so indefensibly? This is a question that free-market conservatives are now forced to grapple with on a much larger scale in the wake of the collapse of the financial markets.

... a raft of government policies, some dating back decades, helped create the current economic crisis. The Community Reinvestment Act, which was originated during the Carter administration and updated by President Clinton, encouraged more lending to those with patchy credit histories. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were able to use their government backing to borrow money cheaply, allowing them to absorb trillions of dollars in mortgages. And under the leadership of Chairman Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve Board pursued one of the most aggressive rate-cutting campaigns in history, which helped drive mortgage rates down to the lowest levels since the Eisenhower administration—yet the Fed resisted jacking up interest rates despite mounting evidence that housing prices were inflating to unsustainable levels.

While all of this is true, the causes of the current financial collapse, as with any economic calamity of this magnitude, are complex. The government may have helped create an environment that made us susceptible to a housing bubble, but at the end of the day private banks took advantage of that environment. They threw prudent risk management out the window, they pushed mortgages on un-creditworthy borrowers, they financed those mortgages with complicated financial instruments that few—if any—understood, and they escaped with millions as their companies begged for taxpayer dollars.

At a time when the nation is rushing toward socialism, there's an obvious temptation among conservatives to rally around the market and lay all of the blame for the financial crisis on big government. But any full accounting of the current mess requires us to reconcile our belief in capitalism with the fact that this is a case in which actual capitalists behaved recklessly. Their behavior, and the public outrage that it generates, presents more of a threat to capitalism than an army of Paul Krugmans.

(Emphasis mine)


Shiller strikes again.

Bob Shiller doesn't see any green shoots or rays of light. In fact he says that:

"It is now time to stimulate demand. It is also time to repair the credit system. Those are the two targets that must be hit to get us out of the current economic slump, and to restore confidence. It will be costly to meet both of these targets, and it will require new legislation to give enhanced regulatory powers to deal with a greatly changed financial system, now in a systemic slump.

It is time to face up to what needs to be done. The sticker shock involved will be large, but the costs in terms of lost output of not meeting either the credit target or the aggregate demand target will be yet larger."

I guess I should point out this was written yesterday, not last summer.

He also says that the main factor holding back the real ramping up of fiscal and monetary expansion is CEO pay. Seriously!

"In this crisis, acceptance of these measures is being replaced with outrage. It is increasing the blood pressure of the public, and that can’t continue without damage to our system. Compensation practices in the U.S. need to be made fairer. Vast earnings shouldn’t go virtually untaxed, while the middle class is paying a sizable fraction of each extra dollar in taxes. Only then will the government have the mandate to restore our banking and securities institutions to their proper strong role in our economy".


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

God bless Ron Paul

We don't need no stinkin' Navy!

"Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.

Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.

The letters also require would-be thrill seekers to post a bond promising to abide by international rules of war.

In a YouTube video earlier this week, Paul suggested lawmakers consider issuing letters, which could relieve American naval ships from being the nation’s primary pirate responders — a free-market solution to make the high seas safer for cargo ships.

“I think if every potential pirate knew this would be the case, they would have second thoughts because they could probably be blown out of the water rather easily if those were the conditions,” Paul said."

Prosociality and Humor

Human prosociality from an evolutionary perspective: Variation and
correlations at a city-wide scale

David Sloan Wilson, Daniel Tumminelli O'Brien & Artura Sesma
Evolution and Human Behavior, May 2009, Pages 190-200

