Thursday, December 27, 2012

The UN at work ...

You'll be as excited to learn as I was that the UN has declared 2013 to be the International Year of the Quinoa.


Via: the Economist

The Economist rises to the occasion ...

... with its review of God's Doodle by Tom Hickman.

From an email list of the Economist's most read articles for 2012. Changes your opinion of Economist readers, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some mathematical christmas cheer

Hat tip: James Brian Paul Nance, writer of logic textbooks, and one of my best friends in 10th grade.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Christmas

Live long, and prosper.

Hat tip: a facebook friend. And really, how could I resist once I saw it?

Sadly, I could not resist this from John Palmer either, though surely I should have.

Holiday greetings ...

... featuring Jeff and Charlie.

Thanks to Marit Rehavi for creating the video.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

2012 is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn's book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".

Longtime readers may recall that Kuhn's book made it onto my list of books that had the largest intellectual influence on me.  For me, recasting the history of science in terms of paradigm shifts mattered less than recasting science itself as a social enterpirse.

Some related thoughts from the Guardian and from David Warsh at Economic Principals.

If you have not read the book, it remains well worth reading.

Vote fraud in the New Yorker

This article on vote fraud from the New Yorker got passed around a lot before the election but, having read it, I think oddly so. The main point seems not to be about whether or not there is vote fraud, but that some red team activists use vote fraud as a wedge issue and sometimes don't get the facts right. Is it really news that activists of any flavor make stuff up in pursuit of thier political objectives?

More broadly, this, like voting rights for felons, seems like an amazingly bad issue for the blue team to push on. First, it is transparently self-interested. Second, it is quite clearly not in the broader interest, as an electoral system viewed as honest and fair is a public good.

I should note that I tend to discount claims that vote fraud is empirically unimportant, as I personally knew an admitted fraudulent voter, an unlikely event if they are really, really rare. She wsa the proprietress of "Hair Ph.D." in Hyde Park when I was in gradual school and proudly admitted to me that, though she now lived in the suburbs, she still voted in her old Chicago neighborhood for the Daley team whenever the opportunity arose.

Assorted links

1. Sometimes Social Security stinks for reasons other than its weak design.

2. Cool old computers that people still use. I have a working Kaypro II that runs CP/M but it does not get used much.

3. Some rare good news from the war on (some) drugs, courtesy of Colorado and Washington.

4. Famous writer Cosmo tips from McSweeny's.

5. A day in the life of an awfully serious University of Washington undergraduate. Where were the food carts when when I was student?

Hat tip on #5 to Charlie Brown.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

UVa wins prestigious award ...

... as Playboy rates it as the best campus for students who want to have a good time.

My thought: really? really?

Somehow I imagine a conversation like: "Dudes, let's go party at Monticello" and think that this just can't be right.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Book: Jane Austen by Carol Shields

Shields, Carol. 2001. Jane Austen. New York: Penguin.

This is one of the Penguin Lives series of short biographies. Though a hardcover, it is trade paperback size and just 185 pages.  The books are a bit pricey, but I have mangaged to find several of them at used book stores or sales - this particular one at a sale at the University of Toronto.

As it turns out, not all that much is known about Jane Austen's life, particularly the early bits. She grew up in modest, but not impoverished,  circumstances, and it was not clear that she was going to achieve fame and some fortune until not many years before early death at age 43. Her sister, with whom she carried on a voluminous correspondence, added to the information problem by destroying those letters she thought did not put Jane in a good light.

Still, there is more than enough to fill the book, and novelist Carol Shields presents it all in a warm and conversational manner. She also makes some points about the novels that I had not really thought about, most particulalry that they are remarkably free of religion given that they were written by the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. I also did not realize that Austen spent several unproductive (at least in terms of novels) years in Bath or that she had turned down the one marriage proposal that came her way.

The book ends with a short but useful chapter on sources and further readings, which is something I always value.


Delta Airlines harder to get into than Harvard?

According to the Daily Mail, Delta Airlines has received 22,000 applications for 300 flight attendant jobs.

Missing from the Daily Mail piece is the obvious conclusion, which is that Delta either pays its flight attendants too much or makes its application process too easy or, more likely, both.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

MAACO Bowl: Boise State 28, Washington 26

Washington played pretty well, including coming back from an 18-3 deficit in the first half, but not well enough in the end.

Thus ends the Huskies' third 7-6 season in a row. Thus starts a bit of grumbling too, I suspect, in Huskyland. Everyone much prefers Sarkisian and 7-6 to 0-8 under Willingham to be sure, but it is time, one hears, to take the next step, and get up into the region of 8-10 wins a year.

The Huskies get to start next season, and to start life in the remodeled version of Husky Stadium, and to start taking the next step, with a rematch against Boise State at the end of August.

Bonus points for running back Bishop Sankey, who was named player of the game despite being on the losing team. I am not sure I have ever seen that happen before.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Laura Hartman, Laura Hartman

I had been wondering why my old friend Laura Hartman - I was the external reviewer on her dissertation long ago and her post-dissertation party at the Hotel Linne set a standard that has not yet been exceeded - suddenly left the Swedish think-tank SNS in 2011 to return to Uppsala University.  Now I know.

Good for Laura.

The blogger reporting on the affair goes off the rails a bit at the end of the post but the basic point that SNS blew it, and not in a small way, is surely correct. Perhaps the comparisons to Stalin can wait, though, until the SNS also murders a few million kulaks.

N.B. For younger readers, the title of the post is a play on this.

Academic scandal at UNC

I had not heard about this before reading this article but it sounds pretty bad.

I am not sure why it is comforting that it was about the department budget (which presumably depended on undergraduate bums in classroom chairs, as they often do either directly or indirectly) rather than about athletic success.

Seinfeld on comedy

The New York Times magazine does a piece on Jerry Seinfeld.

I particularly liked this bit:
Almost from the beginning, Seinfeld has forsworn graphic language in his bits, dismissing it as a crutch.
I don't mind cursing and smut, but it is not elegant and, as usually applied in stand-up comedy, not very clever.

Latter-day tourism

The FT reports on a journey to Nauvoo, Illinois, one of the early stops on the path the latter-day saints took to Salt Lake City, and now a religo-historical tourist attraction.

Book: In Other Times, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Mueenuddin, Daniyal. 2009. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. New York: W.W. Norton.

Mueenuddin grew up in both Pakistan and the US, including along the way an undergraduate degree in English at Dartmouth, and so is rather uniquely positioned to write a book of short stories about Pakistan, with a special emphasis on life among the relatively well-off.

