Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prince Andrew on France and the US

Some of those leaked diplomatic wires are simply good fun.

My favorite bit is at the end:
14. (C) COMMENT: Prince Andrew reached out to the Ambassador with cordiality and respect, evidently valuing her insights. However, he reacted with almost neuralgic patriotism whenever any comparison between the United States and United Kingdom came up. For example, one British businessman noted that despite the "overwhelming might of the American economy compared to ours" the amount of American and British investment in Kyrgyzstan was similar. Snapped the Duke: "No surprise there. The Americans don't understand geography. Never have. In the U.K., we have the best geography teachers in the world!" END COMMENT. GFOELLER
Who knew that geography teachers were the secret to the British empire?

Via: Cheap Talk

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Assorted links

1. The real world of sports agents. The list of confirmations and denials at the end is worth the wait.

2. Abercrombie comes to Copenhagen, the better to separate dull people who value form over substance from their money.

3. A good story about Michigan soccer coach Steve Burns.

4. Talk about warm glow! But where is Charleton Heston with those tasty green chips?

5. Why doesn't this work for the TSA?

Hat tips to: someone I've forgotten, Lars Skipper, Charlie Brown, Lars Skipper (again) and Charlie Brown (again)

Ohio State 37, Michigan 7

OSU crunches Michigan for the seventh time in a row. Yikes!

Will there be a new coach tomorrow?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rumors of change on South Campus

I would have thought that seven wins and a second-tier bowl would suffice to buy Rich Rod another year, but that is not what the rumor mill has to say.

This would be a two-fer because Michigan would get better and Stanford would get worse, thereby benefiting Washington. What Harbaugh has accomplished at Stanford is really impressive.

Uses for small children

One important reason for having a child is that they provide you, as an adult, with cover to do things that you remember fondly from your childhood but could not otherwise do without embarrassment.

Today at lunchtime my wonderful daughter (nearly 3.5 years old) and I took in an hour or so of classic Warner Brothers' cartoons, heavy on the Bugs Bunny, at the Michigan Theater, along with hundreds of other Ann Arbor parents and children.

Great fun was had by all, especially yours truly. But of course the inner social scientist never quite turns off, and I am left afterward thinking about how violent those old cartoons are, how politically incorrect (even cigarettes!) and about my own reaction to same. It was also interesting to see which cultural references were still current - Jack in the Beanstalk, yes, Dick Tracy and Errol Flynn, not so much.

Doing jury time

A thoughtful blogger recounts an experience on a jury in a criminal trial.

Interesting reading, though I must confess that the author's final, big picture paragraph seems to me completely unrelated to what comes before.

Via MR

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Assorted links

1. Revising the history of Hitler's WW1 experience.

2. A Christmas gift suggestion. Most of their shirts are too thoughtlessly partisan for my taste but I like this one.

3. Diary of a trans-Atlantic flight.

4. Stop me before I enroll again!

5. Mommy, where did instrumental variables come from?

Thanksgiving thoughts from Reason

Movie: Mademoiselle Chambon

We saw Mademoiselle Chambon last night at the Michigan Theater.

It is quiet, very French in its sensuality, focus on romantic longing and attention to social class, and very moving. The NYT says it well.


Washington 24, UCLA 7

Someone should have bought my tickets on StubHub, because this game was a lot of fun to watch.

Seattle Times coverage here, AP coverage here, and the Times on Slick Rick's unhappy return to Montlake here.

Washington has two more games to go: Cal this Saturday, coming of a real trouncing by LeLand's College of Palo Alto, and Wazoo in two weeks. Win both, and they go to bowling for the first time in nearly a decade. Can they do it? Maybe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Future of advertising

A big picture piece on the future of advertising from Fast Company. It sounds like an exciting time to be in the industry, keeping in mind that "may you live in interesting times" is viewed as a curse in some parts of the world.

One suspects that such change is on the way in academia as well; up to this point new technology has had, in some sense, a remarkably small effect on our core business of teaching undergraduates.

Advertising is one of my counter-factual careers, along with architecture and computer programming.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Assorted links

1. Is voting like sex? I would think politicians would like this video.

2. A very cool, very detailed picture of London (the real one this time).

3. A very old video. Is there nothing that is not on the internet somewhere?

4. The economics of admitting to cheating. Whoever said about game theory "nice name, no results"? [Actually, it was Sam Peltzman who said that.]

5. The "bureaucrat song" from Futurama. Like the Agitator, I never really caught the Futurama bug, but this is kind of fun.

Hat tip on #1 to Lars Skipper.

Things to read

Great fun at the Abebooks weird book room.

One of the current list plays a role in the job talk of one of Michigan's students on the job market this year. Can you find it?

My favorites:

Why Do I Vomit?

