Saturday, July 24, 2010


Apparently, Sammy likes Johnny!

BTW, how did Cassell NOT get to play Gollum in LOTR?

The EYM: Uptown Saturday Night

Guest column: The EYM on crutches, bravely heading out into the night.

EYM here—on assignment. One of my primary goals in tagging along to Santiago was to experience some of that legendary castellano hablado nightlife, the kind that starts at midnight and doesn’t end until lunch the next day. I’d say I made about a D+.

But, as you faithful (bored?) readers know, I’m a cripple. I did my best with what I had, and maybe my expectations were too high, but you know I had a decent Saturday night.

It started off, as do all good nights, with a little bit of what the kids these days call “pregaming.”** Now I assume that the phenomenon of drinking in your house before going out is not a new one, but the terminology may well have changed since the repeal of prohibition, so… “pregaming.” Wine, piscola (pisco and coke), piskola (pisco and Inca Kola, a hypercaffinated, bubble gum flavored soda from Peru), and—for courage—straight pisco. So I was ready to go. In fact, I was so ready to go that I wore only jeans and a polo shirt, a stark contrast to the Chilenos with their heavy coats and keffiyehs. (Two problems: everyone down here seems to think that 4° C is actually 4° F, and keffiyehs are SO 2008.***)

I set off at around 11 pm, a reasonable time for the night to begin among the jovenes. Maybe a bit on the early side, but it is winter down here. Took the metro downtown, where everyone under 25 got off at the same stop, the one I had been planning on taking. So it looked like my plan was a good one.

Walked across the river with a cohort of fellow merrymakers, the whole time being bombarded by individuals hawking hot fried things. My target was the Pio Nono in the Bellavista barrio. I had heard that this was where all the happening nightlife was located, and the signs there designated it Santiago’s “barrio cultural and bohemio,” so I thought these would be my people.

The first real indication that I had left Topeka somewhere along the wayside were the PACKS OF WILD DOGS CHASING MOVING CARS. This doesn’t happen in the US because we think that euthanizing wild dogs is more humane than letting them be run over or freeze to death, but there’s no accounting for taste. I walked up and down the busy but not terribly busy Pio Nono, where there must have been 40 bars and discotheques (playing Britney Spears and Cascada) in a quarter mile, none of which I would ever consider going into. I’ve been called many things, including a cultural egalitarian—but never by someone who hadn’t mistaken me for someone else.

On some side streets there were huge, cheesy discotheques with big lines and at least 10 visible bouncers. There was a Greek themed one, a Jamaican themed one, a rock and roll themed one. From these, too, I demurred. Then, walking down the middle of the Pio Nono, I saw the Long, Extremely Tall Arm of the Law: 4 carabineros trotting on HUGE horses. I felt like an Inca. A very, very law-abiding Inca, since these Pizarros had automatic weapons to go with their horses.

Eventually at around midnight, I ducked into a small bar on the outskirts of Bellavista from which I heard live music. I sat watching a decent set by some locals (I think their name was A Bass, Some Drums, 2 Guitars and 4 Moustaches) and ordered 2 piscos on the rocks. They finished at about 1:30, and I caught a taxi home.

The taxi driver was effusive, excited about an American audience. He explained to me that George Bush had armed the whole world as a result for his lust for oil (my Spanish still isn’t that good, and he was rather excited about this idea). He also explained that Barack Obama isn’t a gringo because he’s black. I am not sure if the two points were related.

**Edidad's note: EYM is 20. But drinking age is 18 in Chile, like in any civilized nation.

***Edidad's note: I would have said 2000, the second Intifada. But things come and go...

Government in Action

Some time ago, Las Condes (a municipality in Santiago) decided to widen a road near UDD, where I am hanging out. The road wasn't THAT busy, but they thought it would be useful to widen, for some reason. (Maybe the contractor was a big supporter of an elected official, whatever). The widened road now looks like this: That is, the entire "new" lane is blocked off behind a fence. A very sturdy, permanent looking fence, quite expensive. Why? Here's why:

Yup, they didn't move power lines. Now either they should have moved the power lines, or not added a new lane. At least, that's how I would have done it. When I asked what the deal was, I was told, "There were no funds available to move the power lines." Looking at the second picture above, you can see that there is a LOT of brush and trash piled up behind the fence. It has been nearly ten years.

The Chilean reaction to this, and to most government actions, is a half-smile and that Gallic-Ibero-Roman shrug. No one can shrug like people with a Mediterranean heritage.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Snow, and Lots of It

Baby, it's cold outside. Compare that view to just a few days ago...
The taller mountains are especially snowy.
People keep saying that this is unusually cold. One lunch mate here said that this was the coldest winter for nearly ten years. Since I had been told the same thing (well, coldest summer, then) in Germany last year, I doubted the claim.

