Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tell us how you really feel

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny really doesn't like Kenny G and really really likes the late Louis Armstrong. So when Kenny overdubbed his music on top of Pops, Pat went mental:

"But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, f***ed up playing all over one of the great Louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. "

The whole essay is well worth reading (find it here).

Hey Mungo, I like Pat's style. Can we get him to guest blog some this summer?

Amazing, But Not Surprising

This is a problem for every state in the U.S.

Can you explain to me again how excessive compensation in private employment requires people like this to regulate us?

2008 Election Analysis

Insiders, Outsiders, and Voters in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

Melvin Hinich, Daron Shaw & Taofang Huang
Presidential Studies Quarterly, June 2010, Pages 264-285

Abstract: In 2008, both Barack Obama and John McCain repeatedly talked about "reform" and "change" on the campaign trail, presumably believing that voters would respond to a president who could challenge the established way of doing business. The authors gauge the significance of "reform" politics in 2008 through two analyses. First, they estimate a two-dimensional issue space, paying particular attention to the possibility of a reform /establishment dimension. Second, they consider whether voters (1) preferred reform candidates, and (2) saw Obama or McCain as credible reform candidates. The data indicate the existence of a reform-establishment dimension. However, neither Obama nor McCain effectively convinced voters that they were reformers.


Did Bush Voters Cause Obama's Victory?
Arthur Lupia, PS: Political Science & Politics, April 2010, Pages 239-241

Abstract: In the 2008 election, Barack Obama's campaign brought many new voters to the polls. Were these new voters necessary for Obama's victory? In this study, I find that they were not. The basis of this finding is an examination of decisions made by people who voted for George W. Bush in 2004. I show that Bush voters' decisions not to vote or to support Obama were a sufficient condition for Obama's victory.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Self-fulfilling prophecies or How to make it in America

"THIBODAUX, La. – A man who told police that God told him to walk the streets naked to save his soul has been arrested. Thibodaux police responded to an obscenity complaint around 2 a.m. Thursday and found Shafiq Mohamed walking nude down the street. When approached, Mohamed reportedly told officers that "America raped him" and added God told him to walk the streets naked to save his soul.

Mohamed was taken into custody and charged with obscenity. He was booked into the Lafourche Parish Detention Center where he awaited bail.

It was not immediately known whether Mohamed has an attorney."

Link is here. I believe I'll just let this one speak for its ownself.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Distribution Channels

Nice post on Libertarian views of income distribution from my friend Will W, with some riffs from D. Friedman and R. Frank.

The Catholic Church in Latin America

Great essay by one of my favorites, Alma Guillermoprieto.

Here's her take on the late, unlamented Father Maciel:

"A great achiever and close associate of John Paul II, Maciel was also a bigamist, pederast, dope fiend, and plagiarist."

Highly recommended (it would be "self recommending" but I already read it and liked it).

Thank you Jebus!

People, Doug "master of the obvious" Collins is going to coach the 76ers. While that in and of itself is neither here nor there, it does however mean that HE WILL NO LONGER BE BROADCASTING GAMES ON TNT.

All across America, you can hear the sounds of hoops fans' sphincters unclenching in relief.

Doug, baby, do I ever have an assistant coach for you! He will show your young men how to go to the front of the rim.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Not From the Onion

Though it ought to be from the Onion only.

Check this video. As far as I can tell, the two giant, big brotherish EYES are the symbol of British nanny-state intrusiveness. They got cameras in their bloody RUBBISH TIPS, after all.

(Nod to Mike G)


Big ups to Mrs. Angus, whose promotion to full professor was finalized yesterday and commemorated today with a new sign on the old office door!

Way to go, sweetheart!

GM Lies, Fiscal Sanity Dies

John P. has a nice post on GM, and George Will. GoodONya, John! The best part is the YouTube on the GM "loan repayment." But I don't want to steal; you have to go to JP's page to see it.

But when are you going to send me that clip with my ACTUAL LINE, so I can post it?
"Where to, Lord Keynes?" You keep promising, you big tease, and then NOTH! ING!

