Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Technological progress: urinal sport division

The Daily Mail reports on a new video game that one (at least male ones) can play at the urinal.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

An excellent statistical Dilbert


I am not sure how to make this smaller, but if you click on it you will see the whole thing.

Hat tip: Laura Kawano

Monday, November 28, 2011

Slick Rick out at UCLA

Rick Neuheisel fired at UCLA, but allowed to coach the team this Friday when Oregon rolls over them in the Pac-12 championship game.

Addendum: the Seattle Times report on Neuheisel's firing, which also includes a brief discussion of Dennis Erickson's firing at Arizona State.

Unintended consequences and cultural propagation

The Toronto Star on the lingering cultural effects of the decade-long US presence in Iraq.

A particularly good bit:
Sporting baggy soldiers’ camouflage pants, high-top sneakers and a back-turned “N.Y.” baseball cap, the chubby 22-year-old was showing off his breakdancing moves on a sunny afternoon in a Baghdad park.
A $ sign was shaved into his closely cropped hair.
 “While others might stop being rappers after the Americans leave, I will go on (rapping) till I reach N.Y.,” said Mohammed, who teaches at a primary school.
His forearm bore a tattoo of dice above the words “gang star.” That was the tattooist’s mistake, he said; it was supposed to say “gangsta.”
I am really glad the Iraqis kicked us out. It will save us money and it is time for them to run their own affairs, for good or ill.

Hat tip: Yerema Gribowski

Sunday, November 27, 2011

DSK in the Financial Times

The "DSK was set up" theory has made it to the FT and the NYRB. My Euro-knowledgeable friends who suggested it to me at the very beginning are looking pretty clever.

More broadly, what is interesting in this piece beyond the DSK case are: (1) just how much information is available from things like hotel electronic key records and cameras at restaurants and (2) that a major French politician would dine at McCormick and Schmick's while in New York. What was he thinking?

A eulogy for Borders on the Huffington Post

Well said, particularly the bit about Borders being Ann Arbor's friendly neighborhood bookstore.

Barnes and Noble has been trying to lure me in with discounts - they purchased the Border's Rewards email list of course - but as yet without success.

Is yoga satanic?

So says Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist.  He does not much like Harry Potter either, nor nightclubs:
My advice to young people would be to watch out for nightclubs because the path is always the same: alcohol, sex, drugs and Satanic sects.
And who knew that there is an International Association of Exorcists? What do they do at their conventions? Where do they hold them? Is there a room of vendors selling books and training videos?

We live in a world of diverse preferences, information sets and leisure time activities, indeed.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Washington 38, Pullman Agricultural College and Liquor Store 21

It was a bit closer than the score suggests, and the defense still needs some work, but a fine offensive performance and a great win over the Cougars.

Washington gets seven regular season wins in Sarkisian's third year, after six in the second year and five in the first year. All good.

Addendum: Seattle Times game story here, plus columns by Steve Kelley and Jerry Brewer. And was the Apple Cup the last game for Cougar head coach Paul Wulff?

Michigan 40, Ohio 34

At last! A great game and a great victory for Michigan.

I attribute it all to the fact that, like yours truly, Michigan coach Brady Hoke does not like long-sleeved shirts.

Ann Arbor will be hopping tonight ...

Addendum: annarbor.com coverage here.

There is always something to be thankful for ...

Hat tip: Gustavo Bobonis on Facebook

Notes among the famous

A missive from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol, concerning cover art.


A belated happy American Thanksgiving to my friends and colleagues, as well as those I do not know in person, who take the time to look at this blog.

All of us have much to be grateful for indeed.

Movie: J. Edgar

I liked this movie a lot. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it avoids the easy path of simply hammering on Hoover for being a power-mad politico (which he most certainly was) and instead focuses on him more as a person, and on the interaction between the personal Hoover and the public Hoover. The relationship between Hoover and his deputy Clyde Tolson is handled with particular facility, both in the way that it provides an excellent historical lesson regarding how much things have changed in a short space of time, and in  the way it serves to humanize Hoover.

