Sunday, March 31, 2013

Michigan skit night: faculty staff skit

I attended a lot of skit nights at Chicago (and participated in too many of those) and have been to all but one since I got to Michigan, but this year was the first time I can ever recall the faculty (and staff, in this case) skit (really video) being the consensus choice for best in show.

Did I mention that Joel should be chair for life?

Assorted links

1. Virginia Postrel on things that are free.

2. Time for Italy to give up on Amanda Knox.

3. How economists break up.

4. A thoughtful Economist update on climate science.

5. Another reason I am glad I went to a big state university.

Hat tip on #5 to Rudi Bachmann.

Selection bias, anyone?

Just when you think that everyone in the universe understands selection bias, you read a column like this one on late marriage by Ross Douthat, which deserves some sort of award for cramming the most selection-bias infested descriptive statistics interpreted in a causal way into a single newspaper column.


Universities respond to incentives: who knew?

From Inside Higher Education the story of Australian universities hiring people to help them do well in the local version of the U.S. News rankings.

There are, of course, similar people at US universities; their jobs are just better disguised.

The literature on performance management makes clear that if you give bureaucrats an objective function, no matter how misguided, they will optimize relative to it, and with great creativity and enthusiasm.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The mystery of fascism

David Ramsey Steele on the roots of fascism and its links to left and right.

Steele is someone I got to know when I was a graduate student at Chicago as he was married (at the time) to another student in the program and both of them were part of the libertarian circle in Hyde Park. Sadly, I have not seen him in well over decade.

My favorite line:
As Marxists used to say, fascism "appeals to the basest instincts," implying that leftists were at a disadvantage because they could appeal only to noble instincts like envy of the rich.
Well worth a read if you are into ideological history.

Robert Heinlein writes to Theodore Sturgeon

One great science fiction writer writing to another, and offering story ideas no less. Well worth reading.

Sturgeon is, of course, the originator of Sturgeon's Law, which locals will have heard me quote, probably more than once: "95 percent of everything is crap".

Movie: Oz the Great and Powerful

I liked this one much better than the NYT did, I think because I was not comparing it to the books nor was I worrying overmuch about the politics.

It has fireworks, magic, charm, a nod or two to Thomas Edison, what I thought was quite lovely animation and one really bad pun.

Our five-year-old found it scary at a couple of points, but was glad to have seen it overall.

Recommended as a movie for kids.

Jim Hines on NPR on tax havens

Good stuff, though NPR fails to note that Jim is both a professor of law and a professor of economics.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Assorted links

1. Kim Kardashian does continental philosophy.

2. A very fine promotional video for Ann Arbor.

3. Maggie McNeill reviews Superfreakonomics.

4. Monday night at Hef's house.

5. Facts about the University of Michigan endowment.

Hat tip on #1 to ASAK.

WWC Procedures and Standards Handbook

Version 3.0 of the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Handbook is now available for public comment.

The WWC is the Department of Education's web-based repository of evidence on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of educational interventions. One great thing about the WWC is that the evidence is evaluated for quality using the formal criteria set forth in the Handbook.

Take a drive (or two or three) through rural Sierra Leone

Short videos here, here and here.

The paper for which these videos form part of the data is pretty good too. We are reading it for my undergraduate honors seminar on program evaluation as part of a group of five evaluations of rural transport projects in developing countries.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The married male wage premium

Springs is in the air (at last, at least in Ann Arbor) and the blogosphere is aflutter with romantic thoughts about the married male wage premium.

It has been a while since I looked at this literature (since shortly before I got married, as it happens) but my conclusion at the time was that it is not all selection and that the underlying causal factors are two: First, as detailed with great (nay, perhaps even creepy) joy by the female authors of this book, wives cause husbands to do fewer earnings-reducing fun things like drinking heavily. Second, casual observation suggests that (many) single men spend a lot of time and effort looking for sex. Post-marriage, in most cases, that time and effort is devoted at least in part to work. 

I should note that my theory has a testable hypothesis, which is that married men who cheat a lot will have a lower, or perhaps zero, wage premium. It also has more straightforward implications that could be tested using time use data. If you write a paper on this, please thank me and send it along. I would like to read it!

Play: Good People

We saw Good People at Performance Network in Ann Arbor last weekend. It was fantastic!

