Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Movie: The Raid: Redemption

We saw The Raid: Redemption last week at the State Theater.

One way to summarize the movie is to say that the most frustrating thing about this for me was that various combatants kept leaving guns on the floor, which they could have picked up and used, so that they could continue with the martial arts beatings. If you are serious about survival, that's not what you do.

Recommended only if you want an hour of beautifully choreographed non-stop, intense, violence, most of it in the form of hand-to-hand martial arts combat. I should note that the violence is brutal - less cartoonish than the typical Hollywood action movie - but not gory.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Warsh on Bloomberg and such

David Warsh at Economic Principals is often at his best when discussing the intersection of journalism and finance. This week's column is no exception.

Fools, money ...

The FT describes the sorry outcomes for European investors who bought homes in Detroit.

Perhaps the underlying problem is best signaled indirectly by this bit from the article:
Three years ago, property investment firms were enthusiastically promoting schemes to buy repossessed homes in the US cities of Detroit, Atlanta and Florida – with prospective net yields as high as 16 per cent.
Just in case you weren't aware of it, Florida is a state, not a city.

Due diligence, anyone?

Partisan differentiation disorder: canine edition

After the blue team mocked Romney for putting his dog Seamus on the top of his car on a long trip, the red team strikes back. Shouldn't someone on the blue team have thought about this in advance?

It's only April and we are already neck deep into the lies and trivial partisan spin. It is going to be a long slog until November and after November we have to live with one of these mediocrities for four years.

Assorted links

1. A very short history of the parking meter from Atlantic Cities.

2. Congrats to Will Wilkinson and Kerry Howley on starting a new adventure.

3. On the relative efficiency of languages.

4. Stomp on the shoe tariff. I love the pun implicit in the name "Affordable Footwear Act".

5. Everybody loves Seattle. Me too.

An excellent commercial

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cat religion

The cranky analyst

I am informed (*) that my friend and UM colleague Sue Dynarski is again posting to her blog, the Cranky Analyst.  It has been restored to the blog roll on the right, just above the Grumpy Economist, thereby forming a sort of zone of scholarly irritation.

(*) by Sue Dynarski

Economics thought of the day #2

"I don't think a Bayesian model is the right way to think about the impact of the pope."
From Imran Rasul's labor seminar a couple of weeks ago, in which he made the case that papal visits (or, more precisely, one papal visit to Brazil in which related issues were highlighted) result in transitory positive shocks to fertility (the paper does not yet seem to be up on his research page).

Hooker services no longer secret

Two excellent posts about the whole business about secret service members hiring prostitutes in Colombia, one from reason and one from dollars and sex.

My thoughts are (1) if the agents agreed not to do this as part of their terms of employment, then it is fine to punish them even though prostitution is legal in Colombia (as in most other places outside the US); (2) the agent who refused to pay the agreed upon amount is a cad (though he may be a cad who got taken advantage of by a clever woman who understood the leverage he had provided to her and who at the very least had a keen understanding of price discrimination).

Addendum: a summary piece from the Daily Mail that includes pictures of the club, some of the providers, and the hotel.

Economics thought of the day #1

On the framers of the US constitution:
"The called themselves framers because they were into mechanism design"
From Tom Sargeant's recent talk at Michigan.

The wages of (certain kinds of) sin

The porn actress turned teacher in Oxnard, California that I blogged about before has been fired (link is on the edge of being SFW)

In a well-ordered world, she would now go on to sue and win a large settlement against the school district, but my guess is that is not what happens.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Music: Loudon Wainwright III and Lucy Wainwright Roche

Loudon and Lucy (his daughter with one of the Roche sisters) put on a most excellent, sold out show last night at the Ark in Ann Arbor, complete with standing ovation at the end. reports on a pre-concert dinner at Zingerman's.

My favorite song was this one:

Loudon plays tonight at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago; Lucy plays in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Both are always worth the time.

