Saturday, June 13, 2009

Binh Minh in Frankfurt

Had a first rate dinner last night. Some (three) fine hefeweizen at the hotel, talking to the other conference participants. A really terrific group of folks, very diverse, with interesting backgrounds.

Then, off to Binh Minh, a Vietnamese restaurant, on Ostendstrasse. It is SUCH a tourist cliche, but I have to say it: The soups. Lord, the Vietnamese soups are good. You just can't go wrong. At our table, as for entrees, I'd say the duck was perhaps a little dry, but good. The seafood dishes were good, the vegetables wonderful, and my slurpy "Big Boy" bowl of noodles (the restaurant didn't call it that, but Hartmut Kliemt DID call it that, and my table gleefully took up the cry) was just fine.

I got to walk back with Tony de Jasay, who doesn't see well. He took my arm, to steady himself on the cobblestones and curbs. We had the most delightful talk. What a great guy. Some people are just overwhelming, without trying to be. Tony is nearly blind, and nearly deaf, and still WAY more interesting and charming than I am.

The Lovely Ms. Mungowitz, and the Younger Younger Munger, arrived here in Frankfurt without incident. They are upstairs having some well-deserved naps in our hotel rooms. Tonight: I buy the YYM his first legal bier. And we all go out to dinner. It should be fun. We are crossing the river Main, and going to the art museum....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Her name is Rio

But it's pronounced " hee-ou"!!

Mrs A and I are here enjoying the city and the glorious clusterf"&@k that is LASA.

The line to pick up conference materials for preregistered and prepaid participants was about a kilometer long. The average distance from a conference hotel to the conference site is about an $8 cab ride. It's also weird to hear so much Spanish and English being spoken in this place.

Brazilian Portugese is a beautiful language to hear, but pretty hard to understand, at least for this SSL'er.

Sunday we head inland

Whoa! I need help: What to do in Paris?

All right, internationalista KPC fans. The Mungowitzei need some help, here. What are we going to do in Paris?

Check this weather forecast: We will be there for two full days, Monday and Tuesday....

Monday: Heavy rain, local flooding, thunderstorms, high of 23 C

Tuesday: Heavy continuous rain, extensive local flooding, high of 24 C

Not a lot of walking. Apart from the obvious (i.e., art museums), what should we see in the monsoons of Paris?

Sports Roundup....

I don't have tv back in Erlangen, so I'm pretty darned excited about having CNN international and BBC World News TV here in Frankfurt. No one is better informed than KPC readers, of course, but permit me to give a world sports roundup.

1. Ronaldo to Real Madrid? Really? Un segundo Galáctico? To go with the unfortunately named Kaká? I can't think of any sports figure in the U.S., in any sport, whose move would cause such a furor. I do suggest that we start calling overpaid and underperforming U.S. baseball stars "Galácticos," however. An excellent form of snidery.

2. A wide variety of frenetic light-skinned ectomorphic males scampered across different courts pursuing a fuzzy yellow ball. There are some people who care. I have to admit I don't.

3. A wide variety of different genetic freaks, of many different skin hues and nationalities, scampered around a wood court pursuing an orange leather ball. They play by the same rules as used by the World Wrestling Federation, based on your stature as a player. If Kobe ("Galactico") Bryant misses a shot, the refs call a foul. If a lesser player makes a shot, the refs call a charge. The crowd cheers for their favorites, and the outcome is decided in advance by the participants, and executed in barely disguised choreographed fakery. By comparison, tennis is an interesting sport.

And...that's it for World Sport. Back to Christiana Amanpour for her report on the Iranian election being held today.


A big day in local news here

A pretty big day in local news here in Germany.

1. Boy hit by meteor on way to school. (Really, I think, though the comments here do make it me wonder if this is simply a hoax....).

2. Archeologists dig up 800 year old shoe. (I hope it is not the last....)

3. The Neo-Nazi NPD is picking up seats and votes in local elections. The key issue is opposition to foreigners from the Middle East and from Central Europe. To show you how big an idiot I am, I went to the NPD web site, thinking that they might have an "English" button. But why would they? That would be like the American "English Only" people having a button for "En Espanol."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What de Jasay?

I am in Frankfurt for a Liberty Fund Conference, on the writings of the estimable Anthony Jasay. (You have to like the modesty of the web site: "You should find visiting [the web site] both stimulating and instructive." It is always useful when people give you instructions on what your reactions should be. Saves you having to think independently, which can be both tiring to put this.....well, people might otherwise get stuff wrong.