The stories provide a window into worlds most Americans will never see, and so function as sociology or travelogue as well as fiction. Mueenuddin does not shy from the blunt or unpleasant in pursuit of realism, but does not dwell on them either. Indeed, there is a faint, but only faint, aroma of sentimentality about some of the stories.

I was struck in the stories by the general absence of religion and politics, which are perhaps the two things, along with poverty and heat, that I would most quickly associated with Pakistan. The religion that does appear is gentle and laden with superstition. Related to the suprising absence of religion is the surprising ubiquity of alochol in the lives of well-off Pakastanis. Though off-hand remarks make it clear that the alcohol is obtained illicitly, there seems to be no worry that drinkers will get ratted out to the secular or religious authorities by their servants. I wonder if that remains true today.

Definitely recommended.

Brent Musberger interview

Steve Kelly of the Seattle Times interviews ABC/ESPN announcer Brent Musberger, who is doing the play-by-play for today's bowl game featuring Washington against Boise State.

With Keith Jackon and John Madden retired, I think Brent is probably my favorite college football announcer, at least on television.

The bowl game is at 3:30 Eastern today on ESPN. Boise State is, suprisingly to my mind, favored by five.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Microfoundations of the placebo effect ...

The Economist on the "body" side of mind-body medicine.

FT interview with Angela Merkel

I really like the idea of Angela Merkel imitating Obama.

There are other good bits in this FT interview as well.

Hard to imagine anyone this serious (in any party) getting to a similar position in the US.

Megan McArdle on the Connecticut school shootings

Megan has a really thoughtful take on many dimensions of last week's school shooting.

I particularly like the focus on thinking cooly, calmly and realistically about what policy can accomplish and what it cannot as well as her suggestion of a cooling off period before period before policy gets done in the wake of the media frenzy following a dramatic event.

Hat tip: Dan Black

Thursday, December 20, 2012

There is a sadness to becoming an adult

Bob Poole on airport screening

Bob is the former editor and publisher of reason magazine - that's what he was doing back in the day when I was the reason summer intern - and, later, the former president of the reason foundation. Now he does transportation policy full time.

I found his Congressional testimony on airport security screening useful; there was more that I did not already know than I expected.

Modernity comes to India

The FT on the clash between liberal and traditional gender relations in India.

I had no idea that arranged marriages were still common among the educated.

Interesting throughout.

Evidence-based policy via simple graphs: gun control edition

Another of my blue team economist facebook friends (let's call him/her G, and G is only the latest of many in recent days) just posted a small-n univariate regression (in the form of a two-dimensional scatterplot with a line) on facebook that is intended to imply policy conclusions about gun control.

Rather than scream, or write a snarky comment on facebook, I will simply note that this economist, and all the others before him/her, would mercilessly mock anyone who offered a similar type of evidence in a policy domain related to their own research.

The same point applies in principal to any red team economist friends who get the urge to post similiarly non-causal univariate comparisons, though, at least based on my friends, gun control has this mesmerizing effect mainly on blue team economists.

My earlier post on gun control here.

Blimpy's in Ann Arbor on the university's purchase of the building that houses iconic Ann Arbor burger joint Blimpys

I think pushing Blimpy's out is a mistake on the university's part. The "cool college town" aspect of Ann Arbor attracts both students and faculty. Blimpy's is part of that vibe. There are also plenty of other places the university could expand that would be less disruptive to the cultural fabric.

Read about the Facebook petition here.

John Lott

Hell hath no fury like an Atlantic assistant editor scorned.

Molly is correct that the Black and Nagin piece (helpfully provided on Lott's website) is the best critique of the Lott and Mustard work but, at least relative to the last time I looked, gives a somewhat misleading take on the literature as a whole, which is decidedly mixed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The joys of flying ...

It seems like every time I fly there is more talking on the PA and less time to work. Why can't the pilots and flight attendants just shut up?

Connecticut school shootings

Some thoughts on the school shootings:

1. My heart goes out to the familes of the children. I have been surprised, as a relatively new parent, just how strong the bond of affection is between parent and child.

2. I liked this piece from the Telegraph. Indeed, it is almost the only thing I have read or seen that I thought was very serious.

3. How sad that we honor the fallen children by having a festival of confirmation bias (and I have in mind both the red and blue teams in this regard).

4. Why don't Americans engage in loud, public displays of emotion about children who die from other causes, or who die in poor countries?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Things I learned in recent days

1. Danny Bonaduce, who played Danny Partridge in the Partridge Family TV show, is now a disc jockey on KZOK-FM in Seattle, which is the radio station I listened to in high school and which, in an amazing display of consistency, still plays exactly the same music it did then, though now it calls it "classic rock" instead of "album-oriented rock".

2. Ann B. Davis, who played Alice the maid in the Brady Bunch TV show (which was on just before the Partridge Family each Friday night) graduated from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) in 1948 with a degree in theater.

Just thought y'all would want to know.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Naipaul interview in the New Republic

Good stuff, and entertaining on multiple levels.

I especially like his gruff dismissal of the interviewer's sillier questions and his claim that critics are too scared to say anything negative about Jane Austen.

I read A House for Mr. Biswas in my student days and was quite impressed with it.

Among the Believers, which I read more recently, is the most effective critique of the sad current state of political Islam that you will ever read, in large part because it is indirect.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pigeon Impossible

This is very cute indeed.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ed Saraydar, RIP

Ed was one of my amazingly cool senior colleagues back in my days as an assistant, and then associate, professor at Western Ontario.

Obituary from the London [Ontario!] Free Press.

Via Eclectecon, the blog of John Palmer, another of my excellent senior colleagues at UWO back in the day.

Assorted links

1. Very cool 3-D sidewalk art.

2. Health care waiting lists around the world. Rationing by waiting is really inefficient.

3. The Atlantic on my graduate school colleague Matt Khan on moral hazard, government and natural disasters.

4. Say it ain't so Joe. What world does this guy live in?

5. Chicago's fattest (as one of my grad school buddies used to call them) at work. And then it gets even better.

#2 via John Cochrane's blog, and #4 via the Agitator

More on the new University of California logo

The Daily Mail reports on student reaction to Cal's new logo.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Movie: The Flat

The Flat is a documentary about what an Israeli filmmaker learns about his family from the things he finds in his grandmother's flat in Tel Aviv after her passing. Those things are awkward, but interesting, as are the reactions they provoke. The end result provokes thinking on many levels, about family, about how we present ourselves to others and about the relationship between the personal and the historical.

