Monday, June 29, 2009

Assorted links

1. Rebranding abstinence-only education.

2. The admissions scandal at the University of Illinois gets bigger. Now it includes the law school.

3. More on the money problems at Harvard.

4. Lost train stations.

5. Why new novelists are often rather old. I remember reading John Scalzi in the Chicago Maroon when I was a graduate student; I have not had a chance to read one of his novels yet.

Various hat tips.

Movie: Enlighten Up!

We walked into Ann Arbor last night to see Enlighten Up! Roger Ebert sums it up much better than I could. I will just add that you should not expect too much, but if you are curious about the yoga world - as I am because my wonderful wife does Bikram yoga on occasion - then you will like it. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool atheist or a dyed-in-the-wool theist of a particular flavor, you will like it less.

Recommended to those not dyed-in-the-wool

Monday music



Someone sent me a link to the "We Are the World" video in honor of Michael Jackson and that got me watching a few videos this morning over breakfast. I thought about putting up a post about "We Are the World" as there is a good Chicago skit-show story related to it but I thought better of that. Whatever did happen to Cyndi Lauper though? Done in by too much she-bopping? So, instead, my mind wandered off to Twisted Sister, which seems a fine way to start a Monday morning.

Bonus pop culture question of the day: the first part of the Twisted Sister "We're Not Gonna Take It" video is taken from what movie?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Assorted links

1. 100 useful websites from MSN money.

2. Corruption in university admissions. I know it is Illinois but this one still surprised me. Remind me again why the government runs universities rather than just handing out loans and grants to students?

3. Fun with street signs.

4. The stimulus was poorly targeted? You would think someone could have figured that out before it passed. Oh wait, what's that you say ....

5. The WSJ on Animal House at 30.

Hat tips: instapundit and others.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Movie: Away We Go

I think we must have seen the preview for this one a dozen times, which is a lot of hype for a film aimed at the art house crowd. In the end, we both liked like, though as you can see at the rotten tomatoes site, this view is not universal. Roger Ebert's review sums up the controversy and take a stand on the positive side.

The parody of Ann Arbor (thinly disguised as Madison) is hilarious. The music is gorgeous and the lesson, that you are less crazy than you think because everyone else is covering up just like you do, is a useful one. And it has Maggie Guyllenhall!

Recommended.

Mel Stephens: Come on Down!

If you are like me, you probably looked around at Michigan and counted all the labor economists, such as Bob Willis, Frank Stafford, John Bound, Charlie Brown, John DiNardo, Jeff Smith, Brian Jacob, Brian McCall, Sue Dynarski, Mike Elsby, Martha Bailey, Mario Macis, and Kevin Stange, and the laborish development economists like David Lam, Jim Levinsohn, Dean Yang, Raj Arunachulam and Rebecca Thornton, and the laborish health economists like Edward Norton, Helen Levy, Catherine McLaughlin, Tom Buchmueller and Daniel Eisenberg and thought to yourself: wow, they could really use another labor economist up there in Ann Arbor!

We were thinking that too, so we just hired Mel Stephens from the Heinz School at CMU.

Welcome (back) to Michigan Mel!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Update on Washington football

From rivals.com, an update on what Steve Sarkisian has done so far - which is pretty good on the recruiting front - and some thoughts about the coming year. I agree with the sentiment that Washington's non-conference schedules are too tough. I would prefer one top opponent each year and then two that are winnable but still real - i.e. not Western Michigan but maybe Purdue.

Interview with Paul Samuelson in the Atlantic

It is wide-ranging and thoughtful: part 1 here and part 2 here.

Although most of the interview is about academic economics or macro policy, I was struck by this bit:
You know what happiness is: 'Having a little more money than your colleagues.' And that's not so tough in academic life.
Trouble is, it is hard for everyone to do this at the same time. It also suggests that faculty at public universities, where salaries are public information, will be less happy. And that economists, who use salary as a measuring stick more than other fields, will be even less happy (even though, if you take declining marginal utility of income seriously, the salary differences among economists should be smaller than those in other fields when measured in utility rather than dollar terms).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Assorted links

1. Soccer fans = nerds? Certainly it is true that in my world people not from Europe and Latin America pay more attention to soccer than they used to. Even I do.

