Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obama Is A Utilitarian....

Dr. Mankiw makes a valid point. As the kids sometimes say, "oh, SNAP."

(And a nod to Netsmith, over at ASB)

Clive Granger

Clive Granger has died.

A very very cool guy. His most interesting project, to him, was always his next one.

(nod to NeanderBill, for the notice)


Holy kapowski. Not many Germans appear to worship Jesus, but a whole lot of them do worship holidays. We have ANOTHER one, tomorrow, "Whit Monday," following Whitsuntide, the day of Pentecost.

Two people have already told me I'll have to find something else to do tomorrow, since it is a "holiday." Then I point out that (a) the state cannot deny me the chance to work, if I want, by declaring religious holidays, something the state has no business doing in the first place; and (b) I have a key, a device that magically turns a wall into a door. A glazed look appears on my interlocutors: " is a HOLIDAY." Yeah, well, I got yer "holiday" right HERE.

Reminds me of a joke. An American, a Polish guy, and a German walk into a bar. The barkeep is cleaning the bar, so they have a seat at a window table, which they normally don't do. Suddenly a huge truck, with failed brakes, crashes through the wall and kills all three of them.

Seconds later, all three stand before St. Peter, rather dazed by the rapid turn of events. St. Peter checks the "Big Book," and then slams down his fist. "Oh, HELL!* The schedule is wrong. You weren't supposed to be at that table."

The three blink at each other.

St. Peter gets a stack of papers, and says, "Look, fill these out. I know the bureaucracy up here is a problem, but if you fill out these forms, and pay 500 euros each, I'll get back each of you back into your bodies and you won't have to die until your real time comes."

All three start protesting. "Not our fault! 500 euros? Are you kidding?"

St. Peter, busy and harrassed, says, "FINE! Fine. I'll give you 50% off. But that's my final offer."

A few minutes later, the American wakes up with a sheet over his face. He sits up rapidly, and a nurse in the room starts screaming! "AHHHHH! HE'S ALIVE! HE WAS DEAD, BUT HE'S ALIVE!"

Doctors rush in, and ask the guy how this could happen, since he had been dead for an hour. The American tells the story about St. Peter and the paperwork and the 250 Euro.

The doctors are skeptical, of course. They point to the inert bodies in the next two beds. "Okay, but then why aren't the Pole and the German back, too?"

The American shrugs, and says, "I'm an American! As soon as I heard it was a 50% off sale, I whipped out my credit card. Last I saw, the Pole was trying to negotiate an even LOWER price. And the German guy just sat down on the curb, and was waiting for the state to come pay the bill."

The point being that "The State" is just something that you people made up, a bogeyman, no more real than Santa Claus or unicorns. It doesn't actually exist, except as a bunch of grasping and conniving politicians. The State certainly cannot tell me not to go to work. I can pay my own way, if the State will just leave me the hell alone. If all of Germany wants to sit on the curb tomorrow, and wait for the state, that's fine, but let me work.


The Way Music Videos Should Be

Gnarls Barkley.... (Note the cameo by Gnarls himself, in the kitchen, near the end).

And now you women know why we men are like this. "Treasure your friendship"? Please. When we are bad to you, it is the fault of one of your "sisters," from long ago.

Gnarls Barkley is the man. Remember this? Just so strange.

(Nod to SdM, btw)

Vote for Manny

I'm with Annie; vote for Manny.

His stats demand it.

And the hypocrisy about the Los Angeles Dodgers, and baseball generally, as a PED dispenser* should be confronted.

*PED: Performance Enhancing Drugs. Like a PEZ dispenser, only different.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turnabout: A German Restaurant in NC

So, I took some pretty abusive comments for my surprise at the non-Mexican Mexican food here in Erlangen.

I figured turnabout was fair play, so when the Lovely Ms. Mungowitz and I were in Wilmington, NC, and we espied the following sign, we knew it was kismet: You gotta admit; that has CONSIDERABLE culinary tragicomic potential. Not "Die Münchener" (Americans wouldn't know that meant "German"), or "Villy's" (I'm trying to keep with the Chilli's theme). A generic name: The German Cafe.

We go in. Beautiful old place (old for North Carolina, about 175 years for the main building, though it was a port facility until the 1930s) in the Cotton Exchange. Playing Beethoven (6th or 7th symphony, I don't know them well enough to distinguish) on a nice stereo system. (Technically, Beethoven only lived in Germany until he was 22, when he moved to Vienna. But Austrian music is better than "The Most Horrible Hits from the 70s, 80s, and Today" you hear in REAL German restaurants.)

I'm a little scared. The building itself, though, with the Beethoven playing softly, does much to settle me down. Check this: The LMM orders a salad (Oh, really?), but I have to try to sample the "German" part of the menu to see just how apocalyptic it is. Beer list: domestics? bottles? AAAAARGH! I order unsweetened iced tea. It comes....with ICE. This is no German place!

Except that then I see the actual beer list. A fine variety of actual German beers, on tap, including a very fine Hefe Weisse. I ordered the Wurst plate (going for the knockwurst), which comes with sauer kruat, kartoffelsalat, and bread, as you see on the menu...

The waitress, dressed in a modest dirndl, brings the food. Note that it looks quite tasty, that the side dishes actually LOOK like sauer kraut and potato salad, and the the Hefe Weisse is served in a proper Hefe Weisse glass, and is properly cloudy. Overall, a decent B. Any German who ate this meal would be disappointed (the bread was horrible, though it is standard American "brown" bread, soft, gummy, and tasteless), but not amazed. The knockwurst was quite good, the sauer kraut was that weak kind without spice, but with some rye seeds added, and the potato salad was just okay. BUT IT WAS A WURST, WITH KRAUT AND POTATO AND BREAD. That is a German meal, no matter how poorly executed. Further, the ham on the LMM's salad.... delightful fresh lettuce, and oh, the ham. German meats generally, and ham in particular, are just at a higher standard than the U.S. And this ham was genuinely first rate.

Finally, on the language question: the owner, and one employee, were both native German speakers. No repeat of the "pollo" incident here.

So, tote up the score: Hefe Weisse, wurst, and ham all very acceptable quality. Side dishes were mediocre, but at least they were the correct side dishes. Adding the watermelon slice was charming, an American touch. But it did not DISPLACE the correct side dishes (at the German Mexican restaurant, you may recall, the cabbage with mayo was presented INSTEAD of rice/beans/etc. that should accompany a Mexican meal).

Plus, The German Cafe had a nice tapestry of a fine German schloss, in a dark corner. The decor was legit. Like I said, solid B. American German beats German Mexican.

Adventures in State-Sponsored Autism

This post has two parts, the whiny Americentric part, and the more rational part.

WHINY AMERICENTRISM: Holy cow, is it ever strange walking around at the Bergkirchweih, or for that matter in any crowd in Franconia. You are, in the eyes and minds of everyone around you, a rock to avoided or elbowed aside. A complicated rock, because you are moving, but nonetheless a landscape feature without feelings or goals of your own.
So, suppose for example some lady is trying to push a stroller through a narrow space, holding a toddler in one hand and a backpack in the other. You, at the other end of the narrow space, stop and smile, indicating that she should come ahead (it's too narrow to pass each other.) Immediately the people behind will brush past, not even trying to avoid pushing you, and will walk through the narrow space. This will continue basically indefinitely. As far as they are concerned, unless they know the lady, or you, personally, you can just go screw.

Same thing at the grocery (yes, I used the Euro this time). If you leave a space, the person behind you will cut around you to take the space, even if you clearly trying to let someone past. After a while, I switched, and starting giving people the forearm myself. A little old lady tried to push past me, and I rammed her cart right into the bean cans. She didn't get mad, didn't say a thing.

