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.


Good news people!! We now do seem to have some initial numbers on the fiscal multiplier.

Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein's (in)famous report entitled "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan" included a graph of the projected path of the unemployment rate with and without the stimulus package. It's on page 4 of the linked document.

Well the good people from Innocent Bystanders have taken this graph and chunked on the actual unemployment numbers from March and April. That graph looks like this:

Yes, you are reading it right. The actual numbers are marginally ABOVE the "no stimulus bill" path. From this I conclude that either (A) the stimulus wasn't very stimulating, or (B) the authors are fairly poor forecasters, or (C) all of the above.


I am going to try to find more time to write about Munich soon. But today is my big teaching day. Some squibs:

1. The EYM pointed out that every city in the U.S. now has a Martin Luther King Blvd. He posed the question, "Does every city in Germany have a Martin Luther Strasse (Platz, Bahn, something). The answer appears to be "yes," since there certainly is one in Munich, the most Catholic city in the most Catholic region of Germany.

2. The train ride to Munich and back was uneventful and mostly on time. Boring, like it should be. I have had enough of exciting.

3. We did visit Haus Der Kunst museum, as suggest by recreational genius Angus. Gerhard Richter was in fact one of the exhibitions. I have not seen much modern art. But in terms of my own reaction, both emotionally and intellectually, this was clearly the best exhibit I have ever seen. One odd thing, however: the little speaker jobbie you get at exhibitions, to listen to some otherwise unemployed art historian tell you what it all means? Well, you go from number to number, press the button, and learn. And I have to say the CONTENT of these recordings, which were available in many languages, including English, was very good. But the pieces being exhibited were in RANDOM order, or nearly so. 1 was outside; fair enough. 2 was just inside the door. 3 was in another room, though 5 and 6 were in the same room as 2. 4 I didn't find until nearly the end; it was in another room. And so on: 8 was next to 14, then 15 (good), then you finally come to 9 and 10, in the next room. It is just possible, of course, that this was intentional. My own insistence that the numbers should develop in a logical, orderly also meant that time is linear, and patterns are revealed in a sequence required by physics. So, if the curators intentionally partly scrambled the order (only partly, not really random, but hard to tell what comes next, and the viewer has to CHOOSE what comes next, without knowing the consequences), then ....well played, Haus der Kunst.

4. Next post: Two much more lengthy descriptions of important questions. A. What is the best beer in Munich? B. What happens when fat Americans from Ohio go on a tour of Munich, following the development of the Third Reich in its home city, led by a French-Tunisian named Schadlich? Answers: A: Ha! You have to wait. B: Nothing good. They certainly embarrass the Americans from North Carolina, who are not easily embarrassed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

There is no "I" in team, but there may be sex

Female Mate Choice is Influenced by Male Sport Participation

Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde, Mark Eys & Krista Johnson
Evolutionary Psychology, Winter 2008, Pages 113-124

Sexual selection theory argues that females invest more heavily in reproduction than males and thus tend to be choosier in terms of matechoice. Sport may provide a context within which females can gain information about male quality to inform this choice. Males may be able to display attractive traits such as athleticism, strength, and physique to females while participating in sport. We predicted that females would favor males that participated in team sports over individual sports and non-athletes because team sport athletes may be more likely to display qualities such as the ability to work well with others and role acceptance. We used a questionnaire, a photograph, and manipulated descriptions to gauge the effects of sport involvement, attractiveness, and status on 282 females' willingness to participate in various types of relationships. Team sport athletes were perceived as being more desirable as potential mates than individual sport athletes and non-athletes. It is suggested that team sport athletes may have traits associated with good parenting such as cooperation, likeability, and role acceptance, and/or these athletes may be better able to assert dominance in a team setting. Results are discussed in terms of further implications and future research.


