Monday, April 14, 2014

Sayonara

I'm thinking this blog has outlived whatever usefulness it ever. It's gone from being a labor of like to just plain labor. Thanks for reading, all three or four of you.

Dan

Good News and Bad (Steely Dan Edition)

The Good News: Steely Dan is touring this summer (see here).

The Bad News: They're coming nowhere near Central Indiana.

Josephine van Zeben, on "The Allocation of Regulatory Competence in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme"

Hot off the presses from Cambridge University Press. Order your copy before they run out!





Sunday, April 13, 2014

Paris-Roubaix

Congratulations to Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma Quickstep) for winning a very exciting edition of the Paris-Roubaix. Terpstra was a cat among the pigeons, a non-favorite within a very select group of favorites, which included Cancellara, Sagan, Vanmarcke, Wiggins, Thomas, Dangenkolb and Stybar. Who would have expected Terpstra to win from out of that group? But he took advantage by launching an attack only six or seven kilometers from the finish. Instead of working to chase him down, the favorites just starting looking at each other and slowing down. Dagenkolb finished second and Cancellara third, about 20 seconds after Terpstra.

Was Terpstra the strongest rider in the race? Maybe, maybe not. But it's not always the strongest rider who wins. Sometimes it's the smartest rider who wins. Terpstra must have known he couldn't win a sprint out of that group; and he also may have realized that, if he attacked, the group might not be so eager to chase him, a relatively minnow among the sharks. Terpstra also undoubtedly benefited from good teamwork, in particular the earlier attacks of Tom Boonen, which softened up the field and created some early gaps. Unquestionably, Boonen was one of the two or three strongest riders in the field on the day, but he may have gone too early and the little group who took with him were unwilling to work together consistently to stay away.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Great Example of the Dangers of an Uninformed Electorate

Here in the New York Times. Not surprisingly, most Americans have little idea where in the world Ukraine is located. More interestingly, those who cannot locate Ukraine on a global map are far more likely to support some kind of US intervention there.

For readers who don't know its location, Ukraine is here:




Sunday, April 6, 2014

This Weekend in Cycling: A Mixed Bag

I hadn't thrown a leg over a bike in two weeks before venturing out on a 25-mile solo ride up to Morgan-Monroe State Forest and back yesterday. Beanblossom, as always, was a struggle; but particularly for the first time after a brutal winter. Nevertheless, it was nice to get out on the bike and to have that satisfying dull ache in the limbs after a good hard ride (no matter how easy I tried to make it).

Today, I drove up to Indy for a ride with a few friends that was billed as a "moderate pace," 30+-mile ride because one of my friends was just recovering from bronchitis. For the first 10 miles, we averaged around 24 mph, albeit with a very helpful tailwind (from the east). At that point, I was feeling pretty good, my legs were loosening up from the hill climbing the day before, and my heart rate was behaving itself.

After we turned north into a crosswind, we were still going about 21-22 mph, and I started feeling my legs competing with my respiratory system to see which one was going to give first. From that point on, I had to keep slowing down the whole group (which fortunately consisted of just five riders). Eventually, I urged them to just keep going; I knew where I was and was content to coast back. But being my friends, they wouldn't hear of it (which hardly lessens my feeling guilty for slowing them down).

Note to self: No more rides in Indy - even moderate-paced rides with friends - until I have a lot more miles in my legs, and much better fitness. The chief problem is that I just can't get in as many rides, especially longer rides, as I did before moving to Bloomington. I'm never going to keep up with those guys when they start to hammer, but I should at least be able to stay with them when they're taking it (relatively) easy.

Hypocrisy in Three Sentences



Eric Pickles, the UK's Current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, advises "militant athiests:" "We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”

Fabulous Fabian Repeats in the Tour of Flanders

Cancellara turned on the power on the penultimate claim of the day. Vanmarcke rode his wheel, and the two of them quickly reeled in the two-man breakaway. The four leaders came to the flame rouge together, and Fabulous Fabian took the sprint victory.

An exciting finish to a thrilling edition of the Tour of Flanders, filled crashes, mechanicals, pave-covered climbs, and hard, hard racing.

Another Big Game, Another Thrashing: Everton 3 - Arsenal 0

This week, Arsene Wenger insisted the Gunners were not out of the chase for the Premier League championship. After today's game, fourth place is in serious doubt.