This is the best movie I have seen in a while.

NYT likes it too.

Mind over mendacity

The Amazing Kreskin (who knew he was still around?) offers to help us avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.

Via instapundit

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why development economics is extra fun ...

My favorite phrase from today's informal development seminar: "prominent voodoo leaders".

Monday, December 10, 2012

Call Me, Maybe ...

What Harvard economists do when they take a break from running the world.

Bonus quiz: find the two performers who got their doctorates at Michigan.

Hat tip: Marit Rehavi

Mini fun

A very cute Mini ad that may explain either or both of how the brits got the empire and how they lost it.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tedford out at Cal

Okay, this is slightly old news, but I remain surprised the Cal dumped head football coach Jeff Tedford. There have been a lot of injuries the past couple of years, as well as some turnover (partly due to Washington) at the lower levels of the coaching hierarchy. More broadly, what makes them think they will find another coach this good? Cal is not a great football place. I would have given him another year. It wasn't that long ago that Washington was trying to lure him away to replace Tyrone Willingham.

In possibly unrelated news, Cal has an ugly new logo that appears to show it disappearing.

Hat tip on the logo bit to Sue Dynarski on FB

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Certainly is simpler than trying to reason with them

Kentucky bans atheism, dares sinners to mock it.

Just kidding about the daring part.

This is a pretty sad business. Seems to me that if you can only get people to adopt your religion (whether it be some flavor of Christianity, or of Islam, or of communism or whatever) by threatening them with violence, then your religion deserves nothing but disdain.

Comic on creativity

Much of this (very funny) comic also applies to writing economics papers.

Hat tip: Jess Goldberg

P.J. O'Rourke on books

From the New York Review of Books, some very good bits from P.J. O'Rourke

My favorite bit:
What are your reading habits? Paper or electronic? Do you take notes? Do you snack while you read?

Behold the book with its brilliant, nonlinear search engine called flipping-through-the-pages. A Kindle returns us to the inconvenience of the scroll except with batteries and electronic glitches. It’s as handy as bringing Homer along to recite the “Iliad” while playing a lyre. I dog-ear all my books, underline passages and scribble “Huh?” and “How true!” in the margins. The only fit snack while reading is the olive in a martini.
I agree that Parliament of Whores is the best of P.J's books, though Holidays in Hell and Republican Party Reptile are not far behind. The collection of writings about cars was fun too.

BBC and the broken windows fallacy

Oh dear, oh dear .... really, is there no one at the BBC who knows better?

Wikipedia - you really don't have to look far! - page on the broken windows fallacy.

Bonus from watching the video: a short interview with Rocco the new car dealer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Economics moment of zen #7

"For reasons that neuroscience may one day illuminate, the combination of good judgment and technical wizardry that [candidate] possesses is remarkably rare."

From a job market letter of recommendation (and thus necessarily anonymous).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bend over just a bit farther ....

Obama sells out to the domestic airline industry on European carbon fees.

The point is not that Obama is someone particularly bad, just not better than the other residents at 1600 have been.

Movie: Rise of the Guardians

Not bad for a kid movie. Beautiful animation and some bits of warmth and creativity. It was also fun to see how deliberately the movie was going after the international market.

More from A.O. Scott at the NYT who liked it just a bit less than I did.

Recommended if you are taking a kid.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Joel Slemrod Holland Prize video

Hat tip: Jim Hines, who I believe is the motive force behind the video.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

FT interview with Martha Stewart

I will confess that I did not really pay much attention to, nor have a very high opinion of, Martha Stewart until she was unjustly imprisoned in order to help advance Eliot Spitzer's career.

Now I am rather fascinated by her and her empire of domesticity. Much of what she promotes strikes me as tremendous wastes of time, but, you know, one should not criticize the harmless leisure activities of others.

In any case, the FT offers up an entertaining interview. I had no idea she is 71.

Geek imperialism

Hat tip: someone on Facebook

What a day for a daydream ...

Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation
Benjamin Baird, Jonathan Smallwood, Michael D. Mrazek, ,Julia W. Y. Kam, Michael S. Franklin1 and Jonathan W. Schooler
Psychological Science October 2012 23(10): 1117–1122


Although anecdotes that creative thoughts often arise when one is engaged in an unrelated train of thought date back thousands of years, empirical research has not yet investigated this potentially critical source of inspiration. We used an incubation paradigm to assess whether performance on validated creativity problems (the Unusual Uses Task, or UUT) can be facilitated by engaging in either a demanding task or an undemanding task that maximizes mind wandering. Compared with engaging in a demanding task, rest, or no break, engaging in an undemanding task during an incubation period led to substantial improvements in performance on previously encountered problems. Critically, the context that improved performance after the incubation period was associated with higher levels of mind wandering but not with a greater number of explicitly directed thoughts about the UUT. These data suggest that engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.

Hat tip (including the title): Charlie Brown 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Washington State 31, Washington 28 (OT)

Washington played so badly that, with the help of some very active zebras, they made a mediocre WSU team look good.



I suspect I am not alone in being thankful that Ty Willingham is no longer the coach of Washington's football team. Hopefully I am, though, also not alone in being glad to read that he is having an enjoyable retirement.

The camera never seems to be working ...

... when the officer misbehaves.

A coincidence, surely.

Why the SEC is better at football ...

Hat tip: Dan Black

On the demise of Monitor Group

The only thing I knew about Monitor Group before reading this article is that one of my friends from graduate school used to work there many years ago. I am glad he got out before it went under and I wonder what he thought of it while he was there.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Movie: Skyfall

We saw Skyfall, the new Bond movie, on Tuesday night. It is definitely the best of the Daniel Craig Bond movies. Craig's version of Bond is much richer here - still rougher than all of the previous Bonds but also more human and more interesting. Amazing locations and music too. I think this one goes in the upper quartile of Bond movies.

The NYT likes it too.



I am reminded this morning of something that Bob Lucas told us during orientation for the graduate program in economics at Chicago. This is a paraphrase - it has been 27 years after all - but the gist was:

"I really like working on Thanksgiving and Christmas because nobody calls."

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Algorithmic censorship

This NYT piece has nothing to do with Al Gore - he didn't invent algorithms either - but very reminiscent of Tipper.

The policy ideas at the end are pretty heavy-handed but the issue is an important one.

Via instapundit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ditka, Ditka's and a surprise bystander

Check out the cameo at about 0:55 on this WGN news story on former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka's minor stroke.

The best part is that WGN apparently has no idea who their bystander at Ditka's restaurant might be.