Radiation Recipe Book

Gangsta Rap Coloring Book

Winds of change reach London, Ontario

Joe Fontana, who was my MPP (member of provincial parliament) when I was teaching at Western Ontario and living in London, Ontario, is London's new mayor.

I used to get a lot of junk mail from Joe, explaining to me how much fun he was having spending other people's money. The "liberal" in "liberal party" in Canada means liberal with other people's money (and having a good time, and maybe a bit of corruption, but all in the pursuit of fun for those on the inside and their pals).

I have to say, though, that old Joe is almost surely an improvement over the woman he replaced, Anne Marie DiCicco, who had been the mayor since before I decamped for Maryland. Anne has had some problems with her husband, whom she imported from Texas. Anne Marie was, in turn, more or less a continuation of the dreaded dragon lady Diane Haskett, for whom the mayor's office was mainly an opportunity for her to publicly act out her unhappy obsession with strip clubs, massage parlors and homosexuals.

So, I say, good luck Joe! Let the party begin.

Hat tip: Todd Stinebrickner

Dave Nolan, RIP

A fine obit from reason magazine co-founder Bob Poole.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wisconsin 48, Michigan 28

Michigan put up a better fight than I expected but, in the end, Bucky had both an offense and a defense, and Michigan just has an offense.

Can they do as well next week against OSU?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Royal News

The headline on the Economist email for this piece was "Unemployed Woman Marries into Welfare Family".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reform in Cuba

An update from the Economist. The US should end its economic restrictions now. If it ever had a justification, that justification ended when the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago.

A prediction: Cuba will be very successful economically 20 years from now.

Assorted links

1. SNL on Obama and China. Ouch!

2. Women misbehaving. And again. Who knew that women could behave as badly as men?

3. Useful information on currency conversion.

4. Did they look in the cigar box?

5. Protecting the innocent masses from Spencer Gifts in South Dakota.

#5 is via the Agitator

Economics of Evite

A fine way to add additional stress to your party planning from the gents at Cheap Talk.

My favorite Evite story has to do with a former colleague at Maryland, who shall remain nameless, who did not realize that the comments that you leave there can be read not only by the host of the event but by everyone else who was invited to it. This colleague replied to a party invitation with "should I bring the funny stuff?", which was later claimed to be a reference to Whoopie cushions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Assorted links

1. Secure your privates from the prying eyes of the TSA. I would like one that says "get a real job" on it.

2. Keith Richards on partnerships.

3. The product museum in Ann Arbor.

4. On the curvy frontier of immigration policy reform in Denmark.

5. Idiot paternalism in Michigan.

Hat tip on #1 to Daniel Marcin and on #4 to Lars Skipper.

Success in America

Reading Thomas Sowell's Ethnic America in college affected my thinking about the progress of various ethnic/racial groups in American society quite substantially. I learned for the first time about the historical discrimination against the Irish and against many Eastern and Southern European ethnic groups when they first arrived in the US. I also learned about the idea of selective immigration for the first time - the notion that individuals from a given group who show up in the US, or anywhere else, as with the Chinese diaspora scattered around Asia, are not randomly selected from the population, and that this might have something to do with how they fare in their new homes. The relative success of immigrant blacks from the Caribbean in the US was also news to me at the time. In addition, Sowell charts the gradual rise over time of groups like the Irish up the scale of average incomes.

This Slate essay by Nicholas Lemann considers a later stage in the process of economic success and cultural assimilation. One might call this the "regression to the mean" part. I could see this pretty plainly among the Chinese students at Western Ontario when I taught there. The first generation kids, who were way over-represented in our honors program, particularly among that segment of the honors program that got by on effort rather than just on smarts, worked really, really hard. More than once I had a student in my office tell a story of genuine sleep deprivation brought on by extreme pressure from parents for academic success. By the third generation, my casual observation suggested that it was more often clothes, cars and parties (and, presumably, as Lemann suggests, hockey as well).

Via "The .Plan"

Update on Christopher Hitchens

From the Guardian, a wide-ranging interview with Christopher Hitchens.

One favorite bit:
Among his many struggles, the one waged against the tyranny of the pressed and laundered outfit should not be overlooked.
On his cancer:
"The worst days," he says, "are when you feel foggy in the head – chemo-brain they call it. It's awful because you feel boring. As well as bored. And stupid. And resigned. You don't have any motive, which is bad. You don't care what's going to happen to you.
Worth reading.

Via MR.

Michigan 27, Purdue 16

It was a sloppy game on both sides, but Michigan won in the end.

The final two games on Michigan's schedule are Wisconsin and Ohio State. They'd best not hand the ball over quite as many times as they did with Purdue, or things could get pretty ugly.

Washington did not play on Saturday; their next game is this Thursday night against UCLA on ESPN. I am glad Washington is getting lots of TV money; I lost some money because my tickets did not sell on StubHub, even at half of their face value.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On trade with China

A nice rant on China-bashing.