Monitoring the monitors

A very calm, considered and informative piece from reason on how to go about recording the police.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Oh Canada

I learned last night that some people (who should best remain anonymous but may or may not work for the US federal government or a related quasi-governmental entity) refer to Canada, our very patient, and very polite, neighbor to the north, as "America's hat".

That, in turn, reminded me of my very favorite Onion story ever, which appeared back in the days when I myself lived in Canada.

Word of the day: zedification

"zedification" - to normalize a random variable by subtracting off the mean and dividing through by the standard deviation. Recall that the world outside the US refers to "z" as "zed" rather than "zee".

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Assorted links

1. America's dumbest cops: meet Officer 69 of the Santa Fe PD, who forgot all about his dashboard camera.

2. I think this is called getting a bad draw on your parents.

3. Travel tips from the legal nomad.

4. picks on Rachel Maddow for writing about things without reading the relevant literature. I thought the blue team was the team of science?

5. Partisan differentiation disorder: geographic confusion edition.

Hat tip on #1 to Charlie Brown; #2 is via instapundit, #3 via MR.

Obama on drugs

From an article in one of the Economist blogs comes this quote from our most benevolent and esteemed great leader:
I personally, and my administration’s position, is that legalisation is not the answer; that, in fact, if you think about how it would end up operating, that the capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint could be just as corrupting if not more corrupting than the status quo.
So, it seems to me that we actually have some pretty compelling empirical evidence that this is false. It is called Pfizer, which is a large drug company that operates quite legally in the United States without, it seems, causing massive corruption. To be sure, it operates not "without any constraint" but rather with many constraints imposed specifically on drug companies, such as the FDA approval regime, and with many constraints imposed on all public companies, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and with all the constraints imposed on both public and private companies. The latter constraints, and perhaps some of the others, would operate on any legal company selling, say, marijuana, as well. Certainly, corporations operating legally are not free of corrupting influence - think Solyndra subsidies or Boeing and the Export-Import bank - but I see no reason to think that marijuana companies would be more or less corrupt, or corrupting, than other sorts of companies.

We also have the broader evidence of life before prohibition, which arrived in the early 20th century. Somehow, Americans managed to go from triviality in the 1770s to greatness at 1900 without ever banning drugs. Perhaps there are lessons there?

In short, President Obama's view is just baseless and silly.

Gelman on plagiarism

A longish and thoughtful post on plagiarism by Andrew Gelman.

I think that much of the game, at least for first-time offenses, is how they are handled. Denial and silly excuses are a bad sign, falling on your sword is a good sign.

Aside: Gelman was here at Michigan a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to go see him but I could not figure out how to do so without spending the entire day at the conference of which his keynote was the highlight, so I did not. Another time.

On politicians' pay

I think we pay our political types far too little to distract them from corruption both large and small and to attract the sort of people who are not doing the job in order to live out some fantasy of power and/or ideology. Of late, the problem is compounded by a media culture than jumps on any sign of a political type having a life, or just having some fun. Clearly, it is a bad thing if political types spend all their time golfing - well, I can think of some political types where this would be a great social boon, but I mean in general - but they should be allowed to play golf once in a while. Thus, I side with the Economist, and not with the Daily Telegraph, on the question of whether Hillary Clinton should be criticized for actually dancing at a recent meeting. Having a bit of a life is part of the total compensation package that is cheap for the public to provide.

I think these sorts of kerfuffles, like the recurring frenzy about congressional pay, serve only to distract attention from important policy discussions.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Craig Ferguson vs. Andrew Leigh

Apparently late night talk show personality Craig Ferguson mocked the exciting metropolis of Canberra, Australia last week, so much so that it attracted the attention of the Sydney Morning Herald (people in Sydney quite like mocking Canberra in my limited experience) and of Australian economist turned labour parliamentarian Andrew Leigh, who calls Canberra "the best city in Australia" and offers to take Craig and guest Guy Pearce on a tour of Canberra. Usually I would trust Andrew's empirical claims, but in this case ...