Hat tip: Jesse Gregory

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The dull life of a porn agent

A fascinating look into the (personnel) economics of the porn industry from the Hollywood Reporter.

Via instapundit.

On music and babies

Hat tip: someone on Facebook

Glenn Greenwald on presidents and civil liberties

This is a thoughtful piece on how to think about ranking the presidents on their awfulness on civil liberties. There is also lots of good stuff about the excesses of the "war on terror"; many of the comments would apply as well to the "war on drugs".

Assorted links

1. Justin and Selena all broken up ...

2. Fast times in Hyde Park.

3. UCLA versus USC rivalry pranks.

4. Wurst, wurst, wurst.

5. Pictures of the post-flood NYC subway system.

Hat tip on #3 to Charlie Brown and on #4 to David Jaeger.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Senior thesis

A nice piece by Ben Friedman on why smart undergraduates should write a senior thesis. It is framed around the Harvard program but the substance applies at any serious undergraduate institution.

Hat tip: Frank Stafford

Rob McKenna

It never even crossed my mind that my old friend Rob McKenna might lose the governor's race in Washington State, but he did.

Capital Q: RIP

Back when I was working at U of Maryland and living at Chevy Chase, I would sometimes arrange my commute so that I could have lunch in Chinatown, as that was a natural place to switch from the red line to the green line.

Often I would have Chinese food, but other times I would go to the Capital Q. I liked it both because the BBQ was good and because I felt like it functioned as a sort of temporary refuge for regular people trapped inside the beltway vortex.

I am sad that it is gone.

More generally, it is great that the area around Chinatown is doing well economically, but it is too bad that much of the character and charm are disappearing, lost in the canyons between generic beltway bandit office buildings.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's okay not to vote

Michigan Daily columnist Melanie Kruvelis on the stigma of electoral abstention. Nice work.

I will be voting on Tuesday, mainly because it is cheap here and a modestly entertaining cultural experience as well. I still quite vividly remember voting for the first time in the fall of 1980. I voted for John Anderson for president. Remember him? No, you probably don't. In any event, ahead of me in line was a stoner wearing an Ozzy Osbourne t-shirt. Realizing that the two of us would have the same influence on the election was an epiphany of sorts. A few years later, I discovered H.L. Mencken, who already had it all sorted:
I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men. Is rascality at the very heart of it? Well, we have borne that rascality since 1776, and continue to survive. In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself - that civilization, at bottom, is nothing but a colossal swindle. I do not know: I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can't make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?
And so it shall be again this Tuesday, regardless of whether the demopublicans or the republicrats get to shovel my tax dollars in the direction of their friends for the next four years.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

UM cha-ching

This year's freshman class at Michigan is 42.6 percent out-of-state students, the second highest proportion on record.

Assorted links

1. Applied personnel economics. Ouch!

2. What it means to be hoist on your own petard.

3. What the Michigan dorms used to be like. Different days.

4. News of Ann Arbor on ordering pizza.

5. Beer and poltics: the graph.

Hat tip on #1 and on #5 to Charlie Brown.

Summing up the history of mankind

Hat tip: A Facebook friend, probably Lones

Washington 21, California 13

Washington's offense tried hard to lose, but Cal tried harder, with the result a Washington road victory on ESPN2 last night.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I feel Abby's pain.

Hat tip: Gustavo Ventura

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ayn Rand on Michigan Television

This old interview with Ayn Rand from a now-defunct UM television network works on many levels.

Via the Bentley Historical Library.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Job market run-up home run

Nate Seegert hits a pre-job-market home run as his job market paper is cited on both Marginal Revolution and Ezra Klein's blog at the WaPo.

Congrats to Nate, whose job market paper I quite like as well.

We have other great candidates too .... seven of them with letters from yours truly.

Hat tip: Jessica Goldberg

Arizona 52, Washington 17

This may be the worst game Washington has played all year. Unlike LSU and Oregon, Arizona is good but not great. The Huskies should have been close, if not the winners. And yet they got blown out, in large part due to their own mistakes.

This one actually has caused some grumbling in Seattle, as Jerry Brewer describes in his column.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Michigan 12, Michigan State 10

At last! A victory over MSU! And in a hard-fought defensive struggle that was exciting even on the radio over the internet. Well done.

Coverage from here.

The satanic video

The NYT offers this thoughtful piece on the video that, for a few days, was the cause of the raid on the US embassy compound in Libya and on the broader issues it raises.

It seems to me that we are repeating the same error we made during the Cold War. Liberalism, in the broad sense, is a vastly superior product to communism. That case could have been, and should have been, made without apology. Liberalism is also a far better product than theocracy, whether Christian or Muslim or otherwise. That case, too, can and should be made without apology and without any offense to sincere and honest faith.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The sweaty joy of housework

There is surely a paper topic in this piece from the Daily Mail (and not just for Jeremy Greenwood).

When will the blue team propose heavy taxes on labor-saving household appliances as part of the battle against obesity? I am not holding my breath but I do wonder why is this any different than sugary drinks.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

You didn't build that .....

I started this a long time ago:

Obama's remark that business people did not build their businesses has occasioned one of the odder bouts of internet discussion I can ever recall. It is not silly in the way the week we spent debating whether it was worse to put your sick dog on top of your car or to actually eat dogs was silly, but it is silly nonetheless, because everyone knows that creators are special, and everyone also knows that creators being able to create depends on many factors that are "produced" at a social level. Some of those factors are produced by government, but more of them are produced informally. Most of the heavy lifting of law and order, for example, arises not from the fact that we have police, but from the fact that almost everyone, almost all of the time, does not commit crimes, even when they could do so without detection.

I will highlight two bits that I have read in the course of the discussion that struck me as worth looking at. One is David Warsh on who invented the internet. This is an older discussion, of course, which dates back to Al Gore's bizarre claim in this regard (which goes oddly unmentioned by Warsh). This piece is itneresting both as history and also because it highlights the difficulties of assignment. If a scientist on the government payroll comes up with a good idea, does the credit go to the scientist or to the government? How important to this assignment is the counterfactual? Does it matter if, in the world without the government science project, the inventor (whether the same person, or someone else) would have been imployed by a private university or a public one? Or a private firm? There are deeper issues here, of course, about what it means to get there first when the next person would have gotten there only months or a couple of years later.

I also liked this piece by David Brooks who highlights views about agency over the lifecycle as well as the social value of having people think they have more control than they actually do.

