Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Oh, how I hate it. It's just another opportunity to make bad decisions. And now here two more reasons to hate it:

Preteens Trading Fairy Wands for Fishnets: Halloween Trend Toward Racy Get-Ups Vexes Parents

Oh, the Horror of Rush Hour

Update: Went to the Halloween parade at school and I didn't see many preteens in racy get-ups -- yes, there were a few in fishnets and short skirts, which for now I'm going to put the blame squarely on the parents. Children to a large extent reflect their parents after all, in the same way that dogs reflect their owners. There were a few very cool home made costumes though, in a time when home made costumes are on their way out: cardboard I-Pod (do preteens acutally want I-Pods? Now, that's scary) and cardboard painting to look like bottled water.

The most inventive one I had heard about but have not actually seen is one where the kid has a cardbox box over his head with a slit near his chest and a painted numeric pad. He told the greeter to push some of the buttons and then he would pop out a photocopy of a 20 dollar bill. (He was an ATM, in case you haven't already guessed).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boring meetings

I sympathized with Tyler Cowen's piece In Favor of Boring Meetings although I find it hard to sit through them. This sentence caught my eye since I am reading Robert Rubin's In An Uncertain World:

Attendees feel like insiders who have a real voice in decisions. This boosts their motivation to implement ideas discussed as a group. For this reason it is especially important to listen to the blowhards and the obstructionists, who otherwise would pursue their own agendas rather than support a common plan.

This is similar to his description of meetings and he sat through while in the NEC with the Clinton admnistration and the participatory process of decision making that he liked.

But the point is that in our process, everybody had a fair and full say. Not only did that lead to better decisions because all views were considered, but the participants also bought into those decisions, despite their reservations, because they felt fully invested in the decision-making process. (p. 142)

What might have looked messy to outsiders was actually a process of deliverate and open discussion, of smart, committed people engaging in debate as a way of getting to the best decision. (p. 144)

Another boiling frog post

When Al Gore used the parable of the boiling frog to compare our situation with global warming I wondered if the claim could ever be true:

If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump out. But if you place a frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, it will boil to death.

A lot of blog posts including this one by James Fallows, have debunked this by referring to this article in Fast Company, Next Time, What Say We Boil a Consultant. This parable is popular in business literature as a story of companies which are slow to recognize change, etc. Thanks to Wikipedia which notesthat while the Fast Company article is correct, the original experiments conducted in the late 19th century were at a rate 10 times less than those in the recent experiment. In the original experiment, the the temperature was raised at a rate of 0.002°C while in the Fast Company article, the temperature was raised at 0.019°C.

It's too bad we can't try to replicate the original experiments. PETA would have our hides for doing this. The reference to the original experiment is here in Google Books.

Is cleaning out ear wax an example of overconsumption of Medical Services?

When we were in Kuala Lumpur this past summer, K1 fell sick. We had thought it was a virus and after 3 days we decided to bring her to a local doctor who confirmed that it was indeed a virus. We mentioned that back in the states, the doctors usually order a complete blood count (CBC) at her annual checkup. The doctor was surprised and seemed to indicate that this was not normal practice in Malaysia. Is CBC at every annual checkup an example of overconsumption of medical services that drives up the cost of health care in the US? I haven't made up my mind. It's not that expensive and it's mostly covered by insurance. Our bill shows $49 before insurance.

Another related story is the following: My cousin who lives in Singapore has a 5 year old (I think) but for almost 2 years was incredibly worried because he was not talking. They went to see a specialist to try to figure out what was wrong. Eventually, hard as it was for me to believe, they found out that he could not hear and hence could not repeat anything back because his ears were full of wax. I was amazed to hear this because here in the US, during the annual checkups the pediatrician always looks in the kids ears to make sure they're clear. (K1 has a problem with impacted cerumen (which I'm guessing is ear wax) and always needs it cleaned out.) Having a doctor look into her ears doesn't cost us anything -- well, at least it's not itemized in the bill but is probably included as part of the checkup. Is checking ears an example of overconsumption of medical care? Here I would disagree.