Prosociality is a fundamental theme in all branches of the human behavioral sciences. Evolutionary theory sets an even broader stage by examining prosociality in all species, including the distinctive human capacity to cooperate in large groups of unrelated individuals. We use evolutionary theory to investigate human prosociality at the scale of a small city (Binghamton, NY), based on survey data and a direct measure of prosocial behavior. In a survey of public school students (Grades 6-12), individual prosociality correlates strongly with social support, which is a basic
requirement for prosociality to succeed as a behavioral strategy in Darwinian terms. The most prosocial individuals receive social support from multiple sources (e.g., family, school, neighborhood, religion and extracurricular activities). Neighborhood social support is significant as a group-level variable in addition to an individual-level variable. The median income of a neighborhood does not directly influence individual prosociality, but only indirectly through forms of social support. Variation in neighborhood quality, as measured by the survey, corresponds to the likelihood that a stamped addressed letter dropped on the sidewalk of a given neighborhood will be mailed. We discuss the results in relation to evolutionary theory, the experimental economics literature and the social capital literature in an effort to integrate the study of human prosociality across disciplines.


An Evolutionary Perspective on Humor: Sexual Selection or Interest

Norman Li, Vladas Griskevicius, Kristina Durante, Peter Jonason, Derek
Pasisz & Katherine Aumer
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Are people who are funny more attractive? Or does being attractive lead people to be seen as funnier? The answer may depend on the underlying evolutionary function of humor. While humor has been proposed to signal "good genes," we propose that humor also functions to indicate interest in social relationships - in initiating new relationships and in monitoring existing ones. Consistent with this interest indicator model, across three studies both sexes were more likely to initiate humor, and to respond more positively and consider the other person to be funny, when initially attracted to that person. The findings support that humor dynamics - and not just humor displays - influence romantic chemistry for both men and women,
suggesting that humor can ultimately function as a strategy to initiate and monitor social relationships.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Angus and Mungowitz: Another Convert

My lovely Ms. Mungowitz was throwing away what was left of a pecan pie, leftover from Easter celebrations.

As she put the aluminum pie pan in the garbage, she sang, loudly: "Bye, bye, Miss Pecah-ahn pie, drove my Chevy to the levy....."

And then slammed the trash lid and looked at me in horror. " and Angus....look what you have DONE to me!"

Angus, Mungowitz, and singing songs to the garbage: Always representing.

Some Books....

Apropos of exactly nothing, here are some books I have read in the last year that I really, really liked. Not all came OUT in the last year, by a long shot. And some were rereads. Still....they made me happy.







Paul Blustein, AND THE MONEY KEPT ROLLING IN (AND OUT): ...the Bankrupting of Argentina



You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up....

At first, I thought that Stephen Karlson, at C.S.S., was kidding. Outspoken support...for the pirates?

Then, I thought it must be a hoax. I mean....can this guy be serious? Mr. Scahill shares this tidbit, about the "Somali Coast Guard":

As one “pirate” said, “The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now.” Another added, “As long as there is no just government in Somalia, we will still be the coast guard… If we get an American, we will take revenge.” (Note that "pirate" is in scare quotes, original in Scahill)

The way I see it, there are four issues:

1. Are these guys pirates? Is there any other conceivable description of their actions, tactics, and treatment of prisoners / ships?

2. Was the U.S. justified to use deadly force to free the captain of Maersk Alabama?

3. Was the U.S. wise to end the stalemate in this way?

4. Are the "pirates" (to use Scahill's air quotes, notwithstanding the answer to #1 above) justified in using violence and kidnapping to air the legitimate grievances of an oppressed people?


1. Absolutely. No, no other explanation. These guys are pirates. Anyone who would put quotes around the word "pirates" in this context is criminally insane.

2. Absolutely. A pirate caught in the act of piracy, and holding a hostage at gunpoint, has zero claim to due process. And if the guy getting medical treatment wants to say that it was unfair to fool him like that, that they had a deal, what about the Pirate's Code?....Well, I'd amend Captain Barbossa's answer: "First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, one must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and we're not. And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Bainbridge...."

3. A legitimate question. I don't know the answer. I lean toward "yes," but Scahill may have some real arguments on the "no" side. Of course, I can't tell that, since he chose not to make any of those points.

