Assorted links

by on September 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 prior_approval September 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm

1. ‘And just to be clear, some of Kiev’s economic and fiscal problems were visible long before the spat with Russia ‘

Like owing Gazprom billions, and the fact that much of Ukraine’s industry supplied the Russian military-industrial complex (though this post makes a nod to this, his referenced 2012 post didn’t mention it).

Why the lack of interest in how Ukraine pays to keep the gas flowing? It isn’t exactly a new dynamic.

And just for fun, a theory from a German-Russian colleague – those Russian aid convoys? They are bringing back the bodies of dead Russians, which need to be kept as far from the public eye as possible.

2 Jan September 22, 2014 at 10:09 pm

I learned this week that many apparently figured out that the first aid convoy of half filled trucks actually had brought out a bunch of military parts and weapons components that were only produced in Ukraine. Totally innocuous going in, filled with valuable hardware coming out.

3 anonymous September 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

At this point, one part of Ukraine has been entirely occupied and annexed by Russia and another part sees active fighting with heavily armed irregulars, causing many thousands of displaced persons and of course death of many innocent people.

If this is a “spat with Russia”, I’d hate to see what a “tiff” with Russia would look like…though the concept of a “nuclear tiff” is somehow amusingly torked.

4 Widmerpool September 23, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Those many thousands of displaced persons all seem to be running to their oppressors in Russia.

Why is anyone surprised the Ukrainian economy is doing badly? It did terribly before while Poroshenko was Finance Minister (although he made hundreds of millions) and was only kept afloat by Russian subsidies and Russian trade.

5 prior_approval September 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

That coffee buzzfeed link is possibly the most SEO optimized thing I have ever seen – and I don’t use javascript, images, or Flash. Welcome to journalism in an age where average is over.

6 Doug September 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm


Starbucks is notorious for over roasting heir beans to the point of charcoal. This masks the low quality and inconsistency of their sourced cherries. All these flavored are required to cover up that a Starbucks espresso tastes like it came out of an ashtray. My uses is that the stout latte is where theyre going to get rid of the really burnt beams.

Coffee is a fruit, if prepared correctly it should taste like it. All these additive flavored like pumpkin are unnecessary. Even with milk, no more than 4-5 oz should be added to a 1.5 oz espresso.

7 Sam September 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm

If you dont like it you dont have to drink it… sheesh

8 Cliff September 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm

No, they “over-roast” because that brings out more of the flavor of their high-quality beans

9 Doug September 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Actually, it’s well known among roasters that a darker roast emphasizes the flavor of the roast is emphasized over the flavor of the bean: “Dark roast coffees tend to taste more like each other – as the differences due to distinct origins are obscured by the carbony roast flavors.”

Typically you’ll see blends roasted darker than single-origin coffees for this reason. It’s easier to maintain consistency the darker you roast. Coffee is a lot like wine, the taste can vary a lot even from farm to farm. For this reason mass coffee brands and shops need to go darker the larger they get. Which isn’t to say that a darker roast can’t be good, especially in an espresso and with a well-thought out blend, but not at the level Starbucks pushes it on most of their beans.

10 Cliff September 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Well, you seem to know a lot about coffee, but your comparison to wine disturbs me since no one can tell wines apart in a blind taste test- even the most famous wine taster of all time.

11 wiki September 22, 2014 at 4:16 pm

“No one” seems a bit strong. Even when Freakonomics did a discussion of those, they noted that in blind tests “most” couldn’t tell a difference but that a substantial minority were able to tell differences in a blind test. In fact, such tests are overly stringent because they rule out ways in which wines can be different but not easily tested in a blind experiments (e.g. wines that are especially good with some foods but not others). The same is true with sound. The gold standard seems to be double blind, but in fact AT&T had done work in 50s that showed that people could more easily pick out tones inserted at random in noise if they were first taught what to listen for.

12 Doug September 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Thanks. With regards to wine, people can tell different wines apart in blind taste tests. It’s just that there’s no correlation between “good wines” and “bad wines”. Try it yourself, take two bottles and pour two small glasses of each, then randomize. I’m virtually certain that you’ll be able to tell which glasses came from the same bottle. Even if they’re the same country, grape and vintage. However what you almost assuredly won’t be able to do is pick out the “better” wine bottle. Which wine you like better is highly individual. (I’ve done this a lot, my mother loves playing blind wine tasting games during the holidays).