NYT reviewer Manohla Dargis, whose reviews I usually like less than A.O. Scott's, gets this one exactly right. I especially liked the ending:
Instead, Mr. Eastwood explores the inner life of a lonely man whose fortress was also his stage. From there, surrounded by a few trusted souls, he played out a fiction in which he was as heroic as a James Cagney G-man (despite a life with a mother Norman Bates would recognize), but finally as weak, compromised and human as those whose lives he helped crush.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pithy abstracts

This is excellent - a model of compactness and clarity.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

John Scalzi on Klout

I had not actually heard of Klout before reading this piece by John Scalzi about his decision not to have Klout.  I joined and my Klout score yesterday when I did so was 26. Today it is 25. I don't think my Klout score includes whatever influence this humble blog might have, which would surely increase it by at least one.

You can add your own analogy between Klout and the U.S. News and World Report college rankings here.

Michigan 45, Nebraska 17 [sic]

Michigan managed to do something it had not done all season (largely due to a schedule thick with weak opponents): defeat a good team.  And it did so in style, cleaning the clock of Nebraska 45-17. On this day at least, the Cornhuskers were as out of place athletically in the Big-10 [sic] as they are academically on all days.

Rich Rodriguez to Arizona

Arizona has hired former Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez to replace fired coach Mike Stoops.

I think this is a good hire for them for two reasons. First of all, Michigan's success this year owes much to Rodriguez' work at Michigan the past few years. These are his players winning all these games. Second, Rodriguez never really quite seemed to get how Michigan was different from West Virginia both academically and athletically. That will be less of an issue at Arizona.

Oregon State 38, Washington 21

The first real disappointment of the year for Washington fans. Washington's four other losses were all to teams that were clearly, at this point, stronger, namely Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and USC. This was the first loss to a team that was clearly weaker than the Huskies, and could have been beaten even with newbie Nick Montana at quarterback in place of Keith Price.

Much will be forgiven, of course, if they can beat Washington State this Saturday at 7:30 Eastern at Centurylink field.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Travel losses

A fine rant about losing things at hotels and on airplanes from the Economist's Gulliver blog. My luck has been better here than the writer's, in that I have actually gotten a couple of things back that were left at hotels, but the odds are still low.

Thought question for the day

Should the president of the NBER send out letters of recommendation for specific students to NBER email lists? If so, can I, as an NBER member, do the same?

Both strike me as bad ideas but I received such a letter today.

Addendum: Seems that the NBER actually agrees with me, as I just received the following email:
Please trash the earlier e-mail sent to you re letter of recommendation. It was an e-mail glitch.  Thanks.
I like it when things work out correctly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In which we learn just how far the Hammer will go to sell some books

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ugly People Prejudice
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Excellent!  The scenes of Dan Hamermesh (the "Hammer") walking around campus with the interviewer rating the students are priceless (but hopefully not legally actionable).

Buy the book here.

Hat tips (in temporal order): Jon Lanning, Ken Troske and Isaac Sorkin

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ruins: Wonderland

Ruins of a never-completed Chinese version of Disneyland, outside Beijing. Related Atlantic article, from which the video is taken, here.

Kevin Murphy on the NBA labor dispute

An informative and interesting interview with Chicago economist Kevin Murphy, who is consulting to the players' side in the current labor dispute.

I do have to disagree with one bit, though:
[Murphy] is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, he's been commuting to the labor talks in New York and, with all due respect to NBA commissioner David Stern, union director Billy Hunter and the others hashing out the league's finances and future, he truly might be the smartest guy in the room.
Might be?  Might be? Think again, nba.com interviewer. That should just be "is".

I did not interact with Kevin much during my graduate student days - he was not yet co-teaching one of the first year micro courses with Gary Becker - but there were several times at the labor seminar when it was clear from his first couple of questions that Kevin had not so much as looked at the abstract, but by 45 minutes in, he knew the paper better than the speaker.

Hat tip: someone .... where did that email go?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Becky Blank ...

... continues to move up the food chain in the Obama administration. More economists in administrations of any color is pretty much an unalloyed good, and Becky is a very fine empirical economist.

Stewart on Corzine

Greg Mankiw recommends this very funny take-down of financial executive turned politician turned financial executive John Corzine by the Daily Show's John Stewart.

Evaluating exercise

My good friend Herr Prof. Dr. Michael Lechner has begun a research agenda on the economics of sports. You can find a summary of his paper evaluating the "treatment" of youthful exercise here. The paper is co-authored with Christina Felfe and Andreas Steinmayr.

I have always liked Michael's work in part because he is always very careful to justify, in terms of the economics and institutions of the particular context, the identification strategies he uses. This paper is no exception.

I am also interested and pleased to see Michael moving into the labor economics side of the economics of sports. I think his presence will create a lot of positive spillovers in terms of the applied econometrics of the field, thereby raising the average quality of the research it produces.

I think this is also a natural move in the sense that the literature on the evaluation of employment and training programs, in which both Michael and I have been quite active, has reached a fairly mature point, so that most contributions are reasonably marginal.

This move also comports with Michael's personal interest in fitness, an interest he shares with his assistant professors and graduate students. If you visit St. Gallen, they will tell you entertaining stories, when Michael is not nearby, about group retreats held on top of hills that must be climbed on foot and so on. When I last visited, I got to play soccer with Michael and his boys,which was great fun, though expect it was great fun in part because he had coached them to go easy on me.

John Scalzi on Penn State, with further comments from me

John Scalzi, whom I remember from my graduate student days at Chicago when he was writing for the Chicago Maroon, has a pointed and spot-on take on Penn State athletics.

I will say that once the senior administration at Penn State caught up with what was going on, they have been following the book exactly, most likely because they hired expensive and sharp organizational disaster consultants who are telling them what to do. The key to handling  these things right is, to the greatest extent possible, to take the full hit right away, so that things do not drag out and the "healing" begins almost immediately. And, indeed, if you look on Yahoo you can find stories from sports writers about the healing beginning already, just a few days after the big hit of firing coach Joe Paterno and the less big hit of firing whomever it was who was president of the university. Look as well for quick, out-of-court settlements to avoid drawn out court battles that would generate lots of bad publicity.

Indeed, even the game yesterday went exactly how the administration would have wanted it: a prayer session (separation of church and state, anyone?) before the opening kickoff with players from both teams had the desired effect on the ESPN announcers and then the Penn State football team came close to winning, thus demonstrating the players' devotion to the school and program, but  did not actually win, which would have been a bit offensive given all that has happened. The university administration could not have scripted it better. It will be interesting as well to see how soon the university feels comfortable putting Paterno back in fund-raising mode.

Sometimes stereotypes have some foundation in fact

World leaders act out national stereotypes at the G-20 meetings in Toronto:

The Canadian: self-absorbed and disconnected from reality
The American: businesslike, unwilling to be distracted
The French and the Italian: "Look at that a**!"

Hat tip on picture and text: Laura Hartmann (and several others, all on Facebook).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oregon (boo, hiss) 34, Washington 17

As expected, the quacking felons defeated Washington 34-17 in the final game at Husky Stadium prior to its $250 million makeover, which begins tomorrow.

The good news: the UW defense played a lot better than it has earlier in the year. And Oregon did not win by more than 20 this time (as it has the past seven times in a row). That's all progress. The bad news: the offense was off its game a bit, with many more interceptions and sacks than usual. Still, it was much better than either the Nebraska or Stanford games, as UW was in the game well into the second half.

Excellent historical photos of Husky Stadium here; the earliest ones serve as a reminder that college football was a big deal even 90 years ago.

Next week: the University of Spoiled Children (USC) in the coliseum in LA at 3:45 Eastern on FX.

Cambridge lack of contact with reality disorder

This is a couple of days old, but still amazing.  From the Harvard Crimson:
A small group of Harvard students and employees staged an “Occupy Speakout” at noon on Tuesday to express their solidarity with the “National Day of Action.” ...
“Mic Check! We are the 99 percent across the country!” the group chanted.
Can there really be students at Harvard so clueless as to not realize that they practically define the "one percent"?

Iowa 24, Michigan 16

While I have argued for several weeks that I thought Michigan was being over-rated by poll voters, I did think that they would beat Iowa. They did not.

The ESPN announcers blamed it on too little Denard Robinson - I think they would have had him run every play - but that strategy only works until he gets injured, as Washington learned when Jake Locker was run every play a couple of years ago. So I am with the coaches on this one. I was surprised, in contrast, by the number of dropped passes. Annarbor.com coverage here.

It does not get any easier for Michigan after this, with Illinois, Ohio State and Nebraska in the next three weeks, though the fact that the last two are in the Big House, which will help.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Odd comments

Today at the Ford School reception at the Association for Public Policy and Management meetings, someone thanked me for writing a tenure letter for a junior person in their department and then added that my letter was the most "entertaining" tenure letter they had received on the case. I am not sure what this means.

Expedition to College Park

I like to revisit the haunts of my past self. Today I revisited the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland for the first time since I left there a bit over six years ago. The proximate purpose of my visit was to attend the labor/public finance/development seminar, which featured Flavio Cunha, and to visit my student Jessica Goldberg, who started at Maryland this fall.

Some thoughts on my visit:

1. The cracks in the walls from the earthquake a few months ago add character to old Tydings Hall but are worrisome nonetheless.

2. There was not a single person at the seminar today who was at Maryland when I left six years ago. That is a lot of turnover.

3. Of the seven professors at the seminar (including the speaker), three were Heckman students and two were students of Heckman students. Too much Heckman? Never!

4. The new chairs in the thoroughly reconstituted seminar room are much less comfortable than the ugly green swivel chairs in the old, darkly paneled seminar room.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Excellence in policing in NYC

This is pretty appalling. In a well-ordered world, the officer involved would already be unemployed.

I am sure, unfortunately, that we are not in well-ordered world.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

College or not?

I was rather taken aback by this awful Brookings piece on the choice of whether or not to go to college.

My major concerns:

The discussion gives no hint that the labor market payoff to college may differ between the average student and the marginal student. Absent credit constraints and assuming full information, the marginal student is presently indifferent between the two choices. We are not in a full information, no credit constraint world but it is still quite likely that many if not most of those presently not attending college are making the correct choice (and some of those who are attending are making the incorrect one).

There is no mention of the fact that the earnings payoff to college depends a lot on what you study.

There is no mention of the fact that the earnings payoff to college depends on what college you attend.

While the piece mentions that finishing college is very important, it does not highlight the dismal completion rates of those who seek a four year degree but start at a two-year college or a mediocre four-year college. These student often end up with non-trivial debt but little earnings impact.

Unconditional earnings effects are presented with only a brief and dismissive mention of the importance of non-random selection into college. In fact, conditioning on "ability" as measured by tests scores reduces the earnings effect of college non-trivially.

More minor concerns:

No mention is made of the uncertainty implicit in estimates of earnings effects that rely on a synthetic cohort assumption. That is, it is assumed that old people today are a good proxy for what young people to day will earn if they do or do not get a college degree.

It is not correct to simply ignore the room and board costs of college. Yes, young people have to eat and live somewhere, but the private costs of both may be much lower at home.

In thinking about risk, it is important to remember that the nature of the riskiness associated with the college non-college choice is somewhat unusual. It is well known that earnings risk is lower for college graduates, in part because they are much likely to be unemployed. At the same time, credit constrained students can pile up a lot of debt in college and thus experience a long period of negative net worth that people who do not go to college are spared. So there is an asymmetry of sorts here.

Standard errors?

I recognize that the piece is trying to reach a popular audience, but I think that even a popular audience needs to hear about many of these issues.

