Friday, February 24, 2006

Economist love

Because their blurb for this week's issue lists the following teasers:
* Starbucks * Wal-Mart * Bird flu *Ageing * Prince
Charles * Trashy magazines * Harvard * Frozen non-dairy toppings *

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Introducing (and then retracting!) the "Oh, please" awards

And our first winner is:

Meg Worley, an assistant professor of English at Pomona College in California, said she told students that they must say thank you after receiving a professor's response to an e-mail message.

"One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back," Professor Worley said.

Edited 2/24/2006: OK, Tim Burke says that she was misquoted, so the award is retracted. Sorry 'bout that.

The wealth of babies

Babies make crappy economists, because their concept of diminishing marginal utility is so different from adults'.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Oh, so many reasons to love the non-editorial-page WSJ

Like this, for example, on hedge fund investment letters and their literary pretensions:
[starting grafs]Struggling to find just the right words to explain a run of bad luck to investors, money manager Michael Roth looked to literature for inspiration.

He found his muse in Edgar Allan Poe.

That is why Mr. Roth, who helps run Stark Investments, a Milwaukee hedge fund with $7.6 billion in assets, recently wrote one of his periodic letters to investors as a takeoff on "The Raven":
But the silence was unbroken,
and the stillness gave no token;
And the only word there spoken
was the whispered word, "Bernanke?"


[ending grafs]Still, the siren song of literary allusion exerts a powerful tug, and few novels -- read or unread -- seem to have captured the imagination of hedge-fund managers quite like "Moby-Dick." The story of Ahab's obsessive quest to harpoon the great White Whale shows up as brief asides in investment letters -- "You don't need to call Ishmael to know that results can be fishy" -- and as digressions that go on for pages.

The Melville novel is particularly popular, says Mr. Reiferson of Americus Capital, because money managers like to give the impression that they are being Ahab-like in "maniacally pursuing their goals" of making money. Mr. Reiferson says he planned to name his fund after Bildad, a character who helped finance the whaling expeditions. But in the end, he felt the reference was "too obscure, unless I could raise money from Melville scholars."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More than a day late and a dollar short ...

I enjoy reading Paul Berman's pieces in TNR; I remember reading one by Joschka Fischer in late August - early September 2001 that I particularly liked. His piece on French Americophobia (in the November 28, 2005 issue, and sorry, you'll have to find it yourselves) was frustratingly ill-organized, but nonetheless had a big payoff at the end:

Over the centuries, the United States has gone to
war and defeated every one of the Western European powers -- Britain, Spain,
Germany, and Italy -- with France the lonely exception. France is the only
Western power that America has never opposed in war, the only country around the
world for which America has repeatedly sacrificed itself, and on the hugest of
scales .... It might even be suspected that French anti-Americanism owes
something to the scale of France's debt to America .... Yet there is
something more than a debtor's resentment here ....

Roger recalls the history of French grievances
against America, the actual hard-fact history -- the history that Americans know
nothing about and can hardly even imagine, though its statges are easily
identified. ....

Then came the struggles of the Napoleonic wars,
and the French nvay seized a great many American ships .... And the United
States demanded compensation afterwards, and not n a small amount.
President Andrew Jackson pursued this demand, and the French eventually agreed
to pay .... [T]he argument over compensation to the United States aroused
a tremendous anger in France -- tremendous because the French had aided the
United States in the past, and America ought to have allowed its feeling of
gratitude to linger a little longer. And the resentment was owed to
something more. For what was the meaning of France's revolutionary and
Napoleonic wars?

France suffered. France's army was
destroyed. France ended up under European occupation. Huge portions
of the French population were killed. The defeat was spectacular and
enormous. And there was the United States in the wake of these tragedies,
demanding a money transfer from a somber and defeated France to the cheerful
shores of a prosperous United States. ....

The Franco-American debt crisis in the era of
President Jackson ... was re-played in the years after World War I, this time on
a bigger scale. The United States demanded repayment of France's
debt. And yet the United States, out of an ex-post-facto wish to unto the
excesses and errors of the Treaty of Versailles, also gazed in Germany's
direction and felt a tender concern, and expressed a willingness to restructure
Germany's obligations. A good many French people viewd this as a ghastly
and unjustified American tilt towards Germany. For what had happened to
France during the war? Germany had inflicted death on so massive a scale
that France could never be the same afterwards ....

After World War II, the great French socialist
Leon Blum demanded that the Americans treat the French with a little more
graciousness and compassion .... And the United States, in a fit of
atypical sensitivity ... not only canceled the war debts but offered the
Marshall Plan. In the French psyche, however, the Marshall Plan appears to
have come too late, and for reasons that ought to be easily understood.
Americans recall the role of France in World War II ... as something shameful,
as the role of a country that barely fought, and surrendered too easily, unlike
noble Britain.

And yet, in 1940, when the Germans invaded, the
French did fight, for a while. France lost 100,000 soldiers in May and
June of that year -- a staggering number, and simply unbearable after the losses
from World War I. France surrendered in 1940 because it was impossible to
fight anymore -- surrendered because France had been defeated, not just in those
terrible months but in one war after another for nearly a century and a half,
and above all in the catastrophe of 1914-1918. French society was
simply not going to subject itself to yet another round of mass

Monday, February 13, 2006


I agree with Harry at Crooked Timber.