Monthly Archives: March 2010

China line of the day, lil Wayne edition

From the NYT:

“People are coming with entire bags full of cash,” said Raymond Hau, general manager of the Sun Valley Golf Resort, which is building the 220 luxury villas. “I’ve seen this myself. A man had a bag and unzipped it. Boom. ‘Here’s the deposit,’ he said. ‘I want two apartments.’”

Mr. Hau shook his head. “It’s crazy. It can only happen in China.”

The golf resort is popular with the privileged. The president of Kazakhstan shot a hole in one here. And on a recent afternoon, when an attendant opened the passenger door of a black sport-utility vehicle that had just pulled up, a pile of large-denomination Chinese bills fluttered to the ground.

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Assorted Links

Today’s assorted links post is a selection of interesting reads from my blogroll. Enjoy.

1. Alanna Bauer on bigotry and equality.

2. Jimmy Li on perception.

3. Niki DeWitt on hypochondria.

4. Adam Ozimek: Can the Tea Party be pragmatic?

5. Michael Roberts on the relationship between weather and agriculture markets.

6. Josh Smith on why the earnings tax in St. Louis and Kansas city is bad.

Optimal location decisions for entrepreneurs

Published in the NYT, found here:

Though Uruguay’s small size is a handicap in trade with its Latin neighbors, Brenner says that for entrepreneurship, “being small is an advantage.” Companies are unlikely to get rich off of just selling in Uruguay, so they are forced to compete globally from the get-go. He sees an analogy with Israel, another place where the domestic market for numerous well-reputed tech companies is a mere afterthought. Brenner in fact got his start in Israel. While living there, he co-founded Breezecom in 1993, a pioneer in wireless LAN networks and played a key role in developing the initial IEEE 802.11 protocol, according to Phil Belanger, a founding member of the WiFi Alliance. Breezecom set up one of the first Wi-Fi access points in the world, so Brenner is accustomed to creating new market opportunities without being restrained by geography.

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Thoughts on Margaret Atwood and Arundhati Roy

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen responds to my request for thoughts on Margaret Atwood and Arundhati Roy.

On Paranoia and Bobby Fischer

From Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World, pg 232:

(Bobby) took a notion that he might be the next target of the Palestinian terrorists who had attacked the Olympic Village (in Munich). Davis demanded protection. There were twenty-three Arabs in Iceland at the time, and the Icelandic police put a tail on every one of them.


The closing of the conservative mind

I’m sure many are following the fallout from David Frum’s firing over at the American Enterprise Institute. Bruce Bartlett sympathizes:

As some readers of this blog may know, I was fired by a right wing think tank called the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing a book critical of George W. Bush’s policies, especially his support for Medicare Part D. In the years since, I have lost a great many friends and been shunned by conservative society in Washington, DC.

Now the same thing has happened to David Frum, who has been fired by the American Enterprise Institute. I don’t know all the details, but I presume that his Waterloo post on Sunday condemning Republicans for failing to work with Democrats on healthcare reform was the final straw.

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.

I’ve been arguing along this front for a while. As I wrote back in June:

My recommendation for GOP party strategists? Dump the social agenda. Because it allows the everyday failings of your leaders to undermine your message and cultivates an anti-intellectual environment, marginalizing key thinkers and discouraging diversity of thought. Those concepts are at the center of any effective political movement. I’m not the only person making these arguments; here is Nobel Laureate Gary Becker (U Chicago) making a more nuanced version of the argument.

We’re living in an America where the intellectual heft on any argument now almost exclusively comes from the left. Liberal scholars have a meaningful, respected place in discourse; conservative scholars have been excluded from the discussion by the GOP.

Edit: Patrick Ruffini has more. Key lines:

This may be oversimplified. There are certainly many very good conservative health care scholars whose work I should have been reading more closely these last few years. But politics is a battle of perceptions, and the perception — that became reality — was that Republicans brought a knife to a gun fight when it came a debate about the scope and reach of health care reform.

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The Chinese perspective on religion and belief

From Spectacle and Sacrifice: The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China, by David Johnson:

…My point is that the foundations of Christianity are complex structures of carefully formulated definitions and tightly argued conclusions created by medieval theologians using tools providedd by Greek logic and metaphysics. The Christian church was virtually created out of centuries-long theological disputes about highly complex an abstract concepts such as Original Sin, the Trinity, the Real Presence, and so on, and the same presumably can be said of Islam and Judaism.

Chinese philosophers, to say nothing of ordinary people, were simply not interested in that sort of thing. But tremendous debates concerning what we call ‘ritual’ took place in every dynasty. How imperial rituals were to be performed, whether certain actions were ritually correct or not–issues such as these were as close to the heart of Chinese religion as theological disputes were to Christianity. The leaders of the Christian churches were intensely concerned with heresy–improper beliefs–and punished heretics mercilessly. By contrast, Chinese thinkers, following Xunzi, usually assumed that if people’s actions conformed to the proper patterns, the beliefs could be left to take care of themselves. And ritual supplied the proper patterns. This was an idea that was shared by virtually all Chinese, of all classes and stations, from chief minister to farmer.

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Grade Inflation in University Education Departments

From University of Missouri-Columbia economics professor Cory Koedel:

This paper formally documents a startling difference in the grading standards between education departments and other academic departments at universities – undergraduate students in education classes receive significantly higher grades than students in all other classes. This phenomenon cannot be explained by differences in student quality or structural differences across departments (i.e., differences in class sizes). Drawing on evidence from the economics literature, the differences in grading standards between education and non-education departments imply that undergraduate education majors, the majority of whom become teachers, supply substantially less effort in college than non-education majors. If the grading standards in education departments were brought in line with those found in other major academic departments, student effort would be expected to increase by at least 10-16 percent.