Frontiers of industrial relations

"Ocularcentric Labour: 'You Don’t Do this for Money'" 
Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, Vol. 67, No. 3, 2012

JENNIFER SAPPEY, Charles Sturt University
GLENDA MACONACHIE, Queensland University of Technology - School of Management

This article is a response to Lansbury’s call (2009) in this journal for a reconceptualization of work and employment. It supports Lansbury’s belief that the employment relationship cannot be understood in isolation from wider social change. Building on the tradition of emotional labour and aesthetic labour, this study introduces theoretically and empirically the concept of “ocularcentric labour” (the worker seeking the adoring gaze of the client as the primary employment reward). This paper seeks to establish: the empirical generalizability of ocularcentric labour; its conceptual differentiation with aesthetic and emotional labour; and the implications of ocularcentric labour for industrial relations and collective interest representation. Through a study of the employment relationship in the commercial health and fitness industry in Queensland (Australia), we identify this new type of labour as one in which the worker’s primary goal is to seek the psycho-social rewards gained from exposing their own body image. This quest shapes the employment relationship (both the organization of work and the conditions of employment). We argue that for many fitness workers the goal is to gain access to the positional economy of the fitness centre to promote their celebrity. For this they are willing to trade-off standard conditions of employment and direct earnings, and exchange traditional employment rewards for the more intrinsic psycho-social rewards gained through the exposure of their physical capital to the adoration of their gazing clients. As one worker said “You don’t do this for money.” Significantly, with ocularcentric labour the worker becomes both the site of production and consumption.The study draws on quantitative and qualitative data captured from the Australian health and fitness industry with one snapshot taken in 1993 and another in 2008. The conclusion draws together the key conceptual and empirical points and findings and examines the implications for the conceptualization of IR in the contemporary economy.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Assorted links

1. Cryonics pictures.

2. What Wally Cleaver is up to these days.

3. Is this better or worse than being level 85 on World of Warcraft? I think probably better.

4. You can invest in local brine.

5. Cookbooks by obscure celebrities from Abebooks. Tori Spelling? Tony Danza?

Hat tip on #3 to Charlie Brown.

Where shall we meet?

If you schedule a meeting location as TBD, here is where Google maps directs you.

The one in Brooklyn with the ping pong, beer garden and art installations sounds like the most fun.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who says innovation is dead?

Truly the gift for someone who has everything.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

$500 bills laying around in health care

This is hilarious, and very much on point.

I have managed to find a GP who will actually respond to emails (thanks, Gary) but he really doesn't like it. The discussion I had with my dermatologist about using email was hilarious at some level (his office doesn't "trust" email, whatever that might mean) but ultimately fruitless as well.

Hat tip: Ken Troske, who got it from John Cochrane

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nobel predictions

Here are mine:

John Rust
Charles Manski
Angus Deaton

Prize is announced on Monday.

Movie: Butter

The NYT review sums it up well:
"Butter” alternates between looking down its nose at Midwestern passions and cooing over smugly liberal values." 
Needless to say, this played well with the Ann Arbor audience last night at the Michigan Theater. There was even a bit of misplaced applause at the end.  Still, it is well-acted enough, and funny enough at times, that I am glad to have seen it.

The high point of the evening was listening to a loud fellow-movie goer afterwards in the lobby talking about how she thought the movie featured Jennifer Anniston rather than Jennifer Garner.

Weakly recommended.

Euro movie short

National stereotypes are so much fun.

Via Rudi Bachmann and Greg Mankiw

Monday, October 8, 2012

Clear evidence of my failure as a parent

This morning at the front door, as the family assembled for departure:

Elizabeth (the ECONdaughter): Daddy, there is something missing!

Dad: What is missing?

Elizabeth: A tie.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Big 5-0

Today is ECONJEFF's 50th birthday.  However did this happen?

Also celebrating their birthday today (among others): my college roommate Ian Challis, my graduate school friend Sheilagh Ogilvie (when are you coming to UM for a seminar?) and my wonderful (she really is) mother-in-law!

My deep thought for the day: life goes by quickly, so pay attention.

Michigan 44, Purdue 13

Purdue looked like the worst team Michigan has played all year, which surprised me, and made for a pretty boring game. Still, Michigan can use the win and it was a chance for the players to get out some of their frustrations from the losses against Alabama and Notre Dame.

I spent a lot of time watching the much more exciting Stanford-Arizona game.

Next week: likely another blowout, this time against Illinois 3:30 on ABC.

Quacking felons 52, Washington 21

I was hoping for some roasted ducks for my birthday - the game went past midnight Eastern time - but it was not to be.

The hardest part was that this was a bit more self-inflicted than some of the other recent Oregon victories have been.

Next week: USC at 7 PM Eastern on Fox.

I pledge allegiance ... not

This is something that has puzzled me since grade school days: can there be anything less appropriate in the land of the free than to press children to engage in ritual toadying to the state every day?

Shame on you, Rick Snyder. This was a missed opportunity for some leadership and a very teachable moment.

Suppressing competition in education

If two grocery store chains were planning to merge and rented a couple of state legislators to introduce a bill that would prevent the opening of new grocery stores in their areas while they completed their merger, people would either laugh or scream or both.

Why isn't the reaction the same when it is two public school districts?

Friday, October 5, 2012

The secret lives of Maine politicians

The Daily Mail (of course) has the shocking story of the blue team state senate candidate in Maine who spends her free time as a "level 85 orc assassin rogue" on World of Warcraft.

Maybe I'm different (okay, for sure I am) but to me this means 10,000 bonus points for Ms. Lachowicz.

Hat tip - it almost goes without saying - Charlie Brown

SNL: Shimmer

Can you imagine my shock and dismay at making a clever reference to the (justly) famous SNL Shimmer commercial parody yesterday during a seminar and having it turn out that I was the only one who knew about it?

To remedy this sad state of cultural ignorance, here is Shimmer on hulu:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Economics Moment of Zen #6

"At Michigan we have a tradition of caring about the truth, even if the truth is boring."

-Miles Kimball

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MacArthur Fellows

Congratulations to Harvard public finance economist Raj Chetty, winner of one of the 2012 MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Hat tip: Joel Slemrod

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Will Wilkinson on makers and takers

Maybe the best thing I have read so far about the whole 47 percent business.

Though a comedian on NPR did say something to the effect that if he had known there would be all this math, he never would have started paying attention to politics.

Via MR


PDD = partisan differentiation disorder.

Hat tip: An economist friend on Facebook

Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6

The Michigan defense played quite well, but not well enough to cancel out a really, really (really, really) sloppy game by the offense. Live by Denard, die by Denard, it seems.