Apparently the play is the hot ticket at regional theater companies more generally; NPR has the story, including an interview with the writer.

Highly recommended.

New US News economics rankings

Michigan is #13 overall, #5 in public finance and #6 in labor economics.

I am puzzled a bit by the labor economics ratings, though, as it is hard to see how Chicago ends up below Berkeley. There are a lot of really good labor economists in Hyde Park. There are some in Berkeley too, but not nearly as many by my count.

Also a bit puzzling is Minnesota at #11; apparently US News does not share the view that you need to be a full service department (i.e. you need to do more than be really, really good at one style of macro) to get a good ranking.

Assorted links

1. A fine suggestion for helping out working parents.

2. Another Harvard cheating scandal.

3. The perfect gift for the pre-teen who has everything. You do know what 1D means, don't you?

4. Tilda in the box.

5. FT on Iraq 10 years later. Not as deep as I was hoping for, but interesting.

Hat tip on #3 to Lisa Gribowski.

Movie: Dead Man Down

Dead Man Down is not quite as awful as the NYT makes it out to be, but it could have been a lot better.

Why are there not more really good action movies? Why didn't someone edit the script of this one to make it less silly? Questions for the ages, to be sure.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Assorted links

1. Hell hath no fury ....

2. George Bush, painter. Woof, woof.

3. A comedic love story from the New York Post.

4. New York's "open data" law. Hopefully this is the future everywhere.

5. Confessions of a nude model, from "the frisky". (SFW)

Hat tip on #1 to Charlie Brown. #5 via instapundit.

PDD: science edition

Ron Bailey of reason examines the contention that the blue team is better than the red team on "science", broadly (and somewhat idiosyncratically) construed.

Economic issues are left out here; the red team would probably do better on micro-economic issues as a general rule.

Also left out are the standard errors. A potentially very interesting parallel analysis would consider the extent of red-team versus blue-team differences in the amount of uncertainty associated with current science in various issue areas. I am not sure what my prior is on this. Probably it is very issue dependent in a couple of different senses. I suspect most non-scientists overestimate the uncertainty associated with some issues that scientists would consider relatively settled (e.g. effects of smoking on cancer, demand curves slope down) and underestimate the uncertainty in other cases (e.g. climate change predictions, minimum wages).

For non-regular readers: PDD = partisan differential disorder, my snarky term for the belief that one of the red and blue teams is systematically superior to the other.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Becky Blank to UW-Madison

Becky Blank, formerly Dean of the Ford School at Michigan and more recently acting Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration has been appointed chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Congrats to Becky!

And read the article for the once-in-a-lifetime sight of Scott Walker agreeing with Sara Goldrick-Rab.

A spanking too, for the Obama administration, for not promoting her to Secretary of Commerce.

Addendum: The piece I originally linked too gives a too-positive view of Sara Goldrick-Rab's position, which you can read about at her blog here (and in a number of other posts related to the chancellor selection process).

Assorted links

1. A cute commercial on the theme of paper and its reported demise.

2. Kinky people are only crazy if they are sad. What is sad is how the politics drags around the "science".

3. Important news items regarding toilets from the Atlantic.

4. Is there anything more obviously unconstitutional (or more boorishly nationalistic) than not letting people fly the flags of other countries?

5. Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage schedule announced

Hat tip on #1 to Jackie Smith and on #2  and #4 to Charlie Brown.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Assorted links

1. Controversy around Simcity 5 and its "always on" the internet requirement.

2. The Atlantic visits icombat in NYC.

3. Is it better to drown in the ocean or under waves of international aid bureaucrats?

4. Martha Steward: model . Who knew?

5. Grand Traverse Pie Company closes in downtown Ann Arbor.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Causal follies: gun control edition

The Atlantic Cities column summarizes a study recently published in (ahem) JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study examines cross-sectional correlations between state gun control law strictness and firearms deaths. I have some concerns:

1. An alternative model would be that gun control law severity is a function of the number of firearms deaths. That is, perhaps the causality runs the other way. Or both ways. The cross-sectional "selection on observed variables" design can shed little light on this though some actual leg work on the legislative histories could..

2. The model employed in the study conditions on firearms ownership and on "other violence-related deaths". The first of these is an intermediate outcome, the second is jointly determined with the dependent variable to the extent that firearms and other tools for offing people are substitutes. Nether should be on the right-hand side of the model.

