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January 31, 2015

"Research explains why so many people are obsessed with sports"

Piece argues that it's all about the hormones.

"A 13-Year-Old Made A Revolutionary Invention Out Of Legos And Now Intel Is Investing In His Company"

I can't decide whether this is good news or bad news. Good news: we have a country where a 13-year-old with a terrific idea can be honored and rewarded for it (and attract investment from one of the world's largest companies).

Bad news: where were all the adults? Why did it fall to a 13-year-old to think of this?

January 30, 2015

"Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials of All Time"

An outstanding collection, one that gives evidence that TV advertising can be, at least occasionally, be great.

A bigger collection at the LA Times, with a lot of overlap, but with some great ones missed in the previous collection, including the E-Trade babies ad.

Also on Super Bowl ads: "The unsustainable economics of Super Bowl ads".

"Edgar Froese, RIP"

Founder of Tangerine Dream. Post is accompanied by audio of one their compositions, "Love On a Real Train" from Risky Business. (Great scene, great movie.)

Fred Armisen does NYC accents

If you want to know the difference between the accents of the Upper West Side and The Bronx and Brooklyn (and more), listen here.

"Here’s What It’s Like Dodging 6 Missiles In An F-16"

"The following video apparently shows footage through the view of Tullia’s heads-up display that day, and around the 3:00 mark, you can hear the warning beeps that a missile is locked on. Although the video is a bit grainy, the real focus should be on the hair-raising radio chatter, which, coupled with his heavy breathing, makes you realize that fighter pilots need to be in peak physical condition to do what they do."

January 29, 2015

"Why don’t women know what men find attractive?"

Good question.

Studies have shown that straight women overestimate the importance of thinness in heterosexual men’s perception of female beauty. That is to say, women think men prefer ladies much thinner . . . than they actually do.

Related: "Why Do So Many Women Wear So Much Makeup?"

The female participants thought the models looked better with slightly more makeup than the male participants did. However, all of the participants thought male observers would want the models to be wearing more makeup than female observers would.

They were wrong—men and women preferred the same amount. And that amount was less than the models had actually applied.

"11 Things You'll Regret In Your 30s"

For my money, a fine list

"Comedians on The College Experience"

For anybody who studied a foreign language in American schools, I recommend Tom Parks's bit. It describes my experience exactly.

"Fickle Sun Changed Europe's Climate for 1,000 Years"

"Variations in the sun’s output may explain some of the natural changes in Europe’s climate during the past 1,000 years, including the deadly, cold winters of the 16th and 18th centuries. Earth scientists recently discovered that as solar output dipped, so did temperatures in the North Atlantic, which then may have cooled the climate in Europe."

January 28, 2015

"Dear Patriots Haters"


(Personally, no matter who it is, I'm tired of trial-by-leaks.)

"Mind-Blowing SIX Song Country Mashup!"

Proof that a lot of the recent stuff sounds the same.

"Virtually All TV Comedies Follow The Same Simple Formula"

Proof that all sitcoms are basically the same.

"Stone-Cold Boxes: Frozen Food Is Looking Good"

"Here are four top picks".

I endorse three of the four. (I haven't tried the other one.) I would have added Amy's, especially their Light in Sodium Macaroni & Cheese which is excellent for just 400 calories and 290 mg. of sodium.

January 27, 2015

"15 Ways The World Will Be Awesome In 2050"

The long run--fingers crossed--could be very, very good.

"How do I become a data scientist?"

Seems like a useful set of recommendations.

"Changing Climates of History"

Interesting look at recent work by prominent historians on the role of climate in history.

For the most part, these five senior historians use climate change to discuss economic and political history. Unexpected climate shifts, or brief climate shocks, brought crop failure, hunger, unrest—these arguments appear time and again in these five books. In particular, climate shifts help explain economic distress and political violence.

"How Close Are We to Star Trek Propulsion?"

Not close, but closer than I would have thought.

"The 2017 total solar eclipse awarded to the United States"

Make your plans now

It goes right through the middle of the country too . . . almost everyone in the lower 48 is within a day's drive of seeing it. Cities in the path of the totality include Salem, OR, Jackson, WY, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO (nearly), Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC.

January 26, 2015

"Stop Trying to Save the World: Big ideas are destroying international development"

"Hayek" doesn't appear anywhere in this piece--it's in the New Republic[!] after all--but somewhere, he's smiling.

I came across the PlayPump story in Ken Stern’s With Charity For All, but I could have plucked one from any of the dozen or so “development doesn’t work” best-sellers to come out in the last ten years. In The Idealist—a kind of “where are they now?” for the ideas laid out in Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty—Nina Munk discovers African villages made squalid by the hopes and checkbooks of Western do-gooders. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s Poor Economics finds dozens of “common sense” development projects—food aid, crop insurance, microfinance—either don’t help poor people or may even make them poorer.

(See "Meant to Keep Mosquitos Out, Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In" for an unexpected, serious cost of distributing mosquito nets to fight malaria.)

