Assorted links


I wonder what a photo from 1980 would have looked like. Can we say, for example, the the British Empire was better than Idi Amin?

7. Development is difficult, but I'm glad to see they have finally gotten around to digging up those grass traffic islands in the center of the street which must look simply awful in the summer months.

I'll also mention that Mbale has a population of 92,000 so it's not quite a metropolis. If one wants to see change from the sixties in Uganda then Kamapala is probably the place to go. Here's a well shot photo:

Define 'better'..? Globally vs locally? Infrastructure effects? Trade? Rule of common law? Public relations? Safety on the high seas? Duration? UFO observations? Aviation safety? Hmm?

"Define ‘better’..?" How about we start with murder and starvation rate?

Well, life expectancy has gone up from 49 in 1980 to 59 today, so the not dying odds have certainly gone up since then.

Well few British colonial officials ate people, much less their wives. So .... I am guessing that the answer is yes.

Although the question ought to be in what way wasn't the British Empire better than Idi Amin?

"I wonder what a photo from 1980 would have looked like."

Would you have seen the mountain that has disappeared behind the smog in the 2014 photo?

I spent a few days in Mbale in late 2013. It's a pleasant little town, with a good number of old buildings that indicate a past when it was a more active trading town. There's an excellent business hotel (by rural African standards, although ownership appears to have transferred from the South African chain Protea to a local group since I was there), and I'm happy to report that the mountain in the background isn't always obscured by dust and haze.

What people don't seem to realize, though, is that Mbale's decline -- insofar as those pictures accurately depicts it -- is actually a triumph of free market economics. The people living around Mount Elgon produce some of Uganda's best (and most valuable) coffee. Before the 1980s, coffee marketing was controlled by the government, which led to significant value being captured by intermediaries rather than going to farmers. When Museveni took over, coffee marketing was liberalized dramatically (along with the rest of the economy), which has led to competitive markets for coffee in rural areas and higher farmgate prices than they would otherwise receive. Today, smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda capture a higher percentage of the export value of their coffee than any other African country, so much so that coffee is smuggled across the border from Kenya (where the export price is generally higher, but the market is heavily regulated) to be sold in Uganda.

So Mbale's hard times are likely a result of the fact that farmers, who live in the countryside, are doing very well at the expense of intermediaries, who would be living in the city. Although it wasn't immediately apparent to me, my driver, who hadn't been to that part of the country before, remarked without prompting that he was amazed at how prosperous the area seemed, as illustrated by the availability of electricity, density of water sources, variety of products available in small shops, etc.

I suspect that the picture dramatizes the current poor state of infrastructure in Mbale, though, because that road is almost certainly under construction -- it wouldn't be as well-graded and there wouldn't be that pile of dirt in the middle if it wasn't. And even if it isn't about to be paved, I'm sure that anyone who's spent enough time on poorly-paved, potholed African roads will agree that a well-maintained dirt road is vastly preferable.

Well obviously Fair Trade International needs to set up a branch office in Mbale and resurrect the middleman business along modern lines. That'll sort out those darn free market farmers.

Thanks for the first hand knowledge, Drew. And that definitely looks like a paved road to me, it's just got that Mbale dirt all over it. (Leached acidic soil in a coffee growing region, I presume.) Also, there's not a lot I could conclude about development from the two photos as there are plenty of towns in Australia where the main street looks much the same as it did 50 years ago and we've had a lot of development since then.

Development is easy: let the white people run things.

De-development is easy too.

reading is easy, comprehending is harder

1. "The best way to read quickly is to read lots. And lots. And to have started a long time ago. Then maybe you know what is coming in the current book." I am a regular reader of Cowen's blog, so I wouldn't second guess him about his technique for speed reading. But I will compare what he says about reading to what I tell people about writing, which is that the more you do it, the easier it is, much like running (something I did daily for 28 years). No, it's not that I "know what is coming" when I write, it's that I don't; it's the act of writing that opens a window and lets in ideas, and words, phrases, and sentences, that I didn't know were there. If I already "know what is coming", then what's the point.

I speed read War and Piece. It's about Africa.

Rather than trying to read fast, why not select books that are substantive and insightful enough to deserve being read more slowly?

That was my thought as well.

I'm a slow reader. I secretly suspect that non-geniuses who are "fast readers" are really just skimming. If I find myself reading something where I can skim or "read fast" and it's no big deal, then why am I reading it?

When you stop reading anything subpar, and only read things that are good and really interest you, you'll read MORE, because you can't wait to get back to the great book you're reading, and hardly want to do anything else. You'll make more time for it, and seem to be reading faster because you'll be reading more. That was always my takeaway from Tyler's willingness to abandon non-worthwhile books.

Yes, I am not trying to include Tyler personally on this, I should have made that clear. After all, he is the one doing the sifting on my behalf, and I consider his recommendations very highly. I have "Bloodlands" and "Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years" waiting on my bookshelf, both on Tyler's recommendation.