Alleviating Choking: The Sounds of Distraction

Christopher Mesagno, Daryl Marchant & Tony Morris
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, April 2009, Pages 131-147

"Choking" is defined as a critical deterioration in the execution of habitual processes as a result of an elevation in anxiety levels under perceived pressure, leading to substandard performance. In the current study, music was used in a "dual-task" paradigm to facilitate performance under pressure. Three "choking-susceptible" experienced female basketball players were purposively sampled from 41 screened players. Participants completed 240 basketball free throws in a single-case A1-B1-A2-B2 design (A phases = "low-pressure" and B phases = "high-pressure"), with the music intervention occurring during the B2 phase. Following completion of the phases, an interview was conducted to examine perceptions of choking and cognitions associated with the effects of the music lyrics. Participants improved performance in the B2 phase, and explained that choking resulted from an increase in public self-awareness (S-A). The music intervention decreased S-A, and enabled participants to minimize explicit monitoring of execution and reduce general distractibility.


When Superstars Flop: Public Status and Choking Under Pressure in
International Soccer Penalty Shootouts

Geir Jordet
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, April 2009, Pages 125-130

The purpose of this study was to examine links between public status and performance in a real-world, high-pressure sport task. It was believed that high public status could negatively affect performance through added performance pressure. Video analyses were conducted of all penalty shootouts ever held in three major soccer tournaments (n = 366 kicks) and public status was derived from prestigious international awards (e.g., "FIFA World Player of the year"). The results showed that players with high current status performed worse and seemed to engage more in certain escapist self-regulatory behaviors than players with future status. Some of these performance drops may be accounted for by misdirected self-regulation (particularly low response time), but only small multivariate effects were found.


'If the Team Doesn't Win, Nobody Wins:' A Team-Level Analysis of Pay and
Performance Relationships in Major League Baseball

Nicholas Miceli & Alan Huber
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, April 2009

This analysis of team-level major league baseball performance, for the 1985 through 2001 seasons, addresses four questions: (1) 'Is there a relationship between winning and performance?' (2) 'Is there a relationship between pay and performance?' (3) 'Is there a relationship between winning and pay?' and (4) 'Is there interaction between batting and pitching?' The findings are that: (1) the relationship between performance and winning is significant. Pitching explains 2/3 of the variance, with batting covering the other 1/3; (2) the pay and performance relationship is significant, but the practical importance of the relationships is low, because non-performance factors exert stronger influence on pay levels; (3) the pay and winning relationship is significant, but becomes non-significant when performance variables are used to predict winning; and (4) the batting and pitching interaction is significant, but weak, with limited effects. This type of analysis should help teams be managed more effectively than may presently be the case.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Today: Munich

Today, the EYM and I head for Munich, on the RE (regional express). Bought a "Bayern Ticket," for 28 euro. It is supposed to be good 9 am today until 3 am tomorrow, for up to five people. On pretty much anything except the ICE trains.

Thanks to AM, of Nurnberg, for taking me through the way to buy a Bavaria Ticket on the Fahrkart machine. Interesting that they have ways to purchase the ICE tickets (which are unbelievably expensive) in English. But if you press the "English" button on the machines, and then try to buy ANY of the discount cards, the machine suddenly forgets how to speak English, and suggests that perhaps the Amerikaner Schwein would like to pay full price? All of the discount tickets are multiple layers in, with ONLY German labels for the fields.

But AM had showed me how to press the right buttons, and I got the ticket. Two odd things happened, though.

A kid noticed (by standing six inches behind me, and poking his head over my shoulder) that I was trying to buy a Bayern ticket, and offered to sell me his, for only 22 euro. Since the legit one only cost 28 euro, and the tickets are emphatically NOT transferrable, this seemed odd to me. In fact, if you get caught trying to use a discount ticket that way, there is decent sized fine. There is a fine if you just fail to SIGN the sucker. But when I said no, the kid was pretty pissed off. "Everybody does it. It is common! You save six euro!" Look, kid, this is a discount ticket. You want to buy one, you don't want to buy one, okay. But I am not going to take a chance on getting messed with by the police (for having knowingly committed a crime!) for a lousy six euro. Reminds me of the (apocryphal) Winston Churchill story, about haggling over price.

