Saturday, February 13, 2010

Microchips: Signs of the Beast

The Eschaton, The Micro-chip. Quite an article, about the Virginia Legislature.

My favorite part: Delegate Mark Cole says, "I just think you should have the right to control your own body."

Finally, somebody talking sense. Of COURSE that's right. Um, that means that you are pro-choice on reproductive rights, right Mark? 'Cause then you would be a Libertarian hero. THEN, I would agree with you, if you are just consistent about this "people control their own bodies" thing. Oh....not so much.

(Nod to Anonyman, whose body belongs to his wife)

BN Makes People Mad

Brendan Nyhan makes people really, REALLY mad.

Because he is not really on anybody's team, and pomposity makes him mad. He reads things carefully, and remembers what you said last week. Also, he values consistency, logic, and empirical evidence. For example, here.

How infuriating.

Any boy with a microphone can tell you what he loves the most

Alan, We Hardly Liked Ye

Wow, what a scum-bucket. Dr. Greenspan...really?

While borrowers can refinance fixed-rate mortgages, Greenspan said homeowners were paying as much as 0.5 to 1.2 percentage points for that right and the protection against a potential rate rise, which could increase annual after-tax payments by several thousand dollars.

He said a Fed study suggested many homeowners could have saved tens of thousands of dollars in the last decade if they had ARMs. Those savings would not have been realized, however, had interest rates shot up.

You could extend this logic, of course. You can make millions of dollars, ex post, if you buy the correct lottery ticket, with the winning number. But "buy lottery tickets" is hardly sound investment advice, though of course that is exactly what people did, on a huge scale. Further, trying to get people to buy ARMs, and then jacking up rates by 425 basis points... why? I have no problem with the higher rates, but knock it off with the investment advice, Dr. G!

My pal Hal Snarr, at NC A&T, wrote this piece. I don't agree with all of it, but the "financial molotov cocktail" part seems right.

Hal's points about Glass-Steagal.... well, two cheers for Glass-Steagal. I agree that "too big to fail" is "too big," but only because the buttinski-trons at Treasury and the Fed insist on giving out taxpayer money.


Here is a picture of the house of a friend in Montana:

All right, no. That is the house of Anonyman, in the DC suburbs. Yikes. More snow comin'. Have fun, Anonyman! Shovel, Anonyman, shovel. Ouch, Anonyman, ouch, don't hit ME with the shovel.... I didn't make it snow.

Houston, we have an idiot!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The End, Perhaps, of Hitler Parodies

A parody of Hitler's reaction to Hitler parodies.

(Nod to Angry Alex)

Protecting the Honor of Wall Street

Remember when Gary Hart challenged reporters to follow him, and then was amazed when they did, catching him in "Monkey Business"?

Well, saying that the honor of Wall Street has been besmirched is a little silly, also. Those boys pretty much smirched themselves. "John Thomas Financial"? Really? And "lesbian strippers"? Why was that the priority?

I'm not saying that having the morality police from Washington will make things better, or that having Eliot "Yo, Mo Ho" Spitzer is an improvement. But if you have no honor, you can't very well protect your honor. Just keep quiet. Quite a story, quite a shiny, terrifying bald pate.

(Nod to Anonyman, who is NOT that bald, and who likes his strippers straight)

Death Star Bug Zapper

The bottom video is the one.

No, really.

(Nod to Angry Alex)

Book Winners!

We have two book winners...drawn from a capacious Mungowitz-sized hat!

Martin Kypta

David Stearns

Please send me your addresses! And congratulations....

Video on Libertarian Positions

A short video on Libertarian positions. There is a mistake. The 70% figure is an exaggeration, for LASIK. And the numbers are wrong. Instead, it should be more like 50%, and the cost has gone down from $2,500 to $1,250.

The funniest headline I've seen this year

People, it's from the WSJ and it can be seen it all its glory right here.


Is this the best they can do?