The author is a bit less optimistic about China than I am - I think people almost always buy freedom and democracy as they get richer. I think he is particularly helpful in trying to think about the issue from the Chinese perspective.

It is really disappointing to see the first African-American president presiding over what is essentially a whole lot of racist China-bashing by people in his party and its enthusiasts in the media. At the same time, the Republicans are just as bad on China and worse on Mexico and Mexicans. In sum, our political class is a national embarrassment. But then what else is new?

On football and psychology

This is priceless.

Via: Cheap Talk

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The Top 5 Facebook Status Updates From Queen Elizabeth

5> "attention, royal subjects: ya can't have any pudding if ya
don't eat yer meat! lol - i always wanted to say that"

4> "OMG! Giant, ugly purses are on sale at Harrods!"

3> "HRH thanks you for all the likes and comments of concern,
but would like to assure you she was NOT robbed at gunpoint
while vacationing in London."

2> "Who do you have to blow to get some heat in this damn

and Topfive.com's Number 1 Facebook
Status Update From Queen Elizabeth...

1> "changed her relationship status from 'Ruler of a Vast
Colonial Empire' to 'It's Complicated.'"

From topfive.com

Trade rap

I don't endorse all the views, but it is pretty clever and quite funny at times.

Too bad trade can't just be between individuals.

Hat tip: Andy Roth (and the free trade email list)

Job market signal

The American Economic Association allows newly minted (or almost minted, in most cases) doctorates to send an explicit signal of extra bonus interest to two of the (usually 100-150) schools / governmental or quasi-governmental institutions / firms to which they have applied.

As I sometimes get emails from students asking about strategy, here it is: send your signals to places that you would like to go to for some reason that would not be observable to them based on your job market packet: e.g., your favorite cousins live nearby, you've always been a Packers fan ever since you first saw the cheese hats, etc. In terms of quality, I would pick places for this purpose that are around your expected placement level.

Here is a deeper, and longer, discussion from Greg Mankiw's blog a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Email etiquette for students

A fine post from Chris Blattman lays out the rights and wrongs of student emails to professors.

I had a student at Western Ontario email from an email address along the lines of "longdong5@hotmail.ca". Not a good idea.

The comments are interesting too. Like Chris, my personal rule is to have undergraduates call me "Prof. Smith" and graduate students call me "Jeff".

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3OT)

No, that is not a basketball score, but rather the result of the titanic defensive struggle this weekend at the Big House between Michigan and Illinois. As with the Washington game, I was watching this on ESPN3 on my laptop while attending a conference, so it did not receive my full attention. Still, it was a pretty amazing game. And now Michigan is bowl-eligible, having defeated four bad teams and two mediocre ones.

Next up: Purdue, another bad team, on Saturday, which should put Michigan at 7-3.

Oregon 53, Washington 16

Odd though it might seem given the score, Washington played pretty well, particularly given that they were relying on a new quarterback with very little actual playing experience in place of the injured Jake Locker. Indeed, the game was close into the third quarter, when things fell apart.

I only saw bits and pieces of the game as I was at a conference and had it going on my laptop.

Here is some other good Washington news, in this case on the recruiting front.

Next up: UCLA on Nov. 18, for the Thursday night ESPN game.

Open letter to Rick Snyder

Dear Rick,

If you are looking for good, low-cost ideas to improve the performance of government in Michigan, my suggestion is to take Michigan from being one of the states where it is most difficult for academic researchers to get access to state administrative data to being a state where it is very easy, conditional on all relevant privacy protection requirements having been met. Making data available to researchers will induce, as if by magic, lots of policy-relevant research on Michigan's programs and on its economic situation more generally. This research will be largely free to the state as many researchers (read: gradual students) will be happy to have cool data to work on, and others will be able to obtain funding from outside sources such as the NSF to fund their projects. All the state has to do is clean and document the data so as to make it usable by outsiders; most of what this entails are things the state should be doing anyway.


Data Starved in Ann Arbor

Village Corner

Ann Arbor institution Village Corner closed this weekend. I always called it the "stoner store" because their employees (other than the older folks who did the wine) all seemed to be stoners. They'll be missed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dude, why did California fail to legalize marijuana?

Jeff Miron on the failure of Prop. 19 in California.

I think relatively high [pun intended] Republican turnout plus huge spending on misleading ads by the opposition are probably more to the point than the fine details that Jeff emphasizes.

Assorted links

1. On the sad state of Sidwell Friends football. Hilarious on several dimensions, including the comments.

2. Thinking like an economist. The comments are illuminating here too.

3. What's your excuse?

4. How much does it cost to attend Duke as an undergraduate? [May be inappropriate for work depending on how prudish your work environment might be.]

