Best movies of 2015

by on November 27, 2015 at 11:40 am in Film | Permalink

I thought this was the worst year for movies since I have been watching them.  In fact I think you could multiply this year’s good films by two and still have the worst year for movies in a long, long time.  Maybe by three.  But here are the ones I liked, in many cases with my reviews behind the links:

American Sniper

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem

Ex Machina, visually nice and fun to watch, but conceptually not that sharp or original.

Inside Out, seemed splendid at the time, but hasn’t stuck with me.

Red Army, a documentary about the hockey team of the Soviet Red Army, its rise and fall.  Chock full of social science and public choice, I loved this movie, philosophical too, even though I am not especially interested in hockey.  One of my favorite documentaries.

Meru, documentary about climbing very high mountains and human motivation.  Should win a Cass Sunstein award.

A Brilliant Young Mind [X + Y is the title of the original UK release], one of the better autism movies, nice scenes of Taipei too.

Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, give it the Girardian/Straussian take on what can really bring a dysfunctional, squabbling family together.

The Martian, and Alex’s contrasting review is here.

About Elly, first released in 2009, not available to most American viewers until this year.  From the Iranian director of A Separation.  You don’t realize how good it is until about forty-five minutes have passed.

Of those, Red Army is my clear first choice, and it is only 70 minutes long.

What would you add to this list?

Friday assorted links

by on November 27, 2015 at 10:24 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Claims about pho.

2. Mitch Albom in Haiti.

3. How CRISPR actually will prove useful.  And “We’re going to see a stream of edited animals coming through because it’s so easy…

4. A list tracking student demands from around the country.

5. “The study was conducted in the RAND StoreLab (RSL), a life sized replica of a convenience store…

6. John Wallis on Doug North.  And Kevin Bryan.  And Martin Sandbu on North.

Is it clever or stupid of us to be avoiding the problem of “overeducation” in our Army officer corps?

As shown previously, the higher an officer’s cognitive ability, the lower that officer’s chance at early promotion and battalion command selection. As a curious anecdote, the promotion rate to colonel for officers with PhDs was lower than the Army average from 2011 to 2013. Surprisingly, the Army does not actively invest in advanced civilian education for its personnel managers or OES instructors. In the 1980’s, the Army sent as many of 7,000 officers per year to graduate school. The Army reduced that to 415 in the 1990s. Currently, the Army sends 600- 700. A not-so-long ago discussion at the joint flag officer orientation course, typically referred to as “Capstone,” revolved around how much education “was too much” for senior officers. The quorum of newly selected flag officers from all services concluded that a public school or distance learning masters was fine, but certainly not a PhD or Ivy League masters.

That is from Spain, Mohundro, and Banks (pdf), via Paul Musgrave.

Following up on my earlier post on Syria, Alexander Burns sends me this very interesting email:

Dear Professor Cowen,

Thanks for your reply tweet regarding your Marginal Revolution post on modelling Syria / Islamic State. I enjoy your books and blog.

I’m writing a thesis at Australia’s Monash University that synthesises Jack Snyder’s work on strategic culture / strategic subcultures with Martha Crenshaw and Jacob Shapiro’s work on terrorist organisations. Two recent presentations:

1.       Mid-Candidature Review Panel slides:

2.       Monash SPS Symposium Presentation on Islamic State:

Several weeks ago I discussed Islamic State with my Mid-Candidature Review panel whilst also reading Gary Antonacci’s Dual Momentum Investing and the Dan Zanger interview in Mark Minervini’s Momentum Masters interviews book. It struck me that Islamic State were like momentum traders for several reasons:

(1) Islamic State have grown rapidly in foreign mujahideen; control of parts of northern Iraq and Syria; and have grown in power projection capabilities. This dynamic is very much like successful momentum traders have worked in a financial markets context using Jesse Livermore’s trend-following approach, William O’Neil’s CANSLIM system, or Paul Tudor Jones II’s speculative activity in Eurodollar and foreign exchange markets.