And, Ms. Mungowitz will be here Saturday. Then....Paris.

Staying at the Steigenberger Hotel in Frankfurt City. Got here on the DBahn, and I have to admit it went well. Very crowded, but early on both trains, and since I had a reserved sitplatz, with a table, I enjoyed the trip. It is not as interesting when things go well, I admit. But since I have been so whiny, I should also acknowledge that this trip was excellent.

Delta WiFi

Delta plans to have WiFi on all its flights!

$10 for less than three hours, $12 for longer flights.

That is really pretty great, from my perspective. But how will they handle:

1. Access to power? Or will everybody have to bring extra batteries? That's
a lot of extra weight, and some fire risk.

2. Censoring content? Apparently, they are going to censor dirty stuff, stuff they think is dirty (I hope they cut out Keith Olbermann), and any kind of VOIP. There may be an arms race between cat and mouse. I guess this means Delta will be taking lessons from China on how to restrict internet sites. Ick.

3. Security? Sitting right there, so close, for hours. An enterprising scammer can buy tickets just for the purpose of stealing stuff, if it is all wireless.

Still, this would be very, very good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Owie! Richard Feynman dishes

Nod to Mel

Thinking About Obama Doesn't Make Me Smarter, But Living in Germany Might....

The Obama Effect: An Experimental Test

Joshua Aronson, Sheana Jannone, Matthew McGlone & Tanisha Johnson-Campbell
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Past research on stereotype threat and role model effects, as well as a recent quasi-experiment (Marx, Ho, & Freidman, this issue) suggested the possibility of an "Obama effect" on African American's standardized test performance, whereby the salience of Barack Obama's stereotype defying success could positively impact performance. We tested this reasoning in a randomized experiment with a broad sample of college students from across the country. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that students prompted to think about Barack Obama prior to taking a difficult standardized verbal test would improve their performance relative to white students, and to African American students in control conditions that were not prompted to think about Obama. Our results did not support this hypothesis. Test scores were unaffected by prompts to think about Obama and no relationship was found between test performance and positive thoughts about Obama, a disconfirmation of both the findings and conclusions of the Marx, Ho, and Freidman study.


Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity

William Maddux & Adam Galinsky
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 2009, Pages 1047-1061

Despite abundant anecdotal evidence that creativity is associated with living in foreign countries, there is currently little empirical evidence for this relationship. Five studies employing a multimethod approach systematically explored the link between living abroad and creativity. Using both individual and dyadic creativity tasks, Studies 1 and 2 provided initial demonstrations that time spent living abroad (but not time spent traveling abroad) showed a positive relationship with creativity. Study 3 demonstrated that priming foreign living experiences temporarily enhanced creative tendencies for participants who had previously lived abroad. In Study 4, the degree to which individuals had adapted to different cultures while living abroad mediated the link between foreign living experience and creativity. Study 5 found that priming the experience of adapting to a foreign culture temporarily enhanced creativity for participants who had previously lived abroad. The relationship between living abroad and creativity was consistent across a number of creativity measures (including those measuring insight, association, and generation), as well as with masters of business administration and undergraduate samples, both in the United States and Europe, demonstrating the robustness of this phenomenon.

The Contemporary Presidency: Decision Making in the Bush White House

James Pfiffner Presidential Studies Quarterly, June 2009, Pages 363-384

The White House Office is so large and complex that a systematic process of policy evaluation is essential in order to provide the president with a range of options on all important policy decisions. Some of the most important decisions that President George W. Bush made in his first term were taken without the benefit of broad deliberation within the White House or cabinet. This article will take up four cases of policy decisions to illustrate the lack of a regular policy process and consultation that characterized many important decisions of the Bush Administration. Two focus on detainee policy: the military commissions order of November 13, 2001, and the February 7, 2002, decision to suspend the Geneva Conventions. And two are about the war in Iraq: the initial decision to go to war and the decision to disband the Iraqi army. The pattern that emerges from an examination of these four decisions is one of secrecy, top-down control, tightly held information, disregard for the judgments of career professionals, and the exclusion from deliberation of qualified executive branch experts who might have disagreed with those who initially framed the decisions.


The persuasiveness of the straw man rhetorical technique

George Bizer, Shirel Kozak & Leigh Ann Holterman Social Influence, July
2009, Pages 216-230

The straw man technique takes place when an opponent's argument or position is distorted or oversimplified so that it can easily be refuted. Two experiments assessed the technique's effectiveness. Participants read two passages ostensibly written by two people competing for a public office, the second of which did or did not include a straw man argument. In Experiment 1, participants led to believe that the office was of low personal relevance were more persuaded by the straw man technique. In Experiment 2, participants low in need for structure were less persuaded when a candidate used the technique. Our research therefore suggests that whereas the straw man may be effective when motivation to elaborate is low, the technique may be unsuccessful or even backfire when such motivation is high.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Roland the headless Thompson gunner*

Even though we are about to leave for Brazil, I have recently finished reading 4 books about the Congo. All are good, two especially so.

1. King Leopold's Ghost. 

Excellent book about Leopold, Stanley, the operations of the "Congo Free State" and the people who tried to expose it. Highly recommended.

2. Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the cold war in a hot zone. 

Interesting account of the events around independence, the murder of Lumumba and the rise of Mobutu. Marred however, by the author's repeated attempts to portray himself as a combination of Gary Cooper, Jackie Chan, & Jesus.

3. In the footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the brink of disaster in Mobutu's Congo.

Documents, on the macro level, the corruption machine that was Mobutu. Tries to do Kremlinology, Congo style, on his courtiers and family. The whole Mr. Kurtz tie in was strained as was the tact of starting at the end before jumping back to the beginning. I struggled a bit to finish this one. I did like very much the idea that the reign of Leopold paved the way for the reign of Mobutu that the author argues for passionately.

4. Facing the Congo.

First person account of an American's quest to descend the Congo river on a pirogue "solo" (quotes because he ends up with a guide and a soldier). This was my favorite of the bunch. It puts you inside what Leopold + Mobutu had created in the Congo and doesn't let you out. The book puts in the human side that book #3 really glosses over.
Probably best read last if you are going to read any of the others. Gets Angus's highest recommendation.

*(he killed to earn a living and to help out the Congolese)

Requiring Information, Allowing Choice

An interesting question for Libertariana: Should accurate, consistent food labelling be required? This argument for consistent labelling, in the EU, makes some sense. Many people have allergies, some of them deadly. My nephew has an extreme nuts (and other stuff) allergy. Angus himself has some food issues. (I have some issues, including my "see food" diet, but labelling won't help that much). Should contents be listed clearly and accurately, and should the state prosecute deviations? One big problem, as described in the article, is nuts.

Or should we (quoting Tony McCaullife, responding to the demands from General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz
that he surrender Bastogne, on December , 1945) just say:


(Nod to Warden, who knows things)

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Interview with El Mercurio

El Mercurio had some questions about Barack Obama.

And, did I have answers? You bet I did.

El considerable aumento del gasto fiscal ya no sólo pone nerviosos a los partidarios de un gobierno reducido, con una mínima intervención en la economía, coinciden expertos. Cada vez son más los temores de que la carga en las finanzas federales termine por empeorar la situación, especialmente para la clase media.

Pero, "en este momento, los estadounidenses quieren creer en el programa de Obama. Ha hecho un buen trabajo mostrando su "estampa presidencial". Y la gente simplemente ama a la Primera Dama, Michelle. Así es que pienso que tiene otros seis meses para tratar de hacer más cambios", apunta el especialista de la Universidad de Duke, Michael Munger.


What If They Had an Election, and Nobody Cared?

Germany (along with most of the rest of the countries incontinent) had an election on Sunday. The tension and excitement were....nonexistent.

I have to admit, I like that. Having an election where nobody really cares what happens is a good sign, because it means that the level of government theft and corruption is relatively stable. The problem with the U.S. election of 2008 was that the prospects for really Rococo theft was enormous, regardless of who won. (And, so it has turned out).

So, here is the tale-o-th'tape:

CDP/CSU alliance, led by GWB backrub victim Angela Merkel: 38%, down from nearly 45% in the 2004 version. A creditable performance for what is in effect a midterm election for a rulilng party.

The SPD "Vote for us, and we will give you other people's money!" party led by...well, "SPD Leadership" is an oxymoron. Anyway, they actually LOST votes compared to 2004, a remarkably inept performance. As Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “This is a disappointing result -- there’s no talking our way out of it.” Disappointing? That's like saying the Titanic had a little leak. The most likely explanation for the SPD pratfall is low turnout, but since the SPD was hoping to capitalize on unhappiness with the economy, the low turnout is the FAULT of the SPD. If people didn't care enough to go vote, they can't be very upset, or else they think that the SPD doesn't have the answer.

FDP, the "Party of Dentists", the self-styled "Liberal" (in the Euro sense) group, did very well, knocking back 11%, a pick-up of nearly 5% from 2004. But there the low turnout helped (rich college educated people ALWAYS vote). So the big percentage for FDP simply means that the denominator wasn't very big. No reason to believe that that 11% is a hard number, in forecasting the September 27 German Bundestag elections. If FDP can get 10% or more there, it would be a miracle. It would also mean that Angela Merkel and the CDP would be able to partner with FDP, and form government on the liberal center-right. Don't hold your breath, though, not likely unless turnout is unexpectedly low on September 27.

The fruits (Green Party) and nuts (der Linke) squabbled and bickered their way to 12% and 7.5%, respectively. Both of those totals are basically the same as in 2004, allowing for changing "freak of the month" leadership on the hard left. (Der Linke is the conservative, "restore the petty Communists to power" party in the East, and the far left party in the West. Must make for interesting strategy meetings....I do enjoy the "Dear Comrade" thing)

Turnout was 43%. More important, there was no campaign, at least not by American standards. A couple of posters on some signboards, and a few people in tents, handing out literature in a desultory way.

But no one really seems to care about EU elections. I like that in a country: turnout should be ZERO, in a properly functioning democracy where threats to liberty and property are minimized.

(The 2004 results)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

GOAT parade

Roger Federer wins the French Open, completing his career slam and tying Pete Sampras with 14 majors. He didn't have to beat Murray, Djokovic, or Nadal, but he beat everyone they put in front of him and is now clearly tennis' GOAT.

Eldrick Woods comes from 4 behind, shooting 65 to win the Memorial tourney with two incredible approach shots on 17 and 18. He is also tied with Sampras and Fed with 14 slams, and even though he needs 18 to tie Jack Nicklaus, I am gonna go way out on a limb and say Tiger is golf's GOAT.


If they are yelling at the same kids, they must be married

It's been posted a number of places, for years, but if you haven't seen it, here are some "quotes" (which could be real) from first-named sources. But, even if they are made up, they made me laugh.

"MARRIAGE" explained by kids
-You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming. -- Alan, age 10
-No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with. -- Kristen, age 10
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then. -- Camille, age 10
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. -- Derrick, age 8
Both don't want any more kids. -- Lori, age 8
-Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. -- Lynnette, age 8
-On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date. -- Martin, age 10
-When they're rich. -- Pam, age 7
-The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that. - - Curt, age 7
-The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do. - - Howard, age 8
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys . Boys need someone to clean up after them.
-- Anita, age 9
There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there? -- Kelvin, age 8
Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck. -- Ricky, age 10

Derailed, and a Wonderful Bar-B-Q

It all sounded so simple. Take the DBahn to Nuremberg, switch trains, take a nice regional express to Regensburg, a beautiful and ancient city. Walk around and see the sights until 3:30 pm, and then get picked up to go to a very fine Bayerische barbq at the nearby country home of one of the Department’s Lehrstuhls, or head professors.

Well, those plans gang aft agley, don’t they.

I get to the Erlangen Bahnhof at 8:45 for a 9:08 train to Nuremberg. (I can’t help it, I have this time thing: I hate to be late). Cloudy, cold, about 10 degrees C. It turns out that on the same platform, leaving at 8:58, there is a Nuremburg! So, I take it. I only have a short connection in Nuremberg to catch my train to Regensburg, and my experience with connections less than 20 minutes has not been good. Meaning earlier is better.

Train takes off, and since it is a Regional Express it doesn’t stop every kilometer, but makes good time. But, as we are pulling up to Fürth, the conductor starts this long announcement. Except that this is not a bored voice announcement. I could make out a few words, and they were not happy-making words. “U-bahn” means subway. And “nuen uhr achtundzwanzig” means that I am going to miss my train. Construction, wreck, system management with their thumbs up their bums, SOMETHING means that our train is going to stop, we are going to have to get off, and we are on our own.