The first half began like the game was a playoff contest for a Champion's League spot, which in a way it was. After Arsenal created some decent chances, Everton took the lead in the 15th minute, when Thomas Vermaelen either fell asleep or forgot that he's allowed to clear crosses with his feet. Either way, he allowed the ball to go through to Lukaku, who's shot was parried by Szczesny only tobe parried home by Naismith.

Between Everton's first goal and second goal in the 35th minute, Arsenal registered not a single shot on goal, while Szczesny was forced into several saves. He could not, however, save Lukaku's brilliant solo effort in the 35th minute. He took a long pass from the center of the pitch on the far left side of Arsenal's final third, and dribbled past two Arsenal defenders across the top of the box before placing an unstoppable shot past Szczesny inside the far post.

After that, Arsenal seemed to dominate possession, and created a few chances (or half-chances); at least they got one or two shots on goal. For the most part, Everton appeared content to soak up the Arsenal pressure and look for opportunities on the counterattack. The half ended with Arsenal trailing 2-nil.

Arsenal started the second half on the front foot, in attack. But it wasn't long - the 61st minute to be precise - that they were down 3-nil and the game was to all extents and purposes over. It was at that point that I switched off the sound and turned up the volume on the Tour of Flanders displayed on my computer.

Once again, throughout the match, Arsenal's overall lack of team speed was apparent. Everton are certainly not the fastest group of players on the planet, but time and time again, both in attack and defense, they appeared faster than the Gunners. The absence of speed up front can be explained by Walcott's injury and Oxlade-Chamberlain's absence (he came on in the second half and created Arsenal's best chance of the match, albeit in the 85th minute, when they already were trailing 3-0). Podolski, Giroud, and Rosicky are hardly speed-demons. But the problem is even worse in defense, especially with Koscielny out with injury, and the relatively speedy full-backs always pressing up the field. That puts a great deal of pressure on the central midfielders to work back on defense; Arteta and Flamini have the will and the ability, but not the speed.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Arsenal go on to win the FA Cup (which certainly should not be presumed) but fail to qualify for the Champion's League? That might vindicate Wenger's oft-stated suggestion that CL qualification is tantamount to a cup in its own right. And it might finally seal his decision to retire. There's no question that the Gunners need more team speed and quality, especially up front and in the holding midfield position. Their poor performances in virtually every big game this season further suggest they require new management.

Monday, March 31, 2014

IPCC Working Group II Publishes Section of AR5 on Socio-Economic Impacts of Climate Chnage

The full WGII report is here. The Summary for Policymakers is here. Before reading through the Summary, I had read that the respected climate economist Richard J.S. Tol had resigned from Working Group II because the final report, in his view, was too "alarmist" about threats to food security (see, e.g., here).

Having now glanced through the main findings in the Summary, I agree with Tol that the Working Group might not have taken sufficient account of adaptability in agriculture. But overall the report seems consistent with the Working Group I's latest assessment of the physical science basis of climate change. And, as someone who has been following the science and social-science of climate change for some time (without participating at all in the UN or IPCC processes), I did not find Working Group II's report unduly alarmist. That said, I have not yet had time to read the full report as carefully as I would like.

Putting Clean Coal to the Test

Finally, the world's first two commercial-scale coal-fired power plants with full carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS) will begin operating this year. National Geographic has the story here. CCS is a critical "bridging" technology," which can dramatically reduce carbon emissions (as well as emissions of toxic air pollutants) from power plants, while the world awaits the development of scalable, reliable (for base power supply) and affordable low- or non-carbon fuel sources. It will be most interesting to see how much carbon is removed and effectively sequestered, and at what cost.

New Neighbor Stops By to Say Hi


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Arsenal 1 - Man City 1

Based on previous games against other top-four clubs, and Arsenal's recent (poor) record against Man City, I expected Arsenal to lose this game at home by at least three or four goals to one. How much credit, if any, do the Gunners and Arsene Wenger deserve for a draw?

The importance of the contest was underscored by Chelsea's defeat, earlier in the day, away to Crystal Palace, which created an opportunity for Man City to draw even on points with the League leaders (with two games in hand), or for Arsenal to pull back to within three points of the League lead (although we Arsenal fans have already pretty much reconciled ourselves to not winning the League trophy this season).