I now believe in re-incarnation....

Because James Brown has come back to earth in the body of a young woman:

Hot Links!

This just in: Water is wet. Who knew?

You can now add driving to the list of things Diego Maradona is not good at.

The world's greatest sausage factory is in full swing.

3 Yikes and I'm out!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Just when you think it's safe to come out of the closet

Holy Crap, people.

More hail, more tornadoes, the Norman tornado sirens are blowing and the Angii are back in the bedroom closet, hunkered down and tuned in to the national weather service.

you know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is....grand?

Just another band from San Jose

Costa Rica, that is!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Las Robertas. They are women, they are from Costa Rica, they are very very good.

More info here and here and here and here.

I'm a fan.

Photos of Five Worst Airline Meals

From Craig, who linked to photos of the five worst airline meals.

I rushed to look, because I was sure I had seen worse.

But.... nope. Those are awful.

If only I lived in Bridgeport Nebraska....

....then my non-voting might matter!

BRIDGEPORT, Neb. – A deck of cards and a bit of luck helped decide who will likely be the next sheriff of Morrill County.

The nine of hearts Milo Cardenas drew Monday beat Travis Petersen's six of spades, giving Cardenas the Republican nomination for sheriff. Since no Democrats ran for sheriff, Cardenas, the police chief in Bridgeport, is likely to win in November's election.

"I knew it was going to be close, but I didn't expect to be this close," Cardenas said.

The two men agreed to cut a deck of cards after Monday's re-count confirmed that both finished at the top of a four-man race with 379 votes after balloting ended last Tuesday. State law requires tied elections to be settled by a game of chance.

Cardenas said deciding the race with a card game seemed a little crazy but also seemed like the best option.

"I felt more comfortable with the deck of cards. That way you pick your own destiny," Cardenas said.

Brandt shuffled the cards seven times and spread them out on a table before the candidates drew cards simultaneously.

"People wanted to revote and do a lot of things, but unfortunately, Nebraska law is very clear," Morrill County Clerk Kathy Brandt said.

Brandt said none of the candidates who lost in the primary are allowed to run in the general election.

"For all those people that didn't vote, they should realize that one vote does make a difference," Brandt said.

Two points about the Morrill County Clerk, people.

(1) "unfortunately, Nebraska law is very clear"?? WTF? given that people wanted to "do a lot of things", I think it's very fortunate that the law was clear.

(2) Ms. Brandt also seems to have a very low bar for defining "making a difference"! Were these two Republican candidates for Morrill County Sheriff really so different from each other?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Colombian Presidente Mockus, Mock You, Too

An interesting guy. Excerpt:

Perhaps Mockus is best known for his stunts. Attempting to crackdown on traffic law violations, he hired an army of mimes to stand on street corners and publicly humiliate bad drivers. It worked brilliantly. He also created his super hero alter-ego, "Super Citizen" (complete with spandex and cape), to talk to citizens about civic responsibility. This definitely drew more listeners than a mayoral speech. And then there was his most infamous move of all: In an attempt to get the attention of a tuned-out college age audience, he pulled down his trousers and mooned them. Needles to say -- the ploy worked.

Needles, indeed. Some questions:

1. What's with all the mooning, all of a sudden? Sheesh.
2. When I hear "broken window," I think of Bastiat. But most people apparently think of Giuliani. Which is the dominant metaphor?

England Lets 3rd Party Debate; Why Don't We?

I wrote an op-ed about sunshine and open debate for the Durham Herald today.

What do you think?

Squirrel Kerfuffle

The LMM and I disagree about something.

She loves hummingbirds. We have several little hummingbird drinking stations set up, hanging from metal hooks.

There is this one squirrel who has mastered the technology of hanging onto the feeder, tipping it, and then furiously drinking the contents, emptying the container onto himself, his mouth, and the ground, in about two minutes.

The LMM keeps letting the dogs out, and going out herself, to "scare off" the squirrel. But the squirrel comes right back, of course.

My solution: Squirrel dies of a gunshot wound.