5. Jeff Goldberg reports from the frontlines of airport security theater. Was it good for you too?

#1 and #2 are from marginal revolution. #3 is from Dann Millimet

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Useful Theorem

I learned this today from my colleague Charlie Brown:

The Fundamental Theorem of Demography:

The derivative of age with respect to time equals one.

Assorted links

1. Placebo! The new miracle drug.

2. Seasonality in break-ups. Is this the missing link in macro?

3. Is it really necessary to tell New Republic readers that Tea Party people are not fascists? I think this means that they should get out more and have a wider circle of friends.

4. The story of Sava, on State Street in Ann Arbor.

Hat tip on #1 to Laura Kawano. #3 is via instapundit.


Wow ... does this ring true:
Procrastination is a best-response to perfectionism. A perfectionist spends too much time on a task, so she should optimally procrastinate so that the deadline disciplines her to work quickly and settle for imperfection.
I think the point is even broader. Particular tasks expand to fill the time available. The only way to be sure not to spend too much time is to wait until only the optimal amount of time is available.

From Cheap Talk.

Movie: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

I enjoyed this most recent offering from Woody Allen a lot more than most of the critics did.

And being happy with what you have, rather than pining away for something that you do not have and that you imagine to be better than it really is, is a remarkably practical and valuable message.

So much of our misery is self-inflicted.


Collaborating with bio-statisticians

Actually, the most challenging part of the "giving statistical / econometric advice" role is when it becomes clear to you as the advice-giver that in fact the study you are providing advice about is a waste of time. That is a hard message to pass along in a nice way.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown


Some quick thoughts:

1. Hurrah for Gridlock! One of the writers at the Economist's Democracy in America blog worries that we will have two years of nothing. Relative to most other recent two-year periods, that sounds pretty good to me. Two years without a new war or a new unfunded health-related transfer program should help a lot.

2. In what world does it makes sense to elect Jerry Brown governor while voting down marijuana legalization? Those voters out in California must be on drugs. :)

3. All praise to voters in my home state of Washington for voting down a state income tax yet one more time, and by a hefty margin. The income tax initiative was heavily supported by folks in the Gates family, enough so that they may have pushed me over the threshold into doing something I have never done: buying an Apple product.

The view from the other side.

The worst version of this I have experienced was a student at UWO that I caught plagiarizing on a paper who showed up a week later at my door wanting a higher course grade because he was below the average required to graduate with honors. That was the closest I have ever come to screaming at an undergraduate. But, I didn't. I just suggested that it might be more fruitful to try asking his other professors.

Hat tip: Wang-Sheng Lee

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High on voting

While crossing my fingers for gridlock in DC, the election issue I'll be watching most closely is Proposition 19 in California. As reasoners Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch discuss, this may be the most important aspect of the election for the country as a whole.

Several former drug czars summarize the case against legalization in the LA Times. I'll let it speak for itself, but the main conclusion I draw is that we should get rid of the drug czar position.

I recall a conversation with one of my economics colleagues at Michigan two years ago, when Michigan's state ballot featured a medical marijuana initiative. My colleague indicated that s/he was voting against it because it was a stalking horse for legalization. My thought: Exactly, and that is a big part of why I am voting for it!

The process of medical marijuana leading to legalization seems to be playing out in California. Let's hope it spreads elsewhere soon.

So you want to be a humanities professor

This is a companion piece to the one on political science. Also very funny.

Hat tip: Dann Millimet

Assorted links

1. The only true radical at the Stewart / Colbert rally?

2. Revenge of the chubby.

3. The front lines of the war on (certain) drugs (not manufactured by large corporations)

4. The changing roles of movies and television.

5. Science, politics and mammography.

Locker out for UW versus Oregon

I think this explains a lot about last Saturday as well. Sarkisian should be much more aggressive about pulling Locker out and Locker needs to worry more about the future and less about the present in making his decisions about misrepresenting his physical state to the coaches.

I haven't checked the line on the Oregon game but it must be something like 35 or 40. Yikes.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Addendum: I am told the line is 29. That's probably too low.

The politics of Michigan faculty

Some figures on political donations by Michigan faculty from the Michigan Review.

A couple of thoughts: First, this is not very surprising. Second, Michigan has turned out to be less politically correct than I was expecting ex ante. Based on my own experience, it is less politically correct than Maryland, where I taught before coming here. Still, the figures are what they are for a reason. Third, my sense is that many of the democrats among academics are motivated more by a dislike for social conservatism and a desire to help the poor than by any particular affection for, say, warmed over central planning.

So you want to be a political scientist?

Much of this applies to economics, other than the part about not getting a job.

It can also be "read" as a critique of those who would make strength of identification the sole metric by which to judge empirical work.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is Obama a Keynesian?

Reminds me of how I always used to wonder why any executive would agree to an interview with 60 Minutes. If they come by with a microphone and a camera, you should just run the other way.

Hat tip: Nat Wilcox