It's dangerous to generalize about the quality of health care based on these incidents but it makes me wonder. I'm also not too partial to some of arguments of overconsumption because of generous insurance plans, for instance, noted here by Prof. Mankiw.. If there were overconsumption is it driven by the patient, the doctor or both? And if there were overconsumption but is still beneficial overall, why would insurance companies who are profit maximizing entities continue to insure that part of the medical care? I would expect that in equilibrium, if the overall costs of coverage are higher than the benefits then insurance companies would refuse coverage (as they already do for certain pre-existing conditions).

Monday, October 29, 2007

How much difference does all this matter anyway?

I just spent half an hour shredding our old checks because we changed our accounts and I was thinking how much of an impact collectively does all the shredding have on identity fraud anyway? Does it really make a difference? It must have an impact because we're all mostly now doing it and sales of shredders have increased (not to mention shredder accidents). But really, is there any evidence out there?

K1 had head lice once and there was a whole regimen of things that we had to do: wash and change sheets daily, vacuum daily, daily laundry, head lice shampoo. Like a lamb following its mother, we did all of these. Did any of these really had any impact? Our suspicions have been no -- the only thing that has really worked is to comb through the hair with a nit comb and to pick them out one by one.

Am I sounding like some of those who scorn proposals to change over to compact fluorescent light bulbs, turn off our computers, etc. to save the earth from global warming? I hope not because like another lamb, I am following all these suggestions.

Are we protecting our kids too much?

Over at Half Changed World, ELB writes:

Coming from our little ad-free world, it was a real shock to be visiting my parents Columbus Day weekend and to encounter all the commercials in the baseball games. ... Since D doesn't see commercials all the time, he was fascinated by them.

Our kids don't watch too much television either and when they do it is usually PBS which only has sponsor messages at the end. I sometimes wonder if we are over protective -- how would they react when they see something we have been sheltering from them for the first time? Curiosity? Over react? I sometimes think that age limits on alcohol use is a little like over protecting but I'm not fully convinced yet. Ideally, if it is something important that we are protecting them from, we would talk about it little by little over time so that they adjust or get used to the idea. For TV ads, I guess we would say what? That they are trying to sell us something that we may not want?

Can turning on car lights when it rains be an equilibrium?

In some jurisdictions, the law requires that car lights (tail lights and head lights) be on when it rains. If I don't turn on my lights, some behind me might not be able to see me because of the spray. I would like to be seen so that I don't get run into. Likewise, I would like the car in front of me to have its lights on so that I don't run into it. If it is mutually beneficial to have our lights on why do we need a law? Is there a reason not to have the lights on that would outweigh the benefits of not getting into an accident?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Somalia better of stateless?

Back in March 2006, Marginal Revolution listed the following paper by Peter Leeson of West Virginia University titled Better off Stateless: Somalia Before and After the Government Collapse. Now that Somalia is back in the news again, I was reminded by the paper's premise that the attempt to create a strong central government is behind the increase in conflict.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


I'm reading Robert Rubin's In An Uncertain World and this caught my eye: As Treasury Secretary, I avoided using the words such as "panic" and "meltdown," preferring less vivid terms such as "contagion" and "loss of confidence." I'd learned while working in the White House as director of the National Economic Council (NEC) that the words public officials use can make an enormous difference, and that was even truer at the Treasury. (p. 4)

He is right of course, that language matters although I've heard the word meltdown used in different contexts. I guess the word comes from "nuclear meltdown" but back when I was in college, I hear the phrase "Oh, I had so much stuff going on I just had a meltdown" or as a parent, "Our toddler was tired but I decided to risk going to the store anyway and he had a meltdown at the check out aisle."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Technology and Luck

This article in the May 2005 issue of National Geographic on the Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) in Clarksburg, West Virginia Zipcode 26306 talked about how all of the crime databases (e.g. crime reports, fingerprints) which are housed there are being used. This sentence reminded me that even with all the technology we still need a lot of luck:

"If Osama bin Laden tries to buy a gun at Wal-Mart, we'll know about it."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I was wrong about Prof. Mankiw

Prof. Mankiw is commenting on the Iraq war and global warming. Well, not quite commenting but close enough. Even a little bit like this can draw some pretty vitriolic comments. It's no wonder he didn't want to moderate comments. The fact that a lot of discussion degenerates into ad homimen attacks probably has been the state of public discussion for a long time. It doesn't take much for something to spiral downward into name calling and fisticuffs. I admire to those who can navigate these waters. As an aside, I wonder how this post on Mike Tidwell's The Ravaging Tide did not draw any enraged comments from Tidwell supporters. (You'll need to scroll down to read the post and get past the Quick Find box on the page.)

