Monday, January 31, 2011

File under Interesting

Very interesting.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Friedman on Singapore

Here is one of the rare intelligent commentaries about what Asian Tiger countries do better than the U.S. that maybe we could learn something from. It's not exactly clear if or how we could emulate some of the things Friedman details (e.g. $1 million bureaucrats), but the thesis is crisp and well stated.

Quote of the Day: Tyler Cowen edition

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution has a new ebook. I want to read it after reading several good reviews, the best of which is this, which includes two Quote of the Day's:
“My nomination for the most significant economic event of the past decade: The failure of the Human Genome Project to thus far deliver medically significant results.” (Quoting Michael Mandel)
Ironically, I've lost a lot of faith in medical technology since coming to MIT. It feeds into the next one:

Today, health care and education are bloat industries. What if we turned them into wild-west growth industries?
Education is ripe for a technology-based productivity boom. It's also ripe for a human-capital based quality boom. But there is so much red tape, institutional inertia, and ideology that education is going nowhere fast. Health care does have some low-hanging fruit to pick. I acknowledge that both of those sentences probably don't convey anything meaningful and require examples, but it's 2 A.M. so that blog post will wait for another day.

Tiger Mom

A few weeks ago a Chinese lady published a book about how much of a domineering parent she is. An expert posted on the Internet caught fire because of America's insecurity about the rise of China (see the State of the Union speech).

I think this New Yorker article is one of the best looks at the whole story--including the meta-story, the story behind the story--and a good example of how to write that kind of piece. My only criticism is that the commentary on the content is a bit light: are Chinese students really better prepared for the future?

I'd also comment that what I found most interesting about the hysteria is how people who parents like Chua, who agree with Chua on a lot of things, vilified her. Lots of people, most people, at MIT have parents like her. To get into MIT you need a lot of luck, a lot of raw intelligence, or parents who beat you into doing things to please admissions officers. As far as I can see, only 10% got in on intelligence and maybe 20% on luck, so the vast majority is here because of overbearing parents.

But maybe this explains it: They want to pretend their parents aren't like Chua. That side of their parents really is crazy. And in retrospect (I've heard people emote this) people feel really stupid for getting so stressed out in high school about music, GPAs, and college admissions.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fastest Induction into the National Film Registry

The National Film Registry finally added The Empire Strikes Back to its collection last month, making it only the third sequel to be inducted. (No surprise, The Godfather Part II is one. Bride of Frankenstein is the other.)

To mark the delay in inducting Empire I've listed below the fastest films to be inducted:

Film      Release   Induction           Wait
Raging Bull 1980 1990 10
Do the Right Thing 1989 1999 10
Goodfellas 1990 2000 10
Blade Runner 1982 1993 11
Beauty and the Beast 1991 2002 11
Star Wars* 1977 1989 12
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 1982 1994 12

* - The inaugural class was inducted in 1989, so Star Wars is a bit of a special case, having achieved the minimum wait possible.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Europe Scares Me

In Sweden, having consensual sex is considered rape.

I hope only sounds retarded because of some quirk of translation. But I doubt it.

From the NYTimes Magazine story on Julian Assange:
Two Swedish women filed police complaints claiming that Assange insisted on having sex without a condom; Sweden’s strict laws on nonconsensual sex categorize such behavior as rape

Good column

This is a good column and a better story.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union

I don't watch the State of the Union but I'm told the theme was out-competing China. I don't know what that means but apparently for Democrats it involves spending a lot of money on traditional Democratic infrastructure priorities (public transit, education, research) and to Republicans it involves deregulating and cutting rich people's taxes.