It's like a pick-up basketball game, same rules. A really egregious foul would get you into a fight. But you don't call incidental contact, and "incidental" means no ambulance. And, in a pick-up basketball game, you would never tell your opponent, "you go ahead, I'll wait;" and then smile at them. But it is annoying to someone of Southern (southern US, not southern German) sensibilities. We tend to negotiate space, smile at each other, and even talk and laugh. It is considered actively rude here in Franconia to talk to someone unless you have been introduced. Asking for help is okay; that's the exception. But looking someone in the eye, smiling, talking: all way out of bounds.

RATIONAL PART: Fact is, I am the one being rude. These are the rules here; I can accept that, or leave. Trying to insist on my parochial conception of "manners" is actually pretty bizarre.

Look, the fact is that as long as everyone has the SAME expectations, and same conceptions of manners, it's all good. The problem is when you get a mix. Several times, I have caused minor bike-bump accidents when I slowed down to let someone in. No one, including the person being let in, expects that. And the fact is that they don't NEED to be let in. They are very skillful bike riders, and if the person merging just pushes in, the others accommodate skillfully and rapidly, though minimally. It goes much faster than the American system, where letting someone in is a courtesy, one that can be actively withheld. It would be rude here to EITHER (1) swerve to deny another bike a space, obviously and on purpose, OR (2) to slow down to let them in, making everyone else have to swerve unexpectedly. Think of the times in the US you have seen one car wave another car in, or obviously swerve to KEEP them from getting in. Neither of those things would happen here. And, when I think about it, I'm not sure but that this is a better system. (Though, they really should let the lady with the stroller, the kid, and the backpack through. I'm going to throw somebody through a fence if that happens again.)

So, *I* am the one being the jerk. When I think it over, I can see that that is clearly true. But it does take some getting used to, as others have noted.

Another example, from the US: Consider the "Pittsburgh Left Turn." Read this, for just a second, and then come back. Okay, got it?

Now, if a lot of people NOT from Pittsburgh are driving in Pittsburgh, there will be accidents. Who is being the jerk? Well, no one. The problem is a mix of cultures, and the consequent divergence of expectations and norms.

(I should acknowledge that NeanderBill told me about the Pittsburgh Left. And he knows from Left, I tell you).

Wow! Repeat After Me: Correlation N.E. Causation


The relationship between frequency of family dinner and adolescent problem behaviors after adjusting for other family characteristics

Bisakha Sen, Journal of Adolescence, forthcoming

Objective: To examine the association between frequency of family dinners (FFD) and selected problem behaviors for adolescents after adjusting for family connectedness, parental awareness, other family activities, and other potentially confounding factors.

Methods: Data are drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997. The primary variable of interest is self-reported FFD in a typical week. Problem behaviors studied are substance-use, physical violence, property-destruction, stealing, running away from home, andgang membership. Multivariate logistic models are estimated for each behaviors. Linear regression models are estimated for behavior-frequency for the sub-samples engaging in them. Analysis is done separately by gender.

Results: FFD is negatively associated with substance-use and running away for females; drinking, physical violence, property-destruction, stealing and running away for males.

Conclusion: Family meals are negatively associated to certain problem behaviors for adolescents even after controlling rigorously for potentially confounding factors. Thus, programs that promote family meals are beneficial.

I am willing to believe that FFDs stand in for a host of unobservable features of family life, and so it is a good predictive variable. No worries; you can use it. But it is absurd to think that it is the actual family dinner that CAUSES the salubrious effects.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that being required to have LOTs more family sit downs with Jim and the little woman at the Angus ancestral home would have produced MORE of the "running away behavior" the study finds is here reduced. At a minimum, I know I was pretty big on "running away" from the FFD.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poverty: It's All Relative

The reason that so many of my leftist friends want to insist that poverty is always just relative is that any objective measure of poverty leads to the conclusion that capitalism is an outrageous success. Only if you raise the sins of envy and covetousness to the status of the moral virtue "fairness" can you make the case that capitalism causes poverty.

The Transformation of Hunger: The Demand for Calories Past and Present

Trevon Logan, Journal of Economic History, June 2009, Pages 388-408

Abstract: According to conventional income measures, American and British industrial workers in the late nineteenth century were two to four times as wealthy as those in developing countries today. Estimated calorie expenditure elasticities of American and British industrial workers based on the 1888 Cost of Living Survey are greater than calorie elasticity estimates for developing countries today, which suggest that yesterday's wealthy workers were hungrier than today's poor. The result is robust to numerous criticisms. The finding implies an extraordinary improvement in nutritional well-being among the poor in the last century that has not been captured by our income estimates.


Okay, you may not speak German.

But, this video of the Bergkirchweih gives you an idea of the current events here in Erlangen. Here is the home page: Mai 28 - Juni 8---Prost!

Though, lest you get the wrong idea, let me assure that my own participation is purely as an observer. Of course, I'd hate to be RUDE, and so I have a few beers. The big 1 liter ones. Per hour. Also, while it is certainly true that some of the young ladies wear dirndls that can barely contain their....enthusiasm, I always avert my eyes. No, really.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gentlemen: To The Hobos!!!

Visited NC for anniversary. Went with Ms. Mungowitz to the beach, at Wrightsville. And let me note that the beach makes Ms. Mungowitz a little bit crazy. In a very, very good way. MMMMMMmmmmm, the beach.

Anyway, on Tuesday, it rained really hard, most of the day. So we went to the train museum. Pretty fun. The highlights of the trip included a little kid who was SO excited about trains his grandma could not get him to leave. She even tried the McDonalds thing: "Aren't you hungry? For french fries?" Little kid stood his ground, though. "Yes, I'm hungry. But not hungry enough to leave the TRAINS!" Little kid was conducting his own free lance guided tours: "Stand over here! You can see better. Now look at this..." Very cute.

On the darker side, there was this sign: Is this a rarely used toast? ("Lets raise our glasses....TO THE HOBOS!") Or is it a kind of hunt, like "Ride to the see if they have treed any hobos!"

State Buys the Farm....

North Carolina is busy trying to buy itself an Apple orchard, a server farm.

Unbelievable. This is not a production facility. This is a set of large, dark buildings with extra HVAC.

Sigh. Clearly, it would be wrong to single out one company, and say, "We hate you. We are going to tax you extra, and use the money to benefit your competitors."

It would be wrong to do that to TWO companies. Or THREE. And so on.

Why is it okay to tax N-1 companies extra, and then give the proceeds to Apple?

One of the key principles advanced by Hayek, and Buchanan, is generality. You can't discriminate. If there is a tax benefit, it has to go to all businesses.

Is that weak? Would it allow lots of statist folly? Of course. But we are violating even that weak principle.

The ultimate counter-cyclical asset: A prudent politician's popularity

They're rare but they do exist.

Consider Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile. Her government steadfastly grew a "rainy day fund" throughout the latest commodity boom and her popularity took a huge hit. Now though, the rainy day has arrived, Concertación is putting up a giant umbrella and Michelle is in tall cotton:

"For Chile's governing Concertación coalition, prudence is providing a belated political boost. The government is more popular today during the global recession than it ever was during the copper boom years. President Michelle Bachelet has a 67% approval rating, up 25 points since last August."

I know that the linked article and others have given Finance Minister Andres Velasco a lot of credit for the prudent policies, but it was Bachelet's butt on the line. She appointed him, she gave him cover, and she stuck with him when people were burning him in effigy. To me, she is the hero of the story, not Velasco.