(2) Islamic State have to-date survived aerial bombardments and have exploited a range of weaknesses in their enemies (e.g. jihadist beheading videos as psychological warfare against the Iraqi Army; Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria; and alliance manoeuvers around the Assad regime and the Syrian civil war).

(3) Events like the capture of Mosul, Iraq; combat experience in the Syrian civil war; involvement in oil black markets; and the proclamation on 29th June 2014 of a worldwide caliphate have momentum-like qualities, particularly in terms of creating the psychological climate for nation-building.

(4) Islamic State has outperformed their peer jihadist groups in their growth and ideological impact.

(5) Islamic State’s use of social media to amplify ideological propaganda is more hypermodern and sophisticated than other terrorist groups.

(6) Their rapid growth has led to spillover effects such as the refugee crisis in Europe.

(7) The Western media’s concerns about Islamic State — and their cultural impact — feel like the 1998-2000 part of the 1995-2000 dotcom speculative bubble, albeit in a counterterrorism context.

(8) Your perspective on Islamic State as hypermodern may also be relevant to the proto-Marxist work on accelerationism and postcapitalism (Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future; Steven Shaviro’s No Speed Limit; and Benjamin Noys’ Malign Velocities): contemporary terrorist groups operate in a different political / technological / ‘average is over’ context.

With his permission I reproduced the email as is, though added in a few extra paragraph breaks for ease of reading.

Golden State fact of the day

by on November 26, 2015 at 11:53 am in Sports | Permalink

So far this season, [Stephen] Curry has made 74 threes — the most in the NBA. Damian Lillard ranks second, with 45. To say that Curry is an outlier would be an insult to the word outlier. So far this season, 84 percent of NBA threes have come off assists. But for Curry, that number is just 62 percent, and his ability to get his own deadly looks beyond the arc is arguably his signature weapon as a scorer. For context, only one of Klay Thompson’s 33 threes has been unassisted this season.

Here is more from Kirk Goldsberry at 538.  Here is a Curry highlights reel.  Here is the educational philosophy of Kevin Garnett.  And ESPN has lost seven million subscribers in the last two years, that is quite a bleed rate.  Meanwhile, last night Kobe Bryant was one for seventeen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving assorted links

by on November 26, 2015 at 10:17 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1.  Robust monetary rules.  And American Airlines stops accepting Argentine pesos.

2. Can France integrate its Muslims?

3. Dr. Seuss and comparative advantage.

4. “If Pleistocene megafauna — mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and others — had not become extinct, humans might not be eating pumpkin pie and squash for the holidays, according to an international team of anthropologists.”

5. John Cochrane on health insurance churn.

6. Why Turkey shot down the plane and who will be the biggest losers (good, analytical piece, NYT).

7. Chris Mooney on the global warming “pause.”

It costs $300 to move a 40-foot container from Rotterdam to Shanghai…Here’s some more context. Let’s say that you want to travel for a year; it’s cheaper to put your personal belongings in a shipping container as it sails around the world than to keep it at a local mini-storage facility.

That is from Ryan Petersen, via Dan Wang.

What I’ve been reading

by on November 26, 2015 at 1:02 am in Books | Permalink

1.Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam?: The Importance of Being Islamic.  Too much hermeneutics for my taste, but intelligent and interesting throughout.  The authors downplays the prescriptive side of Islam and plays up the experiential and polyvalent aspects of the religion.  If you are reading books in this area, this one should be part of your program.

2. Adam Sisman, John Le Carré: The Biography.  Entertaining, and puts him in the proper context, deserves its strong reviews.

3. Simon Critchley, Memory Theater. Very short book, hard to explain, often brilliant, here is one bit: “Hegel’s philosophy is a mnemotechnic system in the ancient and Renaissance tradition.  The difference is that what Hegel adds to his memory theater is time, that is, the experience of becoming.”  Not for everyone.

Arrived in my pile are:

David E. Bernstein, Lawless: The Obama Administration’s Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Edward Lucas, Cyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security and the Internet.

Frank Trentmann, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the 15th Century to the 21st.

Elaine C. Kamarck, Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know About How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates.  From a quick glance, appears to be very useful.

I can’t say I understand this FT article so well, but I suppose that is the point.  Which are two groups/persons implicated in buying oil from ISIS, or otherwise enabling such trades to take place?

First, Syria.  Or is that “Syria.”

Second, the head of the world chess federation, namely Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “he is best known for his belief in aliens — he has repeatedly recounted an instance when he was abducted in 1997 by “people in yellow spacesuits”.”  And this:

Mr Ilyumzhinov has a diverse business empire, stretching from sugar to banking, and a network of contacts to match. He regularly meets the Dalai Lama, and he played chess with Libyan president Muammer Gaddafi shortly before his overthrow.

He also has been working with the Syrian central bank.  Here is NYT coverage, here are other sources.  As the old Haitian proverb states, if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on…

Wednesday assorted links

by on November 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Book hotel in Japan.  That is book used as a noun, not a verb.  And good photos of Porto, Portugal.  Zach Lowe: how small can the NBA go?

2. The world’s largest cloning factory, guess where?  Yesterday my paper copy of the FT printed on its front page the pun “Factory to turn out 1m cows a year as China raises steaks in cloning research,” though I cannot find it on-line.  And “Biologists induce flatworms to grow heads and brains of other species.

3. “Why, then, is 29-year-old Laurence the only full-time forensic pollen analyst in the United States?

4. Schmalensee and Stavins survey the history of cap and trade programs (NBER).

5. What do we know about ultra high net worth individuals?  And Republicans prefer politicians with deep voices.

6. Henry Aaron argues that ACA is still doing OK.

Kidney-DiseaseThe latest issue of the American Journal of Transplantation has an excellent and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of paying kidney donors by Held, McCormick, Ojo, and Roberts. Earlier, Becker and Elias estimated that a payment of $15,000 per living donor would be sufficient to eliminate the US waiting list. The authors adopt a larger figure of $45,000 for living donors and $10,000 for deceased donors and find that even at these rates paying donors generates benefits far in excess of costs.

In particular, a program of government compensation of kidney donors would provide the following benefits (quoting from the article):

  • Transplant kidneys would be readily available to all patients who had a medical need for them, which would prevent 5000 to 10 000 premature deaths each year and significantly reduce the suffering of 100 000 more receiving dialysis.
  • This would be particularly beneficial to patients who are poor and African American because they are considerably overrepresented on the transplant waiting list. Indeed, it would be a boon to poor kidney recipients because it would enable them to reap the great benefits of transplantation at very little expense to themselves.
  • Because transplant candidates would no longer have to spend almost 5 years receiving dialysis while waiting for a transplant kidney, they would be younger and healthier when they receive their transplant, increasing the chances of a successful transplantation.
  • With a large number of transplant kidneys available, it would be much easier to ensure the medical compatibility of donors and recipients, which would increase the success rate of transplantation.
  • Taxpayers would save about $12 billion each year. Dialysis is not only an inferior therapy for end-stage renadisease (ESRD), it is also almost 4 times as expensive pequality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained as a transplant.

Greg Ip on why safety can be dangerous

by on November 25, 2015 at 3:44 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Greg Ip presented his new book Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe at Mercatus/GMU, with an emphasis on financial crises and a bit on forest fires too.  I was the moderator, and the commentators were Alex J. Pollock and Jared Bernstein.

The video and short summary is here.  My previous review of Greg’s book is here.

My thoughts on this topic are extremely tentative, hypothetical I would say, but I’ve seen so much other bad commentary I thought I would lay out a possible “model” for what is going on.  I offer this with what I consider to be more than just caveats and qualifications, if you wish simply consider this an exercise in constructing some possibilities to think through.  These are “in my opinion the most likely to be true, compared to alternatives,” but still quite low in terms of their absolute chance of being true.  Here goes:

1. I don’t view Islam as essential to the conflict, though it helps explain some of the second-order causes and effects.

2. I think first in terms of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which also saw the collapse of an untenable-once-placed-under-pressure nation-state, followed by atrocities.  Building a successful nation state seems to be a “win big, fail big” proposition, and both Yugoslavia and Syria failed.  The West also had its failures leading up to and during the two World Wars, though with a happyish ending.

3. Syria also has become a playground for a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others).  Being a playground for a proxy war is a bad place to be, just ask Vietnam, El Salvador, or Nicaragua.  The mix of #2 and #3 accounts for many of the key features of the crisis, plus as conflict proceeds trust frays and human beings are brutalized, worsening the dynamic.

3b. The proxy war heated up due to a rising Iran, a falling Saudi Arabia, and the collapse of creative ambiguity over roles and responsibilities in what were previously buffer zones.

4. It is very hard to model ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, whatever you wish to call it (the most thoughtful approach I have seen is from Shadi Hamid).  Maybe the group is one fraction crazies, one fraction semi-rational power brokers, and one fraction “momentum traders” who wanted higher status for their local terrorizing and never expected it to get this far and simply could not climb off and stop.  It is hard for groups to back out of strategies which have delivered consistent institutional growth.  In any case, I don’t think of the group as having transitive preferences, even in the intra-profile sense, much less the Arrovian inter-profile sense.

5. I view ISIS as “modern,” or even “hypermodern,” rather than a “return to barbarism.”  The medieval Arabic world was more advanced than Europe in most ways, yet still Islamic ideologically.

6. Islam has the important secondary effect of tying Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts to disaffected (Muslim) groups living in Western Europe, most of all France and Belgium.  Labor market deregulation, people!

7. Islam has another significant effect.  By melding the political and the theological, it renders the conflict more complex and harder to resolve, and that effect is fundamental to the ideological structure of Islam.  It also helps motivate the proxy war sides taken by Iran (Shii’te) and the Saudis (Sunni).  But note this: when the political order is not up for grabs, Islam does not have the same destabilizing effects.  The merging of the legal and the theological therefore may create greater stability in some equilibria (e.g.,much of Ottoman history, the Gulf monarchies), while less stability in others.

8. The Laffer curve, resource extraction path of ISIS will weaken with time, causing a fiscal starvation and thus a further move toward mean-reducing, variance-increasing strategies.

9. This won’t end well.  Now go read a book on the Taiping rebellion.

Your thoughts are welcome, please try to stick with the analytical and avoid posturing.  And what Russia is up to in Syria is another mystery, best considered another time.

Douglass North links

by on November 24, 2015 at 8:28 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. David Henderson on North.

2. A Fine Theorem on North.

3. Michael Sykuta on North.

4. NYT obituary of North.

5. Henry Farrell on North.

6. Dan Klein on North.

7. Art Carden on North.

8. Arnold Kling on North.

9. Ryan Avent on North.

10. Check Barry Weingast’s Facebook page, I believe the post on Doug is open.

11. John Nye on Doug North.  And yet another take from Nye.

If there are new good links on North, I’ll addend them tomorrow morning, so check back if you are interested.  He was a frequent visitor at George Mason and also at Mercatus, so many of us will miss him very much.

Tuesday assorted links

by on November 24, 2015 at 1:52 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Interview with James Poterba.

2. South Korean zombie companies?  And good WSJ survey piece on premature deindustrialization., and the Dani Rodrik paper again, revised (pdf).

3. How agriculture shaped human DNA (NYT)

4. The market-oriented reformist wins in Argentina.

5. Anne-Marie Slaughter on the Wilson School renaming controversy (not my views, by the way, but she has run the Wilson School and worth reading how she sees the world).

6. “At 12:45 p.m., a window pops open on a system called FedTrade and plays a sequence of musical notes—F-E-D—to open trading, traders said.

7. Why are engineers more likely to become terrorists?