Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Radiologist porn

This is cool in a science geek sort of way.

Via Cheap Talk

Half staff?

I wondered aloud last night as we walked home from watching Drivin' Sideways at Ann Arbor's Summer Festival why the (gigantic) US flag on Michigan's central quadrangle was at half mast. I also suggested, in jest, that it might be in honor of recently deceased Senator Robert Byrd. But I did not really think it could be that. Why would anyone outside his home state of West Virginia even care?

It turns out I was wrong. Michigan is honoring the senator, a self-important buffoon and the porkmeister of all vote-buying porkmeisters. Byrd personally embodies nearly all of the things that are most distasteful about successful politicians; his demise will almost certainly improve the average quality of US senators.

It is too bad that Michigan's President, Mary Sue Coleman, did not take this opportunity to exercise some leadership by choosing not to obey the state legislature's order to lower the flag. In honoring Byrd we dishonor ourselves. Surely publicly memorializing former Ku Klux Klan members is not what the university should be about (not even if they recanted when it became politically useful to do so), and the choice to defy the state and not lower the flag would have provided a fine example for our students.

Addendum: The Economist is much too kind.

Addendum 2: Radley Balko gets it right.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gelman on DiNardo

Andrew Gelman blogs about a piece by my colleague John DiNardo on Bayesian statistics. Not surprisingly, Gelman prefers his own book on Bayesian statistics to John's critique. :)

More seriously, I had not seen this bit by John before and will look forward to reading it (as I look forward to reading Gelman's book at some point). Part of the fun of having John as a colleague is that he thinks really deeply about the philosophical underpinnings of econometrics and statistics.

I do doubt this predictive quality of Gelman's concluding paragraph:

What I suspect--any readers who know DiNardo can ask him directly--is that he is simply unaware of the modern approach to Bayesian data analysis which is based on modeling and active model checking ("severe testing," to use the phrase of Deborah Mayo). I don't expect that seeing my books would make DiNardo a convert to the Bayesian approach, but it might make him realize that practical Bayesians such as myself are not quite as silly as he might imagine.

In my experience, any line of argument that relies on John not having read about something is likely to fail.

Hat tip: Ben Hansen

Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie: (Dirty) Harry Brown

We saw Harry Brown last night at the State Theater in Ann Arbor. I am still somewhat in amazement over the very existence of a British vigilante film. The NYT cannot, of course, like the movie very much given its implicit politics, but is willing to permit that there are some fine performances by particular actors, as well as some interesting staging. I actually thought Emily Mortimer was perfect as a stand-in for the well-educated but naive and socially detached elite, which does not suffer very much from crime due to its spatial concentration where they are not.

Recommended, with the caveat that the movie is very raw

The joy of the welfare state

The German publication Bild focuses on Arno Duebel, who at 36 [!] years and running is Germany's longest unemployed person. This piece describes a typical day and this piece his encounter with active labor market policy.

The actual mystery, though, is not the existence of someone like Arno, but rather, given the relative generosity of many European welfare states, their relative scarcity. The fact of the matter is that most people actually like to work, even at jobs that many academics might (implicitly and with a lot of jargon) sneer at. Understanding this behavior at a deeper level would do much to improve both labor economics and labor market policy.

As an aside to readers who may not be familiar with it, Bild is a sort of strange mix of People, the National Enquirer and Sports Illustrated. Reading it in a public place sends a strong social signal.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Sunday, June 27, 2010

And then the Germans win ...

England is sent home by Germany and the US is sent home by Ghana.

It is nice in a way to see an African team last into the round of eight but now my two favorite teams are both out of the action and I am left to cheer for the Dutch.

The title of the post, of course, is from the famous quote:
"Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end, the Germans win." -- Gary Lineker

Movie: Solitary Man

We saw Solitary Man last night at the State Theater. I liked it a lot. It is a movie about the pain of being a successful man facing decline and in that it reminded me of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of Vanities, though here the decline is much slower.