Man City took the lead in the 20th minute on a goal by the in-form David Silva. Once again, Arsenal had to chase a game against a side with a lethal counterattack. To their credit, the Gunners responded almost immediately, but Flamini was ruled offside when he slid in toward the six-yard box to bounce a Podolski cross into the net. That turned out to be the only clear-cut chance Arsenal created in the first half. But at least they kept the deficit at one heading into the halftime break.

I don't know whether Wenger did, or needed to, say anything to the team during the break; everyone must have known the importance of getting three points, no matter how strong the opposition. In any case, Arsenal continue to come at the Man City defense, and eventually found the opening to create the equalizer, which Flamini scored in the 53d minute from a cross to the center-top of the box by Podolski. Arsenal should perhaps have had a second a minute later, when Sagna crossed a ball right across the top of the six yard box that no one touched; unfortunately, no one was breaking in on goal to get the vital touch. Nevertheless, with more than a half hour still to play, the game was level, and Arsenal seemed to be in the ascendancy.

About ten minutes later, both teams created good opportunities. First, Man City missed an opportunity when Szczesny came out to claim a cross but missed it; the ball bounded across the end line off of Mertesacker, but Arsenal were awarded a goal kick. Then, Arsenal had a similar opportunity in the Man City penalty area, but Podolski's good shot from the left channel was well saved by Joe Hart. After that, Man City started to put more pressure on Arsenal's defense, creating a couple of set pieces from dangerous areas, but they were unable to convert them into clear goal-scoring opportunities.

Both teams created decent chances as the second half wore on, but couldn't quite get through the other's defense to get the winning goal. In the final ten minutes of the match, City seemed to tire a bit; or perhaps Arsenal were just more motivated to chase all three points. In any case, Arsenal were pressing for the winning goal into stoppage time. But none was forthcoming. The game ended in a draw. A moral victory for the Gunners? If so, what's a moral victory worth?

An Excellent Friday

It started with judging a moot court for a class of very bright and smart fifth graders, and ended with two terrific Sweet Sixteen games at Lucas Oil Stadium, sitting almost as close to the court as the photographers. In between, I attended a panel at the annual conference of SPEA PhD students, and a really fun and interesting lunch talk by University of Wisconsin Professor Susan Webb Yackee, who is researching lobbyists' influence on the President's Office of Management and Budget.

I'm not a huge college basketball fan, and sitting through two games in one evening is not normally my idea of a night out; but the atmosphere, especially for the second game between Kentucky and Louisville was electric. I didn't get home until 2 am, but it was an excellent day all things considered.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'm Probably Not the Right Person to Ask About Religious Liberty for Corporations

Today, the Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by two corporations, arguing that they should be exempt on religious grounds from the Affordable Care Act's requirement that they provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive care. You can get a decent background understanding about the case here.

From my point of view, this case shouldn't even be before the court. And religious liberty shouldn't extend any farther than prohibiting the government from enacting laws that discriminate on the basis of religious belief (or disbelief). Among other things, this means that churches should not be exempt from property taxes or other taxes that apply equally to every other property owner. And they should have to abide by all duly enacted laws that do not tend to "establish" one church (or one set of churches) over another (or others).

We should never have even gotten to the point where we are considering ruling a law unconstitutional because of the religious convictions (however sincere) of some corporation's owners (obviously, corporations cannot themselves have religious beliefs or convictions - that is another respect in which corporations definitely are not people).

The Hangover: Arsenal 2 - Swansea City - 2

Swansea scored in the 11th minute, against the run of play, and Arsenal were left to chase the game. Chase it and chase it they did, with loads of possession, but hardly ever threatening Swansea's goal.

As the game wore on after halftime, Arsenal fans were left wondering whether the hangover following Chelsea's demolition job on Saturday was going to leave so much scar tissue that the Gunners might not even qualify for next year's Champions' League. After all, today's match against Swansea at home was supposed to be Arsenal's easy one, between Chelsea and Man City, followed by a trip to Everton.

Arsenal were still chasing the game in the 73d minute, when almost out of nothing they scored the equalizer on a goal by Podolski from a cross by Gibbs. A minute later, Podolski turned provider, crossing a ball into the box for Olivier Giroud to slot home. All of a sudden, after producing almost no real chances throughout the match, Arsenal were leading with just a quarter of an hour remaining.