2. Free games to enhance your productivity.

3. A modular tower.

4. Is the honeymoon already over? He hasn't really done anything yet - at least not anything that Hilary (or, with a couple of modest but not trivial exceptions) McCain would not have done.

5. Abandoned man-made creations - who could ask for more?

Hat tips: Jackie Smith and others.

Michael Jackson, RIP

This one is a shocker. Wow.

Civil War

This website has a lot of great stuff from the civil war era, including scans of Harper's magazine.

Farrah Fawcett, RIP

Another icon of my youth has passed on. I did not have her poster, but had many friends who did.

Addendum: The NYT weighs in on Farrah.

Teaser:

In 1978 Playboy magazine called Ms. Fawcett “the first mass visual symbol of post-neurotic fresh-air sexuality.” She herself put it more plainly: “When the show [Charlie's Angels] got to be No. 3, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be No. 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”
Hat tip on the NYT piece: former Farrah poster owner Ken Troske

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Things no one cares about

Earth to the media: No one cares where South Carolina governor Mark Sanford went for four days. Please find something important to talk about instead or, if you must talk about unimportant things, find someone better looking or more entertaining (or both!) to talk about.

Thanks!

Addendum: NOW the story is interesting.

Assorted links

1. The conservatives rap as Rome burns.

2. The predictive value of email traffic patterns.

3. Humanizing Iran. I think the economist is on to something here.

4. China in Afghanistan. Matthew Thom is my second cousin.

5. Why the Economist is winning the newsweekly wars.

Hat tips: various, including the Good S**t blog.

Nate Silver on the health care debate

One of our very bright former students posted a link on Facebook to this piece by Nate Silver on the "government option".

I have a few thoughts:

1. In what sense is aggregating risk easier than running a restaurant or an airline, as is suggested in the article? This is not obvious to me, and also seems to conflict a bit with the later claim of high barriers to entry.

2. I agree that employees do not spend much time worrying about the price of their benefits, but surely employers do. Indeed, because employers have much more at stake than any single employee would if he or she were buying her own insurance, the firm will optimally make a much more informed choice. Competition should be working on this dimension, and Silver provides no evidence that it does not.

3. In Silver's simple model, insurers aggregate risk, taking the outcomes and their probabilities as given. Of course, in the real world, insurers attempt to keep costs down (because of, e.g., moral hazard issues around physician behavior) but it seems odd to blame them for something that is mainly driven by technology (and occasionally by government coverage mandates resulting from interest group pressure).

4. I am not convinced about the high barriers to entry. Any company large enough to self-insure its employees on health care can easily start a company (using its employees as the initial customer base) and then enter the broader market. There are many such companies.

5. I think that everyone (other than the broad uninformed public) can agree that not taxing health insurance benefits is bad policy. However, while the tax subsidy increases the demand for health care, it is not clear that it increases the demand for risk aggregation very much. It mainly just changes what is being aggregated.

6. The political economy is missing. One might worry, for example, that the government option would be more susceptible to interest groups adding additional types of coverage or additional types of providers than is private insurance.

In sum, I am less impressed with this bit than our student.

Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's

The Michigan Theater does a bit of repertory programming now and again and last night it showed Breakfast at Tiffany's from 1961. Wow! Audrey Hepburn is simply amazing and George Peppard (remember him from the A-Team or, for those my age, from Banachek?) is so amazingly young. The party scene is one of the funniest things I have ever seen - perfectly written and choreographed and acted. And, for modern viewers, there is the extra thrill that comes from the wild political incorrectness of Mickey Rooney as the Japanese landlord, the poor cat being tossed about without supervision from the Humane Society and the almost constant smoking.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon, RIP

This makes me sad. I watched the Tonight Show nearly every night for a couple of years in junior high school.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Assorted links

1. Green Legs and Iran

2. If the Packers waiting list goes back to the 1970s, and apparently it does, then the ticket price is too low.

3. Paul Romer and software for economics classes. I have not used or even seen the software but something like this for undergraduate statistics and econometrics would be very handy.

4. Oddities of globalization.

5. Election forensics in Iran, with a reference to my (very smart) political science colleague Walter Mebane.

Leveling the playing field at journals?

An author at "orgtheory.net" suggests, with tongue in cheek but also with a point, that we should do sextuple blind review.