The NYT review is a bit gushier than I would have been but generally on target.

Finally, I was puzzled by the both the "R" rating and the claims in various reviews that this is (in part) a comedy. Other than a bit of swearing, there is nothing here you would not see in a movie of the week; in particular, there is no nudity and only one bit of minor violence. And I do not recall laughing anywhere in the movie. Maybe you have to be a New Yorker to find this funny.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Take two placebos ...

Reuters reports on the FDA's reaction to a new drug aimed at the "female viagra" market.

The most interesting bit is actually this:
Boehringer, a privately held German drugmaker, said its data showed the drug provided a meaningful benefit for women who are bothered by their low sex drive and have limited options. The number of satisfying sexual experiences rose to an average of 4.5 per month from 2.8. For placebo patients the rate jumped to 3.7. Women took the drug for six months.
Unlike the drug, the placebos have, of course, no side effects.

I'll confess I've always wanted to find the time to read more about the placebo effect, which strikes me as quite important and also quite a puzzle for current medical models.

For those who are keeping track, this is a medical post and not a sex post. In case you were wondering.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown (from whom I stole the title)

Contracting out, North Korean style

The Vancouver Sun on North Korea contracting out to China to provide fans for its FIFA World Cup matches.

Can you hear that giant sucking sound along the Yalu River?

Hat tip: Dann Millimet

In praise of Gary Becker

A nice puff piece from the University of Chicago on Gary Becker.

I think this bit sums it up:
In fact, Levitt came to Chicago, in part, to “know the enemy for a year or two.” Instead, Becker completely won over Levitt. “What Gary Becker has done over the last 50 years is fundamentally change how economists think about their profession. He did that by broadening the scope for what economists think is economics. He showed that every topic under the sun is ripe for economic study,” Levitt says.
I am not sure about the bit that claims that Kevin Murphy is an "up and coming" scholar. I think he has pretty much arrived.

I actually started working on a dissertation on the effects of AFDC on children under Becker while Heckman was away at Yale. Becker was kind enough to encourage me to work with Heckman when the opportunity arose, saying that he thought it would be good for me but suggesting that the topic I was working on with him was more interesting than the topics I would be working on with Heckman.

Jesse Ventura

In case you've been wondering what Jesse has been up to, he has been writing a book on conspiracies.

Oh dear.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who is "my student"?

The way that dissertation committees work is that one faculty member is the chair of the committee, and is joined by some number, usually two, of other faculty members. Sometimes, as at Michigan, there also has to be a committee member from outside of the student's department. Other times, as at some Canadian and European universities, there is some sort of external review process involving faculty from outside the university.

It is very clear that the chair of the dissertation committee can refer to the student as "my student". The complexity, and thus this post, arises in regard to the other faculty members on the committee. On the one hand, there is a concern that the chair might offended if one of the other faculty members referred to the student in question as "my student". On the other hand, a student might be offended (or at least dismayed) if a professor who was on his or her committee but was not the chair declines to refer to the student as "my student".

I usually only refer to students for whom I was the chair as "my student" and refer to other cases with language such as "I was on so-and-so's committee". Thus, at the risk of offending some students, and at the cost of awkward language, I avoid the possibility of offending my colleagues. But is this really the best way to proceed? I wonder. Indeed, I am not even that clear on the rules that other faculty members use, but have resolved to pay more attention to this in the future.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I was wondering about the background noise in the US vs. England World Cup match yesterday and so I did what you would naturally do, which is to ask some of our clever gradual students, in this case in particular a student from South Africa.

The noise, which sounds like a large number of kazoos droning on and on and on is in fact a large number of vuvuzelas droning on and on and on.

I commend the wikipedia article on vuvuzelas to those who want to know more. It includes some discussion of a possible ban on vuvuzelas at the World Cup, something that obviously did not materialize.

