Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolution

High time to reach the top speed and to keep it there. Brace yourselves, this is going to be far more adrenaline-thirsty than racing a Bugatti Veyron at 407 km/h :-). A Very Exciting New Year, everybody!

Quote for week 23rd-29th of Dec '07

You're the last person I'm talking to, so you'll probably get the best interview, darling. I don't want to change the world. For me, happiness is the most important thing and if I'm happy, then it shows in my work. In the end, all the mistakes and all the excuses are down to me. I like to feel that I'm just being my honest self and as far as I'm concerned I just want to pack in as much of life and fun, having a good time as much as I can within in the years I have. Well there you are, you have it on tape. Use it. Well that's then nearest I've come to a lot of passion in terms of interviews. How much more have you got? Come on, I'm getting bored.

Freddie Mercury, in 'The Queen Phenomenon"

Raising smart kids

Here's a very well written article from the Scientific American, on raising smart kids (since I have quite many friends with young kids or expecting them: mothers and fathers (to be), pay great attention to this). You might also want to (re)read an older entry of mine on the same topic. Indeed, to sum up the article(s) above in my way, what one should induce to his/her children is the belief that nothing is impossible and that the key combination for achieving anything is ambition+ effort+ perseverance. Which is exhaustive. Really. In other words, you should get them to the stage where anything that looks difficult to start with, should be approached by "I so much love a challenge!"

Now, related in several ways to the above, as a (future) parent you should also realize that many things have been changing (which should be relevant unless you decide to isolate yourselves in a Blue Lagoon) and thus, for instance, that toddlers increasingly demand authenticity (this is via Tyler Cohen on MR, where you can also read some further interesting comments). And to conclude keeping on the psychological frequence, we still don't know enough about what drives adolescents to take so many risks, though certain myths are by now debunked and you should be well aware of that. Remember here the part about the challenges, one needs to keep them busy with the proper ones...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Unire intru fanatism...

... sau intru prostie, as completa eu. Costi Rogozanu scrie foarte bine pe blogul sau despre recentul protest al Patriarhiei Romane vizand traducerea in romana a "Versetelor Satanice" scrise de Salman Rushdie. Am zis 'foarte bine' mai sus; asta nu acopera insa si remarca lui Rogozanu referitoare la "stilul greoi emfatic al lui Rushdie", dar ma rog, sa o lasam la de gustibus (desi m-as fi asteptat la mai mult de la Rogozanu si ajung sa ma intreb cat a citit din Rushdie...).

Recenta incercare a Patriarhiei de a se opune libertatii expresiei in baza legii cultelor era desigur previzibila de multa vreme, vezi si o analiza rapida, pe text, a acestei fantastice probe de eruditie mioritica, numita 'lege a cultelor' la noi.

Intr-un fel sunt mirat ca nu am auzit (inca?) nimic vis-à-vis de eventuale proteste ale Patriarhiei (si ale Ambasadei Iraniene, partenerul ideal intru fanatism & co, evidemment) la recenta traducere a cartii lui Richard Dawkins, 'The God Delusion' , in limba romana. Sau dumnealor chiar nu mai citesc decat fictiune?

Mioritic achievements of bad renown. And their primary causes.

No one, it turns out, does Internet auction fraud like the Romanians. [...]
when it comes to online auctions, particularly for big-ticket items such as cars that can yield $5,000 a scam, Romanians own the game. Romanian police estimate that cyber-crime is now a multimillion-dollar national industry, as important to organized criminals here as drug smuggling or human trafficking. [...]
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, ranks Romania fifth in its table of naughty nations. But most experts agree that doesn't give Romanian criminals their due. Much of the cash being made on auction fraud reported as originating in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Spain or Italy is actually being picked up in those countries by Romanian money mules. An EBay fraud ring busted last year in Chicago, for example, has been traced to Pitesti, Romania. [...]
EBay, which doesn't even operate a site in Romania, won't talk dollar figures but acknowledges that the country is the No. 1 source of "professional fraud." On a November 2006 visit to the Romanian capital, Bucharest, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the vast majority of Internet fraud committed on "one prominent U.S. online auction website is connected to Romania or Romanians."

Read more here.

All well said, except this part that simply doesn't fit at all the story or the point or anything, though it raises a far more important issue. Here's the nonsense: "The respect for math is inside every family, even simple families, who are very proud to say their children are good at mathematics," said Radu Gologan, a senior research scientist at the Institute of Mathematics in downtown Bucharest." This is a myth that some Romanians still believe in (including, surprinsingly, the 'insider' interviewed above). Unfortunately, recent data reveals the very sad, but expected, truth (link in Romanian)... It is primarily the LACK of mathematics, logic, of good education/good job opportunities/ good preparation for (economic & social) life in general etc., in Romania, that determines such criminal behaviour as mentioned above, and not their (overwhelming- LOL!) presence (or respect for them and all the rest of the blahblah). But some still need to wake up. Including (or better: especially) those that are part of the Romanian education system.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Econlinks for 27-12-'07

  • "Morality matters for economic performance": A very interesting summary of recent research plus the agenda for further research in the context, by Guido Tabellini, on Tabellini already presented (part of) this in the 2007 EEA-ESEM conference from Budapest (more precisely, as the EEA Presidential Address, from the 30th of August), for those of you who have also been attending.