In fact, we barely manage single blind review in economics; nothing is double blind any more because it is easy, as a reviewer, to Google the author of the "anonymous" paper you have received, in that fraction of cases where the author is not obvious from the subject, style and citations.

It is interesting to ponder why we do not do these things. One reason for not, for example, hiding the author's name, at least for a time, is that the author's name functions as a brand, and so helps readers to allocate scarce reading time. Leaving the author's name off would thus cause an efficiency loss for the profession. Of course, for newbies, there is no brand, so getting your papers read is harder. I do not see much way around this though.

Leaving the editors of a journal anonymous would decrease the quality of the initial match between submissions and journals. I write papers not just with specific journals in mind but specific editors. Newbies will lack the information about editors required to do this, but this is one of the things that senior colleagues (or the faculty on your committee if you are really a newbie) are supposed to provide.

Having said all that, one could write a very nice, and I would think very publishable, applied economic theory paper building on the orgtheory.net post.

Policy foresight

I've had a couple of discussions over the past few weeks about whether or not people could see a certain policy change coming, as with school desegregation. I think this graph from Andrew Gelman's blog puts the question to rest, at least for gay marriage.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

NPR interview with Anna Schwartz

I hope I live to 94 and that, if I do, I am as sharp as Anna Schwartz.

The interview is too short but interesting. She is tough on Bernanke and on Greenspan. I found the comments about how the Fed should have handled the bailouts pretty insightful.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Sarah and David

With an economic crisis going on, government spending running amok, and civil disorder in Iran, it is good to know that the social conservatives have not lost sight of what is really important: defending Sarah Palin and her daughters against the evil talk show host David Letterman.

This puzzles on several levels: why would the social conservatives engage in something that almost goes beyond self-parody? Why pick this occasion to go after Letterman, when the jokes in question are not even really aimed at Palin's daughters?

There is actually a boycott of sorts going on that has apparently resulted in some companies pulling their ads from Letterman.

I don't get this at all. Surely these people have something better to do with their time.

Iran

1. A photo gallery.

2. A video of students being shot at.

3. A video of a female victim.

I hope my friends there are safe and I hope all this bloodshed has a payoff in positive change.

Theatre: A Picasso

We saw the Performance Network's production of "A Picasso" last night. Both Lisa and I thought it the best play of the 2008-09 season, of which it is the concluding production. The play imagines an interrogation of sorts between Picasso and a female gestapo agent in Paris during the early phases of the war. The writing is excellent and John Manfredi as Picasso amazes with his intensity and complete immersion into the character. If the production has a weakness, it is that Manfredi at times overshadows Emily Sutton-Smith, though her performance grew over the course of the play.

Our medium size (and somewhat older) Saturday matinee audience did not give a standing ovation, but they should have.

Highly recommended.

Movie: Easy Virtue

A fine piece of highbrow British fluff, with lovely settings, wonderful music and a not quite perfect but still quite entertaining mix of actors, direction and script.

Recommended for light fun.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The politics of health care policy change

Two insightful posts from Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics here and here. These nicely mix academic political science with more informal political analysis.

NYT discovers selection bias

A not-too-bad report from the NYT on the potential for selection bias in studies that show health benefits from alcohol consumption.

My comments center on this bit:

Meanwhile, two central questions remain unresolved: whether abstainers and moderate drinkers are fundamentally different and, if so, whether it is those differences that make them live longer, rather than their alcohol consumption.

Dr. Naimi of the C.D.C., who did a study looking at the characteristics of moderate drinkers and abstainers, says the two groups are so different that they simply cannot be compared. Moderate drinkers are healthier, wealthier and more educated, and they get better health care, even though they are more likely to smoke. They are even more likely to have all of their teeth, a marker of well-being.
What matters is not whether the mean characteristics differ but whether there is what in the technical literature is called "common support", which just means overlap. Are there some non-drinkers who have the characteristics of moderate drinkers? If so, that is enough.

More important than overlap is, of course, measuring all the relevant confounders. A different, and perhaps better, way to frame the article given the likely impossibility of doing a major random assignment study on moderate alcohol use would have centered on the importance of having a large data set that contains information on all the variables that might confound the effect of alcohol on health.

