Month: July 2020

Tuesday assorted links

1. “My thought is that the fact that we consume contemporary media in isolation has made made people more receptive to demonization, with its totalitarian characteristics. This is probably accentuated by the virus-induced isolation, which increases our use of contemporary media and reduces our social interactions.”  More here from Arnold Kling.

2. Did Southeast Asian fish sauce come from ancient Rome?

3. Indian Matchmaking.  Note that foreign exoticization, and thus partial concealment of anti-PC attitudes and pproaches, is one response to “things being cancelled.”  For instance: “Let’s remove this thing from the status games being fought by white people, and maybe they won’t care very much.”  And they don’t.

4. This Kevin Lewis link about whether hedonism leads to happiness was first sent to my spam blocker.

5. DNC Platform Committee decisively defeats Medicare for All as a proposal.  POTMR.

6. Why has the Spanish response to coronavirus been so poor?

7. “Divergence dates between #SARSCoV2 and the bat #sarbecovirus reservoir were estimated as 1948 (95% HPD: 1879–1999), 1969 (1930–2000) and 1982 (1948–2009), indicating that the lineage giving rise to SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating unnoticed in bats for decades”  Link here.

Hey Thomas Nagel: bats argue a lot about where the best restaurants are!

Let’s not give them Twitter:

They found that the bat noises are not just random, as previously thought, reports Skibba. They were able to classify 60 percent of the calls into four categories. One of the call types indicates the bats are arguing about food. Another indicates a dispute about their positions within the sleeping cluster. A third call is reserved for males making unwanted mating advances and the fourth happens when a bat argues with another bat sitting too close. In fact, the bats make slightly different versions of the calls when speaking to different individuals within the group, similar to a human using a different tone of voice when talking to different people. Skibba points out that besides humans, only dolphins and a handful of other species are known to address individuals rather than making broad communication sounds.

Here is further information, here is the original research, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey travel notes

Having not visited the New Jersey shore since I was a kid (and then a very regular visitor), I realized you cannot actually swim there with any great facility.  Nor is there much to do, nor should one look forward to the food.

Nonetheless Ocean Grove is one of America’s finest collections of Victorian homes, and the town style is remarkably consistent and intact.  Most of all, it is an “only in America” kind of place:

Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as an outgrowth of the camp meeting movement in the United States, when a group of Methodist clergymen, led by William B. Osborn and Ellwood H. Stokes, formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to develop and operate a summer camp meeting site on the New Jersey seashore. By the early 20th century, the popular Christian meeting ground became known as the “Queen of Religious Resorts.” The community’s land is still owned by the camp meeting association and leased to individual homeowners and businesses. Ocean Grove remains the longest-active camp meeting site in the United States.

The pipe organ in the 19th century Auditorium is still one of the world’s twenty largest.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey - Wikipedia

The Auditorium is closed at the moment, but they still sing gospel music on the boardwalk several times a night.

The police department building is merged together with a Methodist church, separate entrances but both under the same roof.

Ocean Grove remains a fully dry city, for the purpose of “keeping the riff-raff out,” as one waitress explained to me.  To walk up the Ocean Grove boardwalk into nearby Asbury Park (Cuban and Puerto Rican and Haitian in addition to American black) remains a lesson in the economics of sudden segregation, deliberate and otherwise.

Based on my experience as a kid, I recall quite distinct “personae” for the adjacent beach towns of Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, Seaside Heights, Lavalette, Belmar, Spring Lake, and Point Pleasant.  This time around I did not see much cultural convergence.  That said, Ocean Grove now seems less the province of the elderly and more of a quiet upscale haunt, including for gay couples.  As an eight-year-old, it was my least favorite beach town on the strip.  Fifty years later, it is now striking to me how much the United States is refusing to be all smoothed over and homogenized.

Monday assorted links

1. Fryer responds, in my opinion we are back to where we started after initial publication of his piece.

2. German wealth inequality is extreme.

3. Japanese building a dam almost entirely with robots.

4. Emmanuel Farhi has passed away, here is an earlier interview with him.

5. It was the later Harvard economist Robert Dorfman who came up with the pooled testing idea in 1943 to solve WWII problems.  To test recruits for syphilis, of course.