This is not to say that Velasco had it easy. According to the article:

Mr. Velasco's policies came under fire from within his own coalition, which feared being voted out of office. "Are we going to hand over to the Right a government with $20 billion or $30 billion in the till?" said Sen. Frei, who served one term as president in the 1990s. "That is crazy."

Bloggers mocked the handsome and well-groomed finance minister as el metrosexual. Some politicians saw Mr. Velasco as an out-of-touch, Ivy League technocrat. "I was a friend of Velasco's father, but the son is arrogant and would not listen," says Sen. Adolfo Zaldívar, who was drummed out of the Concertación partly because of his attacks on Mr. Velasco.

But again, the clear hero is Bachelet. She stood up to Frei (who currently is running a hideously bad campaign to be the next Concertación President) and booted Zaldívar. All Velasco had to do was cry his eyes out at home each night. After all, his fallback position was to go back to Harvard.

Hat Tip to the redoubtable Mrs. Angus.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brown paper packages tied up in string

Here is a list of my current favorite songs. They are not all new, but they all are currently in heavy rotation at Chez Angus and give me goose bumps and command my full attention when I hear them.

1. "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver. The best song on an amazingly good album

2. "Paper Lace" by Swan Lake. This is an excellent Spencer Krug song. 'nuff said.

3. "Girl on the Wing" by the Shins. They are still good, but that first album was just magic.

4. "Sycamore" by Bill Callahan. This song has haunted me over well over a year now.

5. "Little Bit" by Lykke Li. She is the bomb. I could have put "I'm good, I'm gone" here too.

OMG! Mungowitz has started a TREND

Just what I always wanted

Thank you Mr. President!! My lifelong dream of owning General Motors is on the verge of being realized. Yours too people! We will be getting the deal of a lifetime, a 70% ownership share.

What a sweet deal. Look at it this way. Who is gonna get all the gubmint contracts? Damn straight, it will be us! What's gonna happen when people still keep refusing to buy our cars? Can you say increased tax incentives boys and girls? Plus, our main domestic rival, Ford, was so stupid as to stay solvent so they will now have absolutely no chance going forward against us and our broker President O.

We are in the tall cotton now my friends. Kick back and enjoy.

With this new addition to our already excellent portfolio of Chrysler, AIG, BOA, Citibank and Fannie & Freddie, we are very, very close to step 3.

I think I'll use my earnings to buy a car!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hey Tyler: Waxman-Markey is a JOBS bill!!

No wonder Tyler can't suss out the Waxman-Markey Bill. He thinks it's about climate change. Silly pundit, everybody knows it's a jobs bill:


So...the Lovely Ms. Mungowitz had suggested that perhaps I should do something about the gray in my hair. Since I don't have to look at it, and the LMM is the one I want to be interested in looking, I said sure.

Got to go see family friend and oracle, Raquel. (Raquel also did the earlier hair work, btw). So, Raquel suggested we do the cap thing: And then once the chemicals are placed on the hair, you have to do the heat thing: The results....soon. I should note that Raquel is pretty darned excited about having a fellow Puertorriqueña on the Supreme Court, as was just announced (as a nominee, I should note....)

Some sad sentences about Africa

From Paul Collier in the Guardian:

"The global commodity boom that ended abruptly in September was the second since African independence. Africa has yet to diversify from dependence on primary commodity exports, so these booms were huge opportunities, pumping far more money into some governments than aid will ever do. Last year, Angola alone received from oil and diamonds more than double the entire aid inflows to Africa."

Why is this sad? Well (1) it is a very sorry state of affairs when aid flows are the benchmark of size for an entire continent. And (2) Collier thinks these booms were a wasted opportunity for development because they pumped so much money into some African governments (which is apparently a necessary precondition for development?)!

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with traditional aid flows is that they are government to government (or multilateral bureaucracy to government).

Collier lists Botswana as a country whose government used commodity boom money to "lift the society out of poverty", but if you look at the graph in the post directly below this one you can plainly see that Botswana is one of the few countries whose Human Devlopment Index score is way worse than what its GDP per capita would predict.


The rest of the article doesn't get any better, but is well worth reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Soylent green is PEOPLE!!

Economists often get criticized for being obsessed about GDP. We are told (correctly, I might add) that income is not the be all and end all and that other things are equally if not more important.

However, what people often miss is the instrumental argument that economists often make, viz. that income is extremely highly correlated with these "other things" and makes an excellent simple summary statistic.

For a great example of this kind of argument, see Srinivasan, T.N., 1994, Human Development: A New Paradigm or Reinvention of the Wheel? American Economic Review 84(2): 238-243.

Or you could just check out the awesome graph that Justin Wolfers just made:

That's right people, the rank correlation between the UN's Human Development Index and good old income per capita is .95 (out of a maximum of 1.0).

GDP: It's not just for breakfast anymore!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Bad Business

The latest in reality TV is coming to the History Channel: "Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingstone". Here 3 white guys and an ex-Miami Dolphins cheerleader turned anthropologist will re-trace Stanley's trek through Tanzania to find the lost Livingstone.


People, Henry Stanley, not to put too fine a point on it, was a true Mizzle-Fizzle. A lying, cheating, abusing swine. And a show about Whitey trekking through Africa is just so incredibly tone deaf and dumb.

Instead of watching the show, I recommend reading this book: "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror & Heroism in Colonial Africa"

Incredibly, the producer of the show (Mark Burnett of "Survivor" ) mentions retracing Pizarro's "path" through Peru as a possible follow up.


As a ps to this story, the intrepid NY Times seems a bit unclear about what causes malaria:

"modern conveniences were allowed. That meant no bottled water, and the greatest difficulty the expedition came to face did not involve the prevalent lions, snakes or bugs, but nearly nonexistent potable water. This led to what Mr. Burnett described — in oblique terms — as a true life-threatening event. “We had a real case of malaria,” he said."

Uh, sirs? Malaria comes from 'skeeter bites and 'skeeters is bugs!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yeah, there's an app for that

Pope Benny the 16th now has his own Iphone app!


Here's a preview of his profile picture:


Here, courtesy of Bob "Ironman" Lawson, is a short video showcasing the unique comedy genius of the Sklar twins (I am not ashamed to admit that I have actually done this more than a few times):

For any of you not familiar with the Sklars and their late lamented show, Cheap Seats, here are a couple of excellent clips from that series:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Confused on the concept

Wow. The house across the street from Chez Angus has had a long and bizarre history. Now it is up for sale again, but the sellers seem a bit confused about what kind of market they are facing as evidenced by this bit of signage we saw in front of the place this morning:

Have any of y'all ever heard of a 20 minute open house before?

A funny thing happened on the way to the coronation

What a great week for basketball, people! (Yes, Mizzle is not in the Dizzle so you are stuck with Angus over the holiday weekend). Somehow Orlando and Denver didn't get the memo about the Lakers-Cavs NBA finals.

After blowing the first game in LA, Denver looked disinterested and done in the first quarter of game 2, but turned things around behind the precision shooting of Linas Kleiza (!!!!) and evened the series at 1 each. My eyes were bugging out of my head at the sight of Carmelo Anthony chickenfighting with Kobe down on the blocks and overall giving a great defensive effort. Plus LA doesn't have anyone who can stay in front of Chauncey Billups.

In Cleveland, the Cavs were dominant in the first half, but in the second LeBron's supporting cast simply stopped playing and James actually ran out of gas at the end (though he had a spectacular game). Maybe it was the rust from 8 days off, but maybe it's gonna be a tough series. Either way, LeBron needs some help. Cleveland's bigs are helpless against Dwight Howard straight up and Orlando is very good at getting open looks at 3 pointers when help comes. I love to watch them get out on the fast break with the intention of taking a 3. It's just like when I used to play at GMU with Bob Tollison!