Over at Econobrowser, the usually excellent Menzie Chinn has posted a couple of graphs that he says are "particularly relevant in thinking about the US fiscal situation". I think they are too, but in the exact opposite way that they are being presented.

I looked at the first graph and said "holy crap"! Then I noticed it was labeled "US debt/GDP ratio not particularly high", and cracked up. Yes, people, it's true that Greece and Italy have higher forecasted debt ratios than us. They are also the the "I" and "G" in the PIGS whose unsustainable fiscal positions are rocking financial markets. The graph could just as well be labeled, "the USA is an honorary PIG" ( of course that isn't actually true either as the demand for dollar denominated debt is going to be quite a bit stronger than that for PIG issued euro denominated debt, at least we sincerely hope so).

I looked at the second graph and said "this graph is factually incorrect". Then I noticed it was labeled "US structural budget balance not unusual". Note the use of the word "structural" as opposed to "actual". Structural means "what's left after I subtract off some stuff to make the deficit smaller". It is not an official US government statistic and is pretty meaningless.

No matter how you slice it, we are on a path to permanently higher federal spending as a percent of GDP and a much higher level of federal debt. I would like to add something like "at least until November" but the heinous spending binges of the Republicans the last time they were in the Congressional majority doesn't give me any hope for a change of course.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ice It

At a certain point in a marriage, the woman exhausts her sympathy for the man's injuries.

I was in Michigan and Ohio, for four days. In freakin' blizzards. Ice everywhere. Never a problem.

Got home, went to the Y to work out, got home after dark. Walking up driveway.

Big smooth icy patch, meltwater that had refrozen. Never saw it. Left leg goes shooting out straight in front of me, right folded beside me. Landed with right heel touching my waist, beside me. Dislocated my kneecap.

It popped right back in, but muscles in right leg cramped up like rock, and sprained kneecap hurt like hell. Felt like I couldn't breath. Certainly couldn't move. Laid there in the ice, for what seemed like an hour, but probably wasn't more than ten minutes. Long enough to get soaked from body temp melting the ice. Watched planes go by, and tried to breathe.

Pulled myself over to truck, to try to get in and blow horn, so LMM could come out and shoot me and put me out of misery. Couldn't reach *^$&%ing horn, and slipped on ice again.

Crawled off ice, and limped into house. LMM looks at me, and says, "Take that wet dirty stuff off!"

I tell her I hurt my knee. She comes over: "Do you need to go to the doctor?"

I say no, has happened before, just a sprain.

LMM, turning back to dishwasher: "Well, at least you iced it."

Kevin Morrison, Duke Student

This Slate article gives major props to my man Kevin Morrison, Duke Phd and now asst prof at Cornell.

Everybody should study game theory. Or else get hammered by it.

What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

The mighty House of Saud has no love for Valentine's day. The holiday is banned in the magic kingdom and:

The religious police launched Thursday a nationwide crackdown on stores selling items that are red or in any other way allude to the banned celebrations of Valentine's Day, a Saudi official said.

Members of the feared religious police were inspecting shops for red roses, heart-shaped products or gifts wrapped in red, and ordering storeowners to get rid of them, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Red-colored or heart-shaped items are legal at other times of the year, but as Feb. 14 nears they become contraband in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom bans celebration of Western holidays such as Valentine's Day, named after a Christian saint said to have been martyred by the Romans in the 3rd Century.

Wow, so the Wahhabi dudes think that the date of Valentines day is a surprise to their citizens? That they wouldn't just buy their evil red items the week before?

Even the AP can call BS on this:

Each year, the religious police mobilize ahead of Feb. 14 and descend on gift and flower shops, confiscating all red items, including flowers.

Many Saudis, who still want to mark the popular Valentine's, do their shopping weeks before the holiday.

See this is why you have to put rational expectations in your model. Otherwise you get these silly "fool people systematically" results that defy common sense. As bad as people think macro is with RE, trust me it was way worse before RE.

PS: Maybe what's really going on is that the Wasabi-Wahhabis just don't want to pay for their Valentine swag, so they "ban and confiscate" on the eve of the holiday.

