Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More on the "ground zero" "mosque"

Pieces from Christopher Hitchens and from the Economist.

Hitchens raises an important issue, which is at what point one stops tolerating intolerance. When I was in graduate school at Chicago, the philosopher John Rawls came and gave a big lecture on more or less that topic that attracted hundreds. He is not the most dynamic of speakers but the substance was on target, which is to say that he went into great detail making the point that this is a very hard question indeed. At some point, one can no longer tolerate the intolerant. I think that points comes when they present a serious threat to the persistence of a tolerant, liberal regime. In my view, we are nowhere near that point in the US.

The Economist rightly mocks the illiberal and un-American opposition to the "mosque".

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

A recounting of the fascinating history of the song, along with some legal lessons about international differences in copyright law, courtesy of Mark Steyn.

My main memory around this song concerns the talent show we had in sixth grade (or was it fifth?) wherein Becky Frier and Pam Johnson (and maybe someone else), who were among the girls to mature the earliest in our cohort, did an interpretive dance to this song as their contribution to the show. I remember thinking that they were somehow too old for the rest of us.

Hat tip: Nat Wilcox

Monday, August 30, 2010

Movie: Get Low

A.O. Scott is right: see this for Robert Duvall (and, in my case, Bill Murray, too).

As an aside, it is interesting to see how widely the paths of the early Saturday Night Live casts have diverged. Bill Murray was a bit slower out of the gate than, say, Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy, but he is acting career looks a lot better than theirs right now.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Assorted links

1. Lexington on exceptionalism in American vacations.

2. State ideology and party identification and implied limits in the division of the Senate. But why is anyone still using a one-dimensional ideological scale?

3. Interesting bivariate correlations involving marriage.

4. The Economist on Catholicism in Europe.

5. Amazing color (colorized?) video of VJ day in Hawaii.

Scream 4 in A2

I will have to confess that I have not seen Scream 1, Scream 2 or Scream 3, but Scream 4 is being filmed in Ann Arbor, most particularly in the home of my "boss", the the chair of our economics department, Linda Tesar.


On poop

My daughter is presently in the midst of the "poop" phase of linguistic development. It turns out that this phase does not entirely disappear as people get older, as evidenced by this long list of domain names continaing the word "poop".

Hat tip: Charlie Brown (who heard me describe the "poop" phase over lunch last week)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Children at risk?

Here is a nice piece on parental timidity by someone who has borne the full brunt of its pop cultural popularity.

A teaser:
What has changed in the English-speaking world that has made childhood independence taboo? The ground has not gradually gotten harder under the jungle gym. The bus stops have not crept farther from home. Crime is actually lower than it was when most of us were growing up. So there is no reality-based reason that children today should be treated as more helpless and vulnerable than we were when we were young.
The author blames the long-term trend towards parental timidity on popular culture, which I think falls flat as an explanation. While the relative importance of different media has changed, the news has always focused on the far tail of events related to children: bizarre kidnappings, satanic rituals and all the rest. Without a change in the claimed forcing variable, whence comes a change in the outcome.

Let me offer a couple of other possible explanations, neither of which I am particularly happy with but both of which at least do not fail at the level of face validity, as the popular culture explanation does:

1) The quality-quantity trade-off is one possible story. People have fewer children now and so they invest more in the ones they do have. They may also be more risk averse when they lack the diversification of risk that multiple children provide.

2) Risk of legal liability. Governments are much more likely to go after parents now than they used to be, at least that is my impression. No one wants to compound some bad event happening to their child with criminal prosecution and the media circus that goes with it.

But somehow neither of these seem like quite enough to explain the magnitude of the cultural change that has taken place between when I was growing up, and spent most afternoons wandering about the neighborhood relatively unsupervised for hours on end, and now, when the vast majority of parents would shudder in horror at the very thought of such behavior.

And good for "America's worst mom" for not caving.

Via the Agitator

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An excellent Top 5 list today

The Top 5 Movie Titles Improved by a Single Word (Part II)

5> Finding Nemo Delicious

4> Rear Against Window

3> Exploding Bridges of Madison County

2> When Dirty Harry Met Sally

and Topfive.com's Number 1 Movie Title Improved by a Single Word...

1> Close Encounters of the Third Base Kind

Copyright 2010 by Chris White/TopFive.com

University of Bureaucracy, continued

More from the folks at the Volokh Conspiracy on administrative bloat in universities. The comments are interesting too, particularly the ones from "PatHMV".