The NYT piece, unfortunately, does not really make it clear how good a job the existing literature does at including all the possible confounders. I suspect the answer is "not very well" and that there is room for improvement here even without a randomized trial, though obviously that would be helpful if one could be fielded.

Hat tip: Jessica Goldberg

Iranian election

My friend Djavad Salehi-Isfahani (an economist at VPI and an Iranian expatriate) writes from Tehran that maybe the good guy (or relatively less bad guy) did not actually win the election.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Assorted links

1. Just when I had pretty much written off the Governator as a complete sell-out.

2. Pictures of me and various friends - I especially like Pascal Courty casting a magic spell on the audience - at the IAB conference last fall. Plus German text for those into such things.

3. This prank is funny in a mean-12-year-old-boy sort of way but the ending is worth it. Policy implications relate to the minimum wage and to difficulties in enforcing sales, value-added and business taxes on businesses without a fixed location.

4. RIP for the USPS? You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

5. Woody Allen on filming in NYC. Can it really be cheaper to film in London than NYC?

Hat tips: Lars Skipper and others.

The architecture of Star Wars

A bit of science fiction fun from The Architects' Journal.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Monday, June 15, 2009

Assorted links

1. Benefit cut horror in Canada.

2. Tyler Cowen on Medicare spending. More opportunities for change you can believe in.

3. An amusement from Japan.

4. The Economist on the easy lives of American schoolchildren. It is quite amazing that a school year designed for a time when most Americans were farmers has persisted into a time when only a couple percent of Americans are farmers and when most families have two parents engaged in market work. I'll leave the explanation as an exercise for the reader.

5. Recent news from the Frank Lloyd Wright family graveyard.

Hat tips: marginal revolution, Charlie Brown (can you guess which one?)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Google and UM

My economics colleague (and UM Dean of Libraries) Paul Courant writes in the (not much longer to live) Ann Arbor News regarding the latest round of agreement between UM and Google regarding the digitization of UM's collection.

Police

1. A sad tale of a police team in a soccer league in LA.

2. New uses for patrol car cameras in Florida.

I am always puzzled that many conservatives seem to idolize the police. It seems to me that they are necessary, to be sure, and often brave and helpful, to be sure, but always to be watched.

Hat tips: theagitator.com

Assorted links

1. World Beard and Moustache Championships. Sorry to miss these but my schedule has been pretty hairy lately and I had to trim a few things out.

2. Wise words from the Economist on the government debt burden. More opportunities for change we can believe in.

3. Reason mocks four decades of phony moral crises from Time Magazine.

4. The "first time" story website is back in action again, though with an odd system of gaining access to the stories via "karma". It is for, as they say, mature audiences, though it is all text so unless your co-worker is looking directly over your shoulder, you should be okay. If you think of social science as voyeurism systematized, then you will like this site.

5. Unrest in Iran following a contested election. It seems much more real to me than past Iranian crises given that I actually know some Iranians now. My sense is that westerners underestimate the appeal of Ahmadinejad among the poor and the poorly educated. He might not have had to cheat all that much to win. I hope that events play out in a way that allows Iran to have a president who is not an international embarrassment (and, who, unlike Ahmadinejad, retains possession of all of his assigned marbles).

Hat tip: Kevin Stange (can you guess which one?)

Friday, June 12, 2009

A couple of amusing links

1. See blogs with only one post (ever!) at one post wonder.

2. Types of bookstore customers.

Hat tips: marginal revolution

The Ann Arbor City Council is not the world's greatest deliberative body

Some clever person at an environmental group did a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for emails that Ann Arbor city council members sent one another during a recent city council meeting. Oh what fun ensues:

The e-mails poked fun at the legislative achievement represented by passage of a resolution supporting the Audubon Society-backed initiative and a previous environmental protection measure:

8:14 - Hohnke to the group: "Hey! Don't forget the Earth Hour ... the nonbinding resolution to dim your lights to help global warming."

8:15 - Taylor to the group: "Dim lights are a natural constituency for some of us."

8:16 - Greden to the group: "Mostly the 5th Ward."

The story connected a subsequent remark by Taylor - "yep ;-)" - to Greden's quip.

Who knew the city council members were having so much fun! Who knew they would dare to make light of something as sacred as Earth Hour at all, let alone within the city limits and outside the security of their own homes.

