Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't fuck with Welsh economists, an occasional series

Was just reminded of one Paxman's rare knockout defeats. Beautiful accent too.

Here's my Royal Wedding Song originally composed for the Investiture, but relevant to more or less any old English toff going around calling himself "Mr Wales".
0 comments this item posted by the management 4/28/2011 09:33:00 AM

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Boris Vian translation project

After 2007's Le Déserteur, I am moving on to one of the lighter pieces; La java des bombes atomiques. Lyrics here and here; my translation, loosely in the style of a music-hall monologue, below:

My Uncle Tom built atom bombs; he never went to college
But he was Wigan's nuclear sage, as everyone acknowledged
He'd spend each Sunday afternoon, inventing in his shed
Then tramp back in the living room, and this is what he said;

"A nuclear bomb, me bonny lad, is not a piece of cake
The A-bomb, granted, right enough, that any fool could make
But getting yer plutonium's a much more tricky task
An H-Bomb? No, impossible, don't even try to ask

But ask we did; he stamped away and worked all afternoon
We went to bed. But midnight came, and howling at the moon,
We saw him running in his nightgown, halfway down the street
Sobbing "t' bloody blast radius doesn't stretch twelve feet!"

All winter long he banged and hammered, missing meals and sleep
The shed began to glow a bit; old Tom was seen to weep
"I never thought", he sobbed "that it could be this bloody hard"
"To make the bloody crater even six or seven yards!"

I tried to comfort him; I said "Now never mind, old Tom"
"It isn't just the size of fallout makes a nuclear bomb"
"By Jove! You've got it!", Uncle said, as from his chair he sprang
"It's where you blow the bugger up that makes the bloody bang!"

Well that was it; we gathered round our friends and our relations
And sent official telegrams to the United Nations
Inviting all and sundry round to visit Uncle Tom
And telling them to "Watch out world: Wigan's got the Bomb!"

Well that put cat among the pigeons; as you might remember
The Heads of State all came to visit us in late November
They saw the Pier; we gave them pies and when they all were fed
Progressed down to the testing site, in Uncle Tom's old shed.

They put their fingers in their ears and counted "6, 5, 4"
While Uncle Tom sneaked out the shed and bolted up the door
He stepped eight yards away and finished "3, 2, 1"
A small - but big enough - cloud rose; the shed was bloody gone!

There was a trial of course, so we all took a trip to t' Hague
I spoke in Uncle Tom's defence; I wasn'tt shy or vague
I pointed out his duty to defend our mental health
They pardoned him with honour, and showered him with wealth.

10 comments this item posted by the management 4/27/2011 08:08:00 AM

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Journeyman rappers ...

And their consultants ... Fans should be worried by this. It was Sue Arnold (of all people) in the Observer who noted that the writing was on the wall for heavy metal when lead guitarists started having "careers" like diplomats or investment bankers(specifically in the context of Steve Vai, who did his apprenticeship in the fields of Frank Zappa, worked his way up to Alcatrazz and then got a chance to advance to front-office with Dave Lee Roth, made an ill-advised career move to PiL but then traded it in for a few years at a bulge-bracket franchise at Whitesnake, and now trades on his own account and does a bit of consultancy).
8 comments this item posted by the management 4/21/2011 07:52:00 AM
Friday Quiz!

Answer to come this afternoon, unless someone guesses it ... what does Donald Trump have in common with Paul Krugman?

Update: I think an early finish is necessary because Ajay has taken the prize, by correctly noting that both of them have appeared in cameo roles as themselves in Hollywood comedies (Trump in "Zoolander", Krugman in "Get Him To The Greek").

However, what I had in mind was something a little more surprising - another thing that Donald Trump and Paul Krugman have in common is "their entire China policy". Both are in favour of an ultimatum to China on its yuan-peg policy, backed up by the threat of a 25% import tariff. Well there you go. A man more conspiratorially minded than myself would wonder cui bono from the association of Krugman's china-hawk policy with the comedy candidature of Trump?
5 comments this item posted by the management 4/21/2011 12:53:00 AM

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A note on Modern Monetary Theory

Just to note that of course a theory should be tested against the real world, and that the real tests of a theory are in the extreme outcomes and corner cases.