I think an alternative view of the gradual increase in the number of lecturers is that it may make sense on several levels for departments to have a set of lecturers who specialize in teaching and to assign those individuals to teach the introductory classes where the material is relatively standardized and (typically) far from the research frontier. The university saves money and the students often get better teaching.

There are, to be sure, complications. Some (but not all) of these lecturers might want to be researchers, and so may become unhappy and bitter if they end up with a career as a lecturer. Careful hiring can avoid this outcome as can added doses of self-knowledge and realism among such lecturers.

In the other direction, tenure track faculty have to avoid treating lecturers as second-class citizens rather than as people doing a different job than we do. Lecturers should be judged on their performance at their job, not on the difference in content between their job and that of a tenure track faculty member. Put somewhat differently, the tenure track faculty should, in both a normative sense and in an efficiency sense, treat lecturers just like they would other professionals, such as the department IT specialist or the department senior administrator.

Lecturer unions, which are more common (by a long way) in the US than unions of tenure-track faculty, are also a problem. Their existence surely has slowed the trend toward the use of non-tenure track faculty relative to what it otherwise would have been. As unions often do, they reduce flexiblity and reduce variance in pay. This makes it hard to hire lecturers in economics, where potential lecturers have good outside opportunities and so should be paid more, and essentially impossible to create positions intermediate between lecturer and tenure track faculty, as one might on occasion want to do.

Movie: Restrepo

I don't have much to add to A.O. Scott on this one. It is both informative and moving, without being either jingoistic or preachy.


On the quality of research in education

From my inbox:
The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released one new report this week examining research on strategies that aim to improve instruction for children with disabilities.

The Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis uses one-on-one instruction for young children, during which a teacher cues a behavior, prompts the appropriate response, and provides reinforcement to the child to reduce behaviors that interfere with learning. As the child progresses, the instruction moves into group settings and focuses on social and pre-academic skills in preparation for preschool.

Fifty-eight studies reviewed by the WWC investigated the effects of the Lovaas Model on children with disabilities. One study meets WWC evidence standards and a second study meets standards with reservations. The two studies included 51 children in two locations ages 18 to 42 months with autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Based on these two studies, the WWC found the Lovaas Model to have potentially positive effects for cognitive development for children with disabilities and no discernible effects for communication/language competencies, social-emotional development/behavior, and functional abilities. Read the full WWC report now at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/reports/ece_cd/lovaas_model/index.asp
The thing that struck me was the first two sentence of the third paragraph. Out of 58 studies, exactly two were not tossed out of the WWC on quality grounds. That is pretty sad indeed, and testament to the value of the WWC at setting standards.

Dilbert on corporate social responsibility.

The embed comes out too large and I can't figure out how to make it smaller, but you can take a look here.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Markets for economists: expert witness edition

From my spam box today:

You can go to Expert Witness Bootcamp and learn to be an expert witness for only $1,890!

Actually, if it really qualified you to do this it would be a great bargain, as expert witnesses make a lot of money. In the tobacco lawsuits one hears tales of people making $8000 / day (i.e. $1,000 per hour) to work with the tobacco companies.

In labor economics, most of the expert witnessing centers on value of life and discrimination. Value of life refers to how much an individual should be compensated for lost earnings given their skill if they, for example, get killed or injured on the job. Discrimination cases often revolve around the definition of the appropriate labor market to which the firm's workforce should be compared when looking for differences in the fractions of particular groups.

I've only ever been contacted about being an expert witness once, and I turned it down. I prefer the other sorts of consulting I do - helping to design evaluations and commenting on draft reports - to dealing with lawyers.

Happiness is when your students get good publications

High-Powered Careers and Marriage: Can Women Have It All?

Sylvain Dessy, Université Laval and CIRPÉE
Habiba Djebbari, Université Laval, IZA and CIRPÉE


Why do women often choose family over career? Can't they, like men, have both? At work, women are still under-represented in high-powered professions in most societies. At home, women tend to devote more time to their families than their spouses do. What explains these imbalances? Our model builds upon the fact that women's fertility, unlike men's, declines sharply past age 35. As a result, women may prefer marrying early in order to secure a match rather than investing in their careers while delaying and potentially missing out on marriage. Women's failure to coordinate towards delaying marriage may explain the imbalances within the family and in the labor market.

Dessy, Sylvain and Djebbari, Habiba (2010) "High-Powered Careers and Marriage: Can Women Have It All?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy: Vol. 10 : Iss. 1 (Advances), Article 42.

You can read the whole thing here.

Habiba is a student of mine from Maryland and in the running to be my first student to get tenure.