  • Markets in everything, one more exotic episode from Tyler Cowen's book, "Discover your inner economist" (read here the previous one). Today about the 'business of renting wedding guests':

A report from India tells of a firm that rents out wedding guests, so that the wedding and the party do not look empty. The "guests" will wear either traditional Indian dress or Western clothes, depending on what the customer dictates. They are told to dance and make small talk, and show a knowledge of the marrying couple,without letting on that they are hired. The firm's owner, a Mr. Syed, told one newspaper: "The breaking up of joint families and lack of affection among relatives also creates a demand for paid guests". The Best Guests Centre, at Jodhpur in Rajasthan, is looking to expand. To each his own: I would pay some people to stay away from my wedding.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Song of the day, month, year: "Wild is the wind", by David Bowie

This is one of my favourite songs ever, by one of my favourite artists ever (I said that elsewhere, as well). And I don't have to write much more (here's a wiki entry nonetheless, to refresh your memory on e.g. the proud fathers of this song, Tiomkin and Washington etc.), since we're talking about an absolute masterpiece here (in the sense that one can only remain awe-stricken Salieri-like, when listening to it...). Perhaps only that it reminds me that I loved all the women I slept with plus a very few I did not sleep with :-). Enjoy "Wild is the wind", in David Bowie's version.

Quote for week 16th to 22nd of Dec '07

No one believes me, but comedy is better than muscles, money or looks. If you can make a girl laugh out loud, you're in there. It's almost like the pressure of the laugh makes her panties fall off.

Econlinks for 21-12-'07

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Song of the day: "Enjoy the silence", by Depeche Mode

A perfect song for the day; fast and without many further comments since Depeche Mode certainly does not need 'em... In a way, this is an answer to an exchange of comments between me and Dan, a great while ago, on what is my favourite piece from Depeche. Dan, now you've got your answer :-). I was not and am not really a "fan" (what's that unconditional, eternal, support anyway?!) of this band (& talking about that, remember where I stand, in terms of musical tastes-- what's got value, it's got value, no matter the genre; I am a priori open to anything and looking forward to be impressed), but certain songs in their repertoire are simply immortal. And most of all, "Enjoy the Silence" (in fact: I used to be crazy about this song, many winters ago...). More on this masterpiece, on wikipedia. Enjoy, indeed!

Best phrase I've read today

As a protest vote, Ron Paul seems fine, but hearing him or reading about him just makes me depressed. A good rule of thumb is not to get too excited about any candidate whose actual election would make the Dow lose thousands of points.

For the whole context, see Tyler Cowen's excellent recent post. I would have actually phrased it more bluntly: Ron Paul is a lunatic with several very good ideas. Cowen's post on MR also contains a link to an "alternative" view of Alina Stefanescu, post which, otherwise interesting, is at best very naive. I do mention this because, for some reason, somebody in the roblosphere seems to have associated me (my blog), at some point, in a totally different context, with her (her blog). Now that I've actually read one of her posts, I confess that I find the comparison above utterly uninspired, to say the least...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Academia patetica... ad infinitum

Din pacate, din ceea ce a reprezentat odata Academia Romana, eticheta academica a ramas doar in nume; daca institutia s-a remarcat prin ceva in ultimii ani, e vorba de a). cvasi-invizibilitate pe scena academica/educationala/sociala etc. (speram ca lucrurile sa se schimbe o data cu Ionel Haiduc, un om de stiinta in adevaratul sens al cuvantului, ajuns presedinte; asteptarile nu s-au materializat...) si b). perpetuare, sub diferite forme, a status quo-ului din perioada comunista si cea, din multe puncte de vedere similara, care i-a urmat ('perioada de confuzie' ar zice unii, eufemistic; confuzie doar pentru analisti, nu si pentru actorii din context, le-as raspunde...). Limitat de spatiu si timp, voi aminti aici doar doua din cele mai recente dovezi ale 'verticalitatii' acestei institutii: 'replica' lipsita de orice urma de decenta a unui (fost... at last!) reprezentant din setul "membrilor de onoare" ai Academiei sau neinspirata 'onorare' a altora cu activitati paralele academe-ului. Epsilon intre exemplele care pot fi discutate.