I don't think anyone does this at economics department faculty meetings, though there are some looks exchanged now and again that communicate similar information.

Shaman drum bookstore closing

You know the recession is bad when an independent bookstore closes in Ann Arbor. I have been buying more books there lately to help them out and am sorry to see them closing.

Minimum wage

Economist David Neumark has a nice piece in the WSJ today regarding the upcoming increase in the minimum wage. David (a democrat as far as I know, though it should not matter) has done a long series of valuable papers (and apparently now a book) on both the minimum wage and its awkward cousin, the so-called "living wage".

The literature on the minimum wage is far from perfect, largely because the available variation is not perfect. Using variation in the national minimum is pretty hopeless as its effects get swamped in the time series by the business cycle and many other policies. Using variation in state minimum wages is complicated by the fact that the states that raise their minimums are not a random sample of states and that the timing of state level minimum wages increases tends to coincide with booms, because the economic, and thus political costs, are lower then (though clever Michigan bucked this pattern with its recent increase). Further complicating things is that many of the likely effects of a minimum wage do not appear immediately, but rather over time as employers substitute capital or foreign labor for domestic low skill workers (as when you fill your own drink at McDonald's or Chipotle). Expectations also play a role here, so that minimum wage increases can have not only lagged effects but also anticipatory effects. It all adds up to a pretty rough road for empirical research, which is presumably part of the reason for some of the conflicting findings in the literature.

My read is that minimum wages persist because of an unhappy coincidence of public ignorance of basic economics (in this case, as in so many, a failure to see the indirect effects of a policy along with its direct effect as well as ignorace of its poor targeting), the interests of unionized workers, who want to raise the relative price of their non-unionized competition, and the interests of high wage / high price states that want to raise the relative price of labor in low wage / low price states.

This is yet one more case of evidence-based policy; in this case the policy is the opposite of what the evidence suggests it should be. It is also another opportunity for some change one might believe in. I'm not holding my breath, despite all the fine economists in the administration.

Princeton perks

Life is good as an economist at Princeton, as indicated by this piece from the Princetonian on the salaries of Princeton economists who are working in the Obama administration.

Cici Rouse was certainly in a good mood (and in fine form) during her lunch talk at the Institute for Education Sciences annual research conference on Monday. No wonder!

Hat tip: anonymous friend

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On politicians, especially British ones

A fine rant from Mark Steyn, the only pundit I know who regularly writes about three different countries - the US, the UK and Canada (which, putting aside Quebec, is sort of a convex combination of the other two) - and does it well.

The rant is mostly, but not entirely, about the expenses scandal that has just brought down the speaker of Britain's parliament, and which is well worth reading about if only for its entertainment value.

A taster:

For their constituents, the scandal is a rare glimpse of a central truth about politics in an advanced western democracy: A lifetime in “public service” is a lifetime of getting serviced at public expense. The salaries are small but the perks are unlimited. A few weeks back, while the Home Secretary was away and her poor husband was whiling away a quiet evening , he purchased two pay-per-view pornographic movies – By Special Request and Raw Meat 3 – which, upon her return, his missus promptly billed to the government. Most of us, whether we land a job at the local feed store, the dental practice or National Review, expect to have to pay for our own moats, toilet seats, chocolate Santas and screenings of Raw Meat 3. But being in “public service” means never having to say, “Hey, this one’s on me.”

Hat tip: Nat Wilcox

Sunday, June 7, 2009

RIP: Jim Owens

Jim Owens, the coach of Washington Husky football before Don James, and also the coach at the first few games I got to attend with my dad, has passed on at his home in Montana.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Assorted links

1. Questions to Richard Posner on the Economist's Democracy in America blog. I particularly like the comments responses regarding behavioral economics, torture and empathy.

2. Worried your program is a waste of money? Have your friends in Congress stop the evaluation. How do these people sleep at night?

3. In praise of "one and done".

4. Escaping North Korea.

5. The number of iatrogenic deaths in US hospitals is astoundingly large. And that is just the deaths. Best to stay away if at all possible. Also best to do more evidence-based design of hospital facilities, procedures and equipment. Remind me again, just what was it we were spending all that money for before they started doing evidence-based medicine?

Various hat tips.

