Month: March 2016

Why can’t Europe police terrorism better?

What Europe does not have is any cross-national agency with the power to carry out its own investigation and make its own arrests.

This means that cross-border policing in the European Union has big holes. It depends heavily on informal cooperation rather than formal institutions with independent authority. Sometimes this works reasonably well. Sometimes this works particularly badly. Belgium is a notorious problem case, because its policing arrangements are heavily localized. In the past, many Belgian policing forces have had difficulty cooperating with each other, let alone with other European forces.

That is from Henry Farrell, there are other points at the link.  Here is one bit more:

To take a different example, immigration and refugees present an even bigger and more visible set of challenges to the E.U. than terrorism, yet the E.U. has been unable to agree on reforms that might expand the budget and powers of FRONTEX, the E.U. agency charged with coordinating border control. Creating a European FBI-style institution would be an even bigger lift.

Keep this in mind the next time you are tempted to believe that the EU is doing everything possible to manage the refugees crisis well.

Early opposition to the jump shot

But in March 1963, a month before his final game for the Celtics, [Bob] Cousy complained to the Associated Press, “I think the jump shot is the worst thing that has happened to basketball in ten years.”  Cousy’s objections?  “Any time you can do something on the ground, it’s better,” he said, sounding very much like a coach who would have enjoyed benching Kenny Sailors or Bud Palmer.  “Once you leave the ground, you’ve committed yourself.”  Jump shot critics discouraged players from flying into the air because they feared the indecision that came when someone left their feet.  They feared the bad passes from players who jumped with no clear plan of what they’d do in the air.  Staying grounded meant fewer mistakes.  It was simply a safer way to play the game, if not as exciting.

That is from Shawn Fury’s new and fun Rise and Fire: The Origins, Science, and Evolution of the Jump Shot — and How it Transformed Basketball Forever.  Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone criticize Stephen Curry for taking (and making) so many three point shots.  This is what I call “@pmarca bait.”

Statistics-free sports prediction

From Alexander Dubbs:

We use a simple machine learning model, logistically-weighted regularized linear least squares regression, in order to predict baseball, basketball, football, and hockey games. We do so using only the thirty-year record of which visiting teams played which home teams, on what date, and what the final score was. No real “statistics” are used. The method works best in basketball, likely because it is high-scoring and has long seasons. It works better in football and hockey than in baseball, but in baseball the predictions are closer to a theoretical optimum. The football predictions, while good, can in principle be made much better, and the hockey predictions can be made somewhat better. These findings tells us that in basketball, most statistics are subsumed by the scores of the games, whereas in baseball, football, and hockey, further study of game and player statistics is necessary to predict games as well as can be done.

That is an almost Hayekian result, and I wonder what the people at 538 will think of it.

For the pointer I thank Agustin Lebron.

How both sides can believe they are losing

If you read narratives of recent history from the perspective of the left and the right, each side believes it is losing. One could dismiss this as marketing strategy. If our side is winning, then why is it urgent to read my book or donate to my organization?

But I think it is possible for the each side to sincerely believe it is losing.

The left presumes that government can solve problems. We have problems. Therefore, we must be losing!

The right presumes that the government causes problems. We have problems. Therefore, we must be losing!

That is from Arnold Kling.

How does GPS change our perceptions?

Disorientation is always stressful, and before modern civilization, it was often a death sentence. Sometimes it still is. But recent studies have shown that people who use GPS, when given a pen and paper, draw less-precise maps of the areas they travel through and remember fewer details about the landmarks they pass; paradoxically, this seems to be because they make fewer mistakes getting to where they’re going. Being lost — assuming, of course, that you are eventually found — has one obvious benefit: the chance to learn about the wider world and reframe your perspective. From that standpoint, the greatest threat posed by GPS might be that we never do not know exactly where we are.

That is from a long and very interesting Kim Tingley NYT piece on the former navigation secrets of the Marshall Islanders.  Here is one bit on how it works:

The Marshalls provide a crucible for navigation: 70 square miles of land, total, comprising five islands and 29 atolls, rings of coral islets that grew up around the rims of underwater volcanoes millions of years ago and now encircle gentle lagoons. These green dots and doughnuts make up two parallel north-south chains, separated from their nearest neighbors by a hundred miles on average. Swells generated by distant storms near Alaska, Antarctica, California and Indonesia travel thousands of miles to these low-lying spits of sand. When they hit, part of their energy is reflected back out to sea in arcs, like sound waves emanating from a speaker; another part curls around the atoll or island and creates a confused chop in its lee. Wave-piloting is the art of reading — by feel and by sight — these and other patterns. Detecting the minute differences in what, to an untutored eye, looks no more meaningful than a washing-machine cycle allows a ri-meto, a person of the sea in Marshallese, to determine where the nearest solid ground is — and how far off it lies — long before it is visible.