Look: (1) There is only one (now fat) squirrel who is doing this. The others try, but the thing tips if they try to drink from the top. No other squirrel has mastered the "hang, tip, and quaff" technique.
(2) we have a .22 with a scope. I can fire those little tiny 20 grain "Colibri"** shells, which have a range of about 100 meters. (The standard .22 LR shell is 40 grains, and these Colibri actually have NO powder, other than the primer)
(3) I can fire downward, with grass as the background, so there is no danger of ricochet, not that these little bullets would go anywhere.

Yes, one should be very careful firing Colibris from a long gun. Not enough power to eject the casing, and in fact the bullet may not leave the barrel, so you really, really have to check after every shot. But they are quite accurate. And at a range of 10 meters, they will kill a squirrel.

All right readers: Who is right?

**Plus, "Colibri" means "Hummingbird" in French (also Spanish, and, oddly, Rumanian). How perfect is that? The fat squirrel gets taken out by a little lead hummingbird!

The Grand Game! Physician Salary Edition

Can we play The Grand Game? Can we? This is just a short version, because all we have is the abstract of the paper. (Yes, you are welcome to use a library subscription to get the actual paper. I am sure there are other delights there, also).

But for now....what is the most amazingly nonsensical claim? That's the Grand Game, folks....

Can We Close The Income And Wealth Gap Between Specialists And Primary Care Physicians?

Bryan Vaughn, Steven DeVrieze, Shelby Reed & Kevin Schulman
Health Affairs, May 2010, Pages 933-940

Abstract: Over their lifetimes, primary care physicians earn lower incomes-and accumulate considerably less wealth-than their specialist counterparts. This gap influences medical students, who are choosing careers in primary care in declining numbers. We estimated career wealth accumulation across specialists, primary care physicians, physician assistants, business school graduates, and college graduates. We then compared specialists, represented by cardiologists, to primary care physicians in four scenarios. The wealth gap is substantial; narrowing it would require substantial reductions in specialists' practice income or increases in primary care physicians' practice income, or both, of more than $100,000 a year. Current proposals for increasing primary care physician supply would do little to lessen these differences.

I'll go first!

1. Why would you WANT to have equal salaries across primary care and all specialties? Why in the world would that be any kind of important policy goal, given all the other problems we have in health care?

2. Given that one might one might have such a goal (I don't, but...), why in the name of Hippocrates would you consider reducing the income of specialists? Yes, you might encourage competition, for its many benefits, one of which might be a reduction in monopoly rents for specialists. But just going in and messing with prices, as a stand-alone goal... amazing.

(Nod to Kevin L, for the article)

Munger Sign on Private Property!

An email I received this morning:

I have an unauthorized sign advertising Mr Munger posted on private property. It is a vacant parcel #500-04-371 in Yavapai County. I appreciate the immediate removal of the sign and an explanation why it was placed without permission.

My response, in the form of a letter--
Dear PERSON: I'm pretty sure you are writing from Arizona. At least, there is a Yavapai County in AZ, but there is not one in North Carolina.

Yet you have contacted the MIKE Munger for Governor campaign, in North Carolina.

May I propose that you contact instead the JOHN Munger for Governor campaign, in Arizona.

I thought about saying that I would appreciate an explanation on why would you would send unsolicited spam to a professor in North Carolina, but people make mistakes. That may be the reason that there is a sign on your property, also.

In any case, it's not my sign.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rally Driver Crashes After Being Mooned

Ah, the memories. Driving home from baseball games in high school.

Remember, Dutch Boy?

A Bizarre Paper, But With An Important Point

Private-Payer Profits Can Induce Negative Medicare Margins

Jeffrey Stensland, Zachary Gaumer & Mark Miller
Health Affairs, May 2010, Pages 1045-1051

Abstract: A common assumption is that hospitals have little control over their costs and must charge high rates to private health insurers when Medicare rates are lower than hospital costs. We present evidence that contradicts that common assumption. Hospitals with strong market power and higher private-payer and other revenues appear to have less pressure to constrain their costs. Thus, these hospitals have higher costs per unit of service, which can lead to losses on Medicare patients. Hospitals under more financial pressure-with less market share and less ability to charge higher private rates-often constrain costs and can generate profits on Medicare patients.