But it's true. It is apparently VERY unusually cold here right now. It's actually dangerous.

Perhaps it's me. I made Germany cold last year, and Chile cold this year. Soy poderoso!

Why Academics Can't Be Administrators

Rob Jenkins is kind enough to say he builds on an idea I had. But in fact his conception is quite a bit better, and more clear, than mine.

There is a piece of comedic gold in the comments. I'll let the commenters tell the story:

1. honore - July 22, 2010 at 09:21 pm
Another precious chart to reduce ourselves to.
Where's the quadrant labeled "High Dysfunction, Low Accountability"?

2. luder - July 23, 2010 at 07:24 am
Okay, I didn't read the column (maybe later), but isn't "four quadrants" slightly pleonastic? Could you really have, say, five quadrants? Three? Seventeen?

3. erskine_seminary - July 23, 2010 at 09:00 am
Um, no. By definition you can only have four quadrants.

"Honore" is (I'm guessing) a 50 year old female associate professor in a third rate English department. She is incapable of thinking or writing clearly, and in literature today that counts as a talent.

"Luder" didn't read the column, admits it, but feels moved to criticize the fact that "four quadrants" is redundant.

"Erskine" doesn't KNOW what pleonastic means.

Cash Reserves: Evil?

The Grand Game, in Raleigh!

During the Roosevelt Administration, government officials repeatedly tried to find ways to tax what they called "retained earnings." Those rat bastard businessmen were trying to INVEST! And that meant that profits were not being fully taxed. Something must be done. In fact, I would attribute much of the second dip, in 1936-7, to business uncertainty about tax treatment. The Roosevelt officials even went so far as to threaten businesses with prosecution for taking LEGAL tax breaks.

The Obama administration is now considering doing the same thing, in a variety of ways, increasing taxes on investment and productivity. The result will be lower investment and productivity, which may snuff out the recovery.

But that's not what today's Grand Game is about. Today I want to thank KPC friend BR for pointing out this article, in the Raleigh paper. A large company has the gall to hold large cash reserves, instead of paying out profits (so that the profits can be taxed), or reducing prices (which they would do...I'm not sure why having cash reserves means you should cut prices. It just doesn't follow).

Anyway, as frequent readers know, the Grand Game is where we ask you to check out the article, and point out the absurdity you find most amusing! I'll go first:


Is reconciliation just more torture?

In a searing and tremendous essay in Guernica, Susie Linfield pretty much argues exactly that. This is a must read, people, though it's brutal at parts.

It includes statements of incredible eloquence by Rwandan victims:

For the so-called survivors, genocide is the crime with no sentence, the problem with no solution, the crime with no end. “What’s the use of looking for mitigating circumstances… ?” asks Berthe Mwanankabandi, whose parents and eleven siblings were murdered. “What can you mitigate? The number of victims? The methods of hacking? The killers’ laughter? Delivering justice would mean killing the killers. But that would be like another genocide… Killing or punishing the guilty in some suitable way: impossible. Pardoning them: unthinkable. Being just is inhuman.”

As well as statement of incredible cynicism by Rwandan perpetrators:

“I am even a better person” as a result of the genocide, Pio Mutungirehe promises. “I married a Tutsi. All that upheaval of the genocide was of benefit to my psychology.” Pancrace Hakizamungili, also a convicted génocidaire, testifies that “I am a man improved by the experience of those cruel things… I was a good and pious boy; I have become a better and more pious boy, that’s all. If I may put it this way, I have been purified by wickedness.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ed Leamer knocks it out of the park (again)

Leamer has a fantastic essay in the Spring 2010 Journal of Economic Perspectives (ungated version here) reacting to Angrist & Pishke's semi-triumphalist piece on the "revolution" in applied econometrics. My favorite part, reproduced below, hits on something I complain about to my students all the time, namely the practice of eschewing any attempt to obtain more accurate point estimates in favor of using confidence intervals that only have an asymptotic justification despite having a decidedly finite sample. Anyway, I'll just shut up and let Ed preach it:

It should not be a surprise at this point in this essay that I part ways with Angrist and Pischke in their apparent endorsement of White’s (1980) paper on how to calculate robust standard errors. Angrist and Pischke write: “Robust standard errors, automated clustering,
and larger samples have also taken the steam out of issues like heteroskedasticity and serial correlation. A legacy of White’s (1980) paper on robust standard errors, one of the most highly cited from the period, is the near-death of generalized least squares in cross-sectional applied work.”