So far, the Association is 3 for 3 in the conference finals as all of the games have been compelling and exciting.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So Proud to be a North Carolinian

As it happens, I am flying back to the US tomorrow morning. Won't be back to Germany until Thursday morning. I will be visiting the lovely Ms. Mungowitz, and we will celebrate (a bit early) our 23rd wedding anniversary. We have reservations at Shell Island, up on the northern end of Wrightsville Beach. Notice it really is on the northern tip. Above it, only a long sandbar and some birds. How quiet and romantic!

In anticipation of going back to NC, I did look at the paper a bit on-line. And this article....well, just read it. These are my people, folks.

UPDATE: I missed this at first. One of the commenters on the article said, "This is unbelievable, but it is so sweet..This is the first time i have ever heard about a love story like this...well, possibly love conquers all."'am.... SHE....SHOT....HIM!

Barry Saunders: My Favorite NC Columnist

I really, really like Barry Saunders, columnist for the Raleigh paper. I admit, I have had him in twice to give talks in my classes, and he was great. Gracious, interesting, funny.

But the coolest thing is the columns that he writes. You actually don't know what he is going to say, or how he is going to react, to an issue.

For example, he recently discussed the "job" Mary Easley, the spouse of until-January governor Mike Easley. Ms. Easley had been given a 90% pay raise, for reasons that may be okay, but $170k is a big salary at NC State for someone who has never worked at a university before.

Barry Saunder's response

The question now becomes when will Mary Easley give up the ghost?

Her reluctance to voluntarily step down from a job paying her $170,000 is understandable, especially in this economic climate. They'd have to threaten me with the release of pictures of underage farm animals and me sipping piña coladas on the beach in a Speedo at sunset before I'd voluntarily go quietly -- and broke -- into that good night.

Barry is a large man, considerably bigger than I am. The vision of him in a speedo, with adolescent sheep, at the beach.....well, I am not going to get over it anytime soon.

Vivid imagery. That's all I'm saying. You don't get that from Krugman.


There are some very interesting "hundesalons," or grooming and style shops for pups.

My two favorites so far:

1. Doggy Style, on Hauptstrasse in Elrangen (no, I not kidding. Doesn't seem to have a web site. But that's the sign in the window: DOGGY STYLE. And then some photos of dogs getting haircuts. I like it a lot.)

2. Queer Dogs, in Tübingen.

People are pretty serious about dog haircuts, I understand. But each of the above is a little surprising in its innocence.

"They All Seem So Nice...."

So, some time ago now I promised to give the story of the Munich walking tour taken by the EYM and me. We chose the "Hitler's Munich" tour.

Now, sure, a guided walking tour is pretty hokey, but this one looked quite interesting, and it turned out to be darned good. Our guide, Shadlich, was Tunisian-French, and spoke terrific, idiomatic English. He also had a very dry sense of humor, and liked to ask questions and stare at us sadly while we all stared at our large comfortable American shoes.

Anyway, we did in fact, as the name "walking tour" suggests, walk around different parts of Munich, to the Hoffbrauhaus, to a number of squares and plazas where events happened in the period 1923-1934. I liked it a lot, and would recommend the tour. For one thing, you learn a bit about the streets and major platz-es. So, good for the tour generally, good for Shadlich in particular. (Washington Post story of someone who took EXACTLY this same tour. So I will leave out most of the details, which are told better in that column).

The other tourists, all American....the review is more mixed, I have to say. One lady, in particular...well, let me tell you. First, some background. There are a little less than 80 million people in Germany who call themselves "German." In the U.S., there are nearly 60 million people who call themselves "German," in the sense of being a "I'm half German on my mother's side," or something like that.

There are some parts of the U.S. where the proportion is much higher. Cincinnati, OH, for example. That is one German city on the river. So, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, "If you are blonde, blue-eyed, and look like you like beer, bread, and kartoffeln, and you are from Cincinnati, then you might be German."

Well, there was one woman on the tour....blonde, blue-eyed, substantially zaftig, and from Cincinnati. And she did feel free to share her views on a variety of topics. She was one of those people missing a clutch; if the brain turned over, the mouth rolled.

So, after we had been looking at the place beside the Feldherrenhalle, just before the Odeonsplatz, where the Nazis had put up a placque and memorial for the 16 Nazi martyrs killed in 1923, the failed putsch, we turned back toward the alley. Shadlich told us that people who walked by the memorial without giving the Nazi salute were likely to get (at best) an involuntary meeting with the Gestapo as a result. So, many people took the Viscardigasse, or "dodger's alley," to avoid walking past the Nazi memorial at all.

At this point, the obviously German woman from Cincinnati is moved to announce, very loudly, "What is wrong with these people? They seem so nice? How can people from Germany be so evil?"

This outburst produced a reflective silence, while Shadlich stared at his stylish German shoes. Then we went on the rest of the tour.

I do want to pose a question, though. Or perhaps just present a list, a "top 5." You may have your own favorites.

1. Systematic genocide of Native Americans, followed by consistent violation of signed treaties and contracts, guaranteeing land rights.
2. Slavery, then Jim Crow and segregation, AFTER passage of Amendments to the Constitution that clearly outlawed same.
3. Rounding up and interning thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent, including many who had sons serving at that same time in the American military
4. Propping up of heinous dictators all over the world, teaching techniques of "interrogation" that are, by any standard, torture.
5. The war in Iraq, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, more torture.

What is wrong the THESE people, who would do such things? Well, there are other things, too. Good things. There is no "those people," ma'am. America has done a lot of good things. And some really awful things. So has Germany. Germany has faced up to its past. I am not sure that the U.S. really has. Partly because some of our "past" is so recent, as in #5 above.

So, I am still proud to be an American, proud of our people, achievements, and institutions. We can do better. But we may need a little work on the "dealing with self-criticism" front.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Should Not Have Come.....

Clearly, it was a mistake for me to come to Germany.

I expected that the routine difference in availability and quality of beer would be a problem. And, sure, the universal quality of beer is higher, and the price is lower, than in the U.S. I can deal with that.

But....the bread. There is just no comparison. The bread, the pastries, almost anything's as if it is just a different product. Not just what you get at specialty bakeries. I mean the bread on the shelves at the cheapest grocery. The crust, texture, and flavor are better than you could find in the U.S. at 5 times the price. (To be fair, this might not be true in the Northeast, in Chicago, or in San Francisco. But in the areas I'm used to, in NC, it's not close: Germany 1, US 0)

Unfortunately, this means that I am likely to be flown back across the Atlantic, at the end of my sojourn here (August 1) with ropes attached to me, like the Hindenberg. My arrival will blot out the sun for an entire zip code. I should never have come....

Altruism Harms the Economy?

Too much of a good thing? Why altruism can harm the environment?

Gilles Grolleau, Lisette Ibanez & Naoufel Mzoughi
Ecological Economics, 15 May 2009, Pages 2145-2149

Abstract: Success of eco-labeling schemes, broadly defined, varies among products and across countries. Based on a simple theoretical framework, we show that the nature of environmental attributes among products (i.e., private versus public) and the consumer type (i.e., egoist versus altruist) shape the overall performance of such schemes. In addition, we demonstrate that altruistic consumers exhibiting a too high willingness to pay for the eco-labeled product can inadvertently prevent egoistic consumers from purchasing it, leading to a sub-optimal outcome in terms of environmental performance. Several policy and managerial implications are drawn.