Climate engineering

Prof. Mankiw and Economists View (probably among many others) blogged about this NYT article: How to Cool the Globe. I thought I'd link to an article I just read at Wilson Quarterly called Climate Engineers by James Fleming. Here's an excerpt:

“Mitigation is not happening and is not going to happen,” physicist Lowell Wood declared at the NASA conference. Wood, the star of the gathering, spent four dec­ades at the University of California’s Law­rence Livermore National Laboratory, where he served as one of the Pentagon’s chief weapon designers and threat analysts. (­He reportedly enjoys the “Dr. Evil” nickname bestowed by his critics.) The time has come, he said, for “an intelligent elimination of undesired heat from the biosphere by technical ways and means,” which, he asserted, could be achieved for a tiny fraction of the cost of “the bureaucratic suppression of CO2.” His engineering approach, he boasted, would provide “instant climatic gratification.”

Wood advanced several ideas to “fix” the earth’s climate, including building up Arctic sea ice to make it function like a planetary air conditioner to “suck heat in from the ­mid­latitude heat bath.” A “surprisingly practical” way of achieving this, he said, would be to use large artillery pieces to shoot as much as a million tons of highly reflective sulfate aerosols or ­specially ­engineered nanoparticles into the Arctic stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays. Delivering up to a million tons of material via artillery would require a constant ­bombardment—­basically declaring war on the strato­sphere. Alternatively, a fleet of B-747 “crop dusters” could deliver the particles by flying continuously around the Arctic Circle. Or a 25-kilometer-­long sky hose could be tethered to a military superblimp high above the planet’s surface to pump reflective particles into the ­atmosphere.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chief Inspector of Holes

I read Ted Hughes' My Father to K2's Pre-K class the other day. I remembered reading this when I was 12 or 13. When you're an adolescent everything with the word "holes" is hilarious. It didn't go down very well with the younger kids although it would probably would worked better in K1's third grade class. They're studying poetry. Just for fun here are a few lines:

Some fathers work at the office, others work at the store,
Some operate great cranes and build skyscrapers galore,
Some work in canning factories counting green peas into cans,
Some drive all night in huge and thundering removal vans.

But mine has the stranges job of the lot,
My father's the Chief Inspector of - What?
O don't tell the mice, don't tell the moles,
My father's the Chief Inspector of HOLES.

This is from Collected Poems for Children by Ted Hughes with illustrations by Raymond Briggs, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (2005).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Economics telephone game

Prof. Mankiw reports in Data-free Empirics:

In short, here is what appears to have happened:
  1. Gabaix and Landier make a modelling assumption for purposes of analytic convenience.
  2. I describe their model and its implications on this blog.
  3. Wessel quotes part of that description in the Journal.
  4. Reich reads the Journal and cites me as an authority using the partial quotation.
  5. As a result, a modelling assumption morphs into an established fact.

This reminds me of Andrew Gelman's description in Of beauty, sex, and power: Statistical challenges in estimating small effects, on a series of papers by Kanazawa: “Big and tall parents have more sons,” “Violent men have more sons,” “Engineers have more sons, nurses have more daughters,” and “Beautiful parents have more daughters”,

... the estimated effect grew during the reporting. As noted above, the 4.7% (and not statistically significant) difference in the data became 8% in Kanazawa’s choice of the largest comparison, which then became 26% when reported as a logistic regression
coefficient (see Gelman, 2007a), and then jumped to 36% for reasons unknown (possibly a typo in a newspaper report).