Study 'o the day: Walmart and hate groups

Goerz, Rupasingha and Loveridge (2012) Social Science Quarterly (gated) document a correlation between the number of Walmart stores in a county in 1998 (!) and the number of hate groups in a county as of 2007. Their paper has gotten written up at Atlantic Cities (who offer some skepticism but probably should have passed on mentioning it at all) and a site called Live Science (linked to by the consumerist) in that familiar sort of we're saying its not causal but really we want you to think it is sort of way common to journalistic accounts of academic papers.

The article itself encourages this, as the authors use the term "determinants" rather than causes but the authors offer up some causal stories; my favorite involves the way Walmart's "Save Money, Live Better" causes people to think like racist protestants, or something like that. That bit is on pages 10-11 if you want to read it; the folks at Atlantic Cities didn't like this bit either.

The other fun bit is the puffing up of the Walmart variable as being the "most statistically significant". Indeed, it has the second largest t-statistic in the final column in their Table 2.  What matters, though, to interpreting the results is its substantive significance, not its statistical significance. 

My explanation: Walmart is better at predicting where low income whites live - they are (many of) the folks who shop at Walmart so Walmart has some incentive to be good at locating them - and they are also likely the ones who form groups that end up on the Southern Poverty Law Center list - than are the authors, whose remaining covariates do not dispel my concerns about omitted variable bias.

Best of Ann Arbor?

The Michigan Daily offers up a best of Ann Arbor list as selected by its readers.

There are some odd bits:

1. Neither Chipotle (spelled incorrectly on the list) nor Pancheros is really Mexican in any meaningful sense (which does not mean that I don't go to Chipotle sometimes).

2. I have never seen anyone other than construction workers in Maize and Blue Deli. Amer's is surely better.

3. Mia Za's? Seriously?

I think general problem is that the voters weighted distance from central campus very heavily in their deliberations. That's the only way you get Mia Za's on the list, or No Thai! ahead of Marnee, or Stucchi's ahead of Kilwin's etc.

Marcin v. Dingell update

UM economics gradual student Dan Marcin's campaign to unseat decades-past-his-sell-by-date Congressperson John Dingell gets some attention from the Michigan Daily and from soon-to-be Harvard economics department chair Greg Mankiw (shouldn't have missed that meeting Greg....).

As always, my view is that (with maybe a handful of exceptions) economists of any party are preferred to non-economists of any party for government posts.

Assorted links

1. What it's like to be a new, and unexpected, alderman in Chicago.

2. Partisan differentiation disorder: "radical republican" edition. Obama's illusory radical republicans are, of course, just the flip side of the republican's imagined "socialist" Obama. It is going to be a long and vapid election year, indeed.

3. Social construction, selection bias, and the Brothers Grimm.

4. On dressing for chess success (or not, depending on the rules).

5. Various members of police do lots of things for which they should be fired, if not jailed, But this is not one of them.

I think #4 is via marginal revolution and #5 is via the agitator.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Movie: The Salt of Life

The Salt of Life is a slow, sweet, beautiful and very Italian movie about a gentle, helpful man coming to terms with age and with a decided lack of appreciation and understanding from those around him.

The NYT review mainly summarizes without adding much insight.


Ways to improve the quality of the evidence that guides policy

Making it easier for serious researchers to use administrative data would greatly improve the quality of the evidence available to guide policy at very little cost.

Gordon Berlin of MDRC testifies about a specific example, the National Directory of New Hires, which is used as part of the child support enforcement system.

And note, of course, that by suggesting that the data be more easily used for research I am not defending all aspects of the child support system.

Those crazy college kids

Does this recent hazing story from Boston University match this classic story from my own alma mater?

It is always amazing what people will do to fit in.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Assorted links

1. An excellent collection of old pictures, mostly of products and places.

2. On Burger King and Wendys. I have always liked Wendy's the best. Fresh beef makes a difference.

3. A UM shout-out on the Colbert Report.

4. It gets better, tenure edition.

5. Using recruiter eye movements to study what they look at on resumes.

Hat tip on #1 to Jackie Smith

College confidential

Some "shocking" stories of student life from the Michigan Daily.