"Learning and Forgetting the Wisdom of Coase"

With all due respect to Professor Borenstein--he is a very distinguished scholar and his brief tribute to "The Problem of Social Cost" here is quite nice--I think his discussion is misleading. Specifically, the following:

It is ironic and disappointing to hear some commentators laud Coase while at the same time saying that cap-and-trade would be too costly to the U.S. economy.  The WSJ editorial page, and many others of similar inclination, have argued instead that “the market” will solve pollution problems without government intervention. . . .

But on climate change, the right wing now fights against assigning any property rights on greenhouse gas emissions, even as the science becomes virtually certain that GHGs are the cause of climate change.  Leaving the property rights unassigned is equivalent to giving unlimited rights to emit and making those right untradeable. 

Leave aside the "virtually certain that GHGs are the cause of climate change"--a conclusion that at least some scholars dispute. Focus instead on those "many others" who argue that the market "solves pollution problems without government intervention". 

The criticism of market advocates here, as in many other instances, fundamentally mistakes the advocates' position. It's not that markets can solve all problems "without government intervention". It's that markets, while imperfect, tend to work better than government in a large number of instances, particularly the U.S. national government as currently constituted. This fundamental idea explains why market advocates would sharply question the supposedly wonderful cap-and-trade policy Professor Borenstein advances. In particular, I think there are four reasons to question cap-and-trade:

1. There is a real consensus--not just the questionable one about the causes of global warming, if any--that action taken by the U.S. alone will do virtually nothing to solve the problem. Supporters of cap-and-trade can talk about setting a moral example or starting the process, but if the rest of the world, particularly China and India, refuse to curb their carbon dioxide emissions, we would just incur a large cost for virtually no gain. Maybe the supporters believe in the effectiveness of international collective action. Maybe they believe the League of Nations and the UN have eliminated war, hunger, and poverty, and the other evils that plague mankind. I don't. And history gives, I think, little ground for optimism.

2. Cap-and-trade as outlined on economists' whiteboards and cap-and-trade as actually legislated by the Congress and implemented by the Executive would likely be substantially different. There are hundreds of examples of this to choose from. Is affordable housing a good thing? Sure. But are rent controls and huge mortgage subsidies and regulations requiring lending to low-income borrowers good things? No. Would greater access to health insurance be a good thing? Yes. Are the multiple taxes, exceptions, and complications of Obamacare good things? The jury is still out, but it's not looking good.

3. Even if a simple, clean law were drafted--again given the very large stakes potentially involved, that seems quite doubtful--there are likely to be unintended and unforeseen--unforeseen at least to some--effects. Anybody remember the yacht tax?

4. Finally, experience shows that we sell short technological change and the creativity inherent in markets at our peril. What if an excellent substitute for beef were developed, a substitute that greatly reduced the amount of livestock? (Note that livestock supposedly are responsible for half of the global warming gases.) Well, such a substitute may well be coming. (Link via Michael Greenspan.) What if batteries become substantially more efficient and cheaper, such that solar and wind power become viable substitutes for carbon? That may well be coming, too.

In short, I think pro-market scholars haven't forgotten Coase and they do understand what the implications of his paper are. I think market skeptics would do well to better acquaint themselves with government-in-practice and markets-in-practice before throwing stones at us.

"The Unappreciated Success Of Charter Schools"

Excellent short piece by economist Adam Ozimek on what the average obscures about charter school performance. (Link via Marginal Revolution.)

"How the U.S. Can Revive Its Entrepreneurial Vigor"

Three reasonable proposals.

"The Real-Life Teachers of Spare Parts on What’s Wrong With US Schools"

I liked about half of this argument and disliked half. The part I liked:

WIRED: How did you come up with the idea of building complex robots at a school where kids need basic math and writing help?

Lajvardi: The kids were bored. That has far reaching implications. They dropped out or learned little because they weren’t finding anything interesting at school.

Cameron: Most kids think school is a lot of work, you get yelled at, it’s regimented. What Fredi and I did with the robotics club wasn’t school. We were just doing something that was a lot of fun.

"Whistleblower: Pelosi Covered Up Role In Crisis"

It's a very good thing for the country that Ms. Pelosi is no longer Majority Leader Speaker (Thanks, Michael!).

It would also be good if she lost her seat or retired.

"A Tsunami Of Change Is Coming To The Global Economy"

If you want a pessimistic forecast of the world economy over the next five or so years, this piece makes some interesting arguments.

January 25, 2015

"Messi-To-Neymar Is As Beautiful As Soccer Gets"

You just don't see things like this every game.

"NFL Draft Experts Hated The Draft That Turned The Seahawks Into The Best Team In The League"

Worth remembering if you read those "expert" evaluations of NFL drafts.

The 2012 NFL Draft is the biggest reason why the Seattle Seahawks have been the best team in the league over the last two years. . . .

They drafted five players that have become a part of their core, and got many of them in the late rounds . . . 

"Chickens Today Are Shockingly Bigger Than They Used To Be"

That's one big chicken.

January 24, 2015

"Churchill embodied Britain's greatness"

Friday was the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death. Here's a fine tribute to him.

"Math Explains Likely Long Shots, Miracles and Winning the Lottery"

A fine, useful piece.

For a shorter version, see Persi Diaconis's remark that if you look at a big enough sample long enough, "almost any damn thing will happen".

"New Products From Ruger"

". . . [last month] the gun manufacturer announced the addition of three new offerings to its already expansive product line."

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