Assorted links

1. Polite Canadian bears guard marijuana farm. in British Columbia. I was surprised they were doing any enforcement at all in BC.

2. Starting the lawsuits before the activity they relate to: music industry edition.

3. How lawyers do grade inflation.

4. Ed Glaeser on the Jevons Paradox.

5. Problem solving flowchart.

Hat tips: Dan Black on #1, Charlie Brown on #2 and #3 and Sue Dynarski on #5. #4 is via Greg Mankiw.


P.J. O'Rourke on Afghanistan. As always, he is both funny and more insightful than most "regular" journalists.

Via instapundit

Corporate Social Responsibility

Annarbor.com summarizes a debate of sorts on corporate social responsibility between two professors at the Ross school. My sense is that two issues are being confused.

1. Sometimes when a firm hands out some of its profits to a non-profit, perhaps the local symphony or food bank, it is a direct result of the principal-agent problem between management and shareholders. The shareholders would prefer to have the profits returned as dividends or capital gains (depending on their tax bracket and other factors) while management prefers at the margin to get invited to nice parties and receive awards for philanthropy.

2. Sometimes, because firms operate in a complex legal and social environment, spending profits on things that are not directly profitable may indirectly increase profits. For example, if a firm can spend $10 million on "doing good" and thereby avoid regulation that would cost it $100 million, the shareholders are better off.

In my view, the first of these is to be avoided and the second not, though one might lament the presence of an environment that encourages misrepresentation of this sort along with encouraging conceptual confusion about the point of having public companies. Put differently, shareholder monitoring is easier when a firm tries to do one thing rather than two.

However, one could argue that firms have a comparative advantage at charity because of economies of scale in research. They can pick out the effective charities in a way that individual donors cannot. I don't think this is the argument being made by the second professor in the article but it does at least make sense, and as long as all the shareholders understand that they are buying a bundled product in which the firm pays out part of its profits in the form of well-targeted charity, then that is perfectly fine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

University of Bureaucracy

Some musing and links on the growth of administration relative to faculty to major universities.

The comments are pretty good too, and I have some sympathy for some of the counter-arguments regarding increases in IT personnel and the like, but it is worth remembering that back in the dim dark past departments used to have typing pools and most faculty at least shared a secretary. That staff is all pretty much gone now as faculty type their own papers, prepare their own mail, do their own travel planning, prepare their own travel reimbursements and all the rest. The main office in our department at Michigan has empty desks, and the only one with an administrative assistant is the chair. As to IT, it has probably grown, but even there some jobs have disappeared: no one deals with the output from the big communal fan fold printer any more for example.

More on point, idle hands in the upper reaches of the university administration are indeed the devil's workshop. Best to keep them few enough in number that hiring and tenure and construction keep them out of trouble.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The loco-motion

Steve Landsburg does a hammer job on locovores and their misguided critics.


The depressing part is that the reader is reminded that one does not have to understand even really, really, really basic economics in order to get published talking about economic issues in the NYT.

Hat tip: Scott Wood

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Assorted links

1. Questioning the virginity of olive oil. Investigations of the type leading to this lawsuit are, of course, public goods, and so likely under-provided.

2. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister on Al and Tipper Gore.

3. Prince Charles provides more evidence in favor of skipping a generation and letting his elder son take the throne when Queen Elizabeth leaves this mortal coil.

4. Historical events on Facebook (this could have been really, really fun, but is just funny).

5. I liked this story from the Atlantic 2010 fiction issue. Much of the story takes place in this Bronx neighborhood.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Danes getting the jump on an exciting new sport

Somehow I have completely missed this on my visits to Denmark.

Hat tip: Jessica Goldberg

New term

The new term that I learned at my 30 year high school reunion is elder goth.

From the wikiinfo entry on "goth, we learn

An elder goth is a senior member of the goth subculture, usually between the ages of 29 and 40. Elder goths are generally longtime veterans of the scene, perhaps going back to the Batcave era, but there are some late bloomers.

Elder goths are more likely to draw upon the artistic aspects of the scene, in contrast to their younger counterparts who are sometimes motivated to act for shock value. Older goths may regard those who act in this ways as poseurs. An elder goth may refuse to acknowledge them as fellow goths. In contrast to the stereotypical image of a goth as a maladjusted outcast loner, some elders are married with families, and most have close knit ties with other members of the subculture.

I think they need to extend the upper end of the age range.