In sum: ugh. And Michael Greenstone is a very smart guy. So I blame the other author, whom I do not know.

Via Brian McCall

Economists and politicians

A fine rant from Larry Kotlikoff.

The tricky part, of course, is what to do about it. You don't really want politicians to not have economists around. That would just make things worse. One hopes that the threat of professional ridicule, which is essentially the tonic that Kotlikoff is administering, serves to moderate politically motivated shading by economists who advise candidates.

Of course, as Kotlikoff notes, the government's usual models for projecting the effects of tax reforms are nothing to be very happy about either.

Life at UC Berkeley

Building Coordinators

We have heard there will be a "JOIN THE OCCUPY OAKLAND STRIKE - UC BERKELEY WALKOUT" Wednesday, November 2, 2011. At this point we do not know how this proposed WALKOUT may be implemented but it is being advertised as a Classroom walkout at 11AM, followed by a march to Oakland, and returning to Sproul Plaza at 5PM. These actions may cause some disruptions by small groups of individuals to the everyday routine, including erroneous "fire alarm" pulls or there may be other associated activities around the campus, including potential marches through campus buildings and "sit-ins". While it is unknown where and when these actions may take place, these activities may present some unique challenges for the campus as the majority of our facilities are open to the public. Although we do not expect any malicious activities, its possible your building may be marched through or even have minor disruptions, so it is best to be a little more vigilant for those who may be roaming our halls.

For those building that have been the target of "erroneous" fire alarm pulls in the past, it may be worthwhile to have an "extra" presence in the hallways and by exits.


Please remind your building occupants of the following procedures should marchers enter your building:

If marchers enter your building, let them. Try to carry on business as usual. If the noise becomes too great, or the crowd too large, feel free to close and lock your office doors - this is a departmental decision. Do not close your buildings unless the Police advise you to.

As a reminder, in the past, some of these activities have included repeated fire alarm pulls. If a building fire alarm sounds, follow your normal procedures and evacuate the building. Do not re-enter until given the "all clear" by a Campus official. We are working with the Campus Fire Marshal's office to address these types of situations and if your facility is involved we will be contacting you.

As always, if you have questions please feel free to contact the UC Police department at XXX-XXXX or call via cell phone to XXX-XXXX.


From an informational perspective, if you observe any unusual gatherings or activities in your building/facility; if you observe any suspicious activities or if you experience actual disruptions to classrooms or administrative routines, call UCPD (911 or Cell phone XXX-XXXX) and we will provide the appropriate support.

We will be utilizing the BC email as a conduit for campus-wide specific information we need to disseminate, so please check your email regularly.

Thank you,

Office of Emergency Preparedness & Homeland Security Sproul Hall, Rm. 17 Berkeley, CA 94720
Phone:(510) XXX-XXXX
Fax: (510) XXX-XXXX
URL: oep.berkeley.edu

Tricky exam questions

A brain-teaser from the folks at Cheap Talk.

Washington 42, Arizona 31

I stayed up until two in the morning watching this one - it started at 7:30 PM pacific time - and was well rewarded for my troubles. The game was tense and hard-fought by both sides. Arizona is a lot better - or maybe just Nick Foles is a lot better - than you would expect for a team that just fired its head coach three weeks ago. In the end, Washington running back Chris Polk had a stellar night, and the defense played better, and Washington pulled it out. Seattle times coverage here.

Eight games into the season, Washington is 6-2 and already bowl eligible. If they continue to beat the teams they are supposed to beat and lose to the teams they are supposed to lose to, they will end the regular season 8-4, which is solidly within the support of what Don James achieved back in the modern golden age of Husky football.

This week: UW goes to Eugene to play the quackers, again at 10:30 PM eastern time.

Michigan 36, Purdue 14

I was expecting this one to be closer than it was, having watched Purdue beat Illinois the week before. Michigan played well, and what is more important, managed to get a lot of points without putting the entire burden of the offense on Denard Robinson.  Annarbor.com coverage here.

Next week Michigan is at Iowa at noon on ESPN.