Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pot? Meet Kettle!

So in the process of inviting Dutch EU parliment member Hans Van Baalen to leave the worker's paradise of Nicaragua, the deputy foreign minister, one Manuel Coronel Kautz, called Holland a "Paisucho", which is being translated as "shitty little country" or "crummy little country".

The Nicaraguan government has apologized.

Apparently Manuel Coronel Kautz is known throughout Central America for his colorful and folkloric utterances.

People, if Holland is a shitty little country, what in the world does that make Nicaragua?

Anyone? Bueller?

Friday, November 20, 2009

An inconvenient truth, but for how much longer?

In a comment on my earlier post about Hugo Chavez's adventures in authoritarianism, Globetrotter asked, "I wonder what they will do next?"

Well we didn't have to wait very long to find out:

President Hugo Chávez wasn't pleased with data released this week that showed the Venezuelan economy tumbling into a recession. So the populist leader came up with a solution: Forget traditional measures of economic growth, and find a new, "Socialist-friendly" gauge.

"We simply can't permit that they continue calculating GDP with the old capitalist method," President Chávez said in a televised speech before members of his Socialist party on Wednesday night. "It's harmful."

Mr. Chávez's comments came shortly after data showed Venezuela's gross domestic product -- a broad measure of annual economic output -- fell 4.5% in the third quarter from the year-earlier period. It was the second consecutive quarterly decline, and observers have questioned how Mr. Chávez will be able to generate growth without high oil prices.

Indeed it is harmful, Hugo. Harmful to your bid to be President for life.

Comments on "Late" Article

More from the comments section of the "Sorry I'm Late" piece in the Chronicle. A comment, and my response (yes, I am going all Don Boudreaux on you. But at least my "letter" got published, even if only in a comments section):

62. consideritdone - November 19, 2009 at 07:09 pm

I'm fascinated by this thread in part because I am among the chronically late and have tried various techniques to remedy this habit, with uneven success. I recognize that some people choose to find my lateness a personal affront, and perceive that I value my time more than theirs. This is not the case.

I'm not late because I hate waiting. That has nothing to do with it. I am late because I overcommit, because I underestimate how long tasks will take, because I am a workaholic, and especially because few meetings that I attend actually begin at the appointed hour. Given the choice of arriving early or "on time" and doing some pre-meeting socializing (which can be valuable and fun, too) or finishing the sentence I am writing, I will almost always choose the latter. Then I arrive after the appointed hour. This might be late, or it might be "on time" if on time is defined as the actual moment at which the meeting begins. I never know in advance which outcome will come to pass. (So maybe I am often late because I am a gambler?)

My point is that the variability of actual start times compared to "advertised" start times contributes to lateness. In my town, there is a certain theater that begins movies after the advertised start time when there are still a lot of people in line to get tickets. I imagine they think they are being polite. What they are doing is training their patrons to be late. (And some of us need no assistance with this, as I've confessed.)

I'd suggest that in Mr. Munger's academic culture, the norm is that meetings do not begin at the appointed hour, yet he has not adapted to this reality; he expects punctuality. Meeting organizers have the most control in these situations. If you're in charge and punctuality matters to you (a value not everyone shares), start on time and don't do anything to accommodate latecomers.

63. mcmunger - November 20, 2009 at 08:17 am--Dear Consideritdone:

Wow. A poster child. Everyone who is chronically late makes it seem as the late person is someone better, even noble. YOU, unlike everyone else, are busier, a workaholic.

I hope you don't teach logic, though. First, you claim "I'm not late because I hate waiting. That has nothing to do with it."

And then you IMMEDIATELY say that you are usually late "especially because few meetings that I attend actually begin at the appointed hour." In other words, you hate waiting!

You are not a workaholic; you are simply inefficient and self-absorbed. That's fine; most of us are (I certainly am). One has to be, in fact, to be a successful academic and live mostly inside one's own head. And I'm sure you are in fact a terrific scholar. Perhaps we are making too much of this whole "late" thing; it's not that big a deal.

But I should note the following:

1. Most meetings DO start at the appointed hour, at Duke. But they start without important people (like YOU, consideritdone!) who are socializing, or writing one more sentence.

2. None of your reasons for being late involve unexpected events. You are NOT a Platonic Traveller. You are in fact intentionally and habitually late, as a matter of policy. That makes sense to me, and I applaud you for it. Many meetings are a waste of time, and you can show everyone else how important you are by arriving late.

My complaint, in the little article, is about people who arrive late, ALWAYS arrive late, and then make an excuse. The fact is that they left home, or their office, AFTER THE MEETING WAS SUPPOSED TO START. They are not sorry, in short. They are late on purpose, and won't admit it, even to themselves.

Consideritdone, you are honest and self-aware. I applaud you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanks for the heads up!!

Ron Artest explains his shoe toss

A couple days ago, Trevor Arizza lost a shoe on the court, Artest picked it up and chucked it off the court, then went down to the other end of the court and made a 3 pointer while Trevor struggled to re-shoe himself.

That, of course, was awesome.

Even more awesome though is Ron-Ron's explanation of what happened:

“Well what happened was…obviously I didn’t know his shoe would come off that’s the first thing conservative reporters. I didn’t know his shoe was gonna come off. I don’t speak to his feet so I don’t know what his feet are thinking, I don’t know what his toes are thinking, I don’t know what he’s thinking. Then his shoe comes off and I’m like okay a shoe is not supposed to be on the basketball court without somebody standing inside of it. So I said alright, I’m just gonna buy me some time. I really didn’t know whose shoe it was, but I said it has to be one of the player’s shoe. As soon as I toss it off the court, not throw into the stands which some people said, it’ll buy me some time. What happens is I come back down, Trevor is trying to put his shoe on and I politely hit a three in his face.”

Man oh man, "I don't know what his toes are thinking"?? Thanks Ron!

Tanks on the borders of....Colombia?

Everyone's favorite autocrat, Hugo F. Chavez, is mobilizing his military to the Colombian border to heroically repel the expected US invasion.

Ok, now repeat after me: WTF?

Seriously, Hugo, Wassup?

Well, now that he has more or less achieved total power, Venezuela is falling apart.  Output there is still sharply falling and inflation is around 30%. Plus the country is facing water shortages and electricity blackouts. Crime in Caracas is a huge problem.

Although polls in Venezuela vary greatly, Chavez's popularity seems to be significantly falling in the face of all these problems.

I guess there is nothing like a good war scare to divert the populace from blaming you for the deterioration of their quality of life. 

Still it's hard to believe that anyone would seriously expect the US to invade Venezuela. How could we ever get mad at this guy?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hell is too far to go

Freaky video from Beck!


Anonywife is pregnant with a beautiful Anonybaby, a boy!

Anonyman, of course, just watched the sonogram. (I think that is how the conception happened, also, knowing Anonyman).

But, seriously, congrats to the whole Anonyfamily! We hope the pregnancy goes well...

Tommy the Brit Scores a Double!

Tommy the Wannabe Brit is now OFFICIALLY a Brit, a REAL boy now.

First, and less important, he scored 350,000 pounds of Brit-cash, to run research.

Second, he passed his driving test! Now he can menace old ladies and bother the horses.

That'll do, Tom!

Somali Pirates 0, Maersk Alabama 2

Pirates attack again. Pirates get beaten.

Perhaps we should ALL have automatic weapons, yes? To repel pirates.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fox News

I happened to flip over to Fox News when I was finishing my time on the elliptical machine in the living room.

They had an interview with some schmoe, talking about S. Palin's book, GOING ROGUE.

Only they had it spelled, GOING ROUGE. I think would have been a better title for the book, frankly. She uses quite a bit of make-up.


A little piece on lateness, for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

My favorite part is the reactions. Check this exchange, from the Chronicle comments section:

6. ridicula - November 16, 2009 at 11:31 am Mr Munger and referee101--who died and made you the gods of punctuality? When you obsess over and enrage yourselves over such things, you create an ugly work environment.
I suppose you both live in perfect worlds where nothing ever transpires to make you late, that you've had all bodily orifices sealed, have no family, no material reality to deal with whatsoever. You've never had a pimple or cut yourself shaving. You never speak to strangers. In fact, you must live in a space-time loophole from which you magically emerge whenever you have an appointment, spending the rest of your time in a state of suspended animation.

7. _perplexed_ - November 16, 2009 at 12:10 pm --hope I'm never on a committee with ridicula...

8. ridicula - November 16, 2009 at 12:34 pm --as I, in turn, hope I'm never on a committee

9. superdude - November 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm --Ridicula: No, an ugly work environment is caused by selfish people and one key sign of selfishness is being late. Late people have no concept of the value of everyone else's time and are by definition not team players.

As Head, I have strong expectations regarding punctuality. If I schedule a meeting for 3pm, it STARTS at 3pm, which means you need to have your butt in a chair BEFORE 3pm. I refuse to have a committee held hostage to someone who is late.