Good lord. The problem is not "profits," but rather that costs are increasing without bound. The point is that in the absence of any kind of competition, the very idea of "cost" is poorly defined. Every step along the line can charge higher prices, because the costs are passed on. You can call that profit if you want, but it's really just a transfer based on the monopoly protections afforded to health care by government restrictions on advertising, and the creation of insuperable entry barriers.

Two things you should read, if you think the article above makes sense (hint: it doesn't)

1. My little piece on insurance, at REASON
2. Nick G's cool piece on eye surgery, at ReasonTV

Cost can come down in a hurry, with competition. But the Obamacare program will, if anything, make the problem worse by focusing on insurance and bureaucratic price-fixing. In any case, blaming "profits" is the sort of idiocy you learn in public health schools, where as far as I can tell they would save time if they could just lobotomizing students. A lobotomy and an MPH are only distinguished by the size of the scar they leave; the effects are identical.

(Nod to KL for the article)

Funny sentences about the Euro Crisis

One is funny on purpose and one is funny - yikes!

"Beware of Greeks burning thrifts"

--Mary Anastasia O'Grady in today's WSJ.

“The situation was already starting to get worse on Thursday afternoon and throughout Friday of the week before last, a number of markets were no longer functioning correctly."

--Feckless ECB president J. C. Trichet as quoted by Tyler this morning.

Mary O's is astoundingly clever. I apparently have underrated her.

J.C.'s is funnier but scarier. He sees not lending to broke-ass governments = not functioning correctly.

They Probably Can't Jump, EIther

What is a "Sentence"?

I don't understand this. It may well make sense, but there are no details yet.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday the federal government has the power to indefinitely keep some sex offenders behind bars after they have served their sentences, if officials determine those inmates may prove "sexually dangerous" in the future.

"The federal government, as custodian of its prisoners, has the constitutional power to act in order to protect nearby (and other) communities from the danger such prisoners may pose," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the 7-2 majority

UPDATE: If this means that there is a normal hearing, going toward a criminal insanity commitment, then okay. But....if the guy is certifiably insane, how could it be that he could be tried, and sentenced in the first place? I still don't understand.

UPDATE II: Roger Pilon clarifies....

Monday Flashback: 2004 White Sox Game

Our regular Monday feature: one of my favorite posts from the distant past, on Monday. This week, the description of a visit to U.S. Cellular Field, home of those beloved Pale Hose.

The best part really was where the guy ran out on the field, and took his beer with him. When the fat security guys finally caught him, they just straight up beat the hell out of him; don't need no stinkin taser!

What's in a name?

The social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.


The dismal science

--Thomas Carlyle

The mechanics of utility and self interest.

--W.S. Jevons

A study of mankind in the ordinary business of life

--Alfred Marshall

Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.

--Lionel Robbins

The study of how the forces of supply and demand allocate scarce resources

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.

--F.A. Hayek

Chairity: Thursday at 7 a.m.

Thursday at 7 am: The "Countdown for Chairity" clock will go under 1,000 hours. Baby, oh baby, oh baby.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This just in: the 22nd amendment does NOT apply to Haiti

Leave it to Slick Willie to find a loophole and get back in the saddle:

"On April 15, the Haitian Parliament ratified a law extending by 18 months the state of emergency that President René Préval declared after the earthquake of January 12. The Parliament also formally ceded its powers over finances and reconstruction, during the state of emergency, to a foreign-led Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH). The CIRH's mandate is to direct the post-earthquake reconstruction of Haiti through the $9.9 billion in pledges of international aid, including approving policies, projects, and budgeting. The World Bank will manage the money.

The majority of members on the CIRH are foreign. The criterion for becoming a foreign voting member is that the institution has contributed at least $100 million during two consecutive years, or has cancelled at least $200 million in debt. Others who have given less may share a seat. The Organization of American States and non-governmental organizations working in Haiti do not have a vote.