Air Canada

Air Canada [sic] has won awards for service the past couple of years, according to this piece on the Economist's Gulliver blog.

This just cannot be right. I have told the joke that opens the Gulliver post on many occasions to explain my views about Air Canada, as it neatly summarizes my experience.

My favorite Air Canada story took place when I was teaching at Western Ontario. I wanted to fly from London, Ontario to Rochester, NY, to give a seminar at Rochester. This involved two short Air Canada flights, with Toronto as the transfer airport. When I arrived, the Air Canada gate agent would not let me "planeside check" my roller bag. I had, for some reason, to check it through the formal luggage system, which of course means time wasted at Rochester waiting at the luggage carousel as well as the opportunity for Air Canada baggage handlers to lose the bag in Toronto. I resisted but ultimately had to give in.

When I arrive at Rochester, I waited patiently (well, perhaps not so patiently) at the luggage carousel, but of course my bag did not arrive. I went and waited in line for the Air Canada luggage agent. Eventually it was determined that my bag had never even been loaded on the plane in London. The gate agents had decided that there were other, more important, bags already on the plane, so mine could wait for another time. In any case, I was told that my bag would be available at the airport early the next morning. So, Lance Lochner, who was at Rochester at the time and was the host of my visit, dutifully drove me to the airport in the morning. No bag. No reason. Just Air Canada incompetence. Probably they are used to dealing with Canadians who tend to take these things with resignation and good humor. I do not.

I ended up giving my seminar in the ratty clothes I had worn on the plane. I eventually got my bag back, but it never did make it to Toronto. It was this incident that led me to resolve to fly Air Canada only when absolutely necessary, a resolution I still keep.

So, at the risk of sounding like those folks who still go on about how Al Gore really won the 2000 election, I think there must be something amiss with the voting system that led to these implausible awards to Air Canada. Either that or all the nice staff from Canadian Airlines, sadly absorbed by Air Canada about a decade ago, somehow effected an astounding change in the business culture at Air Canada.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup: USA 1 England 1

Not bad!

The USA goalkeeper is impressive.

Not sure why ABC hired outsiders to do the game, though it was entertaining to hear phrases like "on the margin of what is permissible" which one is not likely to hear from American announcers.

Addendum: on Facebook my colleague Sue Dynarski wonders if the gift goal was an apology for BP. Of course, BP is British Petroleum, not English Petroleum, so perhaps their goalie is just a klutz.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

USC spanked by NCAA

Imagine my sadness at the heavy sanctions imposed by the NCAA on USC.

Lots of college football today - not sure why.

Addendum: the Seattle Times' take on the matter.

Demar Dorsey

The proximate motivation for the UM statement on admissions and student-athletes is one Demar Dorsey, would-be football player and also twice charged as a felon as a juvenile. He signed a letter of intent with Michigan but was not admitted. Here is's view on the matter and here is SI.

One imagines that there is lots of internal politics here, including possibly looking ahead to the next coaching regime. Also, more generally, the Michigan fan base, while demanding a lot of wins (more than Washington, for example) does not like scandal or sleaze either. This is not Oregon.

Hat tip: Jason Winfree

Congratulations to Sheldon Danziger

My Ford School colleague Sheldon Danziger has been named an American Academy of Policy and Social Science Fellow for 2010.



According to the Seattle Times, we'll have the Pac-16 later this week, and Washington will be in a division that corresponds to the old Pac-8.

Interesting! But not as strange as Nebraska (!?!?!) in the Big Ten.

Given how Michigan is playing, shouldn't we be adding bad teams?

Competitive punning

An opportunity for my colleague Jim Hines, who is truly the master of puns (as well as master of the tax code) to show off his skills.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Admissions-speak on athletes

The UM admissions office clarifies how admissions work for student athletes:
Our admissions criteria are more rigorous than the NCAA minimums for academic eligibility. All undergraduate admissions decisions are based on the individualized, holistic review of information about each applicant that considers academic achievements and his or her potential to succeed, as well as many additional variables such as essays, letters of recommendation and other factors. In the end, some student-athletes who have received letters of intent are not admitted and that has always been the case.
Well, that clears that up!

