Month: June 2011

The culture that is China (Austria)

Residents of the Austrian mountain town of Hallstatt, population 800, are scandalized. A Chinese firm has plans to replicate the village — including its famous lake — in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Austrian media reported this week.

The Chinese have been “spying” on the town for some time.  Here is more:

But creating an exact duplicate of a city may not be legal, according to Hans-Jörg Kaiser from Icomos Austria, the national board for monument preservation under UNESCO. “The legal situation still needs to be examined,” he said. Building new structures based on photographs is legal, he explained, but owners must give their permission for them to be measured.

This isn’t the first time a Chinese firm has used a European place as inspiration. The Chinese city of Anting, some 30 kilometers from Shanghai, created a district designed to accommodate 20,000 residents called “German Town Anting.” Modelled after a typical mid-size German city by architecture firm Albert Speer & Partner, it includes Bauhaus style architecture and a fountain with statues of Goethe and Schiller.

In 2005 Chengdu British Town was modelled on the English town of Dorchester. One year later Thames Town was finished near Shanghai, complete with a 66-meter tall church that bears a striking resemblance to a cathedral in Bristol. Also near Shanghai are mini versions of Barcelona, Venice and the Scandinavian-inspired Nordic Town. The architectural plagiarisms are popular destinations among middle-class Chinese, even serving as backdrops for wedding photos.

There are good photos at the link (excellent slideshow), and you will see that the town is eminently copyable.  It’s funny how a town gets insulted when outsiders start taking its kitsch seriously as proper kitsch.

Why so many cave dwellings in Cappadocia?

The troglodyte habit is often attributed to a need for places of refuge and concealment in troubled times, suggesting a chronology linked with either the Arab raids of the seventh or ninth centuries or the Turkish ones of the eleventh century.  The habit itself does not, however, imply such a need.  In fact, rock-cut villages often occupy conspicuous sites…Instead, as noted above, this mode of architecture should be seen as a logical response to the local conditions.  The millstone closures, which appear formidably defensive to an eye accustomed to built architecture must also be seen in this context: when timber is scarce and the soft rock easily worked, such a closing method for seldom-used storage cavities may be more efficient than conventional door.  The rock-cut villages cannot, therefore, be assigned with certainty to the periods of turmoil.  There is certainly no question of concealment as far as the cave churches are concerned, since they are often located in prominent sites and many also have elaborate carved facades.  Nor is there reason, therefore, for assigning the churches to periods of insecurity.

That is from Lyn Rodley’s classic Cave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia, a book which you read only if you are going to…Cappadocia.

The Bitcoin crash

The Bitcoin community faced another crisis on Sunday afternoon as the price of the currency on the most popular exchange, Mt.Gox, fell from $17 to pennies in a matter of minutes. Trading was quickly suspended and visitors to the home page were redirected to a statement blaming the crash on a compromised user account. Mt.Gox’s Mark Karpeles said that the exchange would be taken offline to give administrators time to roll back the suspect transactions.

The article is here, a video is here, more articles here, with general background on Bitcoin volatility here.  The pointer comes from Ken Haskell.

File under Prophets of the Marginal Revolution.

Police dogs can distinguish identical twins

Being an identical twin might seem like a great way to fool a DNA test and get away with the perfect crime. But furry forensic experts can make sure justice is served. In a new study, researchers instructed a group of children, including two sets of identical twins and two sets of fraternal twins, to swab the insides of their cheeks and place the swabs in glass jars. Working with ten police German shepherds and their handlers from the Czech Republic police, the researchers then ran a mock crime scene investigation. The handler presented one twin’s scent to the dog and then told it to go find the matching scent in a lineup of seven jars, which included the other twin’s scent. In twelve trials per dog, none of them ever identified the wrong twin as a match, the researchers report online this week in PLoS ONE, even though the children lived in the same home, ate the same food, and had identical DNA. No word yet on whether these dogs will be getting their own CSI spinoff.