The Atlantic writer is very coy about causality and quotes the author as cautioning that the estimated relationship is only correlational. But that does not stop the Atlantic writer from making a strong causal claim in the last line of the article. I give the Atlantic writer an F.

Finally, I think that my concerns above make it clear why this was published in a medical journal, which is likely ill-equipped to evaluate a study such as this rather than, say, a clinical trial, rather than in a social science journal. This study also reinforces the point I made in an earlier post about it being a bad idea to treat guns as a public health issue rather than a social science one.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hookups: pro and con

Start with a standard scare piece on college hookup culture. I will confess that I just can't map this stuff onto the undergraduates I actually interact with on a day-to-day basis either in class or as childcare providers, but probably I am not fully undoing the sample selection.

Compare that piece to this quite thoughtful piece by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic. I particularly liked this bit:
But this analysis downplays the unbelievable gains women have lately made, and, more important, it forgets how much those gains depend on sexual liberation. Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-­school party—are for the first time in history more success­ful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
This is too strong, to be sure. The pill and/or (maybe just and) legal abortion are surely necessary conditions. But it makes a worthwhile point: there are costs as well as benefits to choosing a partner relatively early in one's adult life.

Academic follies: physicist / drug mule / lonely guy edition

A bizarre but, for those who have spent extended periods in the academic world, still quite plausible story of a physics professor from UNC now sitting in an Argentine prison.

Policy aside: yet more social costs from America's jihad against (some) drugs.

Hat tip: ASAK

Movie: Amour

Amour deserves all the praise it has gotten from the NYT and elsewhere.

Highly recommended.

Hugo Chavez, RIP

The world became a slightly better place last week with the passing of Venezualan dictator / clown Hugo Chavez.

This piece from the Atlantic nicely summarizes the case, though I would argue that it is both a bit too kind to Chavez and that it overstates the differences between Chavez and other initially popular leaders who gradually morphed into oppressive and ridiculous dictators, such as Mussolini, Castro, Mugabe and so on. Chavez was only the latest iteration of what is, or at least was until the last decade or so, pretty standard governmental fare in many parts of the world.

More broadly, Chavez does a nice job of illustrating the tensions inherent in the common, but imprecise and incorrect usage of "democracy" to mean both a system of government with elected leaders and a system of government that allows some reasonable amount of freedom to its subjects, along with some amount of security of person and property from the depradations of the state. Though Chavez won repeated re-election, his system was not democratic in the sense just described. Prior to its own linguistic corruption, liberalism would have been a better term than democracy to capture what the second meaning just described. For liberalism in that sense, elections are neither necessary, as in colonial Hong Kong, nor sufficient, as Chavez illustrated. Indeed, there is a constant tension between electoral populism of both right and left (and they are usually not so different in the end) and the freedom and security of a liberal regime.

Or, one can pass on the niceties and just quote H.L. Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

Addendum: a very nice piece from Megan McArdle

Friday, March 8, 2013

Movie: Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer is, of course, a movie version of the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

I pretty much agree with the NYT reviewer down the line. The special effects around the giants are really impressive. The beanstalk itself a bit less so.

My daughter, who is five, found it scary at times but in the end is very keen to see it again. She did note, though, a couple of loose ends: whatever happens to the cat, and to the uncle?

Recommended with kids, but not without.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Assorted links

1. Geographic heterogeneity in the location of missed connections on Craigslist.

2. New Jersey oppresses pastafarians.

3. The Economist on the state of the movie industry.

4. I would not tear down the remaining bits of the Berlin Wall. History matters.

5. Even art schools have lawyers, it seems.

Hat tip on #1 to ASAK.

Whole Foods comes to Detroit

The Detroit News has the story.

$4 million in city incentives seems like a lot for a photo op for the mayor. There is, of course, no economic justification for the city favoring one grocery store over another other than photo ops for the mayor.

The comments are illustrative of the on-going local discussion about the city.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cheerleading as job training ....

This article is a bit dated but likely still on target regarding the pipeline from cheerleading into (legal) drug sales.

Via Barbara Ehrenreich (in an actual book)

Not really a nerd after all ...

Obama confuses Star Wars and Star Trek.

Time to beam up.

Friday, March 1, 2013