I will confess that these stories seem pretty tame to me compared to a real party school (or here, with a safe-for-work picture) like Western Ontario er ... I mean ... Western University.

Hat tip on the Michigan story: anonymous by request

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Something to be thankful for ....

I guess we have not been sinning quite as much as Rick Santorum thought, as we will be spared the punishment that he embodies.

I am so glad he is out of the race.

Advances in social media sharing

I am sure that I have not seen it all, but I am one step closer thanks to a certain labor economist friend posting to Facebook while in labor.

Congrats on the new kid, Diane!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Academic moment of zen

"Dear undergrad, if you are #19 on a waitlist for a 20-person class, I'd say your chances of getting in are .000000000001. But thanks for the 3-paragraph email asking."

An anonymous non-economics colleague on Facebook

Assorted links

1. xkcd on Michigan weather

2. Good advice on bad advice.

3. Looking for love on World of Warcraft. I actually know someone who met his spouse on WoW.

4. Fine dining in Hamilton.  Yum. Thanks for a great seminar visit to the folks at McMaster.

5. The FT does lunch with Esther Duflo. There are some thoughtful bits and Esther's personality really comes through.

Hat tip on #1 to Stephan Lauermann, and #2 via instapundit.

Movie: Mirror, Mirror

We saw Mirror, Mirror in Toronto a couple of weeks ago.

As seems to be typical of movies aimed at both children and adults, we liked it better than both the NYT and, even more so, relative to the very grumpy reviewer in the Globe and Mail.

Is it great art? No, but it was fun and the adults were neither bored nor preached at. And I really liked the Bollywood number at the end.

Of course, one could argue that what really made it fun for me is that I kept thinking that Prince Alcott should really have been called Prince Albouy. [That's Michigan inside baseball for non-local readers.]

Monday, April 9, 2012

Assorted links

1. The Economist holds a debate about the effectiveness of the changes in airport security since 9/11. Guess which side wins ...

2. Preschool competition in NYC.

3. Famous literary frauds via Abe Books. Many of these were new to me.

4. Today's media figure on whom I had a crush back in my youth is Valerie Bertinelli. She has a wikipedia page, of course, and her own web page as well.

5. Alpine coaster

Hat tip on #2 to Charlie Brown and on #5 to Jackie Smith

Addressing the important topics ...

or, economists have a strange sense of humor.

They don't really have the sample size to test this, but I expect the first publication in a top journal is worth a lot more than those that follow.

Hat tip: Peter Hudomiet

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Movie: Mars Needs Moms

We watched Mars Needs Moms courtesy of Netflix and liked it much better than either the NYT or the great mass of reviewers at the IMDB. It is not great, but as kids movies go, it is above the median.

Recommended if you need a non-awful kids movie that you are obliged to watch as well.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rebranding a university

My former employer, the University of Western Ontario, has rebranded itself as Western University, changing both its official name and its logo. Coverage from the London (Ontario!) Free Press here and the new university home page here.

There has been talk of this for a long time - the issue was raised during my time at UWO in the late 1990s. One  fellow in the business school suggested the name "Marlboro University" as "Marlboro" has the strongest brand recognition in the world (or did at that time) and there was some loose historical connection to someone called Marlboro that could have been used as a justification. Over in the Social Sciences Building we came up with "London School of Economics".

The key question, of course, is the extent to which the rebranding makes Western more like Northwestern and less like Western Michigan. My guess is, not so much.

Hat tip: Jenny Hunt

The death of Malawi's president

A sort-of first hand account of the recent death of Malawi's president.

For those unfamiliar with it, Malawi is a poor but peaceful country in southern Africa perhaps best known for its exports of tobacco and of data for use in papers by development economists.

Addendum: a new president has been sworn in, and it is the one who was supposed to be sworn in according to the Malawian constitution. Seems like that must be good.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book: The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

Dick, Philip K. 1964 [2011]. The Penultimate Truth. Mariner Books.