The graphs at the end of the paper are worth looking at even if you don’t read another line.

Hat Tip: Abhi Sivasailam.

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Voluntary price discrimination, Columbia solar power edition

From the local Columbia Tribune:

The city bought 10 kilowatts of energy produced by the solar panels, divided it into 140 blocks of purchasable power and, for an annual cost of $48 per 100 kilowatt-hour block, offered electric utility customers the chance to buy a piece of pure green power.

“It’s a creative way to provide solar power to the people who want it without making the rest of the city pay for it,” interim Water and Light Director Mike Schmitz said.

Ninety customers bought all the available blocks by early 2009, Schmitz said. With the success of the program, the city will soon more than double its available solar power. Quaker Oats and retailer Bright City Lights have entered a contract that will result in an additional 15 kilowatts of solar power available to customers by summer.

Schmitz said improvements in solar technology have resulted in lower costs, a savings that will be passed on to customers. The city now buys solar output for 42 cents/kwh. Quaker Oats will be able to sell the next batch of solar power at 25 cents/kwh and Bright City Lights at 37 cents/kwh.

The new blended cost will be $40 for a 100 kwh block per year. By comparison, the regular rate for electricity through the city is about $9 per 100 kwh block, Schmitz said. Solar One costs are added to a user’s regular utility bill.

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‘Zero Nominalization’

From the NYT:

Yes and no can accrue symbolic heft through what linguists call “zero nominalization,” whereby a noun is created from some other part of speech without adding a typical suffix like –ness or –ation. Nouny versions of yes and no have enjoyed quite a ride from the political class, but they also get plenty of play in pop culture. On the positive side of the ledger, Wendy Macleod’s play and subsequent movie adaptation “The House of Yes” tells the story of an entitled rich girl who will not be denied. Maria Dahvana Headley’s 2006 memoir of a year spent accepting dates from any man who asked her out is titled, naturally enough, “The Year of Yes.”


More Thoughts on the Missouri Fair Tax Re: Collection Efficiency

Brian Goldstein writes in the comments:

1. Do you have any estimates available about the processing cost of a revenue neutral sales tax regime? i.e. Would the IRS spend only 40 cents? or 30? or 50? I know you’ve guessed that the smaller N-size of businesses means that they would realize some savings, I’m just curious to know how much.

2. Do you really think that revenue collection inefficiency is a dead-weight loss of such priority it’s worth busting up a nearly 100 year-old established system? I imagine the transaction costs alone would in the medium term be daunting, and rather than shrink the market for tax professionals, just shift the market from individuals to corporations. Corporations don’t just pay on what they sell, they pay on what they own – or not pay on what they could justify not owning. We’d still need an elaborate system of record keeping, checking, statutory provisions, and enforcement to account for those revenues.

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The Most Important Gallup Poll You’ve Never Heard Of

Dennis Blair, the Director for National Intelligence, in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feb. 2, 2010:

Finally, I note that Muslim support for violent extremism did not change significantly in 2009 and remains a minority view, according to polls of large Muslim populations conducted on behalf of Gallup and Pew. On average, two-thirds of Muslims in such populations say that attacks in which civilians are targeted “cannot be justified at all.” Support for violent groups is likely diminishing among the Pakistani and Saudi populations, with the percent of Pakistanis who view the Taliban negatively roughly doubling over the past year. In Saudi Arabia, violence and terrorism-related indicators monitored by Gallup decreased since May 2008. I refer you to my classified statement for more information regarding polling and our analysis.

The rest of Blair’s testimony is a compelling read, as it covers most if not all of the major security threats facing the nation. Most notable to me is the section where Blair discusses the impact and probability of ‘mass killings’ aka genocide over the next five years, particularly in the Southern Sudan:

Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing. All of the countries at significant risk have or are at high risk for experiencing internal conflicts or regime crises and exhibit one or more of the additional risk factors for mass killing. Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan.

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Against Sarah Brodsky re: Parents as Teachers/Pre-Natal Care

I originally posted this as a comment on Show-Me Institute blogger Sarah Brodsky’s post today on Parents as Teachers, but for some reason the comment hasn’t been approved yet, and I thought there might be some value to posting an independent response. If you haven’t read it, Brodsky takes the parenting education program Parents as Teachers to task for *gasp* teaching parents how to assist their unborn child’s cognitive development through reading aloud to their baby in the womb. I find Brodsky’s arguments on this point to be aggravatingly bad, as it is clear that she is completely unfamiliar with the entirety of the scientific research on pre-natal cognitive development.

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The Nonlinear Dynamics of International Conflict

Wolfson, Puri, and Martinelli write in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1992:

We propose a dynamic model of the interaction between two rival powers. It is not an easy model, because it involves nonlinear difference equations; yet it is simple in the sense that it involves only a few variables. Parsimony shows that complexity and apparent paradox need not arise from the multiplicity of factors but from their nonlinear connections. Complications certainly may be introduced such as considering more than two states and alliances among them (Wolfson 1973) as well as further specification of expectation formation. They might improve some future statistical investigations, but the theory has no need for those hypotheses to explain the complexity of the historical record. Occam’s razor suggests that small is beautiful.

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