Book Review: The next great globalization by Frederic Mishkin

I shopped this review around but got no takers so I decided to put it here:

The next great globalization: How disadvantaged nations can harness their financial systems to get rich
Frederic S. Mishkin
Princeton University Press 2006, 310 pages

The idea that institutions play an important role in economic growth has been gained wide acceptance. The term ‘institutions’ is a fairly nebulous concept which can mean various things, among them: how well the political system functions, how well governed a country is and how well private property rights are protected. Mishkin concentrates on how the interaction between a country’s financial system as well as strong property rights can be combined to deliver economic growth to disadvantaged systems. However, in order for a country’s financial system to function efficiently, it has to be part of the global financial markets. Efficient financial markets can channel capital to its most effective uses. Despite the dangers of globalized financial markets, Mishkin argues that developing countries should embrace it.

This book is an excellent introduction to the topic of financial globalization and the role it plays in financial crises. For a researcher who is interested in details, almost a third of the book consists of end notes and bibliography.

The danger of financial liberalization i.e., the opening up of the domestic financial markets to the rest of the world without adequate financial regulation and supervision has been reinforced by various financial crises in Latin America and East Asia. Mishkin however, goes on to warn that the regulations that work well for advanced countries do not necessarily work well for developing countries. In his case studies South Korea he describes how the Basel international standards actually encouraged short term borrowing by Korean banks. The message from the first two parts of the book is to learn from the mistakes made in managing past financial liberalization in order to give better guidance for future. While Chapters 8 and 9 provides a list of reforms and principles that he argues need to be implemented, he also acknowledges the difficulties in implementing them.

“Outlining the reforms that poor countries must take to harness the power of globalization and achieve rapid economic growth is easy – all it takes is ink and paper. Implementing these reforms, however, is very, very difficult.” (pg. 200)

For instance, how does on decide whether a country has reached a stage where financial regulation and controls is adequate before the markets are liberalized. He points to the problems in the savings and loan industry in the United States where it was clear that while regulation was inadequate, the industry was allowed to expand into new areas of lending. Mishkin warns that same forces that subvert the liberalization process in order to enrich themselves at the expense of others will also block any reforms that threaten their wealth.

Not surprisingly he devotes a chapter to the role the IMF can play in this process. He makes a strong case that the IMF should only limit its role to providing short term liquidity and in order to do this the IMF should withdraw from long term lending. He discusses the problems with balancing the role of lender of last resort with the dangers of moral hazard. However, one is left with just a tantalizing teaser that moral hazard can only be limited by adequate supervision and that acting as a lender of last resort should only be infrequent. How adequate is adequate and how infrequent is infrequent is a matter of debate.

There is also a difficulty in knowing the source of financial crises. The hindsight that previous crises have provided makes it seem abundantly clear now what should have been done but was perhaps not so obvious at the time. Commenting on the drop in the Shanghai stock market in March 2007, economist Kristin Forbes comments in the New York Times: “The crisis of the future never looks like the crisis of the past.” Perhaps this is why Mishkin himself acknowledges that his list of reforms should not be viewed as a checklist. (pg. 138) Even with what we know now, it may not be sufficient to prevent future crises. As Paul Krugman says : “The history of crisis modeling in international macroeconomics reveals that each successive wave of crises exposes possibilities for crisis that were overlooked in earlier analysis.” (Note 1)

While the IMF is criticized for its ‘one size fits all policy’ it is unclear what really constitutes a one size fits all policy. It can similarly be argued that the very title of his book is a one size fits all policy for developing nations.

Note 1: Krugman, Paul “Will there be a Dollar Crisis” April 2006

Comparing economic research to meteorological research

From Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming by Chris Mooney.