Subsidizing selected consumer durables

The House has voted in favor of a bill to provide federal employees with four weeks of paid leave if they home produce or adopt a child.

Now, of course, it is for the children, so we really should not be even doing any THINKING around this because, you know, children are cute and they are the future. But, economists get paid to think when others cannot be bothered so let us do think a bit about this policy and the related article linked to above.

In terms of the article, the bit about only four countries not having paid parental leave is so ridiculous as to nearly defy description. The article dutifully links to a wikipedia page which informs us of such facts as that women in Ethiopia get 90 days of paid leave at 100 percent salary. Left out: this presumably applies only to women who work in the formal sector and is probably not enforced even there except for women working for multi-nationals and for the central government. A similar point applies to essentially every other country on the list, though perhaps less strongly, other than Japan, the US, Canada and most of Europe.

More broadly, think about the economics and the ethics. Children are a durable consumption good. Parents control (or should control) the timing and number of children they obtain. Boats are durable consumption goods. Parents control the timing and number of boats they obtain. Why should boats and children be treated differently? Why should owners of children receive a subsidy from owners of boats but not the reverse? This is clearly distortionary - welfare triangles are being tossed out.

Children are, of course, future adults, and the state bears some responsibility for them even in a liberal society. We would all, almost certainly, agree to such behind a veil of ignorance before we know our parents, as some government monitoring of parental behavior helps to solve the principal agent problem between the child and his or her parents.

I think one can make an argument for mandatory unpaid parental leave on this basis, perhaps with an exception for parents able to provide care from other family members or high quality paid care during this time. That is, I can see a case to be made for the government to forbid parents to sign contracts under which they would work immediately after obtaining a child while leaving the child without good care. The state, in this case, is limiting parental behavior that might be detrimental to the child.

On the other hand, I do not see how one can get to paid parental leave. There is a bank on every corner. All of them offer savings accounts. Even if parents fail to plan for conception, they still have nine months to save up until the birth. If they cannot manage to do this, are they really the sort of people who should be encouraged to have children? So, contra the Salon blogger, newborns should perhaps not rejoice about this legislative development, at least not the ones at the margin.

I am also uncomfortable with the implied transfer from non-parents to parents. Children are not a public good. In many contexts, like on an airplane, they are more often public bads. Moreover, there is no shortage of willing adults who would like to migrate to the US, and whose education has helpfully been paid for by others, so one cannot make an argument that we need to subsidize the production of children to pay for our badly designed (thank you FDR) pay-as-you-go pension scheme. Thus, if we decide we must have paid parental leave for federal employees (already well known in the literature to be over-compensated relative to similar workers in the private sector) I would make it into a forced savings scheme. Once a worker is aware that a child is coming, they should be able to obtain paid parental leave, with the pay they receive during the leave deducted in fixed amounts over some longish time period from their paychecks before and after the leave. If they leave the employ of the federal government before they have finished the payments, the remainder becomes due as a lump sum.

Note that my scheme has the advantage of being budget neutral, other than the additional administrative costs associated with the payment scheme (which really ought also to be charged to those who use it). It also eliminates the unfair cross-subsidy from childless couples and removes the subsidy to fertility.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Oppressed francophone professors, unite!

Some clever soul signed me up on the email list of something called portside.org, where port here means left; in particular, an old-style, 1930s trade union sort of left, with an occasional bit of New Left environmentalism thrown in for variety.

I actually occasionally read the emails as they provide a glimpse into a strange and wonderful alternative world. I have always found it fascinating how reality is fundamentally under-identified, which is to say that there are a finite number of facts but an infinite number of theories to explain them. That, combined with the various cognitive tics and emotional overrides that worry our mental machinery means that people can draw from the same reality completely and utterly different theoretical frameworks. Wandering into other frameworks, and recognizing that they are sincerely held, is an exercise both useful and bracing. Nothing is more intellectually deadening than reading only things written by people who share your priors.

One of today's portside emails links to an overheated description of a strike by the faculty of the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), the lesser of the two francophone universities in Montreal. The piece largely speaks for itself in regard to, among other things, the massive self-delusion required to imagine that professors at UQAM (or, indeed, any other Canadian or US university) are oppressed in any substantively meaningful sense of that word and that it is somehow morally right that their oppression should be salved by raising taxes on actual working people.