More broadly, culture is amazing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Like Christian pop music, only better

There is a whole subculture of Christian this and Christian that, most of it consumed not by Christians in general but by particular subgroups within the broader Christian population who seek to isolate themselves, more or less, from the broader culture, as a means either of reducing temptation or simply of avoiding engagement. This site, on the other hand, illustrates an attempt to incorporate and Christianize one particular aspect of popular culture, namely hedonistic sexuality.

I suppose that Luther might like this; probably Paul and the Pope would not.

I find it fascinating to watch the interplay between religions, both secular and spiritual, and broader trends in popular culture. In many cases, like this one, religion ends up reacting to outside forces, rather than taking the lead in change. Similar interactions can be found in religious responses to environmentalism.

Marginally safe for work: naughty words but no pics.

Hat tip: my best friend.

Good news in Ann Arbor

Sabor Latino at last has its liquor license.

The arroz con pollo is amazing.

Parasites and development

This strikes me as interesting, plausible and important.

Bonus points to the Economist for including a p-value in the article, and for waiting to write about it until it was published in a peer reviewed journal. Double bonus for understanding the difference between correlation and causation and for explaining the multivariate analysis simply and correctly.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who will replace Romer at CEA?

Some gossip from Ezra Klein and a few bits of history on the extent to which the CEA is just for academic economists and a discussion of the leading candidates at the Christian Science Monitor.

Austan Goolsbee is a good guy but to be honest I would not wish the job on anyone, as it involves standing in front of TV cameras saying things you do not actually agree with because you are part of an administration "team" that makes political decisions, not economic ones. I watched Ed Lazear do this at the end of the Bush II administration and Romer did it too, even on topics related to her own research. Blecch!

I do think it would send an odd signal to appoint a non-academic to head the CEA, particularly for the top position and particularly for an administration that likes to position itself as knowledge-based.

As a loosely related aside, last week I did a one day trip to DC to attend a technical working group meeting. Because I fly a lot, I get to board the DTW to DCA flight early, and then watch and, in this case, listen to, everyone else. One older man, who along with his somewhat younger and clearly subordinate companion, paused for a few moments by my row, said "... I know Larry Summers inside and out, and he is not what we need right now ..." Unfortunately, I did not recognize either party to the conversation and so have no idea what position it was about, but it was odd to hear people on a plane talking about someone I "know" in a loose sense.

Hat tip to Helen Levy on the Ezra Klein piece.

Out and about in Ann Arbor

So we were out and about last night in downtown Ann Arbor, looking for a place to have dinner. We first headed to Seva, which turns out to close surprisingly early, at 9:00 PM in the summer! We got there at 9:02. Next to us at Seva's door was a middle-aged woman dressed up as a witch, complete with a black peaked hat.

The story though, is not about the dinner, it is about the fact that I only later realized that my initial reaction to the woman dressed as a witch had been to not even really notice. It was like that classic photo of the person dressed as a gorilla waiting at the crosswalk in New York with no one else in the large waiting crowd paying any attention. A witch? Just part of the normal goings-on in Ann Arbor.

Later in the evening, we ran into a friend of ours who mentioned having just been at the Michigan Theater's sing-along showing of the Wizard of Oz and that many people there, young and old, were dressed up as characters from the movie. Then all was clear.

Movie: Agora

We say this yesterday at the Main Art theater in Royal Oak. Royal Oak is the hippest of Detroit's many suburbs, a sort of cross between Rush Street in Chicago and Ann Arbor. It is worth an occasional trip outside the Ann Arbor bubble.

This movie raises the question of whether the cause of reason (or science, or feminism, you can have your pick) justifies lying about history. The director (who co-authored the script) wants to tell a moral story about bad fundamentalists and the trouble they cause. In so doing, though, he apparently distorts the history to serve his political goals. Here is a snippet from an excellent blog post on the history:
Over and over again, elements are added to the story that are not in the source material: the destruction of the library, the stoning of the Jews in the theatre, Cyril condemning Hypatia's teaching because she is a woman, the heliocentric "breakthrough" and Hypatia's supposed irreligiousity. And each of these invented elements serves to emphasise the idea that she was a freethinking innovator who was murdered because her learning threatened fundamentalist bigots. The fact that Amenábar [the director] needs to rest this emphasis on things he has made up and mixed into the real story demonstrates how baseless this interpretation is.
I think the answer to the question raised by the movie is "no", so I found it irritating and preachy. A.O. Scott at the NYT, apparently part of the choir being preached to, is much kinder and seems to have appreciated the sermon.

I am no fan of fundamentalisms of any sort, and that includes the fundamentalist versions of atheism and secularism. I am very much a fan of getting the history right as history has much to teach us, most notably that things are rarely as morally obvious as this movie makes them out to be.