This is largely because the wine industry has an excellent culture of quality control. Best practices for wine production are nearly universally adopted by all vineyards. Objectively bad wine certainly can be produced, find someone who’s just starting out with home winemaking. There’s no need to buy $500 bottles of wine, because even the $5 do everything right. Better to try a bunch of cheap wines and find the ones you like. Almost all the variation between commercial wine on dimensions that affect individual preferences without affecting quality.

Similarly with coffee, when the quality is done correctly, there’s individual variation between preferences for beans and roasts. But unlike with wine, quality failures are a major issue for most commercial coffee. This is partly because some aspects of coffee are harder to get right than wine (e.g. coffee goes stale much much quicker than wine). And it’s partly for cultural reasons, because many consumers aren’t aware or don’t care.

13 Cliff September 22, 2014 at 4:43 pm

“Robert M. Parker Jr… is widely acknowledged to be the most widely known and influential wine critic in the world today…

…in a public blind tasting of fifteen top wines from Bordeaux 2005—which he has called “the greatest vintage of my lifetime”—Parker could not correctly identify any of the wines, confusing left bank wines for right several times.”

14 matt flipago September 22, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Wine and coffee both vary a lot from farms, but the problem comes between distinguishing ones from different countries. Many can’t consistently distinguish from French wines and California ( their differences are overstated and have overlap), and quality is very much obscured between a 15 dollar bottle and a 100 dollar one. Similarly the 50 dollar a pound coffee are not clearly better than 15 dollar a pound coffees.

However Starbucks coffee and dunkon donuts coffees have significant defects in their coffee at the shop.(Starbucks coffee itself before roast might not gave major flaws though. One like Folger’s do, its why many companies steam their coffee beans.) When coffee and wine reach a level free from major defects a consensus on which is superior becomes very grey, but much like most wine tasters know the difference between foul jug wine and expensive, so can almost anyone see a difference between what’s served at Srarbucks(when trained to identify flavors, which isnt hard once you try; Most just think coffee as one flavor, but it is extremly complex with clear flavors commonaly identifiable through blind tasting. Look at how they judge cup of excellence coffees).

Its also true lighter roast expise more hniqueness of a coffee. Its why this light roast is called a “cupping roast” and often why many roasteries who roast dark like Starbucks acknowledge this. Of course when it comes to personal taste exposing uniqueness of the coffee sacrafices some sweetness and can have a cup one might find more acidic than they like. Even Starbucks blonde roast is fairly roasted to keep it uniform and mild. They roast for a mild more sweet roast. If it wasn’t stale in stores, I’m sure it would be okay though.

The problem with Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks in stores is still full of serious defects when brewed. With alcohol the difference between mid shelf and top shelf is very subjective, but we all know of alcohol that smells like nail polish and paint thinner. That bottom shelf quality is very prevelant in America and even Starbucks is just a little bit above it(in shop), but there is a level past that when clear defects are minimal to non existent. The thing is it still doesn’t need to coast re than 2-3 bucks to get coffee from them in store.

15 Jan September 22, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Cliff, I think expensive wine is bullshit, but if you watch the doc Somm you will see how obsessive study really can allow some very few people to guess specific wines from all over the world on blind taste tests. That says nothing about how good a wine is or how much it should cost.

16 J September 22, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Is coffee really a fruit? Whoa.

I’m a Dunkin’ man myself.

17 Lord Action September 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I understand the appeal of a “regular” at Dunkin. It’s like a hot milkshake. Arguably it’s much better than the more coffeeish serving options. It’s more about taste and less about signalling. Dunkin signals you’re lowbrow, and it needs to overcome that with taste.

But Doug’s got a point: dark roast is a way to get around bad coffee beans. With light roast you taste the coffee and not the roasting.

18 J September 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Unfortunately I’m not really capable of distinguishing good coffee from bad. Or rather, I have so much of that packet crap from the machine that any “real” coffee is great by comparison.

I wasn’t being sarcastic though. I really didn’t know that coffee beans are a fruit (but now that I think about it, I guess beans are all technically a fruit,) and I never knew that over-roasting bad dark beans was a way to hide the poor quality.

19 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly September 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm

“Starbucks is notorious for over roasting heir beans to the point of charcoal.”

This claim is at least 3 years out of date. Ever since Starbucks started offering three daily roasts the quality of the roast has improved dramatically.

20 Doug September 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm

The “blonde roast” is indeed passable. But by Starbucks own marketing, its still a second crack roast, which means its a darker full city roast. On the scale of “acceptable” coffee, it’s still pass the 90th percentile of darkness. The term “blonde” is a meaningless term in roasting, but implies that its an objectively light roast. In reality a respected roaster wouldn’t call a roast light, unless it finished shortly after the first crack.

And all of this doesn’t ameliorate the other giant issue with Starbucks beans. The vast majority of the time they’re grossly stale. Best practices dictate that all coffee roasters stamp the roasted on date on the bag. The oils in coffee rancidity at a very rapid rate, so should be consumed within three weeks of roasting. Expiration dates are meaningless and are usually on the order of six months or longer.

21 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly September 22, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Now you’re just being snobbish. Holding Starbucks to the same standards as your local artisanal shop that roasts their beans in-house, or the gourmet roaster you pick up at your local Whole Foods, is like comparing Ralph Lauren to your local master tailor. Of *course* the quality isn’t as good, that’s a natural consequence of the mass production process. But the big guy still deserves credit for trying to retain some degree of quality rather than going all-in on whatever makes mass production easiest (cf. McDonalds, H&M).

22 Doug September 23, 2014 at 5:08 am

Sure, I actually agree with you. Starbucks, Peet’s and other “second-wave” coffee became massively successfully because they really did improve on the vast bulk of existing commercial coffee that came before them. Even today, I’m pretty sure median latte or bag of beans out of Starbucks is in the upper quintile of quality across the entire national spectrum. (K-cups definitely make the curve easy to beat).

But it’s 2014, and you can easily buy single-origin, very high quality coffee for about 50% more than the cost of Starbucks. Particularly if you drink brewed coffee black or espresso, the improvement is humongous. I’m simply making people aware of the options out there. Many people instinctually think they dislike black coffee or straight espresso, because they’ve never had it properly prepared. It’s worth it to splurge a few extra dollars and give it a try.

23 Joe September 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Starbucks just doesn’t care about their espresso. It really does taste like ashtray juice. I’m sure not many people get a proper espresso from Starbucks. Charging two bucks for one is criminal.

24 FC September 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

7. Gave it a skim, found the Lenin quotes. If I were a Russian philologist I would have found the germ of a fine dissertation topic. Perhaps Plato was correct: a socialist state needs a corps of philosopher-chekists.

25 whatsthat September 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm

is starbucks an esotericism of coffee

am sipping one now

26 Adrian Ratnapala September 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I like Daniel Hannan even when he is wrong.

He belongs to a school of politicians who are thinkers and writers as much, or more as they are politicians. People like Burke. In their own time, such people look crazy because they put abstract ideas in front of what everyone knows is important. America should be proud that Rand Paul looks much crazier than Hannan.

27 Daniel Klein September 22, 2014 at 3:20 pm

#7 Compendium on esotericism. Great material! There is more from Smith, notably in LRBL and in Hist. of Astronomy. As for Smith’s (remarkably, uncharacteristically vehement) fn about the Neo-Platonists, I’m not sure what to think. I see Smith as a somewhat esoteric writer, esp. on certain status-quo policies of his day: I think that he sometimes treated them with kid gloves, sometimes fudged and equivocated, more than people often recognize, and arguably sometimes even endorsed certain status quo policies that in an important sense he did not favor. Also, arguably on religion, on his affirmations in TMS of divine providence. Dugald Stewart strongly insinuates (both in his Account and his Lectures on PE) that Smith was not being upfront on usury. Dupont de Nemours also suggested that Smith was more firmly attached to the liberty principle than he let on. I am not suggesting the Smith was really an axiomatic libertarian–he most definitely was not. The Scots were great on exceptions, and on exceptions not destroying principlehood. But I think he softened the presumption of liberty somewhat, a change of angle just a few degrees.

28 Steve Sailer September 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm

A lot of good stuff in there.

29 Sigivald September 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm

5) Yes, and in fact it’s just as automatically copyrighted to its creator as every other form of art.

But does it extend to art that’s on public walls?“, asks the author at The Atlantic.

This suggests that the author didn’t do their basic research first – and in any case would hardly suggest that, oh, a Rivera mural would not be copyrightable because it was “on a public wall”…

(Of course, one reason a graffitist might not pursue such a claim would be that they’d be publicly admitting that they, well, did all that graffiti, which is still a legal issue.)

30 Al September 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm

How would a street artist who painted a wall in a public place without permission go about proving definitely that the work in question was really theirs?

Could any street artist claim any piece of street art, even ones they did not really create?

31 Nathan W September 22, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Unless someone else was enough of a loser to come along and try to say that THEY in fact did it, I don’t think there would be much controversy on the matter.

32 Al September 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

I’m also wondering about that as a corporate defense strategy. I mean, couldn’t Abercrombie and Fitch or Terry Gilliam or whoever just insist that the artist in question was not the actual creator of the graffiti in question? What _exactly_ do I need to do to prove I am the artist to an arbitrator or judge?

33 Axa September 23, 2014 at 9:00 am

Graffiti artists already get paid:

“Hector Nazario, a founding member of the group who goes by the name of Nicer, said they are often contacted for releases by film crews when their murals pop up in a background shot. He said “Law & Order,” which films all over the city, is a frequent caller. Their production people research the images, he said, and they know to seek permission from the artists. We’re in the business of living off our art. We usually try to get money or a credit, which adds up to money later on.”

So, this is not about kids spraying a subway car. It’s about people who get the permission to paint a building wall or was contracted by the building owner to do the painting (as Rivera). Not all graffiti painters are a snob like Banksy, the paint for a living.

34 Andreas Moser September 23, 2014 at 9:49 am

Exactly! My first reaction was also “why should it not be protected by copyright?”

Non-lawyers writing about legal issues, always annoying.

35 Asher September 22, 2014 at 3:45 pm

#6-#7 It’s obvious that Tyler is being esoteric (what he used to call Straussian until he brought Melzer into the picture). The exoteric meaning is that Thomas Sargent writes an open letter to Heckman and Prescott. But the fact that this is an obvious mistake (after all, the letter is from Lunjqvist and Sargent) and slyly apposed to the Melzer link means that Tyler is implying an esoteric meaning. Given Sargent’s penchant for recursive models I can only assume that the hint is that Sargent himself is being esoteric and his “open” letter is actually “closed”. Only the cognoscenti can truly understand what L&S really mean. (For a change.)

36 The Devil's Dictionary September 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm
37 Art Deco September 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Some devolution to counties and metropolitan authorities is practicable, but he does not appear to have thought it fully through. Cities are service centers for tributary areas. You’re not going to find a teaching hospital in a county without any cities in it of a baseline sophistication. Superintendency of certain consequential services would be difficult to work if the unit involved did not encompass both metropolitan and non-metropolitan territories. That’s true of prisons, higher education, medical care, among other things. Sorting England into it’s popular regions and natural settlements (North, Midlands, West Country, Greater London, East Anglia, Home Counties &c). and providing for selected inter-regional compacts would be the way to provide for uniform devolution, but he rejects that.

38 Adrian Ratnapala September 23, 2014 at 4:24 am

Is there any such thing as an English (or Scottish or Welsh) county without at least one city? It doubt it. I think the term “cities and counties” accounts for the fact that some cities are so large that they would dominate the politics of their county while having very different concerns from the rural areas. But even if you discount those cities, the remaining ones will have pretty large populations.

39 Brian Donohue September 22, 2014 at 4:21 pm

#7. OK, people have to speak and write gingerly about ‘taboo’ subjects. Ask yourself what those subjects are today, and you can see where a Straussian approach is needed.

What I hate about this is that (a) it’s damned hard enough to figure out what’s going on in the world (I mean, NOBODY, as far as I can tell, has really figured out what’s going on) without having to pick through layers of Straussian writing, and (b) I can’t help but think that loads of incoherent academic scribblers can hide behind these layers, feigning wisdom that only the initiated can penetrate.

40 Art Deco September 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm

OK, people have to speak and write gingerly about ‘taboo’ subjects. Ask yourself what those subjects are today, and you can see where a Straussian approach is needed.

The only one I’m aware of off-hand would be commentary and research which offers (1) a normative view which takes exception to sexual deviance or (2) social research which reaches conclusions inconvenient to the world view of the legal profession on sexual deviance (the legal profession have elected to make itself the gay lobby’s bitch).

Within intramural discussions, I think taking exception to the diversity fetish at large in higher education is taboo, but you never read about that and it does not appear in the meeting minutes, either.

41 Jimmy September 23, 2014 at 12:20 am

Melzer himself emphatically agrees with you about (a) and (b).

42 zbicyclist September 23, 2014 at 12:01 am

It’s all very well to diss Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, but prior to these places we mostly had “coffee shop” coffee with free refills — truly awful stuff, and intentionally so given the common price point. Would we have been likely to have had a conversation about American coffee quality a generation ago?

Similarly with beer, during the era in which we thought Budweiser, Schlitz and Miller were premium beers.

43 ChrisA September 23, 2014 at 1:47 am

I agree on this, it is the usual thing, something is held to a “perfect” standard, rather than evaluating whether or not it is an improvement on what there was before. Starbucks is not as nice as the coffee I make at home but its perfectly drinkable and a definite improvement on stale filter. But where I am, most people don’t see to be buying the coffee in starbucks, its those funny looking fancy green teas, and things with whipped cream on top. It seems like they are selling drinkable confectionery rather than coffee.

44 Ray Lopez ponders number two...ahh September 23, 2014 at 12:25 am

#2 – This paper explores how the Cobbs-Douglas production function may be wrong, because CES between factors of production are not true (CES = constant elasticity of substitution, or for a given increase in price, demand will also increase proportionately). For example, the assumption that land, labor, capital are interchangeable, or that people prefer food over technology at the same ratio always. Regarding the latter, it has been found in modern Third World countries many if not most people prefer a cell phone (a form of entertainment) over a new roof over their heads, and over more food, depending on their income levels (the poor are really into cell phones I found out here in southeast Asia); hence CES is not constant. As an aside, regarding subsistence levels in food, it has also been found that being skinny or chronically starved may increase longevity, so there’s some logic to not over-eating. The killer paragraph of this paper is below. See also this paper regarding CES != constant (not equal to: !=) in the German economy:

Question for the reader: why is CES != constant? Possibly due to regulations, and societal prejudices, you cannot substitute easily one unit(s) of labor for another unit(s) of capital, at the same ratio, for the same reason all protein sources are not the same (insect protein is considered inferior to beef protein in the West, from a taboo point of view, which causes distortions in CES).

One line summation of the paper: the poor may have their welfare increased by an iPhone rather than more bread.

Ray Lopez

3.1. How Economists Have Been Deceived by Cobb-Douglas Production Functions Cobb-Douglas production functions have long been conventional in Malthusian models. Among all the papers in Table 1, Lee (1980) is the only exception, adopting a CES framework. This convention is not innocuous since Cobb-Douglas functions presume a unit elasticity of substitution between land and labor Therefore, for Malthusian theory to hold, a theorist would have to justify two crucial assumptions. The first is the reducibility of food and non-food sectors into a single sector, which we address in Section 4. The second is the knife-edge unit elasticity of substitution between land and labor. Both being implausible, we reject conventional Malthusian theory. The rejection leaves two possibilities: That living standards were not constant or alternatively that they were constant, but for reasons other than the Malthusian constraint. This paper investigates the first possibility.

45 Rafael September 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm

2. Indeed, there was significant economic growth before the industrial revolution in several past civilizations. Estimates of global copper production obtained from traces of pollution in ice samples from polar ice caps shows that copper production varied greatly over the past 8 thousand years or so, increasing by an order of 100 times between 1000 BC a 1 AD for instance with the rise of Greco-Roman civilization (at least in terms of pollution, maybe more considering improvements in smelting technology). Greece was apparently very prosperous in it’s “golden age”:

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