We stop in Fürth, and the entire train, many people with suitcases, hustle down to the subway platform (half a kilometer walk, at least, from the platform). Many people running. Old people doing their best not to fall down. And we all get there...and wait 12 minutes (I measured). No subways in the direction of the train station. Two trains come by heading the other direction.

So, the train does show up at 9:31, and I look at the map. The Nuremberg Bahnhof is ....TEN stops away. And we are packed in like sardines. Who knew that the Ubahn was so crowded at 9:30 am on a Saturday? A lot of this was overflow from “Mistah Kurtz’s train, it dead,” I understand, but people were still trying to get on at every station.

One poor guy tries to get off to let some people behind him off, because he had a big suitcase. Steps off the train, people get off the train, and of course the army of autistics waiting to get ON the train just push past him. Poor guy tries to get back on, but there is really not much room. He did what Angus would have done, and use the suitcase as a battering ram. That got him halfway in, but then the doors close on his arms. He tries to pull back, but the doors close again....on the suitcase....and he drops it back into the train! Doors close, he beats on the door, people stare at him. He starts jumping up and down and yelling in German. And....the train leaves. I think that Nuremberg does have a “no driver” subway system, but this was a time that a bit of humanity would have been most useful.

We get to Nuremberg, we all run up the stairs, and ...find that we have all missed our trains, probably by something between 2 and 5 minutes (I missed mine by 3). I rebooked on the 10:31 am ICE (since it was an ICE, it should have been more expensive, but they stamped my ticket as valid because I had missed my connection). And then for 45 minutes I watched as person after person, on different platforms, read the little tiny sign that told them that the “zug” was NOT leaving from this platform after all, and that they needed to take the “ersatz” route, on the FREAKIN’ SUBWAY. There was no hint of this engineering abortion anywhere in the station, no employee, no announcement. So people come to their platform, read the sign, jump straight up in the air and say "Ach!" ike cartoon characters, point and chatter to each other, and then run down the stairs to try to run to catch the subway so that they can just miss their northbound train in Furth. I must have seen 20 people do that. Train stations are always jostle-y, but this was mad.

And I also saw at least three old ladies, confused, and in tears, trying to ask people who just shrugged and looked away. I tried to help one of the old ladies, but I couldn’t convince her that she had to take the Ubahn. (It made no sense, I admit, but it happened to be true). So she sat and cried, and waited for twenty minutes. But no train came. There were no trains northbound. They were all piled up in Furth. Finally, DB employee came up onto the platform, and the old lady asked her for help. The DB woman took the elderly woman down the stairs, and I assume that somebody did something.

But, look:
1. The train from Furth to Nuremberg is an eight minute trip, max. The subway is a 25 minute trip, minimum. You can’t run a train that way, ensuring that every passenger misses his or her train. They have to have busses, or something, meet each train, no waiting.
2. Why not make some effort to warn people, heading north? At least, because I was southbound, I had a conductor make an actual announcement, with some details. True, it was in German, but that is my fault for only speaking English. The average German passenger at least knew what to do, and we could all follow each other. The northbounders starting in Nuremberg had no chance of finding out any details of what they were to do, until they got on the platform. And for elderly people or the easily confused, that is just not good enough.
3. When my ICE train did show up, at 10:36 (five minutes late), there were so many people with suitcases trying to get on that there were pushing and shoving matches. I did see one actual fight, and I have never seen that before. It was medieval. And there were exactly zero employees, except for the zen-master conductors who stood placidly to watch. They never help with baggage, not even for old people. And it is because there is a "norm" of no tipping, out of concern for the dignity of the conductors. Gee, I'd hate to insult one of the conductors by getting some help.

I had a number of people, back in the U.S., tell me that I would enjoy the ease of train travel here in Germany. They were, for the most part, people for whose own personal ideologies the fiction of blissful mass transit is important. Folks, you need to open your eyes, or else maybe come back, because things have changed. This system is on the verge of collapse. Certainly, if I had baggage, or children, or was traveling with an elderly parent, I’d rent a car or find some other way of getting around. I can push my way on; in a medieval system, I'm big enough to win. But I don’t want to have to.

Finally, let me note that the food, and fellowship, at the barbq, was really fantastic. A very enjoyable evening, once I got really far away from the DB and much closer to the beer, bread, and brats, and lots of them. A very sincere thanks to H.D.P. Kaufmann and his terrific family. And thanks to Sebastian and "Oma" for the ride home, on the autobahn. My first time.