Month: March 2011

For a while, in Blogland, Alex was married to Natasha

He also was buying Haitian art and describing his favorite things Alabama.  How so?  During the transition to WordPress many of my posts were attributed to him.  One of our assistants explains:

The root of the problem was the sheer number of comments you have.  After running the importer a few times, we actually hit a computational limit in PHP on 32-bit systems, which caused the errors we’ve seen.  After manually manipulating the data, however, we’ve sorted everything out and we won’t be running into this problem again.

The RSS feed has been flushed and is displaying in proper order once again.  For some readers, this may take a few more hours to update.  For others, depending on how their reader grabs and stores posts, the wonky posts may just have to cycle out.

Sorry again for the technical problems involved with this.  I’ve never had problems relating to sheer data size, but I’ve never dealt with something with close to 150,000 unique data points be entered multiple times. ..Pushing the upper bounds of programming languages through sheer blogging volume is pretty admirable.

We are continuing to work out the glitches, thanks for your patience!

China fact of the day

In 1974, the future Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping led a large delegation to the United Nations in New York. Chinese officials discovered, as they prepared for the expensive trip, that the could muster only $38,000 in foreign cash. In those days there were no banks in China except the People’s Bank of China, then a department of the Ministry of Finance.

Here is more.

Nuclear power reactors: a study in technological lock-in

The interesting Robin Cowan has a well-cited paper with that title:

Recent theory has predicted that if competing technologies operate under dynamic increasing returns, one, possibly inferior, technology will dominate the market. The history of nuclear power technology is used to illustrate these results. Light water is considered inferior to other technologies, yet it dominates the market for power reactors. This is largely due to the early adoption and heavy development by the U.S. Navy of light water for submarine propulsion. When a market for civilian power emerged, light water had a large head start, and by the time other technologies were ready to enter the market, light water was entrenched.

Here are some recent articles on light water reactors in Japan.

Markets in everything, northern Korea filtered through northern Virginia edition

Chung Jin Dong, 6499 Little River Turnpike, West Alexandria, 202-360-2746.

The sausage is some of the best in the area, most of all because of the vibrant fresh pepper; it also comes with stomach and liver.  Dip the pieces in the shrimp sauce.  The soup also has the knockout fresh pepper.  The menu is in Korean only and most of the staff do not speak much English.  The food is recognizably Korean, although not like any Korean food I have had.

They assure me it is real North Korean cuisine, although they assent to any question I ask them.  The owner and cook is from North Korea:

A little more than a decade ago, Ma was an undercover agent for North Korea’s Ministry of Public Security, conducting drug investigations. Her job was to bust smugglers—farmers, mostly—who were exporting opium to China.

It is not your go-to place for variety, but the quality is high and the originality is off the charts.  Anyone interested in ethnic food should visit this outlet.

For the pointer I thank Annie Lowrey.

America tornado fact of the day

“People are 10 times more likely to die in a mobile home than if the same tornado hit a regular home,” says book co-author Kevin Simmons, an economist at Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

Simmons says mobile homes constitute only 7% of the USA’s housing stock, but his research found that 43% of all tornado deaths are to people in mobile homes, which can be no match for a tornado’s violent winds, clocked as high as 300 mph.

Here is more, and the data are taken from this new book by Simmons and Daniel Sutter, on the economics of tornadoes, the book’s home page is here.

The economics of Japanese earthquake insurance

Here is one interesting bit:

…very few people in that region of Japan held earthquake insurance, and also because of strict loss limits imposed by the Japanese government. For instance, residential buildings and furniture can be covered, but very expensive jewellery and artwork cannot, and there are rules that ban people from taking out insurance once an earthquake warning has been issued.

Mr. McGillivray said the Japanese government protected domestic insurers by limiting foreign participation in the system and, to keep the risks manageable, limited the payouts.

Are the capital requirements on Japanese insurance companies well-designed?  Probably we will find out.  Can anyone recommend readings on this and related questions?

*Understanding Cairo*

The author is David Sims and the subtitle is The Logic of a City Out of Control.  It is interesting throughout for anyone studying urban density or informal land titles or urban sprawl or Third World mega-cities.  This passage is off the central topics of the book, but I found it an interesting corrective to the usual picture:

There is a misconception held by many Egyptian professionals, especially engineers, that informal housing is haphazardly constructed and liable to collapse.  However, such precarious housing is almost unknown in informal areas.  Since informal housing is overwhelmingly owner-built without use of formal contractors, it is in the owner’s own best interest to ensure that care is taken in construction.  In fact, one of the main features of informal housing construction is its high structural quality, reflecting the substantial financial resources and tremendous efforts that owners devote to these buildings.  It is worth noting that in the 1992 earthquake in Cairo, practically all building collapses and the resulting fatalities occurred not in informal areas, but either in dilapidated historic parts of the city or informal areas…where apartment blocks had been constructed by (sometimes) unscrupulous developers and contractors.

Paging John Lott

CNN: A man who broke into a house in Portland, Oregon, called police — afraid the homeowner may have a gun.

The suspect, Timothy James Chapek, was in the bathroom taking a shower when the homeowner returned to the house Monday night…[He] locked himself in the bathroom and made an emergency call, police said. He said he had broken into the house, the owner had come home, and that he was concerned the owner might have a gun.

Why he was taking a shower I do not know.

Hat tip: Radley Balko.

The transition to WordPress

I am learning how much I rely on the total familiarity of my immediate visual field.  I look at the blogging box for WordPress (which by the way isn’t that different from Typepad) and I am baffled.  In the writing process everything feels molasses slow, but I will get used to it.

We are still working out some bugs, but if you are having problems with the site please let us know in the comments.  Thanks!

Why American movies won’t die

Here is a well-linked to article about how American movies are dying in terms of quality.   Ross Douthat comments.  Most of the arguments are correct, namely that too many big budget movies require a “tent pole” in terms of a connection to a comic book, a famous book (Harry Potter), a TV show, and so on.  But the article is still too pessimistic.  Here are three reasons why movie quality should survive, albeit with some cyclical fluctuations:

1. The more centrist and mainstream the big budget movies get, the more opportunities are created in the niches.

2. Due mainly to digital editing, the costs of movie production and editing are falling.  That favors innovation.  Marketing costs are rising, due to an increasing scarcity of attention, and that favors blockbusters  Still, this latter factor has self-correcting elements, as mentioned above, and many forms of marketing (e.g., the internet) are cheaper than buying network TV ads.  The cost story is complicated, but it should not over the longer run penalize quality.

3. The U.S. population is aging and this will push movies away from some of their more juvenile shortcomings.

Starve the beast means feed the machine

Joseph Daniel Ura and Erica Socker report (pdf):

The notion of starving the beast has been an important justification for major elements of the fiscal program advocated by many Republicans and conservatives over the last three decades. While the idea of restraining government spending by limiting government revenues has an intuitive appeal, there is convincing evidence the reducing federal tax rates without coordinated reductions in federal spending actually produces long-term growth in spending. This seemingly perverse result is explained by Buchanan’s theory of “fiscal illusion.” By deferring the costs of government services and benefits through deficit financing, starve the beast policies have the effect of lowering the perceived price of government in the minds of many citizens. We assess the principal behavioral prediction of the fiscal illusion strategy. Incorporating estimates of the effects of federal deficits into a standard substantive model of Stimson’s mood index, we find strong support for a subjective price-driven theory of demand for government. In particular, we find that the size of the federal budget deficit is significantly associated greater demand for government services and benefits.