An earlier generation of econometricians corrected the heteroskedasticity problems with weighted least squares using weights suggested by an explicit heteroskedasticity model.
These earlier econometricians understood that reweighting the observations can have dramatic effects on the actual estimates, but they treated the effect on the standard errors as a secondary matter. A “robust standard” error completely turns this around, leaving the estimates the same but changing the size of the confidence interval.

Why should one worry about the length of the confidence interval, but not the location? This mistaken advice relies on asymptotic properties of estimators. I call it “White-washing.” Best to remember that no matter how far we travel, we remain always in the Land of the Finite
Sample, infinitely far from Asymptopia. Rather than mathematical musings about life in Asymptopia, we should be doing the hard work of modeling the heteroskedasticity and the time dependence to determine if sensible reweighting of the observations materially changes the locations of the estimates of interest as well as the widths of the confidence

Yes! Amen!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't you ever call me Shirley

So now the administration is falling all over itself to apologize and offer another job to the woman they were falling all over themselves to fire, like, one day ago?


And the NAACP is doing the same two-step?

Phone call for Jesse Jackson! (oh, he's already well on the case).

We are still really screwed up on race in this country, aren't we?

And someone needs to send out an APB on Tom Vilsack's spine (among other parts).

I however, have a much better idea than re-instating Ms. Sherrod:

Fire all of her erstwhile colleagues and get rid of the Department of Agriculture!

There is no baby in this bathwater, so why not?


I finally got a Kindle! And I like it. It's so ez to use. You can control the font size. It's ergonomic.

My only complaint?

You can't read the damn thing in the dark!

And so it begins...

Now the ratings agencies don't want their clients to use the ratings they get!

I am not making this up:

S&P, Moody's & Fitch "are all refusing to allow their ratings to be used in documentation for new bond sales.....Each says it fears being exposed to new legal liability created by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law".

Who cares? Well,

This is important because some bonds, notably those that are made up of consumer loans are required by law to include ratings in their official documentation. That means that new bond sales in the $1.4 trillion market for mortgages, autos, student loans and credit cards could effectively shut down.

There have been no new asset backed bonds put on sale this week, in stark contrast to last week, when $3 billion of issues were sold".

Is this a great country or what?

We visit the Congress, and the White House

Last week, we went over to Valparaiso and had a nice lunch with Diputado Ernesto Silva, a an elected member of the Camara de Diputados. We ate in the private dining room of the Diputados, way up high in the Congress building, overlooking the harbor. Breathtaking.

Yesterday we went with Princeton Prof. John Londregan to visit the Ministry of Finance, in La Moneda, which is Chile's White House / Old Executive Office Building wrapped into one. There appears to be a rule that the Moneda guards, special Caribeneros (at least the men), have to be at least 1.8 meters tall, without their imposing cavalry boots (with spurs). I felt small among these giants. The goose stepping, the Prussian style uniforms, and the military bearing of the men is a little disquieting to an American. But this is in fact the very seat of government, and we were lucky to get to go in and have an interview with two Finance officials. (The Minister was going to try to meet with us, but not surprisingly he was busy). We had a very nice hour long interview on the future of the economic system, and talked a lot about Public Choice and regulation. It is interesting that the government now in power faces the same problem that Reagan faced in 1980: How to dismantle the apparatus of regulation, and education bureaucracy, while (1) increasing private sector productivity, (2) encouraging new jobs, and (3) managing to stay in office. The next election is four years away, but it's tough. Reagan had only limited success, and the Republicans from 2000 sold out all their principles just so they could focus on (3). The problem is that the way to stay in government is to expand government, by hiring new bureaucrats who depend on the program for their jobs. Buena suerte, Chile! I hope you do better than our miserable sell-out Republicans did.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nuclear Launch Detected

SC2. July 27.

I just hope the Terrans don't suck. The first game was fun, but if you could click
fast and accurately, Zerg was almost unbeatable just by running a rush.

This is exciting.

(Note: I had written WC2. Yuck. Sorry. Thanks to John Thacker to pointing out the embarrassing error)

Jedi Census

Jedi census.

Never underestimate the power of those who oppose initiating the Force.

Back to the dust bowl

Man, we had a great day yesterday in NY. Saw "The secret in their eyes", at Angelika, had terrific tacos and grilled elote at The Corner Deli in SoHo and then topped off a great trip by seeing Calexico play at the City Winery.