This book is a great time travel book. It is not about time travel, but reading it is a good way to travel back in time to the era of the cold war and the related paranoia. It is also a book about the power of information, and control over information in closed (in this case, literally) societies. It can also be enjoyed on the level of technical prediction. Dick is too optimistic about developments in mechanical engineering but way underestimates developments in information technology.

Good stuff, and recommended if you like science fiction about ideas.

Data curation is the future

You could be a data curation fellow at Michigan. This strikes me as pretty important. A lot of valuable data has been lost over the years due to changes in format, carelessness and lack of good documentation. In my own experience, the AFDC quality control data that we used in McKinnish, Sanders and Smith (1999) were remarkably badly documented.

More from the UM Economics skit night

This is not really laugh-out-loud funny but it does an impressive job of capturing the mood.

Life without football?

This piece from Tyler Cowen (and a co-author) ponders the end of (American) football.

I think the piece is overly pessimistic, and ignores the growth of things like pro wrestling and MMA (both responses - or perhaps causes - of the decline in boxing) as well as the partial return of roller derby. There seems to be an audience for violent sports. I expect the legal system will find ways to let that demand be realized in the marketplace.

Assorted links

1. Grant McCracken (briefly) on dying malls.

2. A nice piece by former reason editor Virginia Postrel on the value of humanities majors.

3. Medical marijuana (i.e. legalization for middle class people) and traffic deaths. The underlying study is a conventional panel data exercise and the results match one's intuition.

4. New word of the day: bruxism.

5. Hitler's planned ranch in Los Angeles.

Hat tip on #4 to Xin Yuen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Michigan Radio on training (with yours truly)

Usually when journalists email, I leave the email in the inbox for a while, until I am pretty sure their deadline has passed, and then I email back and apologize for my lagged reply. This strategy avoids my having to talk to reporters without making me seem completely rude. I compared notes with one of my colleagues about this and found out that I was not the only one to hit upon this method.

However, the folks at Michigan radio were really persistent and, in person, quite engaging.  The result is that you can hear my voice on Michigan radio (about two minutes in, if you are really impatient).  I don't say anything very deep, and there are only a few seconds out of 45 minutes of recording, and they forgot to email me when the story was broadcast as they promised to do, but overall not such a bad experience.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Economics moment of zen #3

"How exogenous do we feel about that?"

- Anonymous graduate student

Assorted links

1. Memories of communist Romania.

2. The Salton Sea

3. Why would Salon have someone this smug and judgmental write about the effects of the recession on the market for sugar babies?

4. A new solution for the Greek economic crisis.

5. A really big empty mall in China.

#1 via instapundit, #3 via meta-filter, #4 hat tip to Krista Carlton, #5 via Atlantic Cities

Monday, April 2, 2012

ACA and the constitution

Thanks to Will Wilkinson for writing a thoughtful post on a point I have wanted to make for some time, which is that I do not see how there is any distinction between the government forcing me to buy good G from firm X, and the government taxing me and then buying good G from firm X or, for that matter, producing good X on its own.

I worry, too, that the conservatives and libertarians who are pushing the line of argument that being forced to buy and being forced to pay so that the government can buy are somehow distinct things get done doing their victory dance, assuming the supremes strike down the law, as I think they will, they will have pushed us towards a much worse alternative: muddling through with the current incoherent public private regulatory mishmash until the next time the blue team gets a big win, at which point we will get a single payer system and be very sad indeed. In my more optimistic moments, we instead have a couple of decades of useful federalist experimentation with alternative models at the state level. Let's hope, but I am not optimistic.

Addendum: the people at reason are less worried than I am, but I think they are discounting the many non-trivial problems with the current set-up.

Economics moment of zen #2

"The set of flawed papers is the whole set"

- An anonymous colleague

Hal White, RIP

Hal White, a leading econometrician and faculty member at UCSD, has passed on.

I never met Hal, but read some of his papers and met some of his students. He will be missed in the profession.

Via Jeff Wooldridge on Facebook.