Assorted links

1. West Virginia legislature has no shame. Who would have guessed that from the state that brought us Robert Byrd?

2. New journal rankings for economics.

3. The French still not quite on board with the whole freedom of religion thing.

4. Astonishing survivors.

5. Essential windows downloads. I always find these lists really interesting but never seem to download any of the recommended programs.

Mary Sue is watching over us always, just like mom

I am not on this email list, but a colleague forwarded this to me today:

Look for June/July’s GOOD CHOICE of the Month Vending Machine Item!

It's easier than ever to make healthier snack choices at U-M vending machines.

MHealthy GOOD CHOICE has selected Austin Zoo Animal Crackers as the June/July “GOOD CHOICE of the Month” vending machine item. These items are sold at a reduced price of 70 cents and are the perfect opportunity to try something new!

GOOD CHOICE uses MHealthy nutrition guidelines for fat, sugar, sodium, cholesterol and fiber to identify healthier foods and beverages in vending machines. Selected items are identified with the GOOD CHOICE logo.

Participating U-M dining locations and U-M Catering also use the GOOD CHOICE logo to specify healthier options. For more information on nutrition and weight management, visit www.mhealthy.umich.edu

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Movie: UP

UP is a great big load of schmaltzy goo, but it is high quality schmaltzy goo and extra fun in 3-D at the Michigan Theater.

Recommended if you need some schmaltz

Assorted links

1. Adolf Hitler's private world.

2. MSM on it knees again.

3. Interview with J.J. Abrams about the Star Trek movie.

4. Richard Epstein on conservatives on Sotomayor.

5. Climate change conference after hours.

Various hat tips.

Prostitution in Rhode Island

It turns out that Rhode Island accidentally legalized certain forms of prostitution about 30 years ago. Now the Rhode Island legislature is on the path of making it illegal once again. If you poke around on the web a bit you will find various editorials that make the usual arguments that prostitution is bad because bad things happen to prostitutes when prostitution is illegal, therefore prostitution should be illegal.

Today, though, I want to make a point about the media, rather than about editorialists or about the illiberal and narrow-minded souls that dominate the Rhode Island legislature. The AP story linked to above begins:
Rhode Island could soon end a dubious distinction of being the only place outside certain counties in Nevada where indoor prostitution is legal.
This piece is offered up as a news story, not an editorial. Now, in fact, prostitution is legal in quite a few places other than certain counties in Nevada. Those places are in other countries. Perhaps AP reporter Ray Henry forgot about other countries. Some Americans do seem perplexed by the idea that other countries are allowed to exist, apparently without even having to ask our permission. One of those other countries where prostitution is legal (in more or less the same form as it presently is in Rhode Island) is the bastion of sin, degredation and politeness known as Canada. Parts of Canada are actually closer to Rhode Island than those counties in Nevada. Perhaps the AP should hand out world maps as part of its hiring package?

A broader consideration of how the legal status of prostituion varies across countries shows that at present Rhode Island has the "dubious distinction" of being in the same category as Canada, the United Kingdom, most of Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany and Norway, among others. However, once it again bans all forms of prostitution, Rhode Islanders can hold their heads high knowing that they have joined the company of such beacons of learning, tolerance and progress as Afghanistan, Albania, Cuba, Iran and Iraq.

I think the AP takes home an F on this one, for both providing a misleading context for its story and for labeling opinion as news.

Graduation rates

As noted by the Wall Street Journal, the American Enterprise Institute has released a report that compares graduation rates across colleges in the same Barron's quality category.

The AEI authors note
The institutions covered in this report run the gamut from large, public research universities to small, private liberal arts colleges; from highly selective, world-famous institutions to regional, open admissions ones. America’s college graduation rate crisis is not happening at the handful of institutions that admit only a few of their applicants and graduate most—it is happening at a large swath of institutions that admit many but graduate few.
Another crisis! Who knew?

The study does not look so bad. The authors recognize that transfers, which are not counted in the graduation rates they analyze, pose a major problem, and the discuss the available data on transfers. They seem less up on the idea that simply conditioning on the crude Barron's quality categories might not be enough to really hold "all else constant". These categories capture real variation but within-category variation in quality (which is more than just selectivity) remains large. For example, the top category includes both Tulane and Harvard, which are a bit different on a number of dimensions.