Small pieces of good news

1. The Federal government is closed for the 4th straight day!

2. Jobless claims fall faster than expected.

3. Randy Waldman actually got something right (only his first point though).

4. OKC Thunder sit in 5th place in the West, riding a 6 game win streak going into all-star weekend.

5. Shane Battier is gangster now!


One more day until the FAAAAAABULOUS prize is given away.

Duke University Press has donated not one, but TWO copies of Debating Moral Education.

This is the book that garnered mention in the column by David Brooks, in the Times, about the essay by my good friend Michael Gillespie.

You might get one of these copies, but ONLY IF YOU SEND AN EMAIL by tomorrow morning.

The drawing will be held at noon tomorrow, EST. The winners will be announced, and the free books will be sent out. Don't miss your chance!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Instructions from Your Gubmint

The Bishop reminds me in an email that Robert Heinlein, in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," actually describes our friend's ID experience pretty well:

“Do this. Don’t do that. Stay back in line. Where’s tax receipt. Fill out form. Let’s see license. Submit six copies. Exit only. No left turn. No right turn. Queue up and pay fine. Take back and get stamped. Drop dead—but first get permit."

Carolina v. Duke day!

Today is the day Carolina plays Duke. In basketball, I mean.

So today is the day I have double neckwear. Because, you know, I have ties to both schools....Just like last year.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

As goes Carolina, so goes Costa Rica?

As loyal KPC readers know, our man Mungowitz was the Libertarian candidate in the most recent NC governor's race. While he clearly succeeded in his goals of (1) getting his message out, (2) getting the LP automatically on the next election's ballot, and (3) getting investigated by the election commission, alas, he did not win.

Spin forward to last Sunday where there was a Libertarian, Otto Guevara, running for president of Costa Rica (I am not making this up). He didn't win either. No word yet on whether endorsed or savaged Otto.

It was the third time Otto ran. The first time he got 1.7%, the second, 8.4%, and this time he got 20.8%.

I'm just sayin'.......


Monday, February 08, 2010

Technical Efficiency in Basketball

Estimating Production Efficiency in Men’s NCAA College Basketball: A Bayesian Approach

Michael Rimler, Seongho Song & David Yi
Journal of Sports Economics, forthcoming

Abstract: Using Bayesian analysis with Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) estimation, we generate estimates of technical efficiency for each game played by an Atlantic 10 Conference men’s basketball team during the 2005-2006 season. The flexibility of MCMC, and its ability to provide an objective measure for assessing model fit, makes it preferable to maximum likelihood (ML) estimation of stochastic production frontiers. Within the context of men’s basketball, this article addresses the question of whether technical efficiency necessarily leads to success relative to one’s competitors. Results indicate that (a) technical efficiency does not vary significantly, either across or within teams, implying that teams in the A-10 play at very close and high levels of efficiency and (b) technical efficiency does not
correlate strongly with productivity, suggesting that the fundamental quality of one’s resources are more important than an efficient use of those resources. In addition, parameter estimates suggest that a single turnover or offensive rebound could mean the difference between winning and losing.

(UPDATE: Title was wrong, so I fixed it.)

When did Nigerian scammers take over the Home Depot?

So, Mrs. Angus and me eat lunch in our offices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This usually requires using a microwave, and in our department, nothing is a better illustration of the tragedy of the commons than the department microwave. Sticky, filthy, smelly, AND a line of grad students waiting to use it!

So we decided to get one for the office. Mrs. Angus wanted powerful but not too big, picked out a model and ordered it from Home Depot online. It arrives and we take it to the office and open up the box.

The door of the thing won't open. Busted. Arrived busted.  

Mrs. Angus sends email to Home Depot asking if we can return it at a local store or if we have to mail it back.  Next day, we get a response from their "customer care" department:

Thank you for your email to The Home Depot Online Customer Support.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Unfortunately, we do not have arrangement with the vendor to exchange the entire product.