Yes, screening for substance is almost mandatory, given the vast number of available books. It's a form of 'skimming' among books rather than within a single book. But how to do it?

It's often difficult to evaluate a book's substance beforehand. Tyler's solution is:
"... to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers. I start ten or so books for every one I finish."
{a 90% rejection rate of books opened, which might account for his surprisingly vast familiarity with current book titles}

Speed-Reading itself is 99% hype; it's been carefully studied for decades. Most college educated adults average 300 words per minute; close familiarity with the book's subject matter permits somewhat faster speeds (e.g., an economist reading an economics book). Speed is always a tradeoff with comprehension. People honestly claiming to be Speed-Readers are skimmers-- and have never been objectively tested.

" People honestly claiming to be Speed-Readers are skimmers– and have never been objectively tested"


So, bottom line on ACA, despite Megan McArdle's efforts to jazz it up, is that basically none of the awful things forecast by all its critics have remotely come to pass. It is working pretty well in its limited way. However, there might be some problems down the road, particularly if premiums go up, which they might, even though they have not done so yet. And most of the threats in the future are to its existence and functioning due to either court challenges or legislative challenges to it, although there is not the remotest shred of a reason based on what has happened so far for any of this to be done other than that the angriest critics of ACA put the name of the current president whom they hate on it. Take his name off it, and probably nearlyi all would be fine, although she does warn that when people get hit on the individual mandate, some of them may yet be surprised at what is coming and upset about it, boo hoo.

Pretty much. I generally like Megan McArdle, but she and the Obamacare disasterism camp are all now looking a little foolish.

"So, bottom line on ACA, despite Megan McArdle’s efforts to jazz it up, is that basically none of the awful things forecast by all its critics have remotely come to pass."

Or phrased a different way is that basically none of the great things forecast by all its supporters have remotely come to pass.

It has been neither a panacea nor a disaster, which describes about 99% of life.

So, much expense to do little.

Several of the negative predictions came true, but admittedly nothing horribly catastrophic has happened. It has not triggered a plague or an apocalypse. It has delivered some benefits to specific people, but it really hasn't delivered any amazing panaceas so far either. The specific negative predictions that came true were:

- People lost the plans that they wanted to keep, despite promises to the contrary.
- ACA seemed to raise the cost of health care to employees, employers, and the government. The prononents of ACA explicitly claimed that it would reduce health care costs to individuals and the government. This can be seen in Gruber's graphic novel, "Health Care Reform" (which I read in full at least twice).
- Employers did cut working hours and jobs in response to ACA. ACA supporters denied that this would happen and it really did.

There is very valid basis to the objections. It really isn't just Obama's personality or his ethnicity or that it is called Obamacare. People don't like seeing federal government expand their reach and control over more of society. Secondly, the core concept of eliminating pre-existing conditions as a basis for health care coverage might sound nice but it's ridiculous. Just like you can't wait until a car accident to buy auto insurance, you shouldn't get the same level of care if you wait until you are sick. It's totally reasonable that health insurance offer perks to people who pay into the system for an extended period of time that aren't available to newcomers.

I actually heard a generally non-politically active non-partisan friend say, "All the claims about Obamacare that the nutty right wing guys were saying pretty much came true" in reference to job cuts and hour cuts and the "you can keep your existing health plan" issue.

the auto insurance analogy doesn't make much sense; you get into a car accident, if its not your fault the other chap pays. and you can get a new policy easily. You have bad genes and get a pre-existing condition, and your carrier stops offering coverage, you can't get a new policy due to your pre-existing condition.
The foolishness of the American system is obvious when compared to the rest of the Western world. Nothing was done to change it due to inertia. The fixes made by the ACA went as far as they could before inertia dragged it to a halt (no public option, for example).
And then the Supreme Court cut out a big part of it by making the medicare expansion optional (which was a totally new legal interpretation, that the federal government can't amend the provisions of federal programs...something they rejected when it came to raising the drinking age to get highway funds).

The US system has its faults but saying it compares unfavorably to the rest of the western world is silly.

The US has a cancer survival rate of 65% after 5 years. In the UK it's 50%.

The greatest benefit of ACA is that it clarified the anti-individualist position of the Democratic party.

How can you say that is isn't a failure when the nasty parts haven't been implemented yet, by executive order?

The tax implications for individuals on the exchanges regarding subsidies and penalties haven't been made apparent yet because preparation for the 2014 tax year has barely started. Have any penalties of any of the mandates been applied yet?

Employment in the medical field is very sticky; to train to be a doctor, specialist or even technician is long and expensive, so little would change quickly regarding supply. There is a real possibility that it will be changed substantially after the next presidential election, either by Democrats changing the law to reflect the current executive application, or the Republicans doing something from that to repeal. The law is crying out of legislative massaging, but it either won't come from the current Congress or won't get signed by the current President. But once that is done, depending on it's shape, decisions by those working in the industry to those offering various services to the industry will be made, as well as those to whom the various mandates and costs apply. Then any effects will start to become apparent in half a decade or so.