Addendum: if anyone can find a discussion of Agora on-line by an actual history professor, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Traffic, NYC, NYT and the mysterious missing denominators

The NYT covers a report on pedestrian accidents on NYC streets from NYC's transportation department.

Here is a bit from the NYT summary:

Pedestrians would be well advised to favor sidewalks to the right of moving traffic — left-hand turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash as right-hand turns — and to stay particularly alert at intersections, where three-quarters of the crashes occurred.

Could it possibly be that more accidents happen at intersections because intersections are almost always where the pedestrians are out in the street with the cars?

Some denominators sneak in during a discussion of taxis, but prove a bit complex and confusing:
In Manhattan, about 16 percent of pedestrian crashes that led to death or serious injury involved a taxi or livery cab. Taxis account for only 2 percent of vehicles registered in the city, but at some times of day, they can make up nearly half of Manhattan’s traffic, according to some estimates — challenging the widely held perception of cabbies as the scourges of city streets.
Of course, the correct denominator is vehicle-miles, not vehicles registered, as taxis presumably get driven quite a lot more than the average vehicle, particularly in NYC. Thus, the numbers stated here are consistent with both taxis having safe, professional drivers who pose less of a danger than others and with them being the scourge of the streets. There just is not enough information to know.

Here is the wise transportation commissioner:
“One crash is one crash too many,” said Ms. Sadik-Khan, who said that Monday’s report would help her department “solve the riddle of why people are dying, and where they are dying, in the city.”
Of course, the optimal number of crashes is not in fact zero but rather the positive number at which the marginal cost of avoiding additional accidents equals the marginal cost from doing so. I guess there are no economists and no denominators at NYC's transportation department.

Not a very impressive performance from either the "newspaper of record" or NYC's transportation department.

Hat tip: Jesse Gregory (whose email said (correctly): "seems like the kind of article you love to hate")

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Muslims near Ground Zero

This is such an easy one. Freedom means nothing unless it applies to people you don't like. Put differently, being an adult in a partly free society means leaving other people alone in their choice of leisure time activities and religious beliefs.

The right is embarrassing itself on this one and, indeed, is acting like the people they claim to hate rather than like people who understand the principles that animated the founding of this country.

More prosaically, the Muslim cultural center (or mosque or whatever, the point does not depend on which one it is) might well improve the neighborhood.

The link is via Sue Dynarski on FB

Addendum: a fine rant from Dan Drezner.

Addendum 2: Harry Reid caves in to the mob. This is called being a follower, not a leader. We could use some leaders on this issue. It is very much a teachable moment.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Canadian census long form

The conservative government in Canada is seeking to eliminate the Census "long form" (or, more gently, to make it voluntary). The US did this a few years ago but replaced the long form with the (still mandatory) American Community Survey, so that the issue of having data (almost) uncontaminated by non-random response bias, which to me is the key issue in the debate over the long form, does not arise. The Canadians propose to make the long form voluntary, thus corrupting all the estimates it generates with selection bias.

Here is a fairly reasonable Globe and Mail editorial and here is a somewhat over-heated and remarkably political editorial from Nature.

Here are some tweets from a Canadian government minister who does not, as the saying goes, get it.

Shame on the conservatives in Canada for not being serious on this one. They are an embarrassment to themselves and to Canada and are sending a strong signal that they are not serious about good government. And that matters in Canada, where the analogue to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is "peace, order and good government."

My pals at Reason also do not distinguish themselves on this one. The fact that the data are not perfect is an argument for improving the data, not abandoning the attempt. More broadly, it seems to me that classical liberals should support govenrment production of public goods, like knowledge, and the evidence-based policy making it supports, particularly given, at least in my experience, that most programs and policies cannot pass a cost-benefit test when rigorous evidence is available.

Regular readers may object that I cannot complain about mandatory jury duty and then not complain about a mandatory census, but the census from mandatory jury duty in three important ways. First, the tax is small. Completing the Census for takes a few minutes. Second, the tax is uniform. Everyone pays the same small tax, rather than jurors who get stuck on long trials paying a gigantic in-kind tax and jurors who escape without being assigned to a trial paying no tax. Third, volunteer jurors are probably a good substitute (perhaps even a superior substitute) for mandatory ones, while voluntary surveys are not a good substitute for mandatory ones, particularly not at the key task of establishing solid benchmark statistics against which all the other voluntary surveys can be judged.

I do think that the Census should aim to minimize the burden of the long form. 20 percent of the population may be much more than is required to get very precise population estimates, even at a provincial or metropolitan area level. In a sense, reducing the population subject to the requirement to complete the long form is what the US did by replacing it by the ACS.

