Thursday, June 30, 2011

How much weight should be given to diplomatic cables

In an eye-opening article, Andrew MacGregor Marshall says all that can’t be said about the Thai monarchy. However, most, if not all of the article and its companion series are based on the Wikileaks cables. As much as I enjoyed the summary of the thoughts of U.S. based diplomats on Thailand, the question I have is how much weight should I place on them? After all, they are just thoughts (or are they more than that)? U.S. foreign policy may be based on opinions on the ground but sometimes these can be wrong.

The following also caught my eye:

Thailand's crisis also involves a class conflict in the rigidly hierarchical society, with the rural and urban poor broadly backing Thaksin against an establishment unwilling to allow the "uneducated masses" to decide who runs the country.

Hmmm... who else might have thought the same way? From a previous post:

His father, John Adams, and most of the other Founders had feared that republicanism would degenerate into democracy: that government of the people would become government by the people. Nothing in history disposed them to look hopefully on such a development, for never in history had ordinary people run their own affairs without very quickly running them into the ground. The elder Adams linked arms after the Revolution with those who sought to curb the popular excesses of the revolutionary era; at Philadelphia in 1787 they wrote a constitution that took power from the states and conferred it on the central government, and in doing so diminished the influence of the people in politics generally. As vice president and then president, John Adams continued to work to keep power out of the hands of the unlettered and incompetent, and in the hands of those best suited by education and experience to exercise it responsibly.
-Preface to Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times, by H.W. Brands -
(Emphasis mine)

Have colleges failed?

In his review of Academically Adrift, Louis Menand writes:

If students are studying less it may be because the demands on them are fewer. Half the students in the study said that they had not taken a single course in the previous semester requiring more than twenty pages of writing.

In an age of tweets and blog posts, having to write, much less read a paper that is more than 20 pages sounds quaint if not downright antiquated. In many ways, the academics who study the students who go to college are just as out of touch as the colleges they study. Implicit in the argument is that a 50-page paper is not just more demanding and challenging but is better for the students. But why stop at 20? Why not 500? The student who is challenged to make a point and can do so in 20 words or less succeeds more than one who needs 200 words. Those who need to use 200 words or more are training to be politicians (or academics).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Keynesian economics from an 8-year old's perspective

There is some utility work of some kind going on in our neighborhood. Every few days the road would be closed and we’d have to take a detour. It’s not clear from driving by what they’re doing or who the “they” are. “They” have been at it for about a month.

“What are they doing anyway?” K2 asked?
I jokingly replied, “It looks like they’re just digging holes and then filling them back up again”. (Actually metal plates over the holes.)

“Well, that doesn’t seem very useful”, K2 responded.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Does faith=trust?

Faith in:
1. Markets
2. Government intervention
3. The justice system
4. The constitution, the founding fathers

Now replace the above with trust.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why DC sucks or doesn't

Reading this actually made me feel better. I agree with everything everyone posted. Misery loves company.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What the Thiel Fellowship will prove

Exactly nothing. According to New York Magazine:

The program, also known as the Thiel Fellowship, will award twenty students 19 years old and younger $100,000 each and the mentor­ship of some of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. The catch? The winners have to stay out of college for two years.

And the winners are as expected, those who least need to go to college. They are already the overachievers.

The magazine article states:

In higher education, he [Theil] believes he has identified a third bubble, with all the hallmarks of a classic speculative frenzy—­hyperinflated prices, investments by ignorant consumers funded largely by debt, and widespread faith in increasing returns.

All these points are well-taken, but if the purpose of the Theil fellowship is to demonstrate that the average American doesn’t need to go to college then the fellowship proves nothing. Consider an alternative fellowship:

Randomly select 100 18-to-19 year olds and hand them $100,000 each. Do the same mentoring for 2 years. The only catch - they have to stay out of college forever.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Does the market reward cost-cutting Pepco edition

From Yahoo Finance:
D = Dominion Power (blue)
POM = Pepco (red)
CEG = Baltimore Gas (Constellation Energy) (green)

Not as clear cut as I had hoped. In this post, the implications were the Dominion Power was the best peforming in terms of service reliability, followed by BGE and Pepco. It was also implied that Pepco’s poor service was a result of a lack of investment and cutbacks in infrastructure and maintenance and equipment replacement.