For assistance regarding the item 100489210 - 1.0 Cu. Ft. Countertop
Microwave Oven from your order number W100474273, please refer owner's manual and contact the manufacturer.

A representative would be happy to assist you.

Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.


Your friends at The Home Depo

Now there are a lot of funny things here."Inconvenience"?  "further assistance"?  cannot exchange "the entire product"?

But the best part is that the owners manual is INSIDE THE MICROWAVE and thus inaccessible because, you know, THE DOOR WON'T OPEN!

I guess I will take a hammer to the thing and see what parts of the product can be exchanged.


Lou Dobbs Goes Down, and Why

My friend and ex-student Josh Koster, of Chong and Koster in DC, talks about their plan. The piece was published in "Campaigns and Elections' POLITICS" Magazine.

With Lou Dobbs as the fall guy. Hee HEE! ANYTHING that drips mud on "Hate-monger" Lou is worth doing. But this was very cool. The ad....

Now, I should note that Josh and I hardly agree on everything. But on the "rationalize immigration policy" idea, I am definitely there with him. And it is so much easier to watch CNN for a few minutes now, without Lou Dobbs.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Corruption: Munger Investigated!

I feel SO SPECIAL. My campaign for governor is being investigated by a special inquiry of the State Board of Elections. I have FINALLY arrived as a real politician.

Governor "I am Easley the most corrupt governor in NC history" has decided to offer a defense to the charge that he routinely accepted illegal, unreported free private air travel as if it were a perq of office. And having the Highway Patrol "lose" the records of sending troopers to accompany Easley on these secret trips.

Here is an interesting video on the lead-up, and the charges against Ruffin Poole, head thug in charge for the Easley admin.

My main man, Don Carrington, was the one who broke, and has followed, the "Air Easley" story.

So, Easley's defense? Three Republican goob candidates did it, too! (My mom: "If someone else accepts illegal air travel, you would do it, too?" Or something like that).

Anyway, the state board of elections sent me a letter, on real letterhead, with a signature from an actual person, demanding all my campaign travel records! I am suspected of having received illegal contributions of air travel, on private jets!

I'm already planning for my perp walk video. What goes better with steel handcuffs, the grey pinstripe, or the dark charcoal, suit?

Except... that I don't have friends who have private jets. Not all of my friends have private cars. Every bit of travel for the campaign was in my OWN car, and I paid for my own gas.

Still, it is flattering to think that a Libertarian candidate might be the target of bribes from corporations. Implausible, since my platform was to END the payoffs and corporate welfare that those blood-sucking, rent-seeking leeches depend on. But flattering nonetheless.

Ezra Klein Asks For Something He Already Has!

Ezra Klein has his silk prancing pony boxers in a slip knot over the following:

"No single vote by any single senator could possibly illustrate everything that is wrong with Washington today," writes Fred Hiatt. "No single vote could embody the full cynicism and cowardice of our political elite at its worst, or explain by itself why problems do not get solved." But, as he says, Mitch McConnell's vote against the Conrad-Gregg deficit commission came pretty close.

McConnell wasn't some closet supporter of the proposal. He was a constant advocate. Here he is last May, for instance: "As I have said many times before, the best way to address the crisis is the Conrad-Gregg proposal." But when it came up for a vote last week, McConnell filibustered it. Asked for an explanation, McConnell offered some nonsense about how people serious about getting the debt under control should have opposed the stimulus. Yawn. If he's not going to try to offer a coherent explanation, I'm not going to bother with a detailed rebuttal.

The issue here isn't whether McConnell is a disingenuous opportunist. That goes without saying. What I'd like to see, however, is for people to begin predicting this sort of behavior rather than being surprised by it.

Golly, Ezra! If only there it "Public Choice" theory. There could even be a journal to study this sort of thing. If only there were a university, perhaps one in the DC metro area, that taught Public Choice theory. Let's make one up, and call it "George Mason." If only there were think tanks.... call them "Mercatus" and "Cato"... that publish dozens of articles and monographs every year taking EXACTLY the perspective that Mr. Klein appears to believe he has originated.