Both parties agree it's going to cost a lot of your money.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quote of the Day: Self-referential

Today's quote of the day is evidence for itself. Bizarre.
At the time that Mises and Hayek were writing [between 1900 and 1950], most people had better education and better reading and writing skills than today.
 Of course that's not true. But the fact that so many people believe it makes you think people are dumb today.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises

Tom Hardy is playing Bane. That is a shock. I guess the Nolans' take on the character will be different. A few people speculated, before Hardy was cast, that Bane could feature as a villian, but I don't think many expected him to be the lead. This is strange but I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I thought the other characters fit better with the mob subplot, but Bane is a better villain than the Black Mask.

Anne Hathaway was cast as Selina Kyle, who will also presumably become Catwoman since the series should end with this episode. Rumors are still circulating that they intend to cast another female lead, but I think Hathaway should suffice as both love interest and contagonist. If they do it will likely be Talia Al Ghul, filling in for her father as Bane's mentor and partner. I could see that working out, but would prefer the lone gunman Bane.

Quote of the Day

From Paul Collier:
Americans are in for an analogous shock as other economies become dominant, and as other societies offer higher living standards: if you want to see the future visit Singapore, not New York.
I'm scared. They work almost twice as many hours a day, struggle to innovate, have a king and weak civil liberties, their arts are stagnate (ever hear about Singaporean books, movies, or music?), and, worst of all, they never get laid. Basically, they aren't happy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"... everyone knows that just ain't so."

Today's fact that everyone "knows" but isn't true:
There is not enough money to be given away in the world to make the poor well off.
This one is repeated often in discussion of foreign aid. Is it true?

Well, it depends on what you mean by well off. If well off means the consumption of the typical American then, surprisingly, there is enough production (money). The GDP (PPP) of the world is just $74 trillion or about $10,700 each for of the world's 6.9 billion people. The typical American family of four would have $42,800, not far from the $45k median for the country.

But it isn't feasible to move more than half of the world's GDP in the developing world through foreign aid. No one is talking about that. Foreign-aid focused proponents of development, such as Paul Farmer and Jeff Sachs (and myself) are talking about sending enough money to provide for the basics for health and happiness.

To get life expectancy up to around 70 years--not far from the 78 we have here in the U.S.--only requires food, vaccines, clean water, and basic sanitation facilities. Providing all of that can be done for as little as $200 per person and would only affect fewer than 1 billion people. The total cost in foreign aid would be on the order of $200 billion, or 40% of what the U.S. alone spends on the military.

Bottom line: There is plenty of money to make everyone reasonably well off. There just isn't enough money to make everyone rich.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Quote of the Day: Statistics at the NYTimes

Who said statistics weren't important to journalists?
perhaps it is no surprise that while the number of students taking the A.P. biology test has more than doubled since 1997, the median score has dropped to 2.63, from 3.18
More than anything else, the fact that journalists don't understand statistics hampers reporting in the U.S. They publish misleading numbers, make technical errors, omit context and often burry the only new information in the article.

Cowen on Inside Job

Tyler Cowen with a good, elitist movie review.

The sentence to ponder:

Do you remember the scene in Hamlet, where Hamlet tries to judge the King by enacting a pantomime play in front of him, to see how the King would respond to a work of art?  I think of that often.
I never though I'd use those two words together to describe a review.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

NFL 2011 Prediction

I think Bill Pollian and others are going to make a lot of noise at the owners meeting this postseason.

After a year for the ages in 2009, quarterback struggled with the deep ball in 2010. Interceptions were up, notably for both Mannings and Brees. In the Colts-Jets playoff game today both teams repeatedly complained about the no-calls on pass interference. Eric Smith of the Jets hammered several Colts before their hands touched the ball.

My guess for a response? The league will institute another Ty Law Rule that doesn't change the wording of any rules but instructs refs to strictly enforce rules. The rule will be called the Eric Smith rule in honor of the Jets safety.

My Picks


Friday, January 7, 2011

Clinton Vets for Obama

Does anyone remember when Barack Obama was the anti-Clinton? Hillary Clinton represented continuing the Clinton policies of the 90s. Moderate, incremental upgrades in policy, like a $3,500 targeted tax credit for college. Obama represented change--which was, whatever it was, going to be more boldly liberal, more intellectual (see this piece from David Leonhardt and any David Brooks column from 2008) and involve new people.