Interesting article on San Gabriel Valley and NYC Chinese restaurants. Good stuff. Thanks.

I guess these two quotations tell much of the story:

"While promising culinary talent did make its way to New York—albeit on a much smaller scale—these chefs largely catered to the tastes of a white clientele as opposed to an upper-class Chinese community, which in turn greatly affected the style of food being prepared."


"Since the rise of Mainland China immigration, the Los Angeles Chinese community has grown increasingly diverse—much more than the Fujianese- and Cantonese-dominated New York"

I cannot knowledgeably comment on the Chinese cuisine, but I can say this: for all the idea that New York is some kind of culinary mecca, the city has got no clue about decent Mexican food.

"Mexican Fusion" my ass.

Yeah, last time I tried the Mexican food in NYC it was pretty bad. But that was a looooong time ago.

On the other hand I did find enjoyable Cuban food there on that trip.

#1. None of the commenters to that 2006 post are around now. The comments were stunningly boring. Where was Ray Lopez in 2006?

But what happened to Andrew'? Guy was often amusing.

He still posts over at Arnold Kling's blog from time to time...

Miss that dude. My favorite commentator.

Iirc, his claim is that he was about my age then and his "girlfriend" was my daughter's age. Of course,, I believe ray was about 8 years old tgen.

HIs girlfriend hadn't hit puberty yet so he had nothing to brag about.

Yes, the comments today are much more "interesting."

Reading your 2006 article, I wonder how heavily biased your reading is toward new books, as opposed to older books. For example, have you read Automation: The Advent of the Automatic Factory by John Diebold? I'm not suggesting it's essential reading in that area, but I think it's interesting someone accurately described how computers would affect industry in 1952 just as the first commercial vacuum tube computers were becoming available.

Another is Teaching Machines by Benjamin Fine. I think this book is important for anyone interested in automatic teaching. The book is a comprehensive review of machine-based teaching technology up to the current state-of-the-art in 1962. That never caught on, but it did have a brief second life when it was combined with B.F. Skinner's concept of "programmed instruction".

I think there's lots of older books worth reading not just for historical perspective -- though that's important too -- but also because sometimes there are lessons to be learned from the past. From the 1930's into the 1960's, lots of people thought television would revolutionize education -- you could broadcast the lectures from the best professors at the best universities and everybody could get a college education for free. There are some parallels between that and the MOOC's of today. (If anybody was prescient, it was Sarnoff, who predicted in the 1930's that television would like radio -- lots of soap operas and game shows.)

Interesting read on Tyler's reading.

I'm surprised there was no exhortation: push yourself. When I push myself to read faster, I do. But it's mentally taxing to keep reminding oneself, "Keep up the pace," and not as enjoyable as reading at my usual speed, so most of the time I don't read especially fast.

Likewise, when I read standing up I tend to push myself to read faster so that I can finish and sit down. For me, part of the pleasure of reading is the physical indolence and the quasi-meditative mental state.

Likewise. I think I read too much cause it's my go-to lazy thing.

I wonder how fast Tyler eats. Does he push himself to "eat faster"?

I generally read at one speed. If I'm pressed for time and try to read faster, I usually can tell I'm losing some comprehension of the material. If I catch myself doing that, I'll re-read that part or make a mental note to re-read the whole thing, unless it's something I really didn't want to read -- in which case why was I reading it?

Sometimes, that can be a paper espousing a hypothesis I disagree with, in which case I might be reading it to make sure I understand all of his points and why they are wrong. I don't have to catch every subtle nuance, so it's okay to push through something like that quickly.

On the other hand, a paper I consider important may require two or three readings to make sure I do catch every subtle nuance. Sometimes I'm shocked at the bits I failed to catch on the first reading. Sometimes I develop an idea about what a paper said, and I discover I'm flat-out wrong when I read it again.

Re-reading a paper after a period of months or years can also be helpful. Part of that can be giving time for initial impressions to fade, so I can be more objective. Another part is that I will have gained knowledge from other sources during the time gap, so I'll be better able to interpret the paper.

I also eat at only one speed. I know I eat rather quickly compared to other people, and I probably should slow down.

Must strenuously object to the political philosopher sweatshirt. What the shirt describes, solving "problems you don't know you have in ways you can't understand" is what so-called policy experts [Gruber Gruber Gruber Gruber], do. Except, of course, they generally make things worse in ways that THEY can't understand. All of this is the opposite of political philosophy, or indeed any branch of philosophy. Gruber and all his little friends are sophists, not philosophers. It's shocking that anyone, even an Internet sweatshirt vendor, would consider them philosophers.

RE: Sweatshirt
Is this just a comedy site? I looked at the sizes and the largest size (4XL) was for a 32 inch chest. Obviously these items are for people under 15 yrs, maybe 13.

On reading: apparently it helps to study music:

#3. There is no debate. The best Chinese food metro in the world, by far, is LA. Next, the SF Bay Area. Next, Taipei. Next. Shanghi. NYC is about #20 or so.

In all things food, you can never beat the West Coast.

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