While reading this it is hard not to draw parallels between economic modeling and weather forecasting - the balance between models and data and the need to simplify the models:

On comparing models with data: Theoretically based predictions, however, don't hit you in the gut like hard data. (p. 8)

[This] seems to be a rule in our science: progress is impeded by want of meteorological knowledge on the part of theoreticians and by a too poor mathematical training of weather-men.
-Swedish meteorologist Tor Bergeron, "Methods in Scientific Weather Analysis and Forecasting", 1959 (Introduction to Part I)

... in the absence of a complete theoretical understanding, models themselves can become the source of experiments. Vary the equations or other aspects of the model, plug the data back in, and see how much closer to reality you can get. But from the perspective of some scientific empricists, this seemed an ungrounded and even suspicious way of doing things. "Tuning" the models to make them line up better with observations sounded like rigging the game. (p. 50)

For an analysis of season length, the record breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane year provided only one data point and could not in itself justify broader conclusions. (p. 179)

Yet data alone, without a physical understanding of what's happening, can also blind and mislead. Correlations don't prove causation. Sahel rainfall can change in lockstep with Atlantic hurricanes without causing changes in that activity. ... That's why any healthy science will inevitably balance both theoretical and empirical approaches. ... No such model result should be considered an unerring prediction; instead climate models are perhaps most useful when employed to test hypotheses thtat scientists come up with about how the real world works, and what is likely to happen if various natural or human influences occur in the future. Whatever the inevitable shortcomings of a given model, if it contains the relevant phyiscal processes and gives the expected result, the hypothesis has at least been confirmed within the constraints of that particular model. (pp. 268-269)

On simplifying features in models and fads in the field:

CISK (conditional instability of the second kind) had a number of key problems, many of which sprang from the attempt, so characteristic of Charney, to strip hurricanes down to mathematical essentials rather than study them in their full-blownn reality. (p. 52)

"There are fashions in science, and that was a fashion," recalls University of Oklahoma meteorologist Doug Lilly, a skeptic of CISK who supported a "heat engine" revival in the 1980s. (p. 52)

From the 1960s until the 1980s, when it began to fall out of favor, CISK thus distracted attentiona away from the concept of hurricanes as ocean-driven "heat engines." In fairness, the theory also prompted a great deal of thinking - wrong ideas can be productive in that way. But CISK has also been characterized as a "setback" for the field ... By then, however, CISK was well on its way to becoming yet another dominant paradigm. (p. 53)

... [William] Gray replied, "and the trouble with that is they don't know how the atmosphere ticks. They're modelers. The're people that make assumptions that are not valid, and they believe them." (p. 174)

Judith Curry on interactions with media, politics and science which were excised from her article:

The prevailing views on the topic of hurricanes and global change differ considerably between hurricane forecasters and climate researchers. The consensus view of hurricane forecasters is to attribute the warming in the North Atlantic and the associated in increase in hurricane frequency and intensity to natural variability. The consensus view of climate researchers is to attribute the warming, particularly since 1970, to have a substantial component associated with greenhouse warming. These discrepancies can be understood at least in part by clarifying the source of these differing perspectives. The hurricane forecaster focuses on predicting the path and intensity of land falling hurricanes, and also makes seasonal forecasts. They work on verifying their forecasts, and they are also experts on hurricane data. On the other hand, the climate researcher does not focus on forecasting but rather applies the scientific method to understanding the underlying physical processes and causes of climate variability. The climate researcher has expertise on climate data records and statistical methods. (pp. 237-238)

The rest of the excised material is the following paragraph from

The richness of the meteorological community, including both scientific researchers and the operational forecasting community, provides the community with both benefits and challenges. As a result of the utility of operational forecasting and the utility of the reanalysis products, some sloppy practices have crept into the meteorological research community in terms of careful assessment of the errors of data sets and hypothesis testing. The public views the meteorological community in a monolithic way and seems prepared to accept the opinions of TV weather forecasters on issues such as global warming, in spite of the fact that this community has most often no expertise on this topic. A dichotomy has developed in the U.S. between the operational forecasting community and the meteorological research community, a dichotomy that does not exist in Europe. Some of the most challenging scientific issues that are also of the highest policy relevance are at the interface of climate change and weather extremes. The operational forecasting communities and the research communities need to work together on these issues, and NOAA and the AMS can play a major role in facilitating this collaboration. We must make every effort to avoid institutionalized scientific bias in our community, whereby an organization or group of scientists or other professionals discount what is not known by them personally or collectively, or a group of scientists becomes protective of a scientific research area as being their ‘turf’. The end result of this debate is likely to be that this public fragmentation of the meteorological community has generally lessened the possibility for this community to influence policy.