The authors also note, correctly, that you do not want to reward or punish schools based on these rates, as they are easy to manipulate. Harvard graduates 97 percent - does anyone really think that 97 percent of those they admit perform up to this level in their classes?

I think a more useful view is that parents and administrators should look at these rates but at the same time keep in mind that students play a much larger role in the completion decision than do college administrators and also that college itself, as well as particular colleges, are experience goods, which is to say that the only way to really find out if you like them is to do them and then, if you do not like what find, to change your mind and go elsewhere or avoid college altogether. Particularly at the low end of the distribution, colleges are playing this informational role, which means that their socially optimal completion rate is likely far from one.

Party school rankings

One of our bright undergraduates and I are trying to track down complete sets of party school rankings for a project I want to work on. So far it is proving more difficult than I had expected. My interest in this started many years ago when I was in graduate school at Chicago. During that time, a now-defunct national student magazine called Inside Edge did a set of party school rankings and picked the U of Chicago as 300th out of 300, below BYU, Oral Roberts, and the military academies. News stories here and here.

A college guide called the Princeton Review publishes rankings every year starting in the early 90s, but only provide the top and bottom 20, plus old issues of their rankings are not the easiest thing to track down. Playboy occasionally also enters this field of research; snopes.com separates fact from fiction in regard to their rankings.

The tax prof blog compares the Princeton Review and Playboy rankings and the wikipedia page on party schools also notes that various un-fun people like the American Medical Association have criticized such rankings. Methinks such people need to get out more.

Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

We spent the weekend in delightful Holland, Michigan and saw Wolverine at the Star Theater multiplex there. I had pretty low expectations for this one but in the end found it much more engaging than the Terminator movie. Don't expect great art, or even a bond movie, but it is good but not great Hollywood summer fluff.

Recommended if you are feeling fluffy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Assorted links

1. Budget cut hysteria in California. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. At the moment, Berkeley and UCSD seem to have plenty of money to compete with us for faculty.

2. Wild Canadian hot tubs.

3. Craigslist fights back against grandstanding South Carolina attorney general.

4. Most excellent 3-D murals.

5. Men gone wild at the University of Chicago

Hat tips to Andreas Lehnert, Kermit Daniel and the Good S**t blog

Thoughts engendered by Gulliver today

This Gulliver post brought three very different thoughts to mind:

1. It is hardly worth being royalty if you have to fly on Ryanair.

2. Another drawback of being royalty is that you cannot fire people from the royal firm, as one might want to do with Prince Charles.

3. Mr. O'Leary, presently head of Ryanair, would make a most entertaining chief of Government Motors.

Bonus points if you can spot Gulliver's Freudian slip

Odd but very funny website

I am not just sure what to call this but it is very funny indeed.

Hat tip: theagitator.com

Movie: Terminator Salvation

I have never been that "into" the terminator series but this struck me as the least of them to date. The plot is flat and without as much attention to things making sense in the context of the terminator universe as one might like - e.g. if it is so easy to fly a helicopter into the very center of the Skynet installation to rescue people, why didn't they do it before to attack the place? - the acting is reasonably flat too. A disappointment.

Not recommended unless you are collecting the set.

P.J. O'Rourke

I've been reading P.J. O'Rourke's new book Driving Like Crazy and enjoying it enough that I have also poked around on the internet to see what is up with him and what else he has been writing and saying.

P.J.'s wikipedia page is here, an essay in the WSJ on the demise of the American auto industry is here, and you can read about his bout with cancer here and here.

Oh, and the book is worth it just for the classic essay "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink". The rest is good too.

When the chosen does not choose

From the Guardian, a story of a reluctant lama. I like this bit:
By 18, he had never seen couples kiss. His first disco experience was a shock. "I was amazed to watch everyone dance. What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another, enclosed in a box full of smoke?"
From wikipedia, a partial historical analogue from the theosophical world.

Hat tip (on the lama): marginal revolution

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pre-conceptual scientist



Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Assorted links

1. WSJ on Ann Arbor versus Warren

2. Left declares defeat on "card check".

3. Revenge of the zoo animals.

4. Endowment arrogance at Harvard. Hard to imagine.

5. Abandoned rail station in Abkhazia.

Various hat tips.