More broadly, given Facebook and Google and all the rest, it seems a bit bizarre for people to worry about the privacy implications of the innocuous questions on the long form.

Hat tip on the tweets to a friend at a government contractor in Canada.

Localism run amok in Portland, Oregon

Is there anything more illiberal than localism?

Oh for the days when the left was proudly internationalist and cosmopolitan.

Now the left does not want to even leave the neighborhood.

Farrell's on Food Network

Regular readers will know that I worked at Farrell's Southcenter my senior year of high school and my first two years of university. I learned a lot of labor economics there, and how to make really round scoops of ice cream weighing 2.5 oz.

Two platoon football

Fritz Crisler and the history of two-platoon football.

Includes some great video of the 1948 (!) Rose Bowl, wherein Michigan defeated USC 49-0.

The change from one platoon to two platoons is something my dad remarked on at various points when we were going to Husky football games together, but I never really got it until I read this article.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On flying

1. Stories from a flight attendant.

2. Stories from a passenger.

It is not quite as bad, usually, as the passenger makes it out to be, though my own impressions are tempered by often being bumped up to the front on domestic flights. It is different up there, in part because everyone is drinking the free alcohol. Plus there are fewer kids and fewer adults who want to talk to with you because they came on the plane unprepared with something to read or do.

But even in the back, Bose noise-canceling headphones do a wonderful job of putting off would-be conversationalists (you don't even have to turn them on) and help to focus my attention on whatever paper I am reading.

Arnold Zellner, R.I.P.

A very nice tribute to Zellner from statistician Andrew Gelman (despite the slam on econ-style seminars) that includes some interesting thoughts about Bayesianism in economics.

I took Zellner's course when I was a graduate student at Chicago and learned a lot from it. I also met someone I ended up going out with for several years, but I think that is less common.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Porch couches on fire at U of Colorado

More on flaming furniture from the student newspaper at Colorado.

Not sure why students who want a couch on their porch to use as a place to sit should be punished with a prohibition for the behavior of other students who do not properly dispose of unwanted couches when they move out.

Hat tip: Dann Millimet

Library humor

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chili pepper professors

The hard life of professors who are too hot for academia.

Here's a taster, but the whole thing is great:
Lemondrop, an online site for women that calls itself "sweet, tasty, and tart," put together its list of the best-looking male professors last year based on nominations from female students. Another professor who appeared on the list refused to be quoted by name. "One's first reaction is of egotistical pleasure," he wrote in an e-mail message to The Chronicle, "and then of course disappointment that this is not about your stellar research and that in fact on a scale of hotness academics aren't all that hot, relatively speaking, and to make a list of hot ones is thus, relatively laughable."
To illustrate the (very) low standards of hotness in academia, back in his graduate student teaching days, ECONJEFF himself (who was thinner back then) had a student repeatedly ask him over to her apartment, first for lunch and then for dinner. All invitations were respectfully declined but, obviously, not forgotten for the ego boost they provided.

Via the Freakonomics blog

Movie: The Kids Are All Right

We The Kids Are All Right last night at the Michigan Theater. The basic premise is that a remarkably mainstream lesbian couple in California and their two kids have their familial equilibrium upset when the kids decide to track down the sperm donor who is their biological father.

The NYT review is pretty much right on with what follows, though A.O. Scott gives the movie more bonus points for being original than I think it deserves. The formula of the outsider disrupting an equilibrium that is ripe for disruption is an old one indeed; the only new bit here is making that outsider a sperm donor.

Another bit that stood out to me was the writing. It succeeds on many dimensions, but the casual use of self-help terms and concepts in casual conversation, noted in the review and very familiar to anyone in Ann Arbor, is right on, and very much captures the cultural atmosphere the family inhabits.

Finally, and this is a comment on the review rather than the movie, the son's friend Clay is not a "bullying goofball". He's just an amoral thug, so much so that the son's attachment to him given his sensitive nature is maybe the only thing in the movie that does not quite ring true.

Highly recommended.

The rain in spain ...

I thought the Obama administration was supposed to be good at image management?

What were they thinking?

Wanna bet?

Michigan students can now gamble on their grades.

So, let's see. A professor, maybe a lecturer on annual contracts or, even better, a visitor who does not plan to return, sends an email out to all of his or her students before class starts offering to give them an A so long as they make the bet and share the winnings.

Moral hazard anyone?

I don't think I'd bet on the long term survival of this firm.

Futures markets

They're actually useful! Who knew?