[These are comments by Judith Curry on Real Climate].

While the subject matter of atmospheric science and forecast meteorology shares much common ground, forecast meteorologists operate in more of an engineering environment relative to the research branch of atmospheric science (I value a good weather forecast as much as anyone!). Bill Gray is an interesting ‘hybrid├ó’ in that while he worked for decades in the university environment and publishes frequently in the scientific literature, his heritage and mode of thinking seems to be more in line with the meteorological forecasting community (Bill Gray’s lengthy interview with Joel Achenbach would seem to support this characterization).

Meteorologists with a B.S. degree (note many TV meteorologists do not even have this credential) would rarely take a course in climate and global change; this course is not even listed on the NOAA/NWS or AMS certification guidelines for meteorologists. This lack of knowledge even trickles up to the Ph.D. level in meteorology, where I suspect many Ph.D. meteorologists have never taken a course in climate and global change. Further, the entire meteorological education is focused on forecasting: understanding short-term weather patterns, looking for analogues, etc. and the ‘experience’ of weather forecasters is actually important here in being able to call up ‘analogues’ of past disturbances or seasons. Bill Gray certainly has more experience than anyone in this regard in the hurricane world, which is why he has made statements that he is the authority and that ‘we’ are not qualified (again, refer to the Achenbach article), and the length of his experience (50 years) contributes mightily to the support of his views in the hurricane forecasting community. This is vastly different from the research community, whereby a Ph.D. student can legitimately and effectively challenge the research of a Nobel Laureate through the refereed scientific literature. Further, owing to the emphasis on forecasting, this community does not operate in the same way that atmospheric science researchers (outside the forecasting community) operate in terms of hypothesis testing etc., which is why I focused the article in terms of laying out the scientific method, fallacies, etc. (note all of the fallacies came from the hurricane forecasting community via the media; I included specific citations in the 2nd version of the paper, but this was also nixed). Even among Ph.D. meteorologists, global warming is not widely accepted. In addition to the issues previously raised, there has been some ‘resentment’ among the meteorological community about the success (particularly in terms of funding) of the U.S. climate research programs, which they view as coming at the expense of meteorological/weather research (with initiatives such as STORM, the U.S. Weather Research Program, THORPEX receiving orders of magnitude less funding).

This issue re funding for climate science has been mentioned numerous times by Bill Gray in the media. Am I criticizing forecast meteorologists? I highly value their forecasts, and believe that they are for the most part hardworking and honest human beings (although I have my doubts about of few of them in the private sector), and many of them are probably quite brilliant. But something is wrong with the system, and this brings us to NOAA (and to a lesser extent the American Meteorological Society).

Mix all of the above with a ‘political agenda’ that is anti-greenhouse warming with the Undersecretary of NOAA (a political appointee) saying that we do not know what to attribute the recent warming to, then we have a complex situation indeed. NOAA is a large and complex organization, and I don’t envy anyone that is trying to administer all that. But the hurricane and global warming debate has illuminated some glaring problems in my opinion. There is a substantial disconnect between the various branches of NOAA: there are numerous NOAA agencies with substantial expertise in climate change global warming, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the Boulder Labs, and GFDL to name a few. Apparently there is little to no interaction of these agencies with the National Weather Service NWS (although there is apparently some interaction with GFDL). This lack of interaction is to the detriment of both scientific research and the forecasts. The Europeans (notably ECMWF) do not have the dichotomy between forecasting and research, and weather and climate that we see in the U.S., and their forecasts are far better than those in the U.S. (particularly ECMWF).

Now, to the American Meteorological Society, of which I am an active member and have previously served as Councillor. 20 years ago, the AMS was the main professional society for atmospheric scientists: NOAA, university, and private sector with the majority of members from NOAA. As atmospheric sciences broadened as a field and became more interdisciplinary, many of the university types became affiliated primarily with the American Geophysical Union, which is dominated by research scientists. Most of the ‘older’ atmospheric scientists (like me) have maintained a membership in the AMS, but the demographics of the AMS are now such that the membership is approaching 50% private sector. The AMS however maintains an excellent series of scientific journals which score at least as high as the AGU journals in terms of citations/impact. The AMS has struggled in recent years with the conflicts between public sector (NOAA) meteorologists and private sector meteorologists. There is obviously another challenge for the AMS in bridging the broader community of forecast meteorologists with the research community particularly on the topic of climate change.

Particularly on the hurricane and global warming issue, Peter Webster and I are now ‘card carrying’ members of the tropical listserv (Emanuel and Holland are long term members) which is the main venue for communications mostly about hurricanes by operational forecasters with researchers mainly seeming to lurk and occasionally post (note this is not a blog, but a private listserv). I posted the BAMS article on this listserv, so far no one has posted any public responses (although I have received a few personal emails). Obviously a very different response from the realclimate community.

We certainly live in interesting times, and the blogosphere adds a unique element to this, I appreciate the opportunity for a venue to post what I couldn’t publish on the topic.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blog comments

I've been thinking about Prof. Mankiw's decision to turn off comments on his blog. I thought that with his succinct blogging style, the comments were essential. I'm hoping that he elaborates more on his thoughts now that there are no more comments. Here are some of his remarks:

The growth in the comments section was fine with me, as long as the discussion remained civil. Mostly it was, and I learned a lot from the comments. But unfortunately, a few (usually anonymous) commenters too often crossed the line.

I just don't have the time to police comments and enforce good behavior, especially since some posts were generating more than 100 comments. And I don't want to host a party in which a small vitriolic minority consistently tries to ruin the event for everyone else. So I decided to turn the comments feature off.

My thoughts in random order are:

  1. While biased in some of his views, his tone has been even and reasonable.
  2. He has done a pretty good job explaining economics reasoning to his readers. Unfortunately, this may have been part of the problem. The explanation while clear leaves out technical details that allows comments of the vitriolic kind. Perhaps he should be more technical instead. Unfortunately, this leaves out a group that would like to hear the economics reasoning.
  3. He sometimes blogs about controversial subjects like income distribution, taxation and the like. It is controversial only because there are a wide spectrum of views with opposing sides already dug in. Heaven forbid should he decide to blog on topics like the Iraq war.
  4. There is a huge intersection between economics and everyday life and talking about one aspect of it and laying out the economics reasoning behind it can sometimes be hard for some one in that situation to hear. It is not unreasonable to disagree with the reasoning but I suppose in his mind the comments went too far.
  5. Perhaps his tolerance for what is considered "vitriol" is lower than in other blogs.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hawk Mountain

We were at Hawk Mountain on Friday. It was rainy and drizzly but we got to see some fall colors. We went half way to the North Lookout before we got rained out and the kids got too tired. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a non-profit organization. There is a non-profit organization that runs Sugarloaf Mountain here in Maryland. The striking difference between the two is that Hawk Mountain charges trail fees while Sugarloaf doesn't. However, it seems like hiking on Hawk Mountain is done by the honor system since no one stopped us to ask for our tickets. I am wondering why the difference -- in one case charging and another case not. For instance, what if I wanted to know the size of the endowment of the non-profit organizations that are running these nature parks -- where can I look?

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Ocassionally I come across something so funny that I have to file it away. Instead of leaving it as a bookmark on my browser, I thought I'd store it here. Image is taken from

It's on sale at for a mere $19,999.95. At 163 comments and counting, a lot of them really funny, the posters are having a lot of fun. Here's one of them from Matthew Reicher:

I was skeptical at first...can you really buy a tank and be allowed to drive it around town. Turns out that "legally" you can't. But it does have some other great benefits:

1. Every single person I have had an issue with is now afraid of me. It's not that quiet respect kind of thing either, these people are petrified of me. My neighbors used to get mad when the dog "Wally" would use their yard as a bathroom -- not any more. In fact, they don't get mad when I do it either.