With both Arteta and Flamini on the pitch, Arsenal seemed secure enough on defense. But no one-goal lead is ever really safe. And Arsenal gave up a soft one in the 90th minute. Four or five Arsenal players were chasing the ball around the outside of the box, which opened up the center channel for Leon Britton to run in to. Szczesny came out to block his shot, but it rebounded in off of Flamini.

Today's match was not about the race for the Premiership Title - that horse has left the barn. This was about rebuilding confidence (especially on home turf) heading into another spate of tough matches. For that purpose, Arsenal needed all three points. They got just one.

The FA Cup is still there for the taking, but with Arsenal's confidence at low ebb and the manager seemingly out of ideas, the task is more daunting that it might appear, given the quality (on paper) of the opponents.

Indiana Abolishes Common Core. Next in Line: Public Schools?

Indiana has become the first state to abandon the "common core," a program developed by state education superintendents working with state governors, that seeks to set a national standard for achievement in grades K-12 (see here). I confess I have mixed feelings about this move.

On the one hand, I am no fan of national education standards or, especially, standardized testing, which virtually forces teachers to "teach to the test." On the other hand, the attack on the "common core" in Indiana was led by the Tea Party (see here), and I can't imagine agreeing with the Tea Party on any education policy. If we allow the Tea Party to determine our educational priorities, the entire system of public education, which is deeply flawed but still vital to the American experiment in democracy, would soon be dismantled, and everyone would be home-schooled with the Bible as the only science text.

Rumsfeld Insists He Could Do Better than Obama on Afghanistan

According to the Washington Post (here), Rumsfeld reportedly told Fox News (who else?) that a "trained ape" could have done better than Obama in securing a "status of forces" agreement with Afghanistan.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Financial Economics Analysis of Arsenal's "Extreme Negative Performance"

The Stumbling and Mumbling Blog (here) applies financial economics theory to Arsenal's unusual level of tail risk (when they're bad, they're all really bad) and recommends that the Gunners need to sign players with "negative betaness," so that, instead of all 11 players stinking up the pitch, the team has at least a couple players who play well when others are playing below par.

How about a manager with "negative betaness"?

Some Really Interesting Working Papers at SSRN

All of these I've downloaded just in the past couple of days. I hope to be able to read all of them before the end of business today. I'm particularly enamored of the Qiao paper, which raises some really interesting issues about the bottom-up (vs. top-down) creation of property rights. More than that, Qiao presents evidence for bottom-up creation of functional property rights even when the de jure legal systems prohibits it.

Shitong Qiao, "Small Property, Big Market: A Focal Point Explanation." Abstract: Based on one year of fieldwork, this article presents a real estate market without legal titles to challenge formal property rights as a precondition for markets. In Shenzhen, the iconic city of China’s market economy, more than half of the buildings are developed and transferred against the law. These illegal buildings are called small properties because their property rights are "smaller" (weaker) than legal properties. This article models the formation and operation of the small-property market as coordination games, and demonstrates that a focal point of rural land development and transfer coordinates players’ expectations to converge on the same equilibrium.

Hanoch Dagan & Tsilly Dagan, "Facilitating the Commons Inside Out." Abstract: Commons property is a true challenge to the law, especially in a legal context that respects individual mobility, which is key to freedom and autonomy. While a tragedy of the commons is not inevitable, the sustainability – let alone flourishing – of the commons is far from obvious either. But the rewards of the latter trajectory are critical: a successful commons property can generate significant economic benefits, due to its intrinsic advantages of economies of scale, risk-spreading, specialization, and synergy. These benefits multiply in the context of social commons property regimes that function as the loci and engines of meaningful interpersonal relationships; indeed, they at times even become constitutive elements of commoners’ identities. This Essay explores examples of governance mechanisms for the collective management of resources as well as tax tools for collective production that can support the success of these social commons property regimes. These legal devices, which set (respectively) the internal rules of the game and provide external incentives, both counter the potentially destructive dynamics of the commons property and help preserve the noncommodified aspects of its owners’ community.

[I confess I don't understand the title, but the discussion of how standard co-ownership institutions, as well as tax policy, might be used effectively to facilitate the success of larger common property regimes, without depriving co-owners of the important right of exit, is fascinating. I hope a longer and deeper analysis will be forthcoming (which is something I don't often say about law articles).] 