This will likely drop Michigan out of the top 25. The good news is that much of the rest of the Big Ten continues to play poorly (e.g. Iowa losing to Central Michigan and Illinois getting routed by Louisiana Tech), so bowl eligibility should not be a problem. coverage here.

Technical change in food delivery

Naysayers aver that technical change is slowing down, but how can that be so when great inventions like this voice-activated single-kernel-shooting popcorn maker keep appearing?

Think of the productivity gains at department meetings alone!

Hat tip: a hungry Charlie Brown

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Assorted links

1. North Face, meet South Butt.

2. UM promotes paternalism and intolerance.

3. John Scalzi on how to be a good commenter.

4. Supplier induced demand: prostitution sting edition.

5. Coase theorem failure.

Hat tip to someone on #1 ... who was it? Hat tip on #5 to Charlie Brown.

Technical change in the reproductive health sector

... comes (ahem) to a hospital in China.

And it's hands free!

Friday, September 21, 2012

More on the 47 percent

1. A nice piece from the NYT Economix blog on the voting habits of those who do not pay income tax.

2. Matt Welch at reason does some debunking.

3. Nick Gillespie at reason on the good news: both campaigns and the media who love them can avoid talking about anything serious for a few more days.

4. A good political overview from the Economist.

I await the happy day when the election is over and we can return to the usual, marginally lower, level of inanity.

Addendum: Matt Welch link fixed. And a very nice piece from Steve Chapman.

Uncle Bonsai kickstarter project

Only a few hours left to help Uncle Bonsai - my favorite folk group - out with their children's book / CD project on Kickstarter.

I will confess that I am distracted both by the idea of a personal concert - $3,000 is much less than I imagined such a thing would cost - and by the idea of getting a personal recording of a song of my choice for only $500. There are a few UB songs that I recall fondly from my college days that they have never, to my knowledge, recorded. One is "Visible Panty Lines", which they would perform with some tubes that were used to represent the panty lines. Others were very funny covers, including "Wild Thing" and "You Light Up My Life".

Sadly missing from the list: a reunion concert complete with former member Ashley.

A cool toy I had completely forgotten about

Spirograph also has a wikipedia page, complete with math.

Hat tip: Tom Headrick on Facebook

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gladwell on Sandusky

As one expects, this Malcolm Gladwell piece on child molesters is well-written and interesting and informed by the literature.

What I think is missing is any notion that Type II errors have to be balanced against Type I errors. Gladwell is all about Type I errors - failing to conclude that individuals are child molesters when they actually are - and not at all about Type II errors - falsely concluding that individuals are child molesters when in fact they are not. Both types of error are very costly in this context.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Washington 52, Portland State 13

In the world of survey sampling, PSU stands for "primary sampling unit". In the world of college football victories for pay, it apparently stands for "portland state university".

The main take-away is that the defense really is a lot better than last year. That's good news.

Seattle Times coverage here.

Next comes the not so happy part of Washington's schedule: Stanford on Thursday, Sept. 27, then Oregon, then USC. Ugh.

Michigan 63, Taxachusetts 13

I felt a bit old while watching this game when I realized that my youthful enthusiasm for blowouts in favor of my preferred team is fading away. I can remember having a discussion with my father about this when I was about 12 in which I argued in favor of blowouts and he argued in favor of close wins. I have now come over to his position. coverage of the one-sided affair is here.

Tom Sargeant bank commercial

This is pretty cool because it doubles as a commercial and a response to the critics (mostly in the press) who have blamed macro-economics for not predicting the Great Recession.

Will a Heckman commercial be next?

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Secret Romney video

Mother Jones feigns shock at the "secret" video of remarks by Romney at a campaign fundraiser.

 I the only one who finds it obvious that this was deliberately released by the Romney campaign?

What one might call the moral hazard problem (or perhaps the mass corruption problem) of people voting themselves treats at the expense of others is hardly new, and Romney both overstates it as it applies to the poor and is too narrow about it as it applies to the middle class. It is also hardly limited to the blue team. For example, all those folks who work at defense contractors and in the military (and their families and friends and neighbors) do not vote for the red team because of they have concluded that an imperialist foreign policy is best given their deep study of history and international relations theory.

The rest of the video seems surprisingly unshocking, despite Mother Jones' reaction. Romney and Obama both employ expensive, vaguely (or maybe not so vaguely) sleazy election consultants. Both of them avoid serious intellectual discussion of issues, and for good reason: doing so is optimal given the decision problem that they face. And everyone knows that winning the long term affections of the "Hispanic vote" is very important for both parties.

So, other than bromides, all you have is meat for the red team base. What do all the pundits say? That this election is all about mobilizing bases. What do I conclude? That Mother Jones is implicitly doing the bidding of the Romney campaign by publicizing the video.

I predict that a similar Obama video emerges soon.

Hat tip: multiple blue team friends on Facebook.

Smoking and restaurants

I don't agree with the mandatory smoke-free policy but I do agree with this new study by Helen Levy.

Like the real thing, but better ...

James Earl Jones reads Justin Bieber.

Hat tip: Arthur Robson

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Attack ad compilation

Via the Atlantic, a short compilation of political attack ads starting in the 1950s.

Even if you already know that attack ads are nothing new, the compilation is interesting because it shows how the technology of television has improved over time, it shows that people in the past often thought differently about particular candidates than we do now, and because it illustrates other historical changes. As an example of the last of these, can you imagine a blue team candidate using the term "God's children" without irony, as Lyndon Johnson does in one of the ads in the compilation?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Goolsbee on the Daily Show

The extended play version of Goolsbee's Daily Show appearance is here. There are some bits of rather loose empirics at times, perhaps unavoidable given the context, but it is always fun to watch economists on the show.

Movie: The Queen of Versailles

What a fascinating documentary!

Originally intended to be the story of the building of the largest private home ("Versailles") in the US, the financial crisis turned it into a much more interesting story when it came along and upset the process.

The NYT offers both a review by A.O. Scott - a bit more positive than I would be - and another, perhaps even more interesting, piece on the post-movie lawsuit by David Siegel, the patriarch of the family building the house and the boss of the world's largest privately held time-share company.

And it was extra fun to watch it in Ann Arbor, complete with hoots and hissing when David Siegel announces that he is responsible for the Bush II presidency and mirth at the many (many) instances in which the Siegels show off their astoundingly bad taste in everything from boob jobs to burgers.


Mean streets of Ann Arbor?