2. The gas mileage isn't that great, but I haven't stopped for a traffic light/stop sign for the six months I've owned the JL421. Actually, I haven't even bothered to slow down....people just seem to get out of the way. The police escorts have been a welcomed suprise, but they would be more efficient in front of me instead of following behind.

3. The flamethrower attachment is a must have (I found one at a garage sale for a great price). My lawn will never have to be mowed again. The machine guns only fire one thousand rounds per minute, but short of the few times I've needed them it hasn't been much of an issue.

4. This thing is super roomy too. I can now take at least six of my drunken idiot friends with me on our Wednesday night road rage episodes. My old tank only fit the four of us. If you can't share those times with your friends, why even bother going out to shoot stuff -- ya know?!?!

Just a couple of negatives:

1. Now that my wife has kicked me out of the house and I'm living in my tank, I have really noticed the need for more ventilation. I haven't showered in six months and it is pretty ripe smelling in there. I'm looking into adding some windows.

2. Great stereo system. I would think that for the money they would have put in a CD player instead of just cassette deck. I bought a Sony Walkman CD player to plug in, but it skips everytime I smash into somebody's house. All in all I would buy this tank again, and definitely recommend it to my friends (that live in a different state than I do).

It also turns out that Badonkadonk is a slang term for a woman's buttocks that are voluptuously large and firm. This product is also really from NAO Design. See also

DC Cabs switch to meters

Today's Washington Post reports that Some D.C. Taxi Drivers Call for Strike on Halloween because the mayor of DC has made a decision that cab drivers in Washington, DC must use meters. I am assuming that this can be enforced. We just returned from a visit to Kuala Lumpur where even though meters are required, they are routinely ignored and would be riders have to haggle for a mutually acceptable rate. (We had read about this on websites like Tripadvisor and Yahoo.) Apparently there are a lot of horror stories. Fortunately for us, of the few times we rode the cab, only once did we have to haggle. It was most annoying! The driver who haggled with us claimed that the meter rates were way too low. The taxi stand outside KL Suria at the Petronas Twin Towers is reportedly the place where none of the taxi drivers will use the meter. There must be a lack of enforcement (or corruption of enforcement officers to look the other way) there that hopefully will not exist in Washington.

Imagine World Peace

This was on a bumper sticker while I was at a light. I gave it a try, except that I couldn't. Unless peace was the absence of ....
1) Absence of countries? One world, one country, one peoples?
2) Absence of war?
3) Absence of strife?

Why did I start this?

I was actually persuaded not to blog by this Wikihow article: Dissuade-Yourself-from-Becoming-a-Blogger. I had taken the advice and added my 2 cents on various blogs I had been reading until Prof. Mankiw turned off comments on his blog. That resulted in my first post. I'm hoping to be able to continue this - perhaps as a way to record my thoughts and then being able to search for what I had been thinking about. Old age creeps up on me. When I start blogging about what I had for lunch and then having to look it up later -- that's when I am old.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I learned last night from my daughters that eclair means both lightning and the pastry (which I am more familiar with). How would one say "I was struck by lightning while eating an eclair" in French? We had a good laugh over that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


For some inexplicable reasons perhaps based on the heavy doses of reality based TV these days I have been thinking about a show I really enjoyed when I was younger. After many googling attempts with various keywords, I finally found it using the combination of the following words: germany tv funny games between towns. It was called Telematch. Googling "Telematch" made me realize that it now has many other meanings. In any case, here is its entry on Wikipedia: and a link from this page to a trailer on YouTube. It brought back some happy memories. If anybody knows of any other links, please leave them in the comments. Part of me is wishing they would bring it back.

Economists should improve data not models

So says Prof. Mankiw ( This from his reaction to a review on Alan Greenspan's new book:

"Modern macroeconomists have spent a lot of effort trying to develop better models of the economy for forecasting and policy analysis. Just look at any issue of the Journal of Monetary Economics or the Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking. Alan seems to be saying that our efforts have, to some degree, been misdirected. Better monetary policy, he suggests, is more likely to follow from better data than from better models. Relatively little modern macro has been directed at improving data sources. Perhaps that is a mistake."

Unfortunately, there is little incentive for economists to "improve data". Certainly, not for tenure purposes.