Do you mean that perhaps Fair Trade does more harm than good? Russ and I talked about that, a bit. And I wrote this up....

So more evidence continues to pile up for a simple proposition:

[E]very individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

Perhaps that's not really surprising. The altruism folks, the tree-huggers and bed-wetters who want to force other people to act differently, are not really trying to help anyone. They are just trying to impose their own vision of "the good," using coercion instead of persuasion.

And, in fairness, I have to give props to Gavin K. The opposite of altruism is not "selfishness." It is honest self-interest, embedded in a community where charity is important, and in a bargaining setting where contracts are paid off. Further, I should quote Gavin's other point, on Smith's actual view of benevolence, from TMS. Quoting Kennedy, who then quotes Smith:

Anyone who had an interest in presenting a fair picture of Smith’s views of human nature, however, would also take account of the views he presented in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. For example: “The virtues of prudence, justice, and beneficence, have no tendency to produce any but the most agreeable effects. … In our approbation of all these virtues , our sense of their agreeable effects , of their utility, either to the person who exercises them , or to some other persons, joins with our sense of their propriety, and constitutes always a considerable, frequently the greater part of that approbation” (TMS IV, iii, 59).

Beneficence, benevolence, charity....all good things. Adam Smith clearly thought so, and I agree completely. Because those things, and the actions they imply, are MY choice, voluntary. Altruism-worshippers want to require me to sacrifice, because THEY think it is good for me. Poor A's need implies that altruistic B can rightly take from hard-working C to give to A, and then B gets to feel good about it! Quite a different matter.

(Nod to Kevin L for the journal reference, though he is emphatically not complicit in any of the conclusions I draw here)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Spargel is the German version of fresh sweet corn, only moreso.

You know how sweet corn, from a stand or picked fresh, is a different product compared to corn you buy in the store? How fresh white sweet corn is just....the best....with a little butter and salt?

Spargel, if you buy it in the store as "white asparagus," in the U.S. or maybe even outside of the southern half of Germany, is at best okay. Woody, tough, tasteless, dry.

but, if you get it fresh, from a roadside stand, oh man. The EYM and I had it boiled, cold marinated in viniagrette, creamed in soup, and then sauteed in butter (different spargel; not the same spargel). Just a little butter and salt, and that's as good as it gets. Which is what Garrison Keillor said about sweet corn.

UPDATE: A comment makes it clear that I was quite UNCLEAR above. What I meant was not that asparagus is corn, or that corn is asparagus. Rather, I meant that spargel plays a culturally central role in south German gastronomy, at least as important, and maybe more so, as sweet corn in the southern and midwestern U.S.

PK gets one right!!

When he says:

"So I’m actually reading Hyman Minsky’s magnum opus,... And I have to say that the Platonic ideal of Minsky is a lot better than the reality."

Mungowitz and I can attest to this from personal experience, but let's let PK elaborate:

"The rest is a long slog through turgid writing, Kaleckian income distribution theory (which I don’t think has anything to do with the fundamental point), and more."

Hyman P. had one of the best 15 minutes of wisdom ever, but that was pretty much it.

Oklahoman Synechdoche

I read PSJR sometimes. And then I read this, and shudder for our future. These are the scholars of tomorrow, in Poli Sci.

Let me reproduce the brilliant repartee:

is all of Oklahoma a bit slow?(11 posts)

Anonymous Unregistered
I just got my sorry but no thanks letters

Anonymous Unregistered
Oklahoma is a different kind of slow

Anonymous Unregistered
Yes. Once you cross the Red River, you're in trouble.

Anonymous Unregistered
Because Texas is known for its brilliance.

Anonymous Unregistered
everything's relative, yo.

Anonymous Unregistered
everything's relative, yo.: Don't let Bovine see this.

Anonymous Unregistered
Since one of the schools (I forget which) hired a President who had been fired from TTU, I would say that, indeed, Oklahoma is sloooooooooooooooooooow.

Anonymous Unregistered
Let's have Cameron and McCarty fight this one out.

Anonymous Unregistered
I like where this discussion is going, but it needs more Jas.

Anonymous Unregistered
Lib elitism is always such a wonderful sight.

Anonymous Unregistered
Right, liberal elitism caused them to take seven months to send out the letters.

When one university bureaucracy (dog bites man) is very slow, then one should conclude that the entire state is slow. So, no liberal elitism did NOT delay the letters. Liberal elitism caused the OP to confuse a university with an entire state's population. The places s/he flies over between New York and San Francisco...none of those universities hired you....again. It can't be because your work sucks, right? It has to be because "those people," all of them, are slow. They don't DESERVE you, pumpkin. You are much too good for all those slow Oklahomans. Keep telling yourself that. Maybe it will help.


Has anybody used Zotero? Does it work? Is it useful?

Monday, May 18, 2009

What is the antonym of "analysis"? ITEP Has Published That

Holy tax ripoff, Batman!

The amazing shills at Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy delivered this still born baby, right here.

Wow, that is one appallingly ideological analysis. If the state government were worried about the middle class, they wouldn't have socked it to them so hard over the last 17 years.

In 1992, MO state spending was $16.5billion (in 2009 dollars). The population was 5.2 million. So, in real dollars per capita, they were spending about $3,100 per capita.

In 2009, MO state spending was $25.1billion (in 2009 dollars). The population is now about 5.9 million. So, in real dollars per capita, the might MO state government is spending $4,250 per capita.

Remember, that is controlling for inflation, and controlling for population. MO has increased spending by nearly 40%, over and above any conceivable underlying explanation for growth. I don't know the comparison across states, but that is a truly gigantic increase. No wonder so many businesses have left Missouri; it's a freakin' banana republic!

Over and over in that ITEP document, the "analysts" say that cutting taxes will "cost" the state money for "needed expenditures." Two questions: How do you figure that letting people keep money they earned is a "cost"? The money belongs to the people, not the state. Cutting taxes is the opposite of a cost.

Second, is ANY expenditure unneeded? This document is clearly written by a bunch of shills who make their living off the people's taxes. (And you know that they just exactly...what the facts is).

It's possible that some middle class people will have their taxes increased slightly as a result of the Fair Tax legislation. But I would hope that having a chance of being employed by a private company, which might consider moving to Missouri if its tax structure were less like Nicaragua's, would be more of a concern for the enlightened state government.

Henry Waxman is a LOT more powerfull than I'd suspected

People, it appears that he can make laws in China!

I garner this from the latest column by the world renown environmental scientist Paul "the planet won't wait" Krugman. Writing in support of Waxman-Markey cap and trade PK says:

"One objection — the claim that carbon taxes are better than cap and trade — is, in my view, just wrong. In principle, emission taxes and tradable emission permits are equally effective at limiting pollution. In practice, cap and trade has some major advantages, especially for achieving effective international cooperation.

Not to put too fine a point on it, think about how hard it would be to verify whether China was really implementing a promise to tax carbon emissions, as opposed to letting factory owners with the right connections off the hook. By contrast, it would be fairly easy to determine whether China was holding its total emissions below agreed-upon levels."

So either US laws written by Waxman automatically apply to China as well, or the just the sheer majesty of the bill will induce the Chinese to rapidly follow suit?


The Worst Mexican Restaurant on Earth

I do need to make known the identity and location of the worst Mexican restaurant on earth. Yes, I am sure that there are worse places, in health terms, and maybe even quality of food (since some of the food we had there was, in fact, very tasty).