Quick, someone tell Congress, but be sure not to use any math.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Facebook oh dear

Seen on FB a few days ago:
[Person] likes Buffalo Wild Wings and 6 other pages:

System of a down [a band it turns out, their new single is "left of center"]
Jesus Christ
DeGrassi: The Next Generation
Hmmmm .... one of these is not like the others.

On performance measures for churches

It has always seemed to me that a good way to judge a church is by the relative amount of attention paid to the behavior of the parishioners versus the behavior of outsiders. On that performance measure, I don't think this church in Ohio does very well.

But bonus points to the strippers for sticking up for their side.

Via the Agitator

NYT throws sand at Economist, refuses to share shovel

A rather snotty NYT piece on the marketing strategy and circulation success of the Economist.

For me, the more relevant difference between the NYT and the Economist is that when they write about a subject I know something about, the Economist is much more likely to get it right.

And, really, for the NYT to be suggesting that Economist readers are posers and wannabes is so rich, and so lacking in self-knowledge, as to almost defy description.

Now if only the Economist had a monthly "best of" edition I would subscribe. Every week is just too much paper.

Alcohol and interviews

I found the results of this paper, which suggests that managers interviewing job candidates over dinner implicitly penalize those who order wine, a bit surprising, and am inclined to think that the story is really something else.

In particular, it would be interesting to see this replicated in the UK, where the culture of drinking at lunch [sic] still has a tiny bit of life left. And it would be interesting to replicate it in parts of the US with lots of Baptists and not much wine, e.g. Alabama, and with lots of wine and not so many Baptists, e.g. Northern California.

It would also be interesting to see whether the choice of wine or beer matters as a function of the interviewers own preferences and as a function of the job characteristics. Also, what if the problem is that the interviewee orders the house Merlot, which signals a lack of taste or knowledge, rather than the wine per se?

Having said all this, I actually notice at work lunches when people order regular coke instead of diet coke and infer something about their weight loss intentions.

Bonus points to Reuters for actually linking to the paper. Points off for writing about a paper not yet subject to peer review.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meanwhile, on the Ann Arbor city council

Having had its say on Arizona's immigration laws, the Ann Arbor City Council is now turning its attention to the important business of banning couches on porches. The pretext for reviving the proposed ban, which failed to pass a few years ago, is, oddly, an arson incident that had nothing per se to do with porch couches, other than that couches burn well and that there was one on the porch of the house that burned. One might think that couches that burn well outside would also burn well inside, which would seem to justify a complete ban on couches anywhere in the house (unless perhaps an exception is made for ergonomic couches made locally of organic material by union workers singing revolutionary songs), but it is hard to see how the flammability of couches justifies a selective ban of outside couches but not inside couches.

Of course, the real issue here, for which the fire issue is providing some (ahem) smoky cover, is that some folks just want to reduce the utility of the students. Given that the students are the reason the Ann Arbor economy is in much better shape than that of the rest of the state, this seems a bit churlish to me.

On the decline of telephone calls

I really dislike telephones, both for the reasons described in this piece by Clive Thompson and for personal reasons involving an ex, so I am happy to see calls declining as a means of communication. Phones are all about interruptions and about weird social conventions around ending calls.

About the only folks who routinely use them for work in my world are people in government, who value one of the attributes of phone calls which I dislike, which is that they leave no record of what was discussed.

On the slow recovery

I agree with Jeff Miron on this, both in that I think expectations are mattering a lot for private sector behavior and that the best we can hope for (and this is nothing very new) is gridlock in DC after the November elections. Gridlock tends to mean policy stability, which is good for investment.

We was robbed!

Referee admits blown calls affected the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Like we didn't know that? But it is nice to have some honesty about it.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Friday, August 6, 2010

Assorted links

1. Visual diary of a red-eye flight to Europe.

2. The thesis repulsor field.

3. Wise words on government and the macroeconomy.

4. Very fine advice on living together, from the Frisky.

5. On the demise of Cathy. I always kind of liked it, but it has been years since I read it.

Hat tip on #2 to Jessica Goldberg; #3 is via Greg Mankiw and #4 is via instapundit.

Assorted links

1. A truly excellent xkcd on university web pages. I laughed and laughed.

2. Menu from the Tahitian Terrace at Disneyland back in the 1960s.

3. The previous item reminded me of Ciral's House of Tiki, one of the two bars in Hyde Park that we used to frequent when I was in gradual school at Chicago. Ciral's had surly servers, amazing decor seemingly untouched since the great fad for all things Polynesian that also inspired the Tahitian Terrace and tasty wings.