My own thoughts, for "ridicula":

1. Nice name. It fits.
2. As I read and reread your comment, trying to figure out what it means...I fail. I haven't obsessed over lateness, but I do find it amusing.
3. Because you see, it is easy to overcome all of the problems you list. Just leave earlier. That's it. The solution to being late is to leave earlier. Then even if you do have to go potty, you'll have time. And I'm pretty confident that you are not, in fact, busier than I am. You aren't busy at all. You are a crackpot.
4. To be fair, I see your game, though, Ridicula. It is to shirk and misbehave so badly as to avoid, as you admit freely, ever having to serve on a committee. And though I don't know you well, what I can see makes me think that having you NOT be in a position to impose your judgment on others is a nice equilibrium.

Ezra Klein is a tease

I saw the headline of his article, "The $900 Billion Mistake" and I thought to myself, right on dude! You have come to your senses. Of course I shoulda knowed better; the mistake the article laments is limiting the cost of health insurance reform to only $900 billion!

Yes, according to Ezra:

"The problem is that the number, which was chosen at a point of political weakness for health-care reform and the Obama administration, is too low. Most experts think you need closer to $1.1 trillion for a truly affordable plan. Limiting yourself to $900 billion ensures that the subsidies won't be quite where you need them to be..."

Now I am just a dumb Okie, but that is not my understanding of what the word "affordable" means. I never knew it could mean "more expensive"

My nomination for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year!

Money quote: "time is going really really slowly!"

On political competition

Tyler had a interesting post yesterday about how increasing political competition via increasing the number of political parties is unlikely to bring about the same kind of improvements that increasing competition in the economic realm does.

I think he is right on the mark here.

However, there is another important dimension to political competition; viz polities compete with each other. 

In the US, States implicitly are competing against each other for residents, businesses, jobs, etc. 

In fact, if there is one thing Mark Crain taught me, it is that the States are hothouses of political innovations that often catch on and diffuse across the country.

Having our political system less centralized would allow inter-state competition to produce potential innovations in more spheres of policy.  

In a way, devolving more functions of  governance to the states increases competition over those functions in a way that is at least somewhat analogous to increasing competition in the economic realm.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Some books I have read recently.

Charles Euchner, THE LAST NINE INNINGS. My bud Russ Roberts sent me this, and it was great. The last game of the 2001 World Series, where the Yankees LOST (HA!). Divided up into different parts of the game, at a micro-level. Excellent. But then I went back and reread another book that has some of the same approach, George Will, MEN AT WORK. The stuff on Tony LaRussa, I had forgotten, very interesting.

Rose George, THE BIG NECESSITY: THE UNMENTIONABLE WORLD OF HUMAN WASTE AND WHY IT MATTERS. Terrific, interesting book. Core questions--why do we take many streams of wastewater, combine them, and then try to clean them? In fact, why so much emphasis on water-borne sanitation? Finally, why so much emphasis on "clean water" when the real problem is "handle poop better"? (well, not "handle," exactly, but manage). A very interesting and useful book.

Amity Shlaes, THE FORGOTTEN MAN: A NEW HISTORY OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION. Well written, interesting, and an entirely different view of the motives, methods, and effects of the "New Deal." Read it to see where we may be headed, again.

James Protzman, JESUS SWEPT. An odd book, local fiction about Jesus returning to Earth as an itinerant sweeper. Yep, sounds bizarre, and it is, but it works pretty well. I liked it a lot. Very quirky.

Hunter Thompson, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. I hadn't read it in years. It holds up pretty well.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Many Citizens Does It Take to Choose a Lightbulb?

Trick question: you don't GET to choose your own light bulb.

Interesting story. Just gets better and better, as it develops.

As the story concludes....

Call your senators and your congressional representative instead. Tell them you've had enough of command-economy enviro-thuggery. And invite them to put cap-and-trade in a place where a solar array would be both impractical and painful.

(Nod to North Ohio Boy)

Sumner and Krugman are both wrong

Or at the least way overoptimistic about what monetary policy can accomplish.

Tyler has been cooling lately in his ardor for the monetary views of Scott Sumner (here is an historical compendium), though he cites Krugman's latest piece as an "Answer to Scott".

In that piece, Paul avers that the first best monetary policy would be a Sumnerian "credible commitment to higher inflation". Why? "In order to reduce real interest rates".

People, it is just not clear that is possible, or if possible, it may be so in only a very limited sense. 

Can the Fed set the real interest rate at whatever value it wants? I don't think so. 

Do you think they could simultaneously credibly commit to say 10% inflation and successfully hold the nominal interest rate at zero? Me neither. 

What about the simultaneous achievement of 5% expected inflation and a zero nominal interest rate? Doubtful at best.

The bottom line is that Fed can target the nominal rate or the inflation rate, but they simply cannot have independent targets for each. That is a basic message of the huge "instruments & targets" policymaking literature that appears to be lost in the current debate.