Then the change never came. Now, hoping to drive a nail into the "Obama Myth," Barack just brought on two new Clinton-era veterans. First, a new chief of staff, William Daley, a Wall Street executive best-known for the disaster that was Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Despite the fact that Gore won (not a typo), Daley gets a D for letting it get that close and losing the recount battle.

Second, a new economic advisor, Gene Sperling. I like Sperling. The first time I heard or read about him was a rousing speech he gave on basic education in developing countries. He's a smart guy, even if he's a bit of an economic and academic light-weight compared to Summers and others, but he makes up for it with vigor. I don't have many kind words for Obama, but this was a great pick.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tim Duncan's Defense

From ESPN:

The Spurs allowed 128 points to the Knicks. That is the most points they have allowed in regulation since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997.

That says a lot about the Spurs defense in the Duncan era. The only constant? Duncan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

BCS vs Playoffs

Rick Reilly with a column on having a playoff in college football.

I agree with him, but not for the reasons he gives.

Reilly seems to think that the point of having a playoff is so that we can determine who the best team is. If TCU won the national championship playoff then it would be the best team.

But would it?

The best counterexample comes from the NFL. In 2007 the Patriots went 18-1 but lost the Super Bowl. The Giants clocked in at 14-6, but were the champions. And no one (oustide the tri-state area) thinks the Giants were the best team.

Indeed, with one-and-done rules for the playoffs it's common for that a team that isn't the best to win the Super Bowl. The 1986 Bears were 14-2 and dominated the regular season, but one down game in the postseason cost them a Super Bowl repeat. The 1976 Steelers didn't win the Super Bowl despite giving up a mere 138 points in 14 games. They may have been the best Steelers team of the decade--better than the four that won Super Bowls.

The key here is that we can't know the team that is really the best. We can just use the rules of statistical inference to infer the best team. We start with our prior beliefs based on who plays on each team, and update them based on who beat who. There is little reason to think that the best decision rule for deciding which team is (most likely) to be the best is to choose the Super Bowl winner. In fact, we know from probabilistic reasoning that most of the time we would be wrong. The BCS process on the other hand sounds like a decent implementation of Bayesian reasoning. If I had to venture a guess, the BCS process might actually find the "best team" more often than a playoff might.

So I'm not sure I agree with Reilly.

But I still support a playoff. It's more exciting.  And sports isn't about finding out who the greatest is, it's about finding out who is the best "on any given Sunday."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tyler Cowen sentences to ponder

Tyler Cowen on big bank bailouts:
Furthermore, the Federal Reserve System has recapitalized major U.S. banks by paying interest on bank reserves and by keeping an unusually high interest rate spread, which allows banks to borrow short from Treasury at near-zero rates and invest in other higher-yielding assets and earn back lots of money rather quickly. In essence, we’re allowing banks to earn their way back by arbitraging interest rate spreads against the U.S. government. This is rarely called a bailout and it doesn’t count as a normal budget item, but it is a bailout nonetheless. This type of implicit bailout brings high social costs by slowing down economic recovery (the interest rate spreads require tight monetary policy) and by redistributing income from the Treasury to the major banks.
More here.

Why would you take a 13-person vote seriously?

A blogger for The Hollywood Reporter quotes this tweet from "influential [movie] blogger David Poland:"
Why would anyone take AFI's Top Ten seriously when it's just a 13 person vote?
Thirteen voters is better than nothing. But, there are hundreds of awards with more voters--notably the Academy with thousands, right? Good point.

Now we wait for David and others to apply that logic to the Academy Awards:
Why would anyone take the Academy Awards seriously when Netflix has a thousand times as many voters?
(I know, it's because most of those people don't know a good movie when they see one. Whatever that means.)