Public Choice: Predicting self interest since 1964.

(Nod to Tony V., who is not surprised)

Best Birth Control: Obstinance Training?

Study finds focus on abstinence in sex-ed classes can delay sexual activity
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010; 4:35 PM

"Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases...The study released Monday involved 662 African American students from four public middle schools in a city in the Northeastern United States. It was conducted between 2001 and 2004. Students were randomly assigned to go through one of the following: an eight-hour curriculum that encouraged them to delay having sex; an eight-hour program focused on teaching safe sex; an eight- or 12-hour program that did both; or an eight-hour program focused on teaching them other ways to be healthy, such as eating well and exercising...Over the next two years, about 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex, compared with about 52 percent who were taught only safe sex. About 42 percent of the students who went through the comprehensive program started having sex, and about 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy did. The abstinence program had no negative effects on condom use, which has been a major criticism of the abstinence approach." [WaPo]

Journal reference for article cited in WaPo....

(Nod to Kevin L)

(Update: Yes, the title is intentional)


Binge drinking can hurt grade performance, study says.

Next up: over-eating can cause weight gain....

(Nod to Angry Alex)

(UPDATE: On the "that's why they play the game!" front, it has been pointed out that in fact the relation is NOT obvious, if one actually READS THE ARTICLE. So, does that mean I can overeat!?)

Easy to Explain

There's nothing confusing about this outrage. The job of "health inspectors," and in fact the job of all government regulation, is to protect the politically and economically powerful. In this case, restaurants that use expensive prepared foods made in factories from low-nutrition sources need protection from the little people who might actually use fresh, nutritious food. We can't have THAT, right? Excerpt:

One mom prepares hundreds of pounds of frozen fruit. The Chicago Department of Public Health says she doesn't have the correct license to make it into candy and sell it. Can she still give it to her son? Not in Chicago.

In a sad struggle that unfolded in a West Town kitchen Thursday night, Department of Health inspectors seized, slashed open and poured bleach over thousands of dollars of local peaches, pears, raspberry and plum purees owned by pastry chef Flora Lazar. She'd purchased the fruit from Green City Market farmers last summer and had planned to use it to make local fruit gelees for her business, Flora Confections.

More than $1,000 of food owned by the Sunday Dinner Club caterers was also destroyed by health department inspectors.

Inspectors cited no health problems with any of the food. They even encouraged Lazar's son to eat the confiscated granola bars from Sunday Dinner Club. They only said the food was prepared by chefs who didn't have the proper business licenses to prepare and sell it. But apparently in Chicago, you also need a license to give fruit to your child.

Even after Lazar had given the cooler to her son, health department inspector Greg Nelson refused to let him keep it. Instead the inspector called the Chicago Police Department to take it away from him. When I asked the inspectors why her son couldn't take the frozen bags of fruit, Nelson said "no comment." He gave the same reply when I asked if it posed any health risk.

These regulations have nothing, NOTHING, to do with protecting consumers. They are designed to protect campaign-contributing producers, and preserve the economic hegemony of corporations. There's no mystery here, except the mystery of why people think health inspectors are here to help them. ATSRTWT (Nod to MJE)

Cuisine: A Problem?

Interesting controversy. If the idea of "soul food" has any meaning, then it can't be inappropriate for Black History month.

On the other hand, it is such a stereotype, I can see why people might be upset. Anyway, a kerfuffle. Make sure and watch the short video by the cook who chose the menu that day.

Some interesting background, on a MLK day menu, and history.

"Elon James White, on the timely, "Look, I really like watermelon. But don't offer me any" question..." (I like the part where Elon admits he is afraid of Melissa Harris Lacewell, a friend of mine, and a fine Duke PhD). (And, I had to watch the whole TWIB video twice. It is extremely funny. You'll see.)

As for the issue: It's complicated.

(Nod to Angry Alex)