4. Are you kidding me? You want to blame international shipping companies for the hell hole that is Somalia? One can have sympathy for the generation of young men growing up without law, or hope. But you can't seriously say that that justifies piracy, any more than poverty in Appalachia or Cleveland justifies armed robbery.


BHO got a PWD from EMK (and it's OK)

Me and Mungowitz love us some mutts. We got Pluto from the Norman pound the day we moved there. Hobo and Tanzi are both rescue dogs. But people, it's OK to get a purebred dog if you want to. I am amazed by the fact that Obama's dog choice is getting so much ink and whining. I am further amazed that the breeder who sold Joe Biden a german shepherd pup has allegedly received death threats!

These pics make me like BHO and gabby Joe more than I used to, no matter what kind of dogs they chose:

Inspecting the mechanism

In a recent municipal election in Lexington OK, Marion McWhirter and Max Punneo saw their battle for the city council end in a tie (53-53). Neither man (and yes I have that right) chose to contest the vote:

"Though Punneo -- and McWhirter -- were offered the opportunity to contest the election and ask for a recount, Punneo said the $300 cost would have factored to about $3 per person. "There was no need for that, really," he said."

So how was the tie resolved?

"With a handful of election officials and media representatives watching, Lexington's incumbent city councilman Marion McWhirter held on to his seat Monday when his name was successfully drawn from a decorated hat box by Cleveland County Election Board Secretary Paula Roberts."

WTF, you ask??

""We're following the election law," Roberts said".

I wonder what the law says exactly. Does it specify using a hat box? A decorated hat box? Does it speak to the style of the decorations?

Oh and one more thing: Norm Coleman, you have a phone call!

I'm a sucker for these

I am a sucker for these rehearsed/spontaneous dance takeovers of public spaces.

But then, I really really like to dance, myself. Often when I first get out of the shower.

(Nod to the Bishop, who doesn't dance so much, but is happy that other people do.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pole-dancing for Jesus?

Darwin WIn!!

At the Berlin Zoo recently, a 32 year old woman "climbed down a fence, over a wide hedge full of thorns and got past a concrete wall before swan diving into the murky moat where the polar bears swim." There were 4 adult polar bears in the area.

The woman is now in intensive care after some keepers fished her out.

The zoo says it doesn't plan to change its security measures. I agree. People like this should not be protected from their stupidity.

Here is a video link which shows the keepers trying to fish her out of the moat. The bears seem to just be playing with her!

Hat tip to the Eco Sista!

A Coffee Shop Review

A coffee shop review, by KPC pal Paul Gowder.

I couldn't find a part to excerpt. It is a perfect
organic whole. As long as the organic hole is only used
for #1.

Crime and Law

The Laws of Lawlessness

Peter Leeson, Journal of Legal Studies, forthcoming

According to conventional wisdom, self-governance cannot facilitate order between the members of different social groups. This is considered doubly true for the members of social groups that are avowed enemies of one another. This paper argues that it can. To investigate my hypothesis, I examine the Anglo-Scottish borderlands in the 16th century. The border people belonged to two separate social groups at constant war with one another. These people pillaged, plundered, and raided one another as a way of life they called "reiving." To regulate this system of inter-group banditry and prevent it from degenerating into chaos, border inhabitants developed a decentralized system of cross-border criminal law called the Leges Marchiarum. These "laws of lawlessness" governed all aspects of cross-border interaction and spawned novel institutions of their enforcement including "days of truce," bonds, "bawling," and "trod." The Leges Marchiarum and its institutions of enforcement created a unique, decentralized legal order that governed inter-group relations between hostiles along the border.