Does Joining the S&P 500 Index Hurt Firms?

It seems to these days:

We investigate the impact on firms of joining the S&P 500 index from 1997 to 2017. We find that the positive announcement effect on the stock price of index inclusion has disappeared and the long-run impact of index inclusion has become negative. Inclusion worsens stock price informativeness and some aspects of governance. Compensation, investment, and financial policies change with index inclusion. For instance, payout policies of firms joining the index become more similar to the policies of their index peers. ROA falls following inclusion. There is no evidence of an impact of inclusion on competition.

That is from Benjamin Bennett, René M. Stulz, and Zexi Wang.  Here is the NBER paper, here is an ungated copy.

Experienced Segregation

Here is a new and important paper from Susan Athey, Billy A. Ferguson, Matthew Gentzkow, and Tobias Schmidt:

We introduce a novel measure of segregation, experienced isolation, that captures individuals’ exposure to diverse others in the places they visit over the course of their days. Using Global Positioning System (GPS) data collected from smartphones, we measure experienced isolation by race. We find that the isolation individuals experience is substantially lower than standard residential isolation measures would suggest, but that experienced and residential isolation are highly correlated across cities. Experienced isolation is lower relative to residential isolation in denser, wealthier, more educated cities with high levels of public transit use, and is also negatively correlated with income mobility.

Here is the NBER link.  Here is an earlier and ungated version.

What are fungi?

I don’t view this as a formal answer, but it is interesting nonetheless:

Mycelium is how fungi feed.  Some organisms — such as plants that photosynthesize — make their own food.  Some organisms — like most animals — find food in the world and put it inside their bodies, where it is digested and absorbed.  Fungi have a different strategy.  They digest the world where it is and then absorb it into their bodies…

The difference between animals and fungi is simple: Animals put food in their bodies, whereas fungi put their bodies in the food.

…to embed oneself is an irregular and unpredictable food supply as mycelium does, one must be able to shape-shift.  Mycelium is an living, growing, opportunistic investigation — speculation in bodily form.

That is from the new and excellent book by Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures.

Mark Lutter on Hong Kong in Ireland

This is from my email, I shall not impose any further indentation:

“Thanks for sharing the article about the Victoria Harbor Group. We, me being Chief Strategy Officer, are in discussions with Ireland. However, it is important to note that the information mentioned is dated. As any early stage company, our ideas have rapidly evolved. While the term we are using is ‘International Charter City’, we are not pursuing full scale autonomy. Our priority is to acquire land and build political support in the host country to build a city for the Hong Kong people with the target population being 50% HKers and 50% citizens of the host country. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to tax and regulatory relief, but that is not our focus.

Our key assumptions are as follows

1. The next 10-15 years will see 1m to 2m Hong Kongers migrate, the first mass migration of high skilled labor in the last 40 or so years.
2. There is value from coordinating this migration, keeping network effects, ensuring housing supply, etc
3. We see this as an opportunity to build the city of the future, cutting edge urban design, welcoming of new technology, self-driving cars, drone delivery, etc.
4. We are in discussions with several countries, not just Ireland, which we will make public when possible. We prefer English speaking countries with common law traditions, but are open to considering others.
5. Our goal is to acquire 50,000+ acres within 2 hours of an airport to build a new city for several hundred thousand residents. Obviously this depends on the political support in the host country. Smaller countries like Ireland would have smaller developments.
6. Political support from the host country is crucial. We are not asking for independence or autonomy. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to tax and regulatory relief, but that is less important than land availability and domestic buy in.
7. The city will fit in the national plans of the host country. The Hong Kongers excel in finance and manufacturing, as well as education and healthcare. While little manufacturing is done in Hong Kong, Hong Kongers own many factories in the Guangdong province. Any country looking to revive their manufacturing base could do so by attracting a bunch of talented HKers. Additionally, a good location could become a top 10 global financial center in 10 years by attracting HK financial talent.
8. We believe this is a great opportunity for any country which wants to attract a talented, hardworking, entrepreneurial population.
9. I have seen a lot of charter city projects and this is the first one I wanted to become part of the leadership team of.

For more information please see my podcast with Ivan Ko, the CEO. Our website will be launching soon.”