Calexico is touring as an 8 piece band and, while I expected it to be good, they blew me away. I only have a couple of their early CDs and their joint EP with Iron & Wine, but they have added a lot to their sound. If you get a chance to see them, I wouldn't pass it up.
Now it's back to OK and my PhD students and my half finished projects, and my Mr. Tooty.

Tough Night Last Night

Very nice day, visiting Adolfo Ibanez University. More on that soon.

But after the nice day, we had arranged to meet Juan Pablo and Eugenio for dinner, some pizza, which I wanted to try in the Chilean fashion.

Unfortunately, there some setbacks.

1. I miscommunicated (my fault) with Juan Pablo. I thought he was going to pick us up, and he thought we were to meet at the restaurant. (Tiramisu, really great pizza, first class crust, nice place). So he went to the restaurant at 8:30, and we stood out on the corner in the cold until 9.

2. Went back to the room, to check and see if Juan Pablo had left a message. No, he was still waiting at the restuarant (again, my fault). Walking back down, I didn't see a big curb in the dark. Fell very hard, landed on my bad knee, bloodying it, and hit my head hard enough to see stars and ponies. Got up, went out to the corner to tell the EYM, and pretty much passed out. Was holding up by grabbing a street light, almost fainting. EYM not happy, tried to get me to go back inside, but I wasn't feeling like traveling.

3. Felt a little better (it was COLD) soon, we walked inside, EYM on crutches trying to hold me up. Then, I felt well enough to take cab to restaurant. EYM volunteered to pay cab (2k pesos, or less than $4), and then we got out of the cab, and saw Juan Pablo standing beside his car. It was 9:15, so he had waited a long time. We go inside, and there is a long wait. But....Tiny EYM to the rescue! They see the crutches, and we get a table. Sit down, relieved and hungry, and the EYM says, "Damn. I left my wallet in the taxi." I run out, sort of, to see if it was on the ground. Nothing. We have to cancel credit cards, get new hotel keys, new BIP card, and new driver's license for the EYM.

Still, the pizza was tremendous. Really good.

Tim Groseclose! Today's your lucky day

Details are here my friend.

Hat tip to Dr. Newmark.

Monday, July 19, 2010

We were just KIDDING about all that Commerce Clause stuff!

Commerce Clause? Nah, we was just funnin'. It was a tax increase all along. Surprise!

Remember, Candidate Obama promised that NO ONE with an income below $250k would get a tax increase.

Now.... EVERYONE IN THE U.S. is getting a significant tax increase, based on an entirely new tax. New York Times Story. And CATO analysis. And Randy Barnett analysis.

Wow. Also yikes.


Futbol! We went to see Colo-Colo. Big. After about 20 minutes, I wanted to buy a CD of their fan-songs, so I could burn it. I am not a Colo-Colino, it appears. Still, beautiful. Here was the view from our seats (click on picture to embiggen). And here is a short movie, so you can hear the horrible "songs." Made me long for vuvuzelas. Almost.

Oh, and the game. The Colo-Colos scored on their first possession, in the first minute (!) and then again in the 90th minute. Roberto Cereceda got the big rojo in the 55th minute, and Colo-Colos played a man down from there. The O'Higgins lads were just demoralized, always a step slow and consistently losing every header or contested ball. The O'Higgins fellows did have one clear breakaway, on the left side with only the goalie to beat, but the player inexplicably passed it instead of shooting, and they lost the chance. Couldn't score, or even threaten, even though they were playing 11 on 10, after the red card. Here is the O'Higgins web site.

(If O'Higgins sounds like a strange name for a soccer team, it's a funny name for anything. Bernardo O'Higgins is THE primary signer of the Chilean Declaration of Independence. So he is called "El Libertador." He was Irish on his father's side (Ambrosio O'Higgins) and Basque on his mother's side (his father and mother were never married, at least not to each other....) But at first he was pretty much just declaring independence from France and his mother; he was 30 and getting sick of getting bossed around. When Napolean kidnapped and imprisoned el Rey de Espana, Bernardo had himself declared the second "Supreme Director" of Chile, and then declared independence from France, which controlled Spain, in the name of the King of Spain. So the "independence" was really an assertion of the rights of the King of Spain to control Chile, rather than the French. Stirring words, huh? They did finally declare a more traditional independence, after O'Higgins let/ordered (not clear) some of his boys execute Jose Miguel Carrera, apparently because they could. He was no Thomas Jefferson, but when it comes to liberty in Latin America you take what you can get, I suppose)

All Hail Robert Gober!

Went to the Whitney Sunday afternoon to see the Gober curated Charles Burchfield exhibit. Fantastic! Highly recommended.

Burchfield hit the ground galloping as a 20 year old kid with a style that combines early Mondrian and Van Gogh. He lost his touch in mid life, and then impressively pulled it together to make great pictures again in his 50s and 60s.

The first and last rooms of the exhibit are total stunners with one knockout piece after another.

Plus the notes on the pieces are extremely well done.

If I hadn't seen "curated by Robert Gober" I never would have went and Mrs. A and I loved it.

In fact, for the first time ever, she took longer viewing the exhibit than I did!

Good Choice for WV Senator to Replace Byrd

The LMM is very excited about the selection to replace Sen. Robert Byrd of WV.

His name is Carte Goodwin. Here he is with that well-known cougar, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
The LMM likes him because he is hot. Oh, golly, I'd better get home. I think the lawn needs to be mowed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Someone's in the kitchen with China

People, I am so tired of hearing about how China's fixed exchange rate is ruining America. We don't need any help ruining America, we are doing it just fine all by ourselves.

I wouldn't even put China's exchange rate policy in the top 10 list of bad things about China.

Lets see....

1. Their support for regimes like North Korea
2. Their throwing of a spanner into possibly helpful international agreements
3. The massive censorship of information they attempt to impose on their citizens
4. Their incredible pollution problem
5. The fact that their citizens cannot move freely around the country
6. The fact that their citizens cannot freely practice any religion they might choose
7. The degree of command and control that the party imposes on the economy
8. The fact that their citizens cannot freely choose the number of children to have
9. The level of infanticide caused by the previous item
10. Their actions and attitudes toward Tibet and Taiwan


Recycle Me This

Kento sends two funny links about recycling, reusing, and using public transport. Not sure the authors thought they were funny. But they are.

Link the first

Link the second

I especially like the response by David Bain in the WAPO article. The reporter asserts that he is a hypocrite. Mr. Bain's defense is that no, he's an idiot.


A good day on "whore island"

Ate dosas here (2nd best dosa I ever had in the USA!).

Saw a movie here ("Where the road ends, the Taliban begins").

In the evening we saw the inimitable Sklar Brothers perform here ("Welcome to Whore Island, do you have your passport?").

BTW, despite recent movements of the Euro, I can tell you people that hordes of europeans are here dropping major cash.

Driving and Property Rights in Chile

Driving here seems pretty tough. VERY aggressive drivers, and the "informal" sector is large. Some vignettes.

1. Speed limits are generally 100 km/hour, max. I've seen people blow by us at least 50 km/hr more than that. In overloaded, topheavy vans and pickup trucks.

2. In Buin, we saw a pickup truck driving the wrong way on an access road, a BUSY access road. A caribenera was standing about 20 meters away, placidly directing (actually, waving ineffectually at) traffic.

3. In Valparaiso, just up the street from the capitol building, an "entrepreneur" had placed four buckets full of water on parking spaces across from his little car wash place. Juan Pablo got out, moved one of the buckets, and parked. The guy comes over, and insists Juan Pablo pull ahead to make more room. And the guy volunteered to "protect" the car, for a fee. Now, parking is "free" on the street, but this was clearly a threat to damage the car or otherwise cause trouble. Juan Pablo paid the fee. So, in a way, nice, because it means you can park if you pay, instead of driving around looking for nonexistent "free" parking. But ... those buckets are simply theft, part of the "informal" sector that plagues Latin countries.

4. In Providencia, we pulled into a "pay" parking spot. But the guy has none of the parking permits you are supposed to buy, and there is no machine. So... Juan Pablo pays him. Now, the pay is less than the official fee, so Juan Pablo and we are better off. And the guy gets to keep the full fee, himself, so the GUY is better off. But the transaction is "informal" and none of the fee goes to el gobierno.

5. In a shopping mall, on Manquehue, we see a woman in an enormous SUV (rare here) (I mean SUVs are rare, women are quite common) try to back out. There is not much space, but she is not coming close to succeeding. (Generally, when I see a female driver and a car in reverse, I find a safe spot to watch, because it is likely to be entertaining, but peligroso). So, after three back and forths, not coming within five feet of the car behind her, she rams it into drive and goes FORWARD, over the parking curb. But this curb is a good six inches high, so she high centers the SUV. She puts it in four wheel drive, so that the front and rear tires alternately spin, and touch the ground, and pop up the front and then back of the car, like a teeter totter. The car jerks forward, until the rear wheels catch the curb. And then she is out. The whole thing, once she put it in drive, took only 4 or 5 seconds. Worth seeing.