Arrest Avoidance: Law Enforcement and the Price of Cocaine

Beth Freeborn, Journal of Law and Economics, February 2009, Pages 19-40

Contrary to one goal of drug law enforcement, cocaine prices decreased between the years 1986 and 2000. This paper discusses how arrest avoidance behavior may affect cocaine consumer and dealer response to law enforcement. Dealers avoid arrest by making quick and easy sales; thus, pure-gram price is negatively related to dealer enforcement. Consumers avoid arrest by accepting high prices rather than searching for lower prices. Thus, pure-gram price is positively related to consumer enforcement. Because the implications from arrest avoidance conflict with traditional models of how enforcement should affect prices, I also empirically examine the relationship. Using purchase-level data from the Drug Enforcement Administration and legal penalty data, I find a negative, significant relationship between dealer enforcement and pure-gram price and a positive, significant relationship between consumer enforcement and pure-gram price. Both are consistent with the intuition of arrest avoidance.


Income Inequality and Pecuniary Crimes

Luiz Guilherme Scorzafave & Milena Karla Soares, Economics Letters, forthcoming

This paper verifies the relationship between income inequality and pecuniary crimes. The elasticity of pecuniary crimes relative to inequality is 1.46, corroborating previous literature. Other factors important to decrease criminality are expanding job opportunities and a more efficient legal system.


Shoplifting, Monitoring and Price Determination

Gideon Yaniv, Journal of Socio-Economics, forthcoming

Shoplifting is a major crime problem costing American retailers more than $10 billion per year. Surprisingly, despite the evolvement of an extensive theoretical literature on the economics of some major economic crimes, shoplifting has failed to attract economists’ attention. The present paper applies the economic toolbox to this problem, developing a principal-agent type model of shoplifting and shoplifting control. The model examines the customer's decision of whether to shoplift or not as well as the store's profit-maximizing price and monitoring intensity. The paper challenges the conventional wisdom that the observed rise in shoplifting calls for intensified monitoring and higher prices, showing that a rational response to increased shoplifting involves a reduction in both monitoring and prices.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Why Do We Need the BBC?

The BBC asks the question, "Why Do We Need Growth?"

economic growth may be a necessary condition for the relief of poverty and can be desirable for middle- and high-income people too, it is not enough on its own. Governments and society need to be judged on so much more than simply whether their economies are growing.

So I ask, "Why Do We Need the BBC?" To be fair, many people say they would pay voluntarily. Well, let's make the BBC optional, and find out.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

In the belly of the beast

This past Friday, me and Mrs. Angus stopped off on our way home from work to get haircuts (yes we have the same stylist!!). I went first, then waited for Mrs. A while playing a game on my phone. About halfway through Mrs. A's cut a woman with 4 young children came in. The kids starting running up and down the salon, the woman hugged our stylist and said she was here to commemorate the 8th anniversary of our stylist first cutting her hair. The other stylist in the shop (who was processing an impressive assembly line of elderly ladies from shampoo to cut to baking in curlers to getting their "up do") started erecting a barrier of japanese style screens between her work station and the family. As the kids kept running around the woman kept yakking to our stylist while Mrs. A sat bemusedly in the chair. The woman gave our stylist homemade anniversary cookies and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the other stylist was barricading herself in like a French CEO. 

After what seemed like forever, the woman herded up the kids and left. And our stylist gave us the dish. She claimed she hadn't cut the woman's hair for over two years but that every good Friday the woman shows up with hugs and cookies and more kids and imagined stories about her time in the salon! The other stylist piped up from behind the wall of screens that "someone should get their tubes tied" (I'm pretty sure she didn't mean me).

So, after pencilling in good Friday 2010 as a firm haircut appointment with our stylist, we checked to see if the coast was clear and went home.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hey, Joker: Recycle Me THIS

In which I enter the cubicles of recycling worshippers, and do battle.

Not sure I'll be able to go back to Canada, now.

Just like I can't go back to Australia.

The original provocation, a while back now....

Be careful what you wish for

You know what I really miss and would like to have back? Two things: (1) a big-ass trade deficit and (2) hordes of illegal immigrants arriving. That would be great, wouldn't it?

This is a good 'un!

People, Abdala Bucaram is the gift that keeps on giving. Check out this separated at birth pair: