Thursday, December 27, 2012

The UN at work ...

You'll be as excited to learn as I was that the UN has declared 2013 to be the International Year of the Quinoa.


Via: the Economist

The Economist rises to the occasion ...

... with its review of God's Doodle by Tom Hickman.

From an email list of the Economist's most read articles for 2012. Changes your opinion of Economist readers, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some mathematical christmas cheer

Hat tip: James Brian Paul Nance, writer of logic textbooks, and one of my best friends in 10th grade.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Christmas

Live long, and prosper.

Hat tip: a facebook friend. And really, how could I resist once I saw it?

Sadly, I could not resist this from John Palmer either, though surely I should have.

Holiday greetings ...

... featuring Jeff and Charlie.

Thanks to Marit Rehavi for creating the video.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

2012 is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn's book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".

Longtime readers may recall that Kuhn's book made it onto my list of books that had the largest intellectual influence on me.  For me, recasting the history of science in terms of paradigm shifts mattered less than recasting science itself as a social enterpirse.

Some related thoughts from the Guardian and from David Warsh at Economic Principals.

If you have not read the book, it remains well worth reading.

Vote fraud in the New Yorker

This article on vote fraud from the New Yorker got passed around a lot before the election but, having read it, I think oddly so. The main point seems not to be about whether or not there is vote fraud, but that some red team activists use vote fraud as a wedge issue and sometimes don't get the facts right. Is it really news that activists of any flavor make stuff up in pursuit of thier political objectives?

More broadly, this, like voting rights for felons, seems like an amazingly bad issue for the blue team to push on. First, it is transparently self-interested. Second, it is quite clearly not in the broader interest, as an electoral system viewed as honest and fair is a public good.

I should note that I tend to discount claims that vote fraud is empirically unimportant, as I personally knew an admitted fraudulent voter, an unlikely event if they are really, really rare. She wsa the proprietress of "Hair Ph.D." in Hyde Park when I was in gradual school and proudly admitted to me that, though she now lived in the suburbs, she still voted in her old Chicago neighborhood for the Daley team whenever the opportunity arose.

Assorted links

1. Sometimes Social Security stinks for reasons other than its weak design.

2. Cool old computers that people still use. I have a working Kaypro II that runs CP/M but it does not get used much.

3. Some rare good news from the war on (some) drugs, courtesy of Colorado and Washington.

4. Famous writer Cosmo tips from McSweeny's.

5. A day in the life of an awfully serious University of Washington undergraduate. Where were the food carts when when I was student?

Hat tip on #5 to Charlie Brown.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

UVa wins prestigious award ...

... as Playboy rates it as the best campus for students who want to have a good time.

My thought: really? really?

Somehow I imagine a conversation like: "Dudes, let's go party at Monticello" and think that this just can't be right.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Book: Jane Austen by Carol Shields

Shields, Carol. 2001. Jane Austen. New York: Penguin.

This is one of the Penguin Lives series of short biographies. Though a hardcover, it is trade paperback size and just 185 pages.  The books are a bit pricey, but I have mangaged to find several of them at used book stores or sales - this particular one at a sale at the University of Toronto.

As it turns out, not all that much is known about Jane Austen's life, particularly the early bits. She grew up in modest, but not impoverished,  circumstances, and it was not clear that she was going to achieve fame and some fortune until not many years before early death at age 43. Her sister, with whom she carried on a voluminous correspondence, added to the information problem by destroying those letters she thought did not put Jane in a good light.

Still, there is more than enough to fill the book, and novelist Carol Shields presents it all in a warm and conversational manner. She also makes some points about the novels that I had not really thought about, most particulalry that they are remarkably free of religion given that they were written by the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. I also did not realize that Austen spent several unproductive (at least in terms of novels) years in Bath or that she had turned down the one marriage proposal that came her way.

The book ends with a short but useful chapter on sources and further readings, which is something I always value.


Delta Airlines harder to get into than Harvard?

According to the Daily Mail, Delta Airlines has received 22,000 applications for 300 flight attendant jobs.

Missing from the Daily Mail piece is the obvious conclusion, which is that Delta either pays its flight attendants too much or makes its application process too easy or, more likely, both.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

MAACO Bowl: Boise State 28, Washington 26

Washington played pretty well, including coming back from an 18-3 deficit in the first half, but not well enough in the end.

Thus ends the Huskies' third 7-6 season in a row. Thus starts a bit of grumbling too, I suspect, in Huskyland. Everyone much prefers Sarkisian and 7-6 to 0-8 under Willingham to be sure, but it is time, one hears, to take the next step, and get up into the region of 8-10 wins a year.

The Huskies get to start next season, and to start life in the remodeled version of Husky Stadium, and to start taking the next step, with a rematch against Boise State at the end of August.

Bonus points for running back Bishop Sankey, who was named player of the game despite being on the losing team. I am not sure I have ever seen that happen before.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Laura Hartman, Laura Hartman

I had been wondering why my old friend Laura Hartman - I was the external reviewer on her dissertation long ago and her post-dissertation party at the Hotel Linne set a standard that has not yet been exceeded - suddenly left the Swedish think-tank SNS in 2011 to return to Uppsala University.  Now I know.

Good for Laura.

The blogger reporting on the affair goes off the rails a bit at the end of the post but the basic point that SNS blew it, and not in a small way, is surely correct. Perhaps the comparisons to Stalin can wait, though, until the SNS also murders a few million kulaks.

N.B. For younger readers, the title of the post is a play on this.

Academic scandal at UNC

I had not heard about this before reading this article but it sounds pretty bad.

I am not sure why it is comforting that it was about the department budget (which presumably depended on undergraduate bums in classroom chairs, as they often do either directly or indirectly) rather than about athletic success.

Seinfeld on comedy

The New York Times magazine does a piece on Jerry Seinfeld.

I particularly liked this bit:
Almost from the beginning, Seinfeld has forsworn graphic language in his bits, dismissing it as a crutch.
I don't mind cursing and smut, but it is not elegant and, as usually applied in stand-up comedy, not very clever.

Latter-day tourism

The FT reports on a journey to Nauvoo, Illinois, one of the early stops on the path the latter-day saints took to Salt Lake City, and now a religo-historical tourist attraction.

Book: In Other Times, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Mueenuddin, Daniyal. 2009. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. New York: W.W. Norton.

Mueenuddin grew up in both Pakistan and the US, including along the way an undergraduate degree in English at Dartmouth, and so is rather uniquely positioned to write a book of short stories about Pakistan, with a special emphasis on life among the relatively well-off.

The stories provide a window into worlds most Americans will never see, and so function as sociology or travelogue as well as fiction. Mueenuddin does not shy from the blunt or unpleasant in pursuit of realism, but does not dwell on them either. Indeed, there is a faint, but only faint, aroma of sentimentality about some of the stories.

I was struck in the stories by the general absence of religion and politics, which are perhaps the two things, along with poverty and heat, that I would most quickly associated with Pakistan. The religion that does appear is gentle and laden with superstition. Related to the suprising absence of religion is the surprising ubiquity of alochol in the lives of well-off Pakastanis. Though off-hand remarks make it clear that the alcohol is obtained illicitly, there seems to be no worry that drinkers will get ratted out to the secular or religious authorities by their servants. I wonder if that remains true today.

Definitely recommended.

Brent Musberger interview

Steve Kelly of the Seattle Times interviews ABC/ESPN announcer Brent Musberger, who is doing the play-by-play for today's bowl game featuring Washington against Boise State.

With Keith Jackon and John Madden retired, I think Brent is probably my favorite college football announcer, at least on television.

The bowl game is at 3:30 Eastern today on ESPN. Boise State is, suprisingly to my mind, favored by five.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Microfoundations of the placebo effect ...

The Economist on the "body" side of mind-body medicine.

FT interview with Angela Merkel

I really like the idea of Angela Merkel imitating Obama.

There are other good bits in this FT interview as well.

Hard to imagine anyone this serious (in any party) getting to a similar position in the US.

Megan McArdle on the Connecticut school shootings

Megan has a really thoughtful take on many dimensions of last week's school shooting.

I particularly like the focus on thinking cooly, calmly and realistically about what policy can accomplish and what it cannot as well as her suggestion of a cooling off period before period before policy gets done in the wake of the media frenzy following a dramatic event.

Hat tip: Dan Black

Thursday, December 20, 2012

There is a sadness to becoming an adult

Bob Poole on airport screening

Bob is the former editor and publisher of reason magazine - that's what he was doing back in the day when I was the reason summer intern - and, later, the former president of the reason foundation. Now he does transportation policy full time.

I found his Congressional testimony on airport security screening useful; there was more that I did not already know than I expected.

Modernity comes to India

The FT on the clash between liberal and traditional gender relations in India.

I had no idea that arranged marriages were still common among the educated.

Interesting throughout.

Evidence-based policy via simple graphs: gun control edition

Another of my blue team economist facebook friends (let's call him/her G, and G is only the latest of many in recent days) just posted a small-n univariate regression (in the form of a two-dimensional scatterplot with a line) on facebook that is intended to imply policy conclusions about gun control.

Rather than scream, or write a snarky comment on facebook, I will simply note that this economist, and all the others before him/her, would mercilessly mock anyone who offered a similar type of evidence in a policy domain related to their own research.

The same point applies in principal to any red team economist friends who get the urge to post similiarly non-causal univariate comparisons, though, at least based on my friends, gun control has this mesmerizing effect mainly on blue team economists.

My earlier post on gun control here.

Blimpy's in Ann Arbor on the university's purchase of the building that houses iconic Ann Arbor burger joint Blimpys

I think pushing Blimpy's out is a mistake on the university's part. The "cool college town" aspect of Ann Arbor attracts both students and faculty. Blimpy's is part of that vibe. There are also plenty of other places the university could expand that would be less disruptive to the cultural fabric.

Read about the Facebook petition here.

John Lott

Hell hath no fury like an Atlantic assistant editor scorned.

Molly is correct that the Black and Nagin piece (helpfully provided on Lott's website) is the best critique of the Lott and Mustard work but, at least relative to the last time I looked, gives a somewhat misleading take on the literature as a whole, which is decidedly mixed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The joys of flying ...

It seems like every time I fly there is more talking on the PA and less time to work. Why can't the pilots and flight attendants just shut up?

Connecticut school shootings

Some thoughts on the school shootings:

1. My heart goes out to the familes of the children. I have been surprised, as a relatively new parent, just how strong the bond of affection is between parent and child.

2. I liked this piece from the Telegraph. Indeed, it is almost the only thing I have read or seen that I thought was very serious.

3. How sad that we honor the fallen children by having a festival of confirmation bias (and I have in mind both the red and blue teams in this regard).

4. Why don't Americans engage in loud, public displays of emotion about children who die from other causes, or who die in poor countries?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Things I learned in recent days

1. Danny Bonaduce, who played Danny Partridge in the Partridge Family TV show, is now a disc jockey on KZOK-FM in Seattle, which is the radio station I listened to in high school and which, in an amazing display of consistency, still plays exactly the same music it did then, though now it calls it "classic rock" instead of "album-oriented rock".

2. Ann B. Davis, who played Alice the maid in the Brady Bunch TV show (which was on just before the Partridge Family each Friday night) graduated from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) in 1948 with a degree in theater.

Just thought y'all would want to know.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Naipaul interview in the New Republic

Good stuff, and entertaining on multiple levels.

I especially like his gruff dismissal of the interviewer's sillier questions and his claim that critics are too scared to say anything negative about Jane Austen.

I read A House for Mr. Biswas in my student days and was quite impressed with it.

Among the Believers, which I read more recently, is the most effective critique of the sad current state of political Islam that you will ever read, in large part because it is indirect.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pigeon Impossible

This is very cute indeed.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ed Saraydar, RIP

Ed was one of my amazingly cool senior colleagues back in my days as an assistant, and then associate, professor at Western Ontario.

Obituary from the London [Ontario!] Free Press.

Via Eclectecon, the blog of John Palmer, another of my excellent senior colleagues at UWO back in the day.

Assorted links

1. Very cool 3-D sidewalk art.

2. Health care waiting lists around the world. Rationing by waiting is really inefficient.

3. The Atlantic on my graduate school colleague Matt Khan on moral hazard, government and natural disasters.

4. Say it ain't so Joe. What world does this guy live in?

5. Chicago's fattest (as one of my grad school buddies used to call them) at work. And then it gets even better.

#2 via John Cochrane's blog, and #4 via the Agitator

More on the new University of California logo

The Daily Mail reports on student reaction to Cal's new logo.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Movie: The Flat

The Flat is a documentary about what an Israeli filmmaker learns about his family from the things he finds in his grandmother's flat in Tel Aviv after her passing. Those things are awkward, but interesting, as are the reactions they provoke. The end result provokes thinking on many levels, about family, about how we present ourselves to others and about the relationship between the personal and the historical.

This is the best movie I have seen in a while.

NYT likes it too.

Mind over mendacity

The Amazing Kreskin (who knew he was still around?) offers to help us avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.

Via instapundit

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why development economics is extra fun ...

My favorite phrase from today's informal development seminar: "prominent voodoo leaders".

Monday, December 10, 2012

Call Me, Maybe ...

What Harvard economists do when they take a break from running the world.

Bonus quiz: find the two performers who got their doctorates at Michigan.

Hat tip: Marit Rehavi

Mini fun

A very cute Mini ad that may explain either or both of how the brits got the empire and how they lost it.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tedford out at Cal

Okay, this is slightly old news, but I remain surprised the Cal dumped head football coach Jeff Tedford. There have been a lot of injuries the past couple of years, as well as some turnover (partly due to Washington) at the lower levels of the coaching hierarchy. More broadly, what makes them think they will find another coach this good? Cal is not a great football place. I would have given him another year. It wasn't that long ago that Washington was trying to lure him away to replace Tyrone Willingham.

In possibly unrelated news, Cal has an ugly new logo that appears to show it disappearing.

Hat tip on the logo bit to Sue Dynarski on FB

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Certainly is simpler than trying to reason with them

Kentucky bans atheism, dares sinners to mock it.

Just kidding about the daring part.

This is a pretty sad business. Seems to me that if you can only get people to adopt your religion (whether it be some flavor of Christianity, or of Islam, or of communism or whatever) by threatening them with violence, then your religion deserves nothing but disdain.

Comic on creativity

Much of this (very funny) comic also applies to writing economics papers.

Hat tip: Jess Goldberg

P.J. O'Rourke on books

From the New York Review of Books, some very good bits from P.J. O'Rourke

My favorite bit:
What are your reading habits? Paper or electronic? Do you take notes? Do you snack while you read?

Behold the book with its brilliant, nonlinear search engine called flipping-through-the-pages. A Kindle returns us to the inconvenience of the scroll except with batteries and electronic glitches. It’s as handy as bringing Homer along to recite the “Iliad” while playing a lyre. I dog-ear all my books, underline passages and scribble “Huh?” and “How true!” in the margins. The only fit snack while reading is the olive in a martini.
I agree that Parliament of Whores is the best of P.J's books, though Holidays in Hell and Republican Party Reptile are not far behind. The collection of writings about cars was fun too.

BBC and the broken windows fallacy

Oh dear, oh dear .... really, is there no one at the BBC who knows better?

Wikipedia - you really don't have to look far! - page on the broken windows fallacy.

Bonus from watching the video: a short interview with Rocco the new car dealer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Economics moment of zen #7

"For reasons that neuroscience may one day illuminate, the combination of good judgment and technical wizardry that [candidate] possesses is remarkably rare."

From a job market letter of recommendation (and thus necessarily anonymous).