No, the reason that Chilli's (UPDATE NOTE, SINCE 10 COMMENTERS MISSED THIS: IT HAS TWO LL's; It is not the American restaurant chain. And just try to pronounce Chilli's, in Spanish; you will pull a muscle in your throat) on Spardoferstrasse in Erlangen is the worst Mexican restaurant in the world is that it claims to be a Mexican restaurant. It is not. I don't mean on the scale of Taco Bell in the U.S., where it is just Americanized Mexican food. Someone from Mexico might still recognize some of the things served at the Taco Bell (rice and bean, for example, some of the spices).

The EYM and I were pretty excited about going to Chilli's, since I speak Spanish a little, at least for ordering in a restaurant, and he speaks Spanish better than I do. So, no confusion over what is going on with the menu, for once. And, we will be able to talk to the wait staff, all of whom presumably are Latino, right. (I may have been fooled by the fact that in the U.S., even the Japanese people at Benihana are actually Latino. My bad.)

We go in, and are told (in good English, btw) that there aren't many tables open, and that we should sit by the bar at one of those tall tables. Fair enough. The waitress comes, and I say, "Querríamos nachos, numero once, and para bebir, un botello de agua con gas." (If you don't know what that means, then okay, because you are not a waiter in a Mexican restaurant. And if you know that I used the wrong form of the verb querer, then you DO speak Spanish, but still my order was pretty simple and clearly understandable by the standards of ordering in Spanish. The point is that nachos were #11 on the menu, and we wanted some, and some water.)

She stares at me as if I suggested something quite deviant. I try English, and that works better. The "nachos" come. They are chips two steps down from Doritos, with nasty nacho cheese powder (Mungowitz family joke: "That's MY cheese; that's notchyo cheese!"). Flat, really bad, nearly inedible. At least the dips are....awful. One cup of sour cream, and one cup of ketchup, with stewed tomatoes added. No cheese, no toppings...incredible.

Waitress comes back, and I try again. "Es verdad que estan abierto in las dias laborables? Para almuerzo? " We had come by for lunch, the previous day, and the place had been closed. Waitress says, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." I realized she really, really didn't speak Spanish. Asked again, and she said (a) they don't open until 17:30, and (b) the day we came, there must have been a really big party, so they were closed. Since we had come at 12:30, which is before 17:30, that didn't make much sense to me. But, okay, fair enough.

We ordered. I ordered camarones al chipotle. The EYM didn't really look at the menu. He just wanted quesadillas, and assumed. Mistake. When he said, "quesadillas," waitress frowned, looked at menu, and said "where is it?" He looks, takes a while to find it, a little flustered. To be fair, it is SUBSTANTIALLY misspelled in the menu. Waitress says, "Oh, you mean [strange word nothing at all like quesadillas]. What do you want on them?"

The EYM's eyes are starting to bug out a little. "Um...just pollo is fine." Waitress turns, goes back, asks guy behind the bar. They talk for a second. She comes back, a little testy: "Pollo is the Spanish word for CHICKEN!" Her tone implies that this is about the stupidest thing she has heard: chicken quesadillas? Unheard of. As Vizzini kept saying on "Princess Bride": Inconceivable!

The EYM and I are both amazed. I ask, "What DO you have for meat for the quesadillas?" As if speaking to a child, waitress says, "TURKEY!" (Okay, so there are quite a few recipes for turkey quesadillas; 7k+ mentions on Google. But... chicken quesadillas gets nearly 250k Google hits. I'm just saying that pollo was not an absurd answer.) (UPDATE: And, no it is not ridiculous for the wait staff to speak no Spanish. It just says that I had ridiculous expectations of feeling at home, instead of my usual total ignorance of the menu. A typically Americentric response, I think. I should get out more....)

The EYM is just trying to make this stop, at this point. He says, reading from the menu, "Just the chili, then." I order the shrimp, and the agony is over. (They did, I should note, and like pretty much every restaurant in Germany, have a very nice weissbier on tap, and so that helped us over the pain.)

The waitress brings the food. The "quesadillas" were rock hard, and filled with chili the clearly came from Chef Hormel-ito. Appalling. This was served with rice and beans and quacamole. NOT. It was served with some purple lettuce and cabbage, with a big dollop of mayo, and then some canned corn and canned navy beans. More of the sour cream, and more of the ketchup salsa.

On the other hand, my shrimp curry was quite good. The sauce had a very nice Asian tang, and the shrimp were crisp and seemed quite fresh. How "camarones al chipotle" became a shrimp curry dish, I'm not sure, but I have to give the chef credit there. Still, though, no rice, no beans, no cilantro, no trace of anything that I would call Mexican.

For the next two days, either the EYM or I could make the other laugh by yelling, "Pollo? POLLO?"

Here is the menu. Note that quesadillas is first spelled "quasadas" as an appetizer. (There is no known food called "quasadas," I want to point out). Then it is spelled with an "e", "quesedillas," as an entree. Note then the use of English all over the menu, in strange places.

Clearly, this is not a Mexican restaurant. It is a German restaurant trying to be like an American restaurant that serves food with Mexican names. Sort of.

(CLOSING UPDATE: As a commenter notes, "It sounds like you made an ass of yourself in public, and now you are bragging about it." Well, I don't mean to brag. But it is true that almost NO ONE is better at making an ass of themselves in public than I am. It's a special talent. Not just anyone can do it....More specifically, though, of COURSE it was dumb, and unreasonable, to expect the waitstaff to speak Spanish. Especially when my own Spanish is so awful (though better than my German). That's part of what I thought was funny about the incident. It says more about my narrow and parochial mind than it does the restaurant. But isn't it a little surprising that CHICKEN quesadillas was such an outrageoous suggestion?)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some Observations.....From Dland

Got the EYM on the train this morn, bound for the FRA Flughafen. Quite a week. We did our best to support the local beer and restaurant industry.

Some random observations:

1. Witnessed a fantastic, operatic dust-up between the Parking Enforcement guy and a woman who wanted to park. She had a piece of paper, and he kept alternating between refusing to look at the piece of paper and insisting that there was a specific line on the paper, to which he would point triumphantly, which meant that the woman was out of luck. They actually alternated in JUST the way an opera would have gone. She would wave her arms, and yell, with him standing with arms folded and then sing, "NOOOOOO!" to punctuate her questions. Then he would have a go, pointing behind her, pointing down the street, pointing at the cross bar that he refused to raise for her. Fantastic scene. The best parking argument I have EVER seen, made better by the fact we couldn't understand what they were saying. Getting shut down by the parking Gestapo is a universal human experience, one that transcends language.

2. The DBahn should have a disclaimer on their tickets, for the sake of full information. To wit: "The traveller should be warned, because of our combination of simple imcompetence and aggressive indifference to your need for timely travel, that you should completely ignore any ticket with a connection of less than 20 minutes. You will not make the connection, because we will probably dawdle and delay without warning or explanation."
If they would give you that warning, then you could try to make shorter connections (now the default, and withOUT warning), but it would be at your own peril. The problem is the discontinuity: there is an enormous difference between just barely making your train connection, and just barely missing your train connection. ESPECIALLY if you are trying to go (for example) to an airport. The regional trains, as far as I can tell, are ALWAYS ten minutes late, and probably more. You can guess what this means for the 8 minute connection that the DB "planners" (who probably drive to work, so they are not late) schedule as the default. I'm just asking for a sporting chance here, a little information.