An reporter does a party patrol ride-along and confirms that Ann Arbor is pretty darn sedate, even on a Saturday night after a home game.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thomas Szasz, RIP

Jacob Sullum has some words on the passing of Thomas Szasz.

Movie: The Intouchables

This is what one would watch on a highbrow, French version of the Lifetime channel, if there was such a thing. A.O. Scott walks the thin line between "pretty nice" and "wow, I've seen all those cliches before", which is exactly where to walk with this movie.

Recommended as being very good conditional on genre.

Bizarre conspiracy theory parody (I think)

This is PG-13, which may be a feature, or a bug.

I don't remember where I found this as it was a couple of weeks ago. Maybe Cheap Talk?

Biden and the biker chick

Click through just to look at the faces on the two biker guys.

Kinda creepy all around, seems to me.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown


The New Yorker delivers a surprisingly gentle mocking to the prudes at Facebook.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Roback model not to follow

From the Journal of Political Economy to insulting everyone who suffered under communism by equating them with the people who celebrated "Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day".

An indefensible waste of human capital, I would say, though I suspect Dr. Roback would disagree.

Hat tip on the Chik-fil-A piece: Mel Stephens

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Michigan 31, Air Force 25

Michigan was lucky to get out of this one with a win. The article makes lots of excuses, but the fact of the matter is that the team was over-rated at the start of the season. Hopefully last week's debacle at Alabama and this week's squeaker at home will put an end to the media hype and get the team focused on working hard to get better.

The most interesting bit is perhaps the adjustment to the defense that involved putting in a freshman who had been on an option team in high school and so was experienced at defending it.  The defense did become noticeably better towards the end of the game; apparently that was why.

At least now no one can say that the Alabama loss had much of anything to do with the one-game suspension of the starting running back. He did almost nothing yesterday.

Like Washington, Michigan has an easy one next week, playing Massachusetts in the Big House.

Interesting ways to lose your job

From the Daily Mail, the sad story of a Chicago executive who lost his cool, lost his job, and lost his lawsuit.

I would have thought that they covered this in the first week of busyness school.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

A British view of Tim Tebow

How To Spend It considers religious extrovert Tim Tebow, but prefers Peyton Manning in the end.

LSU 41, Washington 3

To be honest, this is about what I expected. LSU was in the national championship game last year for a reason and the Huskies were playing them on their field. Not a good recipe for success, especially not in the second week of the season with a young team.

My views about the likely outcome for the season, somewhere between six and nine wins, have not really changed. If anything, the defense played a bit better than I expected against LSU, particularly given that they were on the field most of the game due to Washington's offensive woes. If this had been last year's defense it would have been 70-3.

Perhaps the real bad news yesterday was the play of UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and the lowly beavers, who upended Wisconsin in Corvalis. Suddenly the second half of Washington's schedule does not look as easy as it did a week ago.

Next week Washington plays Portland State at home. Given the situation with the PAC-12 network, I expect I will be listening rather than watching, which is irritating. I sent an email to the Comcast regional pooh-bah last Wednesday but have yet to receive a reply. Hard to imagine why so many people dislike them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I spent yesterday morning taking part in a panel on US active labor market programs put on by the American Enterprise Institute in DC. This is the first time I have ever done a sort of think tank policy "event" - all the AEI folks called it the "event" - in my career.  It was more fun than I expected.

You can watch videos of the event at the AEI web page and on the C-Span (another first for me) web page. AEI excerpted my comments comparing the cost information available at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor, where I worked in high school, with that typically available about job training programs in a separate video snippet. This made me happy because my Farrell's reference got cut by the editors of the WIA book chapter I posted about a few days ago.

Not counting moderators, the following people spoke: Steve Davis, Larry Katz, Harry Holzer, me, Gary Burtless, Paul Decker, Betsey Stevenson, and Ken Troske. Five speakers wore dark suits, two, Larry and Gary, wore summery light suits, and yours truly, who does not own a suit jacket, wore a short-sleeve dress shirt and a tie. I am not sure what model explains the sartorial variation.

I was impressed that AEI, which is usually labeled center-right, put on a panel where most of the speakers were democrats. Indeed, three of the eight speakers are former chief economists at DOL under democrat presidents: Katz, Holzer and Stevenson. Perhaps the explanation is that, at the end of the day, the speakers agreed on nearly every point. This is one of those areas where, at least for marginal changes, it is the economists versus the politicians and (more deeply) the self-interested stakeholders.

Regular readers know  that I pay attention to social networks. Among the panelists, there are many connections: Ken and I went to college and grad school together. Paul and I have known each other for years; we met when we were both consulting on program evaluations in Canada. These days, he is occasionally my boss when I consult for Mathematica. Steve Davis was on Ken's dissertation committee at Chicago and, as I recall, employed Ken as a research assistant. Harry and I are working on a paper together. Betsey is now my colleague at Michigan. Oh, and the AEI moderator for my panel worked at the NY Fed with one of my graduate students. Academic economics is a small world., particularly once you condition on being interested in job training programs.

The lunch at AEI was as good as I remembered from the one other time I had been there, back in my Maryland days, despite being surprisingly healthy.

It will interesting to see if anything comes of this effort.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Washington 21, San Jose State 12

Washington's first game of the season was a lot closer than it should have been. That's the bad news. The good news is that the defense looked much improved from last year.

Seattle Times story here.

Next week: LSU in Baton Rouge. Ugh. I am unsure of the point of putting LSU on the schedule.

The other bad news is that Comcast is not carrying the Pac-12 network in Ann Arbor, as well as many other places. Given that they provide hundreds of channels of worthless drivel, this seems an odd choice, particularly given the long-standing rivalry between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten..

Shooting fish in the DNC barrel

Reason's interviewer demonstrates what you really already knew: (1) most people hold large numbers of mutually inconsistent political views and (2) that is even true of people at a political convention whom you might have thought would have devoted more CPU cycles to trying to be consistent.

Being pro-choice only in cases where you might actually make the choice but not in other cases is a bit like wanting free speech only for people who agree with you (and there are many on both teams who hold essentially that position). It truly is amazing that we have any freedom at all.

The red team would, of course, have done no better if asked, for example, to account for the inconsistency inherent in believing that the post office and other domestic bureaucracies are hopeless failures while the military bureaucracy can be expected to successfully transform backward autocracies into liberal societies in a deacde.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Assorted links

1. Some bits and photos on the history of course registration at Michigan. I always loved picking courses - so many cool choices, but tempered with the frustration at not being able to take all the ones that sounded interesting. Sort of like seminars and conferences, I suppose.