Fungus fact of the day

Fungi are prodigious decomposers, but of their many biochemical achievements, one of the most impressive is this ability of white rot fungi to break down the lignin in wood.  Based on their ability to release free radicals, the peroxidases produced b white rot fungi perform what is technically known as “radical chemistry.”  “Radical” has it right.  These enzymes have forever changed the way that carbon journeys through its earthly cycles.  Today, fungal decomposition — much of it of woody plant matter — is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions, emitting about eighty-five gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere every year.  In 2018, the combustion of fossil fuels by humans emitted around ten gigatons.

That is from the new and excellent book by Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures.

Moghul Express, Edison, New Jersey

It is the best biryani I have had outside of South Asia, plus the arrangement for outside dining is both spacious and nicely done and offers protection against rain.  Here is their web site.  Just get the biryani, but yes everything there is good it seems.  It is very close to where the Turnpike and Parkway intersect, and thus close to both — what more could you ask for in New Jersey?

How do you shop for books in a bookstore?

Jason emails me:

I would be interested to read on your blog about how you would shop for books in Daunt (or any good bookstore, but Daunt since you mentioned it). Is there method to your browsing/do you ask for recommendations, etc. Is there a person there who you particularly rate? It sounds basic but I think readers would be interested in knowing your approach. I live in London and too often walk out of a bookstore with books I have already heard about rather than taking a chance on something new.

Daunt has about seven or eight main “pressure points” near the very front of the store, and they are easy to find, and that is where you should look for your books. My key advice for Daunt is simply to have a basket, and/or an arrangement with the front desk that you can rest your accumulating pile of books there while you continue to look for more.

The basement floor of Daunt is organized by country, rather than by genre of book, and each visit you should scour at least two country sections for new (or older) items of interest.  Overall I find that “by country” is a better to organize the back titles than what any other bookstore does.  So, for instance, Chinese fiction is put next to Chinese history, not next to other fiction.

What makes the Marylebone branch of Daunt the best bookstore is how they organize the store, and the quality of selections they put on the front tables, not the overall number of titles.

Making random purchases of featured fiction, if it looks vaguely intelligent, is not crazy in Daunt, yet it would be in literally any American bookstore, or even in Waterstone’s in London (another superb store, go to the Piccadilly branch, but use it for history and biography not fiction).

If you are in a Barnes and Noble, mostly focus on finding the “new non-fiction” section, which these days is increasingly difficult to come across and ever-smaller.

*Buying Gay*

…what I found as I traveled around the country researching was that the notion of a “gay market” was already enjoying wide currency nearly a decade before Stonewall.  It was most clearly visible on the nation’s newsstands.  A social scientist who examined the largest newsstand in Dayton, Ohio, in 1964 found twenty-five magazines targeting a gay audience — so many that the salesperson had established a special section for what he called his “homosexual magazines.  He mixed the magazines of the homophile political organizations, ONE and Mattachine Review, with the far larger cache of physiques.  With twenty or more “little queer magazines” on American newsstands, each selling between twenty thousand and forty thousand copies, physique magazines represented a major industry.

…Editors of tabloid and mainstream magazines realized the extent of this market whenever they published an article on homosexuality and saw their sales soar.  Homophile leaders, too, saw how putting the words “the Homosexual Magazine” on their otherwise demurely titled ONE magazine increased sales.

That is from the recent and quite interesting book by David K. Johnson, Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs sparked a Movement.  Remind me again, this earlier media landscape was a) worse than the internet, or b) better than the internet.  Which one was it again…?  In any case, this book is an excellent reminder of just how much the early gay political movement was tied to markets and consumer capitalism.

Saturday assorted links

A Hong Kong enclave in Ireland?

Six locations in Ireland were discussed by government officials as possible sites for a new autonomous city named Nextpolis proposed by a wealthy Hong Kong businessman, The Times can reveal.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been in contact with the Victoria Harbour Group (VHG), an international charter city investment company, since December about a plan to create a city from scratch that would be home to tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents…

The proposed city was referred to as Sim City in its early stages, after the computer game in which players create their own city. Over time its name changed to Nextpolis.

Here is the full story (Times of London, gated).  This article (same source) suggests the Irish citizenry is unlikely to favor the plan.