4. In defense of Warren Harding.

Economics gossip

1. Trouble with Peter Diamond's nomination to the Board of Governors. Whatever Senator Shelby's issue with Peter Diamond might be, I am absolutely certain it is not the one stated in the article, which is that he does not know enough macroeconomics.

2. The new Chief Economist at DOL is, I am told, Betsey Stevenson. Congrats, I think!

Idea for new Institute for Education Sciences randomized trial

They should evaluate this book:
Hot X: Algebra Exposed

Description: New York Times bestselling author Danica McKellar tackles the toughest math class yet: Algebra! In her two bestselling books, Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math, actress and math genius Danica McKellar shattered the "math nerd" stereotype by showing girls how to ace middle school math-and actually feel cool while doing it! Sizzling with Danica's trademark sass and style, Hot X: Algebra Exposed tackles algebra: the most feared of all math classes and the most common roadblock to high school graduation. McKellar instantly puts her readers at ease, showing teenage girls-and anyone taking algebra-how to feel confident, get in the driver's seat, and master topics like square roots, polynomials, quadratic equations, word problems and more . . . without breaking a sweat (or a nail). Danica provides illuminating, step-by-step math lessons combined with reader favorites like personality quizzes, popular doodles, real-life testimonials, and stories from her own life, so girls feel like she's sitting right next to them. As hundreds of thousands of girls already know, Danica's irreverent, light-hearted approach opens the door to higher grades and higher test scores. Now, with Hot X: Algebra Exposed, the scary veil of algebra is finally lifted, making it understandable, relevant and maybe even a little (gasp!) fun for girls.
I am eagerly awaiting the Jonas Brothers' new book on chemistry.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Movies: Salt, Inception, and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Salt, with Angelina Jolie. Fine summer spy fun. Don't expect anything too deep. The NYT is right on target. Recommended.

Inception. Cool, original and fun. Certainly one of the better movies I have seen this year but it is not as good as Matrix. I think the NYT is a bit too hard on the film, but otherwise captures the issues pretty well. Highly recommended.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. A fascinating look into what it is like to live the life of Joan. She is crazy in her way, and an astounding workaholic, but I came away from the movie with more empathy than when I went in, and not just because she has a library full of real books. The NYT review again hits the right note. Recommended.

Religions in conflict at EMU

An interesting religion case is brewing in at Eastern Michigan University in nearby Ypsilanti. A Christian graduate student in the counseling program was kicked out because she refused to counsel gay people.

I disagree with the student's views but it seems like she should be able to hold them, and act on them when it is not majorly disruptive, as it clearly is not in this case, without getting kicked out of her program.

There are few things as moving as the intolerance of people who think of themselves as tolerant, in this case the EMU counseling faculty, who were even berated by the most recent judge to hear the case for being "unfriendly and arrogant."

Methinks maybe the EMU counseling faculty could themselves use some counseling, not least because their intolerance and posing is costing the Michigan taxpayer a lot of money.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Standards for Regression Discontinuity Designs

I had the great pleasure of being on the panel that helped to develop quality standards to be used in the grading of studies for the What Works Clearinghouse funded by the U.S. Department of Education and operated by Mathematica Policy Research. The WWC is a compendium of evidence on educational interventions.

The standards are now publicly available on the WWC website.

In some ways designing standards for RD studies is easier than for other types of studies, as the nature of the design focuses analyses on a small set of issues. On the other hand, we were aiming at a moving target, as the literature on things like standard errors and bandwidth selection is still evolving. We assumed, or at least I assumed, that there would be a revisiting of the standards after a few years to update them in the light of more recent research.

Fatherhood is costly!

"The Impact of Paternity Leave on Long-Term Father Involvement"

CESifo Working Paper Series No. 3130

MARI REGE, University of Stavanger
Email: mari.rege@uis.no
INGEBORG F. SOLLI, affiliation not provided to SSRN
Email: ingeborg.f.solli@uis.no

Using Norwegian registry data we investigate how paternity leave affects fathers' long-term earnings. In 1993 Norway introduced a paternity quota of the paid parental leave. We estimate a difference-in-differences model which exploits differences in fathers' exposure to the paternity quota. Our analysis suggests that four weeks paternity leave during the child's first year decreases fathers' future earnings by 2.1 percent. Importantly, this effect persists up until our last point of observation when the child is five years old. The earnings effect is consistent with increased long-term father involvement, as fathers shift time and effort from market to home production. In an investigation of Norwegian time use data we find additional evidence for this hypothesis.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown