Sunday assorted links

by on July 24, 2016 at 1:09 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Metro Station Smoke

WTOP: A Metro worker blamed for falsifying records about the tunnel fans that failed during last year’s deadly smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza has been granted his job back by an arbitration panel — and Metro’s largest union has just filed a lawsuit against Metro because the worker hasn’t been reinstated yet.

The union’s defense is that everyone was doing it so no one is to blame. The Union is probably right that the WMTA suffers from a culture of poor safety and responsibility but you can’t fix that culture without clear signals that the incentives have changed.

I had to take the Metro to DC earlier this week and due to track closings for safety improvements it was miserable, at least 45 minutes of delays for the roundtrip. Some 700,000 people ride the metro every day and if each is delayed by just 15 minutes total (7.5 minutes each way) then at $15 an hour that’s 2.6 million dollars worth of delay every day.

This is remarkable:

Now scientists have determined that humans and their honeyguides [a kind of bird] communicate with each other through an extraordinary exchange of sounds and gestures, which are used only for honey hunting and serve to convey enthusiasm, trustworthiness and a commitment to the dangerous business of separating bees from their hives.

The findings cast fresh light on one of only a few known examples of cooperation between humans and free-living wild animals, a partnership that may well predate the love affair between people and their domesticated dogs by hundreds of thousands of years.

Claire N. Spottiswoode, a behavioral ecologist at Cambridge University, and her colleagues reported in the journal Science that honeyguides advertise their scout readiness to the Yao people of northern Mozambique by flying up close while emitting a loud chattering cry.

For their part, the Yao seek to recruit and retain honeyguides with a distinctive vocalization, a firmly trilled “brrr” followed by a grunted “hmm.” In a series of careful experiments, the researchers then showed that honeyguides take the meaning of the familiar ahoy seriously.

…Researchers have identified a couple of other examples of human-wild animal cooperation: fishermen in Brazil who work with bottlenose dolphins to maximize the number of mullets swept into nets or snatched up by dolphin mouths, and orcas that helped whalers finish off harpooned baleen giants by pulling down the cables and drowning the whales, all for the reward from the humans of a massive whale tongue.

But for the clarity of reciprocity, nothing can match the relationship between honeyguide and honey hunter. “Honeyguides provide the information and get the wax,” Dr. Spottiswoode said. “Humans provide the skills and get the honey.”

Here is the full NYT story.

Here is perhaps the least analytical paragraph in what is mostly an analytical piece by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (NYT).  It is however the paragraph easiest to excerpt:

Joseph Stiglitz is a short, oracular man with gray hair and gray stubble trimmed to equal length, which gives his head the round softness of a late-stage dandelion. His minimal-cognitive-load uniform is a blue sportcoat, an open-necked blue dress shirt and roomy gray trousers over thick-soled black sneakers; I saw him wear this unvarying attire to work in his vast personal complex at Columbia University, meetings at the Ford Foundation, a public Roosevelt colloquy with the Black Lives Matter activist Alicia Garza and Hill briefings. His clothes, along with his trundling gait, give him the appearance of a curmudgeonly but twinkle-eyed shtetl tailor, come to dispense wisdom about structures of international trade-dispute arbitration as he fits the bar mitzvah boy for a suit. He has a dry wit but seems not entirely sure when jokes have been received as such, and so, as if someone once told him that he should soften his fearsome intellect by smiling more, he punctuates his speech with a randomized distribution of grins.

There is much on the Roosevelt Institute, Mike Konczal, and how the Left tries to copy the Right, among other topics, recommended.

Here is one bit, there is more analytical political science at the link:

5. Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you’re not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russia political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

Recommended reading for your final exams in public choice.  Do read it all.

Saturday assorted links

by on July 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Maybe I already covered this, but it is worth re-upping this Michael Rosenwald piece from March:

A man had just gone on a shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Mich., allegedly killing six people while driving for Uber. Sherry Towers, an Arizona State University physicist who studies how viruses spread, worried while watching the news coverage.

Last year, Towers published a study using mathematical models to examine whether mass shootings, like viruses, are contagious. She identified a 13-day period after high-profile mass shootings when the chance of another spikes. Her findings are confirmed more frequently than she would like.

…Studies have shown that the aircraft hijackings of the 1970s were contagious. Product tampering — also contagious. So is highway speeding, rioting and even military coups. Contagion is especially pronounced in suicides.

Do read the whole thing.  It is related to my recent Bloomberg piece about macro and political and financial contagion across borders.  And here is Michael’s very latest piece on the Munich shootings.

That is the new and excellent book by Kerry Brown.  Almost all books on China are either bad or mediocre, but this one is the best book I ever have read on the exercise of power in contemporary China.  Every page is good, here is a short excerpt:

More important than a cabinet in the Western system of government, yet ostensibly separate from day-to-day decision making, the Politburo owns the crucial function of dispensing ideological, spiritual and political leadership.  This description means it covers nothing and everything.  It has the broadest framework within which to operate, which means it can wander into every area of administrative and governmental life in the country.  But like the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, in a strange way China is really run on the model of philosopher kings.

Definitely recommended, one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year so far.  I can readily imagine re-reading it.

Here is one bit:

Trump’s critics complain about his relentless invoking of crisis — despite agreeing with him that the system is collapsing. Conservatives keep telling us that the American project is in mortal danger, that liberty itself is at stake. Liberals keep telling us that global capitalism is wrecking everything that’s decent in society, that the U.S. is institutionally racist, and America’s traditional values are so much hypocrisy. I think back to the rapturous reception accorded by the left in 2014 to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital,” which argued, you may recall, that capitalism is an engine of injustice, headed for self-destruction; progressives everywhere nodded wisely in agreement. Here’s what puzzles many of them today: Why does Trump have to be so negative?

Trump has the advantage of a fairly simple message, namely “Something has gone fundamentally wrong.”  No, I do not think he will win, but “something has gone wrong and you will make it worse” is not as effective a rebuttal as you might think.  Alternatively, the opposition could and will try “things aren’t as bad as you might think,” and also “yes something has gone wrong but we can fix it for you,” but those are also less compelling even when correct.  And while the former of those two is correct the latter probably is not.

I am reminded of a 2007 post I once wrote which I formerly considered my worst prediction ever.  I grimace again, but here goes:

I apply what I call The Angry Ape Test to the candidates.  Imagine each mimicking an angry ape, and ask how pretty or appealing the resulting picture is.  Most swing voters perceive America as being at war and so they demand toughness.  They demand An Angry Ape, if not at every moment in time, at least in principle.  Most Americans don’t find an angry Hillary to be a pleasant Hillary, whereas an angry, raging Giuliani fits his basic image.  Americans claim not to be biased, but at their core they don’t much like angry women; being female remains Hillary’s biggest barrier, even when explicit prejudice is absent.  Related prejudicial forces will keep Barack Obama from the presidency.  Being black, he is supposed to sound reasonable and intelligent all the time.  He is not allowed to mimic An Angry Ape.  Americans want their first women President to be like Margaret Thatcher — firm, no-nonsense schoolmarmish strength without much radiation of anger — and they want their first black President to be like Colin Powell.  We will allow “Magisterial” — I’m too strong to need to throw a tantrum — to trump Angry Ape, but Hillary can’t play that card.  Barack is too young, too inexperienced, and doesn’t have the military record.

Mitt Romney also can’t do The Angry Ape.  This same hypothesis suggests McCain still has some chance, though obviously his path to the top is no longer clear, given his limited resources.  He can at least do The Ape.  This is the main reason why I still think Giuliani will win.

Obviously I was quite wrong, but I no longer think it was one of my worst posts ever.  Still, timing is everything…

I had a bit of a cold, but I covered why the world seems to be falling apart, what the hell is wrong, why inequality isn’t really the problem, why Steven Pinker might be wrong about peace, which aspects of globalization might be the most problematic, whether the world is becoming less free, and how Joe McCarthy has these days ended up underrated.

Here is the link.

Friday assorted links

by on July 22, 2016 at 11:56 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

It is bad:

The UK economy has suffered a “dramatic deterioration” since Britain’s vote to leave the EU, according to a closely-watched survey of activity, which has slumped to a seven-year low.

A special edition of purchasing managers’ index (PMI) – a well-regarded survey of activity produced by research group Markit – has been published to provide a picture of how the UK economy has fared after the referendum. The picture is not pretty.

The PMI survey for Britain’s powerhouse services sector – which accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the economy – has dropped to a seven year low of 47.4 for July from 52.3 at the June survey. Any reading below 50 indicates contraction. The outcome was far lower than economists’ forecast of a reading of 48.8.

The manufacturing PMI has also dropped to 49.1 from 52.1 in June. The July reading is a 41-month low although economists had expected a slightly worse reading of 48.7.

The composite PMI – combining both manufacturing and services readings – also fell dramatically to 47.7 from 52.4 previously against a forecast of 49. This is the lowest reading since April 2009, when the UK was struggling through the financial crisis.

Here is the Fast FT piece.

Here is the latest report:

The man behind the Nice truck attack drank alcohol, beat his wife and has been described as “not a Muslim but a shit”.

Furthermore about a third of the dead from the attack were Muslims (NYT).

One form of radical Islam is Sufism, many strains of which are pacifist in nature.  It was not too long ago that Amjad Sabri, of Sabri brothers fame, was shot dead in Pakistan by terrorists.  Was he the radical or were they?  And which do we want more of?

Recently I had a long lunch with a researcher in Brussels who was studying terrorism in the city.  He was very much of the view that most of the terrorists and terrorist-candidates are not very religious, although most did end up latching onto Islam as an identity marker and source of group support.

In other words, they are not “radical Islam.”  Here is a Vox piece on why the term “radical Islam” is not always productive.

In general, I am suspicious when someone dismisses a view for being “radical” or “extreme.”  There is usually sloppy thinking behind that designation.  Why not just say what is wrong with the view?  How for instance are we supposed to feel about “radical Christianity”?  Good or bad?  Does it mean Origen or Ted Cruz or something altogether different?  Can’t we just debate the question itself?

The same is true in politics.  Let’s say someone favors free trade and the First Amendment.  Is that “radical”?  Or is it mainstream and thus non-radical?  Does labeling it radical further the debate on whether or not those are the correct positions?

For similar reasons, don’t be too quick to call someone or someone’s views “divisive.”  If the status quo is problematic, a good reform might be divisive in some critical regards.  Arguably the modern world is specializing in “non-divisive” means of creating an ultimately divisive state of affairs.

More generally, when that term “radical” or “extreme” is introduced, there is a presupposition  that no external argument or perspective can be so strong to counter what one’s own swarmy group takes for granted.

What I’ve been browsing

by on July 22, 2016 at 12:43 am in Books | Permalink

1. Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion.  I am not right now looking to read 595 pp. on mid-19th century Marxism, but this is a high quality Belknap book which should be of great interest to some.

2. Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalization, 1846-1896.  On how free trade debates reshaped America’s political parties and also how free trade and anti-imperialist views were connected.  Interesting in parts, but too dependent on concepts such as “neoliberalism.”

3. Lawrence Rosen, Two Arabs, a Berber, and a Jew.  A very fine work of anthropology about Morocco, focusing on the lives of four men, read this very good review.

4. Marc Levinson, An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy.  There need to be many more books on this critical topic.

5. Matthew D. Adler and Mac Fleurbaey, The Oxford Handbook of Well-Being and Public Policy.  A superb collection on contemporary welfare economics, and I usually dislike edited collections.

In early April, shortly after his team celebrated a postseason championship, a George Washington men’s basketball player visited a campus Title IX coordinator to log complaints about Coach Mike Lonergan. Lonergan, the player believed, had created an offensive, intolerable environment, evidenced in his mind — and in the minds of many of his teammates — by the spate of transfers during the coach’s five-year tenure.

There is much more to the story, here is just one bit, from a player:

“It was always weird. When he goes on those rants, it’s like, how do you react? How do you respond to something like that? Players kind of just stayed away from him. We knew every time it would be you and him, he would go on some kind of weird rant. We would just kind of stay away from him. He did a great job in terms of winning. Off the court, something weird is always going to come out.”

Can you imagine that response to either Bobby Knight or John Wooden?  But at GW many players have left the school, refusing to play under the coach’s tutelage.  He may yet be dismissed and possibly also sued for creating an abusive environment.  In the old days, at the end the team wins, everyone bonds, and the coach is a hero.  Or was it really ever like that?  Maybe we have just stopped pretending.

That is via Peter Boettke.  Via Mark Thorson, the Japanese just made their last VCR player.