The story is here and the paper is here, for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Sorted Turkish links

1. What’s up, and a Business Week survey.

2. Brain surgery in Turkey 5000 years ago.

3. Turkish problems with trade deficits and credit creation.

4. Why Turkey is backsliding on women’s rights.

5. What is the future of press freedom?

One possible take on the current situation is that Turkish liberties are eroding in a dangerous manner and the country will slide into some version of an Islamic state, through not-fully-democratic means yet sanctioned by the ballot box.  A second take is that the liberties were not quite ever there in the first place, and Turkish society is moving to a more coherent and more sustainable equilibrium of state, religion, and citizen.  Islam in Turkey is finding a way toward a more comfortable public space, albeit with bumps and mistakes along the way, and lasting radical secularization was never possible anyway.  The rising middle class and Turkey’s historic uniqueness, and separation from the Persian and Arab worlds, will keep it on a “good enough” track.  I incline toward the second and more optimistic view.

Central Turkey is more economically advanced than I had expected.  It is downright nice here, and standards of living are reasonably high.  Imagine the per capita income of Mexico or Brazil but with greater equality and stronger social cohesion.  Food is even better than in Istanbul, namely it is spicier and has fresher raw ingredients.

Turkey will prove to be an important test case for whether a rapid influx of foreign capital can be done in a stable manner.  It’s funny how a lot of the same economists who distrust a rapid capital influx in an international development context (“the hot money comes and goes”) are entirely happy to trust a rapid influx of capital into U.S. Treasury securities.

Symphony orchestras and sectoral shifts

Before the financial crisis, symphony orchestras had considerably more financial support than they do today.  We now observe the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of America’s most classic musical institutions, dealing with issues related to bankruptcy.  Other orchestras are on the verge on folding or at least scaling back their season’s programs.

The initial negative shock of the crisis, among its other effects, caused donors and potential donors to see that support for these projects was weaker than they thought.  Many of these donors are now less than keen to keep pouring money into losing endeavors.  An unraveling process has set in.  It’s not just the negative wealth effect, but new information has been revealed about popularity and sustainability of the underlying venture.  Neither monetary nor fiscal stimulus will prove any kind of easy cure for these institutions or, potentially, for these jobs.

There is a well-known literature in finance about how trading, combined with the possibility of sudden price dips, causes market participants to learn the shape of the market demand curve and thus revalue the appropriate overall level of prices.  The mere act of trading can generate market volatility.  This kind of insight is not yet sufficiently appreciated in macroeconomics.  The financial crisis caused us to see that many market institutions were on shakier ground than we had thought.

You will note, once again, that this structural problem — like so many others — does not imply excess demand for labor in any sector.  Why do I keep reading literally hundreds of blog posts which conceive of structural labor market problems only in terms of “‘excess supply of labor in one market, excess demand for labor in another.”  That’s a simple, unforced error.

File under: Recalculation arguments for Arnold Kling.  In fact, Arnold is thinking along very similar lines:

One way to view the past few years is that the financial crisis of September 2008 sent a signal to firms that had been holding on to old, costly production methods that now would be a good time to try out newer, cheaper approaches. So we had a clustering of this sort of restructuring.

Richard Bury spam markets in everything “of making books there is no end”

From Slashdot:

“Make it easy to self-publish books and the spammers will be right along too. Amazon’s Kindle marketplace has been deluged by low-quality ‘books’ selling for 99 cents each. ‘[Thousands of ebooks published each month] are built using something known as Private Label Rights, or PLR content, which is information that can be bought very cheaply online then reformatted into a digital book. These ebooks are listed for sale – often at 99 cents – alongside more traditional books on Amazon’s website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want. Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.'”

The link is here, hat tip to Michael Rosenwald, his piece on internet advertising is here.

Conceptually, there is a lot at stake here

Motty Rosenzweig is the only remaining kosher slaughterer in the Netherlands and, if a new law goes through, he will be the last.

The Dutch parliament is preparing to pass a law that would end religious slaughterers’ exemption from rules requiring animals be “stunned” or anaesthetised before they are killed. Because Jewish and Muslim rules do not permit animals to be unconscious when they are killed, the law would in effect ban kosher and halal slaughter in the Netherlands.

Here is more.

How a country pulls up even?

The reason that unconditional convergence fails at the country level seems to be that not all industries (agriculture?, informality? many services?) are equally adept at absorbing technologies from abroad.

The trick seems to be moving labor into the manufacturing (and other) industries where there is automatic convergence to the global productivity frontier.

That is from Dani Rodrik.