I therefore note that, in respect of the Krugman/Galbraith/Baker/cast of thousands debate, that Zimbabwe exists as a country as well as a debating point, and that it does have domestic currency treasury bills, and that it is a perhaps startling fact that throughout the unorthodox policy measures of the last ten years, Zimbabwe has, in fact, never defaulted on its domestic currency sovereign obligations. So I score this one for MMT.

In Gideon Gono's autobiography, linked above, he recounts how the IMF offered him a job for life as a director of monetary & economic research as a sinecure in an attempt to get him to leave Zimbabwe. Perhaps (particularly given the twists and turns of Zimbabwean politics over the last couple of years), they should come back, particularly if they are looking for more unorthodox approaches in future. I hope and trust that the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College isn't considering a counteroffer to the unsung hero of MMT.
9 comments this item posted by the management 4/20/2011 02:34:00 AM

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Schlachtbummel Capital Partners

Via Henry's shared items, Legacy Of Ashes meets "The Econometrics Of Financial Markets". In all honesty, these studies have to be taken as "just a bit of fun" rather than anything that's going to throw up a causal link you can hang your hat on, because there are always all sorts of other things going on - the search space is just too big - and because everything's interrelated in all sorts of ways - there really were lots of genuine reasons to be short the airlines going into September 2001. But jolly good fun withal, and the nonparametric test they outline looks sensible to me. Update Thanks ajay for the nonsubscriber link!
8 comments this item posted by the management 4/19/2011 11:18:00 AM

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Did you know ...

... that there is such a thing as the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve? What, do you think I'm lying or something? Click the link. Via Dealbreaker. It's 7.7 million kilograms, all told, which is about six million litres on the basis of a quick google search for the density of maple syrup. Two and a half swimming pools' worth, or about fifty Routemaster buses. Canada is genuinely the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup.
22 comments this item posted by the management 4/06/2011 10:54:00 AM
Irresponsibility to protect

Just to note that, when you think of what's gone on in Libya and Cote d'Ivoire, the logical consequence of the combination of:

1) There are situations which would warrant our intervention everywhere


2) Of course we cannot intervene everywhere


3) We can do whatever we like.

In other words, the Libyans who are now complaining about our not doing enough for them, like the Iraqi Shia post 1991, have more of a point than one would care to admit. We're moving dangerously in the direction of a new world order of "intervention at whim".

Edit: This is why I keep clutching at the straw of the UNSC; not because it's a pearl of great price in terms of a decision-making body, but because it's the only remote prospect I can think of for anything approaching an objective criterion for deciding where and how to intervene. The alternative is complete discretion, which in practice means caprice.


12 comments this item posted by the management 4/06/2011 08:16:00 AM

Monday, April 04, 2011

Not always the most exciting publication . . .

... But this month's OfCom Broadcast Bulletin is quite the laff riot this quarter. Clarkson &al are acquitted on a charge of boorishness to Mexicans, Zac Goldsmith gets quite thoroughly put back in his box, and Frankie Boyle gets of pretty lightly all told. And, far, far more detail about the nefariousnesses of "Elite TV" and its "Premium rate phone TV" than any sane man who has ever seen a naked lady might want to know.

Idle Q: What was it about Johnson Beharry's performance on "Dancing on Ice" that drew 783 complaints?

