Saturday, June 18, 2011

Women Drivers

This story got me thinking: is the stereotype about women drivers correct, in terms of central tendency? Obviously many men are too aggressive, and are far more likely to cause accidents, than women. But, still... women drive differently, right?

Anyway, here is the story:

A young woman mistakenly followed her rental car's GPS directions down a boat ramp in Bellevue, Washington. The driver apparently thought she was on a road when she crashed her SUV into the water at Mercer Slough Nature Park, reports One woman immediately jumped to safety, and the other two stood on door frames before wading ashore.

The three women were in town for a conference and were searching for a hotel just after midnight when they drove down the darkened path. "They were trying to re-route their path and found this boat launch," says a local fireman. "[They] just kept driving into the water." The SUV was completely submerged when a tow truck arrived in the morning. Police don't suspect drugs or alcohol were a factor. "We've seen sitcom parodies of something like this," says the fireman. "To actually see it is surprising."

The truth is that women are not just better and safer drivers, but are substantially better. Maybe they are just not very good at programming the GPS.

Right, Shirley?

(Nod to Anonyman, who can program anything except women)


People, I am not a programming genius by any stretch of the imagination. That said, I've done work with a variety of co-authors (Mark Perry, Mrs. Angus, Rodolfo Cermeno, Olan Henry & Nilss Olekalns ) where we write our own code to estimate multivariate GARCH in mean models, which so far are not available as pre-programmed packages in STATA or EVIEWS or SAS.

As a result, I get a fair amount of requests to give code to others. Amazingly to me, many of these requests come from PhD students.

My feeling is that if you are getting a PhD in economics you should write your own code for your dissertation. I usually tell students that and decline to give them the code, but offering to answer any specific questions that they may have about their own coding efforts.

The most bizarre situation I've faced was with a researcher from a central bank in Latin America. He asked for some code and I provided it, but he couldn't get from the code specifically written for my problem and data to a solution to his problem and data. So he asked if he sent me his data would I code up and run the estimations his bosses wanted.

I'd be very interested in hearing in the comments from other researchers how they handle requests to provide code along with any good code-sharing stories.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No Sh*t, Sherlock

Hey. Do you know what is the favorite food of people that live in India?

Well it's INDIAN food!

How 'bout Mexico?

You guessed it, MEXICAN!

Now, do you know the moronic NGO that paid $$ to find this out?

Well, it's OXFAM (scroll down to the "top 3 foods by country" table).

Nice job guys, really good use of $$ and really fascinating findings. Don't know what we'd do without you.

It's so sexy... be living in America.

Two new bands I am really liking are Dom and Peaking Lights.

Dom has an EP called "Sun Bronzed Greek Gods" (really) that is awesome. Here's the video for the song that inspired the title of this post:

Peaking Lights has a new record called "936". This is the first dubby, chilly, kind of band that I am really liking. Neon Indian just doesn't do it for me.

Here's a video:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hey boy, get a sweater!

The Senate voted today 73 - 27 to eliminate the federal subsidy for domestic ethanol AND eliminate the $0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol!


Before anyone gets too excited though, the Obama administration is not pleased:

"The White House issued a statement saying it was against a full repeal of ethanol subsidies, indicating it could use its veto power if the amendment continued to advance in Congress."

So I guess it's not expected to pass the House with a 2/3 majority?

Even so, kudos to the world's greatest deliberative body for actually getting one right for a change.

Is there ever a bad time to get busy?

Guess not!

Mom's secret receipe

Start with a group of elderly activist moms who helped end Argentina's dirty war, then toss in some political opportunism and payback. Add in a pinch of patricide.

What do you get?

The renowned "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" somehow have become providers of "an ambitious government funded housing program, known as "Sueños Compartidos," or Shared Dreams."


After all, nothing signals the ability to run large scale public works projects like wearing white scarves and carrying banners.

And the Main Mother's top advisor is none other than Sergio Schoklender, who did a bit in the Argentine slammer for beating his parents to death with a steel bar!


Somehow, the money that the Kirchner government is funneling to the Mothers in exchange for their political support was getting funneled by Sergio into his own pocket!

Man, I never would have seen that coming.

I hope my Argentine friends enjoy La Kirchner's second term; it should be a doozy.

What do Miles Davis and Kevin Love have in common?