The CIRH is headed by U.N. Special Envoy Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. The only accountability or oversight measure is veto power by Préval. Few expect him to employ his veto option, both because his record is not one of challenging the international aid apparatus, and because of possible repercussions, in terms of the dollar flow, by the CIRH."


Hat tip to LeBron.

Tim G is Gone, But Not Forgotten

My friend Tim G, from Erlangen, is now back in Erlangen after a year at Duke.

On his last day in the U.S., I took this photo. You see Tim there in all his facets: a guitar tattoo that would be cheesy on anyone less sincere about rock music, the Buddy Holly glasses (see above), the books (he xeroxed much of the Duke library in his time here). And the earphones, so that he can play Altar or Lacuna Coil at a volume that would hurt the ears of someone at the same table if he were using ear buds. The full headphones keep all that death metal inside, where it belongs. Tim is a POLITE metal freak.

And he is sitting in the sun, in NC. Since he is now back in Germany, he will never see the sun again.

So, Tim: Alles Gute! Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

Graduation Station

My job, as chair of Poli Sci, is to read out the names of the 132 first majors (we had 200 total majors, out of a class of 1,400, meaning of course that 1 of every 7 Duke students finish with a Poli Sci major. Amazing!).

I get a lot of the names wrong. Hard to pronounce.

But this year I yelled at the kids who blow right past the podium and get their diploma w/o giving the parents a chance to take pictures. I actually made one kid come BACK, and pose again so that dad could take the picture.

We got through 12 awards, and then 132 names, complete with ample ops for pix, in 45 minutes. I made the kiddos line up, and made sure the moms / dads / uncles knew where to stand to take pictures.

Got a big hand from the parents. It's their day. Enjoy, parents! Your kid is done.

Fortunately, not too hot today, and there was a breeze. Another year over....

no fold-em hold-em, Euro style

In the gaming establishment I occasionally frequent, low-stakes poker games are referred to as "no fold-em hold-em" meaning that the tables are filled with calling stations who will pay to see every available card.

I mention this because Barry Eichengreen has chosen a poker metaphor to describe the $1 trillion Euro rescue fund:

"rather than folding their cards, European leaders doubled down. They understand that their gamble will be immensely costly if it proves wrong. They understand that their political careers now ride on their massive bet. But they also understand that they already have too many chips in the pot to fold."

"They already have too many chips in the pot to fold"?

This is a common belief. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone justify a bad call at the poker table by saying "I was pot committed".

But people, the logic of the irrelevance of sunk costs applies in poker too.

While it is true that the size of the pot in relation to the size of the required bet to stay in can encourage someone to stay in with a weaker hand (if you are getting 8 to 1 on your money, you only have to win 12% of the time to make the call mathematically correct), that is pretty much NOT the case for the Eurozone leaders.

In poker terms, they are making a bluff raise in the hopes of getting the bond markets to fold. It's got nothing to do with chips in the pot.

Look, at least some of the PIIGS are insolvent and will eventually default. Delaying default will make things worse for the debtor countries (though it has the potential to make things better for the lending banks, which (as usual) is the real purposes of the rescue fund).

He also seems to think that the Eurozone has already won the hand:

"Europe’s fortnight mirabilis was also marked by amazing – and erroneous – predictions. Greece would be booted out of the monetary union. The eurozone would be divided into a Northern European union and a Southern European union. Or the euro – and even the European Union – would disintegrate as Germany turned its back on the project....Those forecasting the demise of the euro were wrong because they misunderstood the politics."

I admit I am more comfortable forecasting some sovereign defaults than I am the demise of the Euro, but I am pretty sure that fight is far from over. I'd say there is easily still a 1 in 3 chance that the current Euro-zone system will not survive the next 5 years unchanged. In fact, you could already say it's been dramatically changed by the "unprecedented purchases of Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and Irish bonds by the European Central Bank."

Two final thoughts.

(1) I just don't see the rescue fund as a slam dunk game changer.

(2) I'd like to play Barry heads up in Texas hold-em