The economics of animated movies

An executive producer who wants to cut costs has only two choice curbs: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the pool.

Animation, as with all formulaic and saccharine film genres, tends to bring out Hollywood’s blockbuster gambling addiction. The perverse incentives of the format means that fortune favours the spendthrift — the bigger the budget, the bigger the windfall.

“In some ways, a $90 million movie is more risky than a $150 million one,” Creutz said.

This means that when animated films flop, they flop hard. In fourth quarter 2013, DreamWorks took an $87 million writedown on Rise of the Guardians. Without the charge, the studio would have posted a small profit in the period, rather than an $83 million loss. A few months later, it had to take a $57 million writedown on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a film that cost $145 million to make and far more to market.

Interesting throughout, here is the article by Kyle Stock.

Is the Fed favoring seniors?

If low interest rates have posed a challenge for seniors, why then have they done relatively well in terms of consumption and income? I can think of at least four reasons:

  • The disappointingly slow wage and employment growth of the past decade has had less impact on seniors than on younger folks.
  • Seniors’ social-security income rises with inflation, maintaining their purchasing power. It doesn’t, however, decline when prices fall — a feature from which they profited (modestly) last year.
  • Many seniors own annuities or bonds that provide them with fixed payments. Because inflation has been surprisingly low, they’ve gotten more purchasing power from these fixed payments than they could have expected.
  • Seniors hold more assets like stocks, bonds, and homes than do younger folks. All of these assets have appreciated a lot over the past seven years, providing seniors with a source of spending money that offsets some of the effect of low interest rates.

That is from Narayana Kocherlakota, there is more at the link.  I am pleased to see a commentator make progress on this all-important problem.

Do you know what?  Most other government programs favor seniors too.

Trump, the Republican Party, and the logic of bailouts

As the possible nomination of Trump approaches, many Republicans are worried about the Party crashing.  That could occur through convention warfare, a Trump nomination and an electoral disaster, or a non-Trump nomination and an electoral disaster.  Maybe all of the above!

And what is wrong with the Party crashing?  (Please, dear reader, consider this question from a logistic rather than a partisan point of view.)  The Party contains information.  Relationships.  Procedures and processes and established patterns of cooperation.  A well-known brand name.  Organizational capital is lost if those connections are blown up and then go away.  It would cost a good deal to rebuild them, whether through a new third party or through a reconstitution of the Republican Party in some new guise.

Large blocs of voters are in essence needed to help cover those fixed costs.  If you tell too many voters to go away, however that might be done, the fixed costs can’t be paid the next time around and a new organization must be created, backed by some other, partially-overlapping group of voters.  So during “bad times” Republicans still may wish to keep the Republican Party afloat, especially if they believe it is a viable concern over the longer haul.

This, by the way, is the same logic behind bank and corporate bailouts   If the afflicted company is allowed to go under, a lot of organizational capital will be lost in what otherwise might be viable enterprises.  (I am not suggesting those bailouts have zero cost, or are necessarily good, only that there is some associated benefit.)

So if you are a Republican, and considering supporting Donald Trump “for the sake of the party.” you are in essence considering whether a bailout of the Party is a good idea.  Except instead of bailing out a private company with your taxes, or guaranteed credit, you are bailing out a political party with your …[fill in the blank]…

I believe that many of the people who usually claim to oppose bailouts will favor this one.

Is the refugees deal time consistent?

Just to refresh your memory, part of the deal is that newly arriving refugees in Greece get sent to Turkey, but in return the EU takes a refugee currently in Turkey.  The goal is to reduce the incentive to migrate as a refugee, since you end up in Turkey rather than in Europe.

Gideon Rachman writes:

First, will the Greek authorities have the administrative capacity to process and turn around refugees arriving on their islands — as well as the many thousands already stranded in Greece? Second, will Turkey really co-operate — particularly given the fact that the EU is unlikely to deliver on all its promises? (The pledge of visa-free travel for Turks is unpopular in many EU states.) Third, will migrants desperate to get to Europe find alternative routes — perhaps via Libya, which has no properly functioning government?

Kerem Oktem summarizes the deal and makes some excellent points, including this one:

…we know that desperate people cannot be stopped. They will simply resort to new routes that will be more dangerous, more lethal and more expensive, whether it is the land borders between Turkey and Bulgaria, the boat journey from Libya to Italy or a new trajectory through Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

I find it strange that these European governments find it repugnant to allow life-saving trade in human organs, or trading away some of one’s privacy, or for that matter a free labor market.  Yet they don’t seem to mind an institutionalized system of trading one refugee for another, with the explicit goal of increasing the number of Syrians who are trapped.

In essence, the wealthier Europeans are arranging for Syria, Greece, and Turkey to pay for building a stronger wall.