3. Nuremberg. Very, very nice. The old part of the city: extraordinary. Albrecht Durer's home town. Very fine beer pretty much everywhere. "Drei im Weckla" means heaven for the those of us who work represent Herb. "Drei im Weckla" is three very fine little keyhole brats, in a most excellent weckla, or hard roll. A fine selection of spicy senfs, or mustard. All for 1.20 Euro. Or you can get six brats, a weckla, and a big pile of sauerkraut, for 3 euro. Food fit for kings, if the king is Herb Munger. I should explain the brats: the rule was that the butchers had to close, and that the city walls of Nuremberg had to close. But travellers still wanted those (really, really great) sausages. So, instead of obeying the state, or confronting the state (neither of which is the way of German business), they made the brats really skinny, so they would pass through the keyhole of the main gate. A kind of food-oriented glory hole, if you will.
4. Bamberg. Not what I expected. I had expected it to be smaller, for some reason. It is quite a large city. But the old part of the city, the extremely cool medieval part that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, begins when you cross the SOUTH branch of the river Regnitz. Many people had said "you should go!" to Bamberg, and they were quite right. Plenty of travel guides, so I won't go through the obvious things. But I would say this: If you are on a budget, and want to go early enough for a nice breakfast, just walk south on Luitpoldstr., straight from the Bahnhof, and stop at Nico's bakery and coffee shop on the right, right after you cross the North branch of the river, which you come to first. Enormous, fantastic pastries, and you will have trouble spending 6 euro for two people, for more than you can eat. The cafe looks out over the river, and it is steady but not crowded. Lots of locals come in to buy bread and stuff, but it is very pleasant to sit there, too. Then go ahead and cross the second (south) branch, and look around. Very, very steep. Wear comfy shoes. Two more things to do: (1) make sure you go up to the old Benedictine monastery on the Michaelsberg; (2) even if you are tired, make sure you leave a little time for the breweries up on Konigstrasse, north of the north branch of the river. (You can't go wrong, but here is my choice.) Little, local places with small beer gardens and lots of families just out for the afternoon. Didn't see a lot of tourists up here, just serious beer fans and local folks. (A photo of the BG at the Spezial...)

Our favorite beer, though, was the Mahrs Dunkel Weissbier. It helped that we enjoyed this most excellent beverage in the courtyard of the little restaurant behind the old Benedictine monastery at the top of the Michaelsberg. If it looks like a long way up, it is. But once you get up there, it is a long way down. Very, very fine view, very very fine beer.

5. Also in Bamberg, but deserving special mention....E. T. A. Hoffman. I had, to my shame, never heard of E. T. A. Hoffman, but the EYM is a big fan, both on the merits and because ETA Hoffman was a big influence on Nikolai Gogol, the author that the EYM studies and follows most closely. We tried to visit the Hoffman house, and museum. And the museum had a sign saying that it was "geöffnet," or open. But it was locked tight. The explanation was that it was open only 10 - noon on Saturdays. Since the time was then 10:45 am, this seemed like a pretty bad explanation for being both "geöffnet" and locked. But I do have to say that MOST of the places I have tried to visit in Germany have this attitude. The operators and employees are simply MUCH too busy and important to wait on customers. It's like that Monty Python skit, where if you try to get served, or try to get in the door to a place that is supposed to be open, then Eric Idle yells back at you, "You think YOU have it bad? When I was growing up we would have BEGGED just to be turned away from a museum. We were turned away and TORTURED! You are just SOFT, complaining that the museum should actually be open during the hours it is supposed to be open!" So, we had a good laugh, because it had taken us an hour to find the place, and we actually arrived in the two hour geoffnet window, and it was STILL closed. THEN, we noticed a series of semi-guerilla griffiti stenciled on the sidewalk, marking the path in the "E. T. A. Hoffman" tour. If ol' ETA had ever walked in a spot, then that seemed to be a spot on the tour. The stencils appear in strange spots, nearly a "Kilroy was here" anarchist blotch on the old city. We loved it, and made an effort to keep track of the strange places (there were DOZENS) where the E.T.A. Hoffman logo would turn up, on cobblestones or ancient roads. Someday, I'm going to try and go back and visit, if the curators of the museum ever decide to actually open the doors during open hours.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Apparently irony is not his strong suite

or, what do you do when the pot IS the kettle?

"President Barack Obama, calling current deficit spending “unsustainable,” warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries.

“We can’t keep on just borrowing from China,” Obama said at a town-hall meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, outside Albuquerque. “We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children’s future with more and more debt.”

Holders of U.S. debt will eventually “get tired” of buying it, causing interest rates on everything from auto loans to home mortgages to increase, Obama said. “It will have a dampening effect on our economy.”

Earlier this week, the Obama administration revised its own budget estimates and raised the projected deficit for this year to a record $1.84 trillion, up 5 percent from the February estimate. The revision for the 2010 fiscal year estimated the deficit at $1.26 trillion, up 7.4 percent from the February figure. The White House Office of Management and Budget also projected next year’s budget will end up at $3.59 trillion, compared with the $3.55 trillion it estimated previously.

Two weeks ago, the president proposed $17 billion in budget cuts, with plans to eliminate or reduce 121 federal programs. Republicans ridiculed the amount, saying that it represented one-half of 1 percent of the entire budget. They noted that Obama is seeking an $81 billion increase in other spending"


All this nonsense is part of the bizarre argument that after having run up the deficit by massive spending increases we now see that the deficit is unsustainable and the only way to fix the problem is to have the federal government take over health care:

"the president pledged to work with Congress to shore up entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. He also said he was confident that the House and Senate would pass health-care overhaul bills by August.

“Most of what is driving us into debt is health care, so we have to drive down costs,” he said."

Double Yikes!!

If you want to lower health care costs, why not abolish the AMA? Why not let more foreign doctors into the US? Why not let some types of care be done by people with less than a MD degree?

We allow supply to be artificially restricted and we subsidize demand and then we wonder why prices are high?

Triple Yikes!!

Sometimes bad can be good

The latest from Nathan Nunn:

"Because rugged terrain hinders trade and most productive activities,
it has a negative direct effect on income. However, in Africa rugged
terrain afforded protection to those being raided during the slave trades.
Since the slave trades retarded subsequent economic development, in
Africa ruggedness also has had a historical indirect positive effect on
income. Studying all countries worldwide, we find that both effects
are significant statistically and that for Africa the indirect positive effect
dominates the direct negative effect."

The full paper is here and it is recommended.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This ain't right

Slumdog Millionaire cost $15 million to make and so far has grossed $343.5 million (along with winning 8 Oscars). Yet, one of the child stars, specifically one of the two that totally make the movie lived until yesterday in a tarp covered hovel along side a sewer drain. Now that abode has been torn down and he lives nowhere.

So I got questions. Did the production company pay the boy's family but they spent the money on something else? Did someone in India bamboozle the family out of their money? Did the production company actually not pay these kids any substantive amount of scratch?

You know me, I get upset about the NCAA letting schools and coaches make $$ without cutting the performers ("student-atheletes") in on the take, so this is kind of bugging me. Sure maybe the kids or their parents signed a waiver or took what was offered, but as I indicated in the title, this just ain't right.

So now you know, Angus is some kind of crazy socialist!

J. Stewart Win, Donald Trump Fail

The little videos Jon Stewart does are sometimes tiresome, and sometimes pretty good social commentary. This one is pretty good social commentary.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Pageant of the Christ
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Look, she's wrong. She gets to be wrong. Or else maybe *I* don't get to be wrong. And I live to be wrong.

(nod to Ed Cone)

I Wonder if there are Economist flies?