For those readers not used to the particular dialect spoken by academic administrators, let me translate. That paragraph means: "We do whatever we want. Now go away."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And why did it go after Cabela's?

For the first time in the five years I have been in Ann Arbor, we had tornado warnings last night. No tornadoes came touched down in Ann Arbor but one did touch down in Dundee, home to Cabela's, the outdoor goods store that tries to be a tourist attraction.

We enjoyed the sirens in bed but some of my colleagues actually spent parts of the night in basements or closets. I'm not quite sure who did a better job of optimizing from an ex ante perspective but I am very sure from an ex post perspective.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Afghanistan's past

Wow ... pictures of Afghanistan (really just Kabul) from the 1950s. Amazing.

When I went to Bath in England a few years ago to see the ruined Roman bath, I wondered a lot about how the people who lived around the bath thought about it after the Romans left and both the social and physical capital that allowed the baths to run crumbled.

This piece addresses that same question after a fashion, and the answer would appear to be sadness and a real sense of loss.

I confess, the pictures make me pretty sad too. Either one of the Soviets dropping by and fundamentalist Islam is a tough challenge for a country. Both .... well, here is the result.

Via the Agitator

Legislators in the candy store

A funny NPR piece on how to define candy so that you can tax it.

The issues raised here are much more general than candy. I heard my colleague Joel Slemrod give a talk on the same basic conceptual issue but in the context of financial instruments rather than sweets. When making decisions about differential tax rates on different but related goods, the technological ease with which one good can be transformed into the other has a role to play in both how the distinct goods are defined and in the optimal tax differential between them.

Good stuff.

Via Jeff Miron

Angrist and Pischke

A nice review of their Mostly Harmless Econometrics book by someone I don't know.

The review is generally on target, though I grimaced at the use of experiment to refer to something other than deliberate random assignment.

I would add that the book, like all books, reflects the interests of its authors. For example, the section on longitudinal methods is not as rich as the sections on regression (including matching / weighting) or cross-sectional instrumental variables. This means that the book is a good complement to other more general books like Cameron and Trivedi's text.

Via marginal revolution.

Not a good time to be Greek

My friend Nat Wilcox points me to this thoughtful piece that provides some historical context to the current crisis in Greece.

The piece is well worth reading and there is much to like about it. Americans are quite prone to forget, in part because we devote quite a lot of effort to not remembering, that our history of foreign policy interventions is not uniformly pure and good. Moreover, even when our motives our good, or at least partly good, they are often not understood by those who are the subject of our interventions, who see the world in different ways that we do.

On the negative side, I would have liked to see more in the way of a distinction between liberalism and capitalism. They are close cousins, of course, but by no means the same thing. I would have also liked some recognition that there is a crucial distinction between pining for some lost (and often never-existing) pre-capitalist communitarian and equalitarian past and wanting something for nothing and voting over and over again for politicians who promise to provide it. The article gently conflates them but they are quite different.

I also disagree with this bit:
But whatever happens in Greece, we need to remember that its problems are not unique, and the clash between those who like the world that capitalism has made and those who hate it is not going away.
I am more optimistic here. There are not a lot of folks around any more who miss hereditary monarchy (or, for that matter, communism). I think the same will eventually be true of liberalism's other resisters.

Psychology and religion

From Slate, the story of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

There are indeed interesting issues of identity at play here, but I expect that this particular investigation, which consisted mainly of putting three people who imagined themselves to be Jesus together to see what happened, would not receive Institutional Review Board approval!

I wonder if the Three Christs researcher was friends with the Perry Preschool researchers? Ypsilanti is not a very big place.