Erol Akcay, Joan Roughgarden, James Fearon, John Ferejohn, Barry Weingast, el al. (sic?), Biological Institutions: The Political Science of Animal Cooperation Abstract: Social evolution is one of the most rapidly developing areas in evolutionary biology. A main theme is the emergence of cooperation among organisms, including the factors that impede cooperation. Although animal societies seem to have no formal institutions, such as courts or legislatures, we argue that biology presents many examples where an interaction can properly be thought of as an informal institution, meaning there are evolved norms and structure to the interaction that enable parties to reach mutually beneficial outcomes. These informal institutions are embedded in the natural history of the interaction, in factors such as where and when parties interact, how long and how close they stay together, and so on. Institutional theory thus widens the scope of behavioral ecology by considering not only why animals evolve to choose the strategies they choose, but also asking both why it is that they find themselves in those particular interaction setups and how these particular interactions can be sustained. Institutions frequently enable interacting parties avoid inefficient outcomes and support efficient exchange among agents with conflicting interests.

The main thesis of this paper is that the organization of many biological interactions can properly be understood as institutions that enable mutually beneficial outcomes to be achieved relative to an unstructured interaction. To do this, institutions resolve or regulate the conflicts of interests among parties. The way conflicts of interests affect the outcome depends on the structure of the interaction, which can create problems of commitment, coordination and private information. Institutional theory focuses on how to address each of these issues, typically focusing on the development of social norms, rules, and other constraints on individual behaviors. We illustrate our thesis with examples from cooperative breed and genes as within-body-mechanism-design.

Wojciech Sadurski, "Defending Public Reason." Abstract: The ideal of public reason has been criticized on the basis that it is, under available interpretations of the ideal, either “too thin” or “too thick”, and also that it creates perverse incentives for insincerity in public life. In the first part of the paper I consider, and rebut, the core case against Public Reason, as advanced by Ronald Dworkin and Jeremy Waldron. Against the charge that it is a toothless ideal (that it is “too thin”) which would eliminate nearly nothing from public discourse, I argue that this objection is tenable only if we adopt an implausibly subjectivist conception of reasonableness used in tandem with the ideal of public reason. Against the charge that it would lead to a drastic erosion of public discourse (hence, that it is “too thick”), I argue that this disregards a distinction between generalized public discourse and advocacy of laws which are to actually become legislation, broadly speaking. I also argue that the stricture of public reason rests on the same type of restrictions on public arguments which we adopt as legitimate in many spheres of argument and justification anyway. In the second part of the paper I argue, against the argument that the ideal of public reason is detrimental to the principle of candour in public, that one should not confuse “strategic” choice of argument, triggered by the concern for efficiency of persuasion or by the principle of respect to the audience, with deception and insincerity.

Jeremy Waldron, "Isaiah Berlin's Neglect of Enlightenment Constitutionalism." Abstract: One of the most important achievements of the Enlightenment is what I shall call Enlightenment constitutionalism. It transformed our political thinking out of all recognition; it left, as its legacy, not just the repudiation of monarchy and nobility in France in the 1790s but the unprecedented achievement of the framing, ratification, and establishment of the Constitution of the United States. It comprised the work of Diderot, Kant, Locke, Madison, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Sieyes, and Voltaire. It established the idea of a constitution as an intricate mechanism designed to house the untidiness and pluralism of human politics.

Yet Isaiah Berlin, supposedly one of our greatest interpreters of the Enlightenment, said almost nothing about it. The paper develops this claim and it speculates as to why this might be so. Certainly one result of Berlin's sidelining of Enlightenment constitutionalism is to lend spurious credibility to his well-known claim that Enlightenment social design was perfectionist, monastic, and potentially totalitarian. By ignoring Enlightenment constitutionalism, Berlin implicitly directed us away from precisely the body of work that might have refuted this view of Enlightenment social design.

In addition to those new papers, Jonathan Israel's new tome, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton 2014) just showed up my doorstep this past Friday. Like his past books on the enlightenment, which focus on the role radical thinkers have played in the history of the modern era, the new book is massive at nearly 900 pages long. Nevertheless, I'm sure I'll enjoy and learn a lot from his historical analysis, as well as his penchant to pick interpretive fights with scholars inclined to give less credit to the more radical thinkers of the times.