A great news story, you may have seen it elsewhere..... Excerpt:

The flies "dive-bomb" the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot that hatches inside the ant eats away at the brain, and the ant starts exhibiting what some might say is zombielike behavior. "At some point, the ant gets up and starts wandering," said Rob Plowes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

The maggot migrates into the ant's head, Plowes said. Eventually, there is no brain left in the ant, and it starts wandering aimlessly, Plowes said. The wandering stage lasts about two weeks. About a month after the egg is laid, the ant's head falls off and the fly emerges ready to attack any foraging ants and lay more eggs.

Made me wonder if there are economist flies. No, really. This would explain why both Larry Summers and Paul Krugman, both really smart and really good economists, have been making no more sense than idiot zombies for the past six months now.

I guess we will know if their heads fall off.

Best Beer

After exhausting research (I mean exhausting, yes: we visited 11 different breweries or biergartens in a period of 4 hours at night, then 2 hours the following day), the EYM and I can answer the question....What is the best beer in Munich?

Unfortunately, our answer is boring, and it's the one that many people would give. I was hoping for some obscure and revolutionary insight.

But....the answer is.....The Weissbier brewed by Augustiner. It has three separate flavor sensations. First, just the cold, solid feel and taste of a hefeweissbier, unfiltered and tactile. Then, a terrific middle taste, crisp. Then a hint, a coquettish peak at a lovely ankle, a sweet biting breath of clove spice like the memories of her lip gloss on your first kiss, gone as soon as it you feel it.

And I have to admit that even the universally available Franziskaner, or Guttman, or Schneider, weissbiers, out of a bottle, are just fine, wonderful really. But Augustiner is clearly the best.

We tried HARD to avoid this choice. Augustiner is a touristy, standard beer, widely available in Munich. But it is really, really fantastic.

The response is likely to be that, no, no, the only REAL good beers are available after crawling up a mountain, taking a four wheel drive vehicle over a goat path to a monastery, something like that. At a minimum, I expect to hear, you have to take the dB to Bamberg to get good beer in Bayern.

And, maybe so. But I know this: the fact that something is not widely available does NOT make it better. The whole premise of Smokey and the Bandit was that Boss Hog wanted a really, REALLY special beer for the wedding. So....they went to all that trouble...for COORS! Bland American carbonated pisswater beer.

So, for anyone seeking the Bayerische weissbier experience, the basic tourist wisdom is actually true: Augustiner weissbier is a remarkable, complex, fantastic beer. If you sit in a biergarten and have four 0.5s, on a warm German day, you will be happy. And you will be in Munich, with all its charms. The day trip out to the country is worth doing, but for the trip, not for the beer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's official: I'm a pirate!

Mungowitz may have the pirate flagged GBIKE, but I just took the EU profiler quiz (courtesy of Matt Shugart) and was an 83.3% match to the Piratpartiet. Yes, that means what you think it means people, the Pirate Party!

This is fantastic!

Here's their logo:

I am not sure how this happened. I put in the usual bilge about open immigration, legal drugs, separation of church and state, personal privacy (maybe they thought I meant personal piracy?) and small government, and the 'puter spit out the Pirate Party!

If we had a Pirate Party in the US, I just might break down and vote.

Money multiplier.....The Best Video Ever


Tommy? You Picking Up Some Extra Dough?

English universities don't have a policy.....on sex.

(I almost said that they don't have a position, but caught myself).

No, really, it's a problem. Apparently you have to have a policy.

Protest! Violence! Chaos!

Okay, no. But there was a protest. Coming out from lunch with Helmut at the MENSA (a kind of student union/cafeteria), I heard cadenced yelling and whistles. Hoping to see how they do it over here, I scampered (waddled, actually; lunch had been a really nice schnitzel with spargel and hollandaise and big boiled potatoes) over to demonstration. You know, to get my....fair share...of abuse.

I was hoping for the classic U.S. protest. A nearly complete lack of logic, no clear focus, no actual demand. Short haired women. Long haired men. And indignation, probably based on the fact there is no real offense or demand.

But no, this was an actual protest, I have to give the kids credit. They were protesting a specific thing, and had a specific "demand." The "thing" was that the students are now being charged about 500 euros per semester toward the cost of their education. And the demand is to get rid of that thing.

The university system is doing a pretty slick thing. They are NOT charging tuition, or Schulgeld. They are, instead, charging "fees," or Gebühren. Many, many state schools in the U.S. are doing this, and there are plenty of protests and upset people. Here is some background on the situation in Germany.

A quote from the above cited article, portion written a young Mr. Beard:

STEPHEN BEARD: The first day of term at Ludwig-Maximilian University. Sebastian Urqs and his friends are staging a symbolic protest.

They've put up a series of steel hurdles by the university cafeteria, and they're inviting their fellow students to jump over them.

SEBASTIAN URQS: We're trying to say: "You're here at the university. And there are guys that actually don't want to have you here so they're putting hurdles in your way.

Tuition here costs $1,300 a year, the legal limit in Germany. Not much of a hurdle by American standards. But many of the students emphatically reject the American model. Stefan Liebl, who's studying politics.

STEFAN LIEBL: I don't think American universities are better. Some very famous like Harvard or Yale, only better for very rich people. The system in America, I don't like it.

The protesters claim that tuition fees deter thousands of young Germans from coming to university. There is not the same range of scholarships available here as in the U.S. And unlike American students, Germans are very reluctant to take out loans. Maria Dangwerra has to work two days a week to help pay for her studies.

MARIA DANGWERRA: It's kind of annoying that other persons who don't have to work because their parents are rich, they can sit in library and study. And I have to go to work and sometimes I feel that I should study more, but I don't have the time to.

BEARD: But education has to be paid for. Who do you think should pay for your university education if you do not pay it yourself?

DANGWERRA: I will pay. I mean I will pay in the future when I earn money, and I will pay my taxes. And I think it's the state who has to pay for education.

The state? What is this "state" thing you speak of? The French economist Frederic Bastiat said that the state is the conceit that each of us should endeavor to live at the expense of ALL of us. In these quotes above you hear that conceit, in full force.

Education is expensive. It is not free.
The question is, who should pay?
Should the people receiving the education be paying ANY PART of the cost?
If German Universities were MORE efficient than U.S. universities, about 50% more cost effective (they are NOT, by the way), then the cost per student at German universities is about 8,000 euros per year, or 4,000 per semester.

So, the question is this: Should students pay 1/8 the cost of their education, with taxpayers who do NOT have kids in school picking up 88.5% of the total? Or should taxpayers pay 100%, with the people making the decision, the students, bearing NONE of the costs of the consequences of the decision.

I was intrigued by the "I'll pay later" answer. The way to do that, if your education is actually WORTH something, is loans. Then you borrow the money, in effect, against your own future improved earnings. "I'll pay later" as a taxpayer, on the other hands, means I expect thousands of people who get no benefit from increased earnings to pay for most of my education costs, and I'll pay for a tiny portion.

There is no state. THERE .... IS..... NO ..... STATE. There are only people who have money taken by the state, at gunpoint, and people who received money from the state, as a way of buying votes, and obedience. The money received is the money taken. Do you students really think you have the right to make other people pay for your tuition, at gunpoint?

The demonstration, I have to say. Was pretty fun. I walked along. There were flags, loudspeakers, whistles. The police were very helpful, directing traffic, and making sure that the righteous indignation of the masses didn't spill over into delaying traffic unnecessarily. Cops were smiling, talking to the students (particularly the young women, I thought, but that may be uncharitable). It was quite a day.

Of course, it was during prime class time. But while "I was smoking dope and playing Wii" is not a good reason to miss class," it is likely that "I was trying to save free education as a basic right for all humanity in the future, but mostly for me, mostly now" is much more acceptable.