Hat tip: the Agitator

Friday, June 4, 2010

Further evidence that Denmark is not the US

From a piece in the Copenhagen Post on the important role of sex positive guest lecturers (!) in Danish sex education courses:

There’s more to sex than anal sex and STDs. There’s pleasure, games and respect for your own and others’ boundaries. But students don’t know this as their parents don’t talk about sex. Teenagers are often abandoned to shy teachers’ scary pictures of unwanted pregnancies, the boasting of friends or to porn films,’ said sexologist Jenna Harragaard Christensen to Urban newspaper.

My (sex segregated) sex education class in junior high featured Al the physical education teacher lecturing about anatomy and VD. Oddly, I did much better in the course than the students who were actually having sex, which I was still years away from at the time. I would venture to say that we were all already pretty positive about sex even without a guest lecturer.

Hat tip: do you even have to ask?

Hanlon's Law

Well, I am on a roll, but it is a roll of mistakes it seems.

An astute reader points out in the comments that what I (with tongue firmly in cheek) denoted as Smith's law in a recent post:

"Never assume malevolence when incompetence will do."

in fact is already well established in the world as Hanlon's law, which states (somewhat less elegantly) that one should

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

There are also links to Robert Heinlein and Napolean!

So, thanks to the poster.

It is important to get the attribution right.

Be careful with that extra cellphone

The sad story of a wife, a husband, the wife's lover, and Rogers Communications, the Canadian partner of AT&T.

Hat tip: Austin Kelly (and how did he find this?)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oil paranoia

On Monday I was riding home from the airport with Metrocars (recommended, by the way) and because neither the driver now I could remember the frequency for the NPR station, I was enjoying the rare and exotic pleasure of listening to Rush Limbaugh.

A caller asked Rush if he did not think that Obama had orchestrated the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a pretext for nationalizing the oil industry.

To his credit, this was too much even for Rush - though one wonders how Glen Beck would have handled it - and he gave the caller a long and reasonable enough talking to about why this was actually, as it is, a very bad thing for Obama in several senses.

Still, the woman seemed completely sincere. Wow. She should get out more or at least apply Smith's law: "never assume malevolence when incompetence will do".

Greek unions at play

From the WSJ:

On Thursday, the country’s generally docile tourism workers’ union planned to officially announce strike plans for later this month — their first in ages. But somebody there overlooked the fact that Greece’s journalists union was striking on the same day, in a move likely to generate an empty press haul for the tourism union’s big moment. When nobody showed up, the news conference was canceled and rescheduled for Friday.

More generally, do the Greek unions have any idea how ridiculous and self-defeating their behavior looks to outsiders?

One hopes that the events of the past few months can provide an opportunity to change the political and social equilibrium in Greece in ways that will bring greater honesty and a deeper attachment to the realities of economic life as well as, in the medium and long runs, greater economic growth, but this is by no means a sure thing.

Hat tip: anonymous VIP

Movie: It's Complicated

We watched It's Complicated on DVD earlier this week.

The NYT review suggests:
Here, as in the other films [the director] has directed, the camera is little more than a machine that takes nicely lighted pictures of the designer items, the actors included, which she has amassed and, with the exacting attention of an interior decorator, prettily arranged inside the frame.
There is a bit of that here. It has a Sex in the City aspect as the film functions partly as a catalog of kitchen and bath accessories as well as furniture for upper middle income people with money to burn.

The whole business is rather silly in the end, but it worked well as a movie to watch after a tiring week of traveling in Canada.

Recommended if you are in the mood for pretty fluff.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

8 Reasons Why God Hates Denmark?

Wow ... this guy is tough, going after Hans Christian Andersen, Legos, and Pippi Longstocking who, it turns out, is just part of a plot to make innocent girls "uppity".

More seriously, this sort of hate is just ignorant and sad.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Alert reader Daniel points out that the Landover Baptist Church is in fact a parody. I would add that it is a good one - it fooled me!

Addendum 2: several commenters point this out as well.