2. Size matters at the Fed's Jackson Hole symposium.

3. Where the college students are - from Atlantic Cities.

4. Organizing the school day morning. This is new for us - tomorrow is Elizabeth's first day of kindergarten.

5. Interview with Maggie Gyllenhall on Salon.

Dan Drezner on being a Sunday morning pundit

This does not sound like something I would like.

PDD Illustrated

Partisan Differentiation Disorder (PDD) illustrated with Star Wars characters.

Via Tom Headrick on Facebook

Katie Rophie on children and their invisible mothers

The starting paragraphs of Katie's fine essay:
If, from beyond the grave, Betty Friedan were to review the Facebook habits of the over-30 set, I am afraid she would be very disappointed in us. By this I mean specifically the trend of women using photographs of their children instead of themselves as the main picture on their Facebook profiles. You click on a friend’s name and what comes into focus is not a photograph of her face, but a sleeping blond four-year-old, or a sun-hatted toddler running on the beach. Here, harmlessly embedded in one of our favourite methods of procrastination, is a potent symbol for the new century. Where have all of these women gone? What, some earnest future historian may very well ask, do all of these babies on our Facebook pages say about “the construction of women’s identity” at this particular moment in time?
Many of these women work. Many of them are in book clubs. Many of them are involved in causes, or have interests that take them out of the house. But this is how they choose to represent themselves. The choice may seem trivial, but the whole idea behind Facebook is to create a social persona, an image of who you are projected into hundreds of bedrooms and cafĂ©s and offices across the country. Why would that image be of someone else, however closely bound they are to your life, genetically and otherwise? The choice seems to constitute a retreat to an older form of identity, to a time when fresh-scrubbed Vassar girls were losing their minds amidst vacuum cleaners and sandboxes. Which is not to say that I don’t understand the temptation to put a photograph of your beautiful child on Facebook, because I do. After all, it frees you of the burden of looking halfway decent for a picture, and of the whole excruciating business of being yourself. Your three-year-old likes being in front of the camera. But still.
Good stuff - and real feminism, not WCTU tracts rewritten with post-modern jargon, which is much of what passes for feminism these days.

Movie: Dark Horse

Dark Horse is sort of a love story about two very awkward people. At times hilarious, at times brutal, at times painful to watch, but overall worth a look.

I did not like it quite as much as A.O. Scott in the NYT.


Doonesbury on Congress

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Monday, August 27, 2012

LaLonde on WIA book

Bob Lalonde reviews the recent Upjohn book, edited by Doug Besharov and Phoebe Cottingham, on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) (journal access required). The book grew out of a mini-conference held to inform the Europeans of the lessons they could learn from the US experience with active labor market programs.

The review has wise words about the difficulties of non-experimental evaluation of active labor market programs like WIA, about the lack of policy response to evaluation results, and about performance management.  I particularly liked this bit on the latter topic:
A very closely related problem turns on the merits of using performance measures to proxy for rigorous impact estimates. Since these measures were first conceived during the CETA program, attempts to refine them so they actually “work” have amounted to the workforce development field's equivalent of the quest for the Holy Grail. Like its predecessor quest, so far this effort has been futile. There is no convincing evidence that using performance measures as a proxy is a good idea and lots of evidence against it. As explained by Burt Barnow in his chapter here, “Lessons from the WIA Performance Measures,” workforce performance measures do not correlate well with program impacts. That really should not be a surprise, because coming up with reliable performance measures requires that we be able to confidently and consistently solve the evaluation problem.
Though nominally aimed at the Europeans, there is much that US policymakers could learn from the book as well. They could also learn from the Europeans (at least some of them) about how to increase the quality of non-experimental program evaluations via better administrative data.

You can order the book from Upjohn (or Amazon) and you can read the final draft of my chapter for free. They made me take out the bit about Farrell's from the book version, so I actually prefer the final draft.

Movie: ParaNorman

ParaNorman is a fine bit of fluff with some good humor - I quite enjoyed Courtney, the airhead older sister - and a nice message - be nice to people who are different - though not one that is subtly delivered. As the NYT reviewer notes, the animation is beautiful and fun as well.

Recommended if you have kids.

What Jim Tressel is up to

Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressell is now the "Vice President for Strategic Engagement" at the University of Akron.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Move over Tina Fey

The Daily Mail reports that it is a big week for "Lisa Ann", the "adult entertainer" who looks like Sarah Palin.

Contra Lisa Ann, it is not clear to me that voting for someone because they are hot is worse than voting for them because they promise to take things from other people and give them to you.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

[Text updated to reflect the fact that the FT and the Daily Mail are not the same]

You might be a redneck if ...

... you think Jeff Foxworthy's new game show is a good idea on any of several different levels.

Via: an ad for the show on NFL network (sic)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

FT on corporate mindfulness

The FT surveys the growth of corporate wellness programs that include aspects of "mindfulness", pop Buddhism, yoga and other spiritual tricks for daily living.

I am sympathetic to the idea that periods of quiet and reflection can improve one's life, but the supposed "scientific" evidence cited in the article is pretty miserable.

The first bit consists of participant evaluations:
The company has even begun research into its efficacy, and the early results are striking. After one of Marturano’s seven-week courses, 83 per cent of participants said they were “taking time each day to optimise my personal productivity” – up from 23 per cent before the course. Eighty-two per cent said they now make time to eliminate tasks with limited productivity value – up from 32 per cent before the course. And among senior executives who took the course, 80 per cent reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions, while 89 per cent said they became better listeners.
Smith, Whalley and Wilcox mock these sorts of questions and provide evidence from an active labor market program that they do not correlate with impacts estimated in more compelling econometric ways.

And then there is this:
Other companies have found that such programmes can generate both health benefits and cost savings. Aetna, partnering with Duke University School of Medicine, found that one hour of yoga a week decreased stress levels in employees by a third, reducing healthcare costs by an average of $2,000 a year.
The main problem with this, of course, is that we do not learn the methods the companies used to find this amazing reductions in health care costs. Did they do random assignment? Did they compare participants to non-participants without controls? Did they compare participant health costs before and after the program? Two of those methods typically yield rubbish, one does not. The second problem with this is that the estimate does not really pass the smell test. Employees are large corporations do not have high average health care costs. If they did, in most cases they would not be working. For this group, a $2000 impact would be really large, so large, I suspect, as to be implausible.

I think the FT author needs to meditate a bit on methodology, as well as on his bodily sensations.