No, it's not that each one has an uncle in the Beach Boys!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ATMs destroy jobs?

So, President Obama went on the TODAY SHOW.

And, according to a couple of people I talked to, and some writers, he said that ATMs are destroying jobs. The quote is this:

There are "structural issues with the economy. ... You see it when you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don't go to a bank teller."

Here is the show excerpt. It's long; the relevant part starts at 3:00 or so.

And...that's not what he said. "Media Matters" has this right, I think. The President just did not say ATMs are costing America jobs. He didn't.

Still, I might not have said "structural problem," which is wrong. The fact is that economies are constantly doing things like replacing people with machines in some sectors and then hiring people somewhere else. That is not a problem at all, but a challenge.

I admit that for a command and control, "let's pass a law" guy like the President, it has to be a little scary to rely on the "creative" part of creative destruction. It's not clear where the new jobs will come from. It never is.

But he came close to telling the truth. The reason that business is not investing now is that investors are uncertain, and can't be sure if the economy is turning up. So they are sitting on cash. In the meantime, productivity (he called it "efficiency," which is accurate enough) is through the roof, so companies are making decent profits. And the Treasury is selling huge amounts of government debt, and companies can park their cash there and make a decent return in the short run.

Here's the thing. KPC BFF Mark Perry has the straight dope: fewer jobs but much larger manufacturing output.

But look at productivity:

ATMs are a good thing. (And the President basically said so). But losing jobs to productivity means that jobs must be created somewhere else, if the economy is to grow. The U.S. is still (by far) the largest manufacturing economy in the world. And U.S. manufacturing is (still) trending up, not down. That's not controlling for population, and not using any tricks. We are number one, by a lot.

Here's what the President should do.
1. Stop the class war rhetoric. Stop blaming business for the depression. He can blame his Wall Street butt boys at Goldman and Lehman, if he wants, but he would never do that and turn off the campaign contribution money pump.
2. Take real steps toward settling the budget and debt crisis. Force the bed-wetters who "lead" the Senate to pass a freakin' budget.
3. Reduce the uncertainty business faces in forecasting health care costs, taxes, and new regulations. The whole health care fiasco is a major cause of the extended recession. Republicans are just as much to blame, in that area. They obstructed without offering a better alternative, and now health care is still a big job-killing tax on new hires. But the President is the one who has to try to do something.

In 1936 and 1937, as Amity Shlaes chronicles in her book THE FORGOTTEN MAN, the Roosevelt administration went after business hard. They tried to pass new taxes, and they blamed business for (wait for it) sitting on piles of cash. The result was a second dip, where employment jumped back above 16%. It could happen again. ATMs are good; uncertainty is bad. And deficits are stupid.

Race to 1,000,000!

It looks like KPC will beat "Fight of the Century" to 1,000,000 hits!

Of course, KPC started counting in August, 2004. FotC just came out at the end of April, not even two months ago. But, who's counting?

I am! KPC: 997,250 FotC: 893,200. KPC! KPC! KPC!

Remember, that 1,000,000 (+/- 1) viewer gets a pack of FAAAABULOUS prizes. If you are number 999,999, number 1,000,000, or number 1,000,001, just email me at I'll check the records for the IP, and if it matches up locations, you WIN!

I did try to address the controversy from last time, at 500,000 views. And at least one person got their (belated) prize.

Bug Ice Cream

Ice cream store in Columbia, MO makes ice cream using boiled, sugared cicadas.

Not so fast, says the state health Gestapo. Seems that if it's not approved, it's not permitted.

Now, if they were using bugs secretly, as a filler, that would be illegal, sure. But this is called "Bug Ice Cream," and the cicadas are visible.

There should be a list of prohibited items, not a list of permitted items. This is upsetting.

Massively Multiplayer On-Line Twit

"Heavy users of Twitter, as Weiner used to be (he hasn’t posted since June 1), play a complicated strategy game. Like World of Warcraft and Halo, Twitter is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, but with higher real-world stakes. It is grounded in the first principles of game theory, including variations on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. You have to give to get; you have to get to give. Managing these ratios — deciding how much of your attention to expend to win attention to yourself, say — is the lion’s share of the Twitter action...Twitter handsomely rewards those with a capacity for risk and an aptitude for the social sciences, especially economics, game theory, psychology and sociology...In the days immediately after the Weiner revelations, according to the statisticians at TweetCongress, posts by Republicans went down 27 percent, while posts from Democrats dropped 29 percent." [Virginia Heffernan, NYT op-ed]

(nod to Kevin Lewis)

Affirmative Action for Athletics?

Okay, ha ha. But:

1. If anything, coaches already try to find white players.
2. Some black people have racial prejudices; everyone does. But "racism" is directed at the societal minority, which is NOT white people. Affirmative action tries to overcome racism (which is an aggregate effect), not racial prejudice (which is individual).
3. Performance in sport (as in music, and the military) is objective. The idea of using race in those categories is silly. And of course that's why sports, music, and the military have long been the most integrated parts of U.S. society (although even there white racists said blacks didn't have the "character" to be a quarterback, boxer, etc.). But academics and hiring are more subjective. A bad time in the 40 yard dash means you are slow. A bad SAT score could mean all sorts of things. When I ran admissions at UNC MPA, I was surprised how many low GRE score students did VERY well once they were admitted.
4. Basketball is the key sport among urban populations, many of whom are black. Hockey, swimming, lacrosse much less so. This is sorting, not racism.

Nonetheless, I was amused to see the kids struggle with making ANY of the above arguments. The video does a good job of showing how our "support" for aff-action is a religion, not a considered conclusion.

(Nod to the Blonde)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You did NOT do that....

Angus in a hot dog? No way you did that.

(Nod to Chateau)

BFFs: du Process

Interesting talk at dinner the other night about friendship. What does it mean, how do you tell, and how do Germans and Americans differ in their understanding of the meaning, obligations, and limits of friendship.

Germans see Americans as superficial or even manipulative. We smile too much, we presume too much intimacy too fast. In German, there is a distinction between different forms of "you." I found this article, and also this one, if you are interested.

The money quote from the article:

The real problem isn't just grammar; it is also a matter of culture. An English-speaker is not used to making the distinction between the familiar and formal you (except in the similar "Mr. Brown" vs. "Bob" situation). German-speakers are very much aware of it and can become very uncomfortable when the du/Sie rules are broken. German-speakers tend to keep their distance longer with acquaintances than English-speakers do. German business colleagues who have worked together for years continue to address each other as Sie. It does not mean they are unfriendly, but they are maintaining the important German division between truly close friends and mere acquaintances.

This can manifest itself in ways that seem odd to the boundaries. As I wrote before, to an American, Franconia can seem like the land of state-sponsored autism.

But it is just as odd, or maybe more so, for Germans, and especially Franconians. If I said "Good Morning," in perfect German with a German accent, to someone on the street, they would stare in amazement. That is absolutely not done. "We have not been introduced!" would be the reaction. The circle of friends, real friends, for a German is generally smaller than the circle an American with precisely the same set of relationships might identify. But at the center of that circle the friendships seem deeper and with more reciprocal obligations for a German, especially German man.

Americans, on the other hand, can count their friends on Facebook. Where Americans might want many friends, Germans might want good friends.

There was a lot more, but that's the gist of it. I personally am more comfortable with being friendly, and the "superficial" criticism is not very persuasive. Why not be nice? It's more fun. Germans, at first, when they visit the American south assume that people are trying to get something, maybe even rob them, if a conversation is struck up. Americans don't need to be introduced. Germans also find it tough to tell where a friendship starts with an American, and I think they have a point here. Americans are a bit too intimate too fast, but then pull back. How can tell who is a friend, without "du" process?

Schadenfreude? Or Just Another Excessive Law Exploited in a Way That Amuses Us?

Borrower uses asinine law to foreclose on lender.

Somebody noticed...

But did anyone notice that it's a stupid, cumbersome, expensive law in the first place?

(nod to Anonyman)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Uganda trip report #3: The big Kahunas

We went on two mountain gorilla treks in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in southwestern Uganda. Compared to Rwanda, there are fewer habituated families to see, the hiking is, if anything, tougher, and the rangers are less professional. It's also less crowded and you can pick the group you want to visit rather than being randomly assigned when you reach the park. In both countries, the maximum group size is 8 and the time allowed to be with the gorillas is one hour.

I enjoyed my gorilla experience more in Uganda than in Rwanda, even though (or maybe because?) is was my second time. I was less frantically taking pictures and more soaking the whole thing in. That said, we did get some good photos (clic the pics for more glorious images):

You can see more gorilla photos from the trip here.

A Not Bad At All Mexican Restaurant

T.G. is the man. He felt moved to defend the honor of Erlangen, after reading about the "Worst Mexican Restaurant in the World" incident.

So, we went to La Pasion. Here is the menu (PDF, a download).

It was just fine. First, the chips/dip. You may recall that in the WMRITW this was crackers with ketchup-with-tomatoes. At La Pasion, a perfectly eatable bottled salsa, nothing special, but actual salsa. The guacamole was fine, and they HAD guacamole, which was an improvement.

The food came with beans, canned jalapenos, and fiery little fresh chiles with stems. The quesadillas...well, check the menu. They had...pollo! At the WMRITW the very idea of pollo had been mocked by the waitress, who had insisted only puten (turkey) could be used in Mexican food. But La Pasion lists chicken, pollo, and hanchen, which makes sense for a multi-lingual menu.

And the beer was first rate. A very excellent hefeweisse. (To be fair, even the WMRITW had managed to get that right).

So, overall, a perfectly acceptable Mexican restaurant. Wouldn't survive in Los Angeles, perhaps, but they used ingredients and flavorings that strongly reminded one of Mexican food. One of our party said the food was what you might get if your mom cooked Mexican, but I think that's not right. This was what you might get at Applebees or some chain. In any case, thanks to T.G.! Erlangen's honor is restored. I liked the restaurant very much.

Tales from the Berg II: Ran into a chum, with a bottle of rum....

And wound up drinking all night. I blame Martin. Will post about Mexican restaurant soon, though.

Went out for lunch at Carpaccio. An Italian restaurant with actual Italians. Great little courtyard, with lattice and umbrellas (it was sunny here, by the way; a miracle!) The boys and I went, along with Martin, the lovely Ulla (who should have known better) and the indomitable Dominik.

Martin insists on ordering a whole liter of chianti, even though he was the only one who wanted any. Well, actually, I did that. Martin was kind enough to go along. But I need to work something like a chum with a bottle of rum in here, to make the Buffet allusion work. Really great lunch, first rate, kind of Martin to suggest it.

Our waiter was hilarious. Funny, insulting, did a little dance. Long hair pulled back, oiled down, about five foot ten and 150 pounds, looked like an Italian waiter should look. Kept checking back, brought the food quickly. I briefly forgot I was in Germany, with such service. The pizzas and pasta all very good.

Then we climbed the Huguenot Church in the main square. Yes, we did. It's tall.
. Amazing view.

Then the boys and I went back to the Hotelchen, where I immediately napped for 20 minutes. Fortunately, Hajo called and woke me up. He was at Berg, waiting for us. We didn't get up there until nearly 17:00, and it was really hard to find a table. Martin was going to join us later (after HIS nappie). Finally found a table, near "The Kessel" at Entla's Keller. This description is funny, both the "boiling" and the list of cheesy sing-along songs. Here is the Kessel (yes, that's really what is going on; our table was above a bit, though, not in the boiling):

After we found a table, shared with some other folks (Ha-Jo did this, crucial to be quick and speak German), we sat for quite a while (Ha-Jo had some entla, which was cool). Our table companions left, leaving half a table open. This is like a pretty girl in a tight tube top sitting alone at a dance for sailors just back from the sea. LOTS of people were hitting on us, though of course they only wanted us for our table. We were trying to hold seats for Martin, Ulla, and Dominik, but we were under constant attack. Apparently (Martin insists) I left a phone message for him (he was still napping) that was like a call for an air strike in a bad war movie: "Martin! You have to get here. We can't (loud noise)...Wow! That was close. We can't hold on much longer. Please...(loud crashing and banging)... You have got to get here!"

And then they did get there, and it was all good, and we sang and danced on the tables at the Kessel.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


So, Erlangen is never like this, EXCEPT during Berg. Then your Bavarian getaway is exactly like this.

(No, I have no idea what this is about. Blame Martin)

Last night Berg was so crowded I literally could not move. And some really drunk guys were doing the "throw the shoulder and elbow" thing to try to start fights.

On the other hand, I also walked by "The Worst Mexican Restaurant in the World," with fond memories.

The admirable T.G. took us last night to a different Mexican restaurant. I have two posts later today about the experience. Stay tuned.