Edit "this month's OBB ... this quarter? I am trying to cover all the bases here but still get it wrong. It's roughly once a fortnight.
25 comments this item posted by the management 4/04/2011 06:51:00 AM
Items in the category "songs that could plausibly have been written by Bruce Springsteen, and if they had been, everyone who now correctly reviles them would be calling them classics and using the word 'Americana'", part one of a series of one

Livin' On A Prayer
We Built This City (On Rock 'n' Roll)
The Power of Love (Huey Lewis & The News version)
The Power of Love (Frankie Goes To Hollywood version)
The Power of Love (Jennifer Rush version)
Uptown Girl
Heaven Is A Place On Earth
Everything I Do, I Do It for You
Eternal Flame
My Baby Takes The Morning Train


39 comments this item posted by the management 4/04/2011 02:35:00 AM

Friday, April 01, 2011

Big things, fine tolerances

OK, probably worth going through this one in a bit of specific detail - I've mentioned it before, but it's a common source of confusion in nuke debates. George Monbiot sets out a version of the thesis:

Last week I argued about these issues with Caroline Lucas. She is one of my heroes, and the best thing to have happened to parliament since time immemorial. But this doesn't mean that she can't be wildly illogical when she chooses. When I raised the issue of the feed-in tariff, she pointed out that the difference between subsidising nuclear power and subsidising solar power is that nuclear is a mature technology and solar is not. In that case, I asked, would she support research into thorium reactors, which could provide a much safer and cheaper means of producing nuclear power? No, she told me, because thorium reactors are not a proven technology. Words fail me.

Me too, to an extent, but actually whether by accident or design, Caroline Lucas is fundamentally right here.

The point is this - more research isn't going to help you with thorium reactors. The lab research program is complete; we know how to make a thorium reactor. There are probably about a dozen thorium reactors currently reacting in the world, all of them in university labs. The problem is now one of industrialisation and commercial scale. Because while there are a dozen or more lab-size reactors, what we would need would be a proper commercial-scale one. There are two problems here:

1) is that we don't have a magic size-increasing ray that would allow you to simply increase the size of the lab models to make them big enough to run a power plant off. Making a big casting is a more expensive process than making a small casting, for a given percentage tolerance, and:

2), even if we had a magic size increasing ray, if we used it to scale up a lab model by 10 times, we would be scaling up all the little cracks and imperfections by a factor of 10 times too. And this would mean that our magically scaled-up reactor would be unusable, because the size of a gap that something nasty can get through is a fixed quantity, not a percentage of the size of the object (dollhouses don't have mice in the walls). A working commercial-scale reactor has to be manufactured to a much finer percentage tolerance than a lab model.

How these problems are usually solved with new reactor technologies is by taking a deep breath and deciding to build a power plant anyway, hoping that in the process of doing so, you will come up with enough clever engineering wheezes and process improvements to mitigate the extraordinary expense of making very big objects to very fine tolerances - and that the lessons learned in doing so will mean that your second nuclear reactor is a lot better-designed than your first and so on. It has kindasorta worked sometimes in the past.

But this makes it clear what the issue is - there's no separate research issue in solving the problem of building a commercial-scale thorium reactor. The remaining problem to be solved is just literally the problem of "building a commercial-scale thorium reactor", and the only research methodology for solving that problem is also called "building a commercial-scale thorium reactor[1]". If you think that thorium's a commercially viable technology, commission one. At present, most people with their own (or their government's) money at stake don't - most of the people who do are perennial Mittyish nukeman optimists of exactly the sort that taxpayers and investors have learned to fear.

"More research", in other words, is basically the "no fly zone" of nuclear power plant development. It's a way of trying to be a little bit pregnant.

[1] Actually probably more like "commissioning a number of commercial-scale thorium reactors" - there isn't really much point in just building one.

Update: Alex's comment about the Indian thorium project prompts me to make a slight qualification here, because there is an intermediate stage between lab and commercialisation - the "prototype". But a prototype isn't really a research project - they are commissioned as step one in the development of a series of plants. They do give you the option of walking away having spent only massive amounts of money if the technology turns out to be unworkable, and that's important, but my objection to Monbiot still stands because you don't simply decide to build a prototype plant independently of your decision to build a load of real plants - that's pretty much the meaning of the word "prototype".
59 comments this item posted by the management 4/01/2011 01:08:00 AM

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