The EYM noticed a street sign on a street with shop we wanted to remember. "It's on Einbahnstrasse!" It took me a full minute to realize that that meant "one way street." Good thing we figured it out. There are LOTS of Einbahnstrasse; we would never have found the shop again.

I have one word for you: Mix


Keeping the Hitter Off Balance: Mixed Strategies in Baseball

Jesse Weinstein-Gould
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, April 2009

Mixed strategies are a key component of game theory. Investigations into whether or not people use optimal mixed strategies have largely been limited to laboratory settings and have produced mixed results. Recently, the empirical framework has been extended into professional sports. This study uses pitch-level data from Major League Baseball games to see if pitchers mix their pitches optimally. The scope of this study is limited to the first pitch of a plate appearance and finds that pitchers are mixing optimally to have success on the first pitch of the plate appearance, but the null hypothesis of optimal play for the plate appearance outcome is rejected.


Optimizing Football Game Play Calling

Jeremy Jordan, Sharif Melouk & Marcus Perry
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, April 2009

Play calling strategies during football games are extremely important to the success of a team. In the past, coaches and players have subjectively determined the plays to call based on past experiences, personal biases, and various observable factors. This research quantifies these decisions using game theoretic techniques; updating optimal decision policies as new information becomes available during a game. A decision maker changes his perceived optimal strategy based on the information known about the opponent's strategy at the time of the decision. Additionally, utility theory is used to capture the different risk preferences of the decision makers. Furthermore, we use design of experiments and response surface methodology to optimize the risk strategies of each decision maker. By exploring the interaction of two football teams' risk preferences, optimal risk strategies can be suggested in the form of a varying mixed strategy. The techniques presented can be utilized in a precursory analysis to forecast different decisions a coach or player may encounter throughout the game, during a game to optimize each play called, or as a posterior analysis technique to dissect the decisions made and determine the effectiveness of the plays called. The procedures are easily transitioned to rapidly assist football teams or other sports teams in making better decisions through quantitative modeling and statistical analysis. A numerical example is presented to demonstrate the usefulness of the solution approach.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The EYM Comes to Erlangen, But the Trains do NOT run on time!

Wow, was I ever wrong.

I had told the EYM that the one thing he could count on was that the trains would run on time. At least, the ICE trains would run on time.

Well, thanks for playing, Mungowitz, The EYM got into Frankfurt about on time, went through the very simple German customs and immigration process for American visitors, went to the Fernbahnhoff station, bought his ticket....AND THE ICE TRAIN left 15 minutes late.

Since the connections are so tight (on the theory, now proved rather absurd, that the trains run on time), he missed his connection through Wurzberg, and had to reroute through a second stop, in Nurnberg.

As he waited for THAT train, he noticed a sign, something on the order of, "Dieser Zug nicht Treiben" Oh, really? Well, he was hoping that it would be Treiben him right up to Erlangen, like it was scheduled to do. He asked around, and of course there had been an announcement in German that the train was not going to be Treiben anywhere soon. So, yes, they did do what they were required to do, over the loudspeaker.

But I am less concerned about the proper announcement of sucking than I am making some attempt to STOP sucking. When I talk to colleagues about the trains, I do get the impression that I was overly impressed before. The trains emphatically do NOT run on time, for the regions. ICE is better, but only marginally. "Better than Amtrak" is a pretty low standard. And "more expensive than airline tickets" (which German trains are, for the same city pairs!) is also not a selling point.

Why have a police state, if the trains don't run on time? Yikes.

The GBike is Revealed

Some readers (well, one, BR) had asked a for a picture of the Gbike. And I can understand that. When one lives the glamorous sort of life that I do, then people just naturally want to know more.

So, I took this video of the Gbike and its accessories. Enjoy.