Probabil doar timpul va schimba ceea ce trebuie schimbat-- si e nevoie de cateva generatii bune pentru aceasta. E trist mai ales pentru cei care intr-adevar isi merita locul si care cred intr-o Academie (pentru un proxy al proportiei acestor adevarati academicieni, intre membrii institutiei, comparati voturile pro si cons date fostului rege si respectiv actualului patriarh, de mai sus). Daca acestia vor totusi sa faca o diferenta (sa contribuie la ceea ce va constitui "diferenta"), ar fi nevoie sa-si dea demisia acum si sa (re)infiinteze Academia Romana, cea pe care ne-o dorim-- si cea pe care in cele din urma o vom avea. Pentru ei insa, din nefericire, timp prea mult nu mai este...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Since Xmas is approaching...

...surely we don't want to wait to hear our adorable President and Prime Minister (talking about Romanians here; warning for all other nations, get your own fools, these are ours!) wishing us all the blahblah, so, ahead of time, here they are. Most of the time they fight, but you gotta admit they worked perfectly in a team this time.

Taught them everything about the elf dance,

PS. Feel free to elf yourselves, all of you. Many thanks to Neto for the tip! :-).

Miorita si consumatorul-rege

Unul din cele mai bune articole citite recent in presa autohtona: Catalin Sturza cu "persoana a doua plural" (in paranteza fie spus, Catalin Sturza e unul dintre foarte putinii insideri mass media de la noi care scrie bine de obicei, deci va recomand sa-l urmariti).

Relatia client-furnizor de servicii (sau: de orice alte produse) e o intr-adevar o dimensiune unde piata (poate) decide in proportie de 100%, un exemplu excelent unde nu e nevoie de interventii/ reglementari externe, pentru ca agentii care nu se conformeaza vor fi implicit sanctionati de clienti (e.g. pierd din profit, aka bacsis etc, pierd din reputatie-- ceea ce e un proxy in intretinerea interactiunilor repetate si prin implicatie in mentinerea profitabilitatii s.a.m.d.). Chiar daca in Romania nu am atins inca echilibrul in contextul de fata (citeste: unele lucruri care in alte parti se cunosc de la Adam Smith incoace, la noi inca se invata), pe termen lung nu putem ajunge altundeva: Le roi est mort, vive le consommateur!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Romania and the world of film

...Nouvelle Vague, Dogma, The Berlin School, The December Children. Not bad, not bad at all. Once you are part of that set, you are somebody. Finally.

PS. And maybe somebody I know was very right when choosing the 'film studies' direction. Just maybe.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quote of the week 9th-15th of Dec '07

I start my class every year by saying, “These are models. And the reason we call them models is that they’re not 100 percent true. If they were, we would call them reality, not models. They’re simplifications.” But the acid test is, how good are the simplifications for your purposes? And for almost all purposes, market efficiency is a very good approximation.

Eugene Fama (in a Nov '07 interview)

What is good mathematics?

Read the answer by one of the most qualified persons to give an answer: Terence Tao.

Also: Tao's blog is for quite a while in my blogring, I hope you noticed that :-). Quite an interesting and welcome new idea there is that he'll be posting soon his notes on the graduate course "topics in ergodic theory".

Friday, December 14, 2007

It is time for the current Minister of Education to go...

... and I'll come back to the theme of the title soon (there are many reasons for the title, beyond what this short post will touch on), with an alternative, you've always got to have an alternative when you criticise... But meanwhile, if The Diplomat is right in this article (via Gabi Istrate, on Ad Astra), the MEdC signed itself up (in an apparent total ignorance, which is a proxy to a far more serious sin-- and this is a real sin!--incompetence) to a new beginning of the Dark Ages... Hopefully we'll only get to watch the first episode of that, though.

Update, some minutes later: almost forgot, you can also read some other posts of mine related, to various extents, to the worrying developments underlined in the article linked above, e.g. here, here or here (all in Romanian).

Salivating over economics in public

Definitely the morning pill today. Couldn't have phrased this better. From a self-defined "Ec10 slut" and necessarily via Greg Mankiw :-). The conclusion of this short article is useful to keep in mind as future reference, for everybody-- both outsiders and insiders to economics:

When we use the tools that economics give us, we need to be sure that the complexity of the models we use match the complexity of the real world situations. Economics embodies a different and valuable approach to public policy, one that strives to apply rigorous scientific standards to what can often seem like fuzzy questions. And when economics solutions fall short of the ideal, it is a signal that the specific methods employed are flawed, not that economic science as a whole needs to be scrapped.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Today's song: Semilla Negra (in Marlango's version)

The musical masterpiece for today is "Semilla Negra", in Marlango's rendition. Probably you know that the song was first introduced by the popular pop-rock Spanish band of the 80's, "Radio Futura". I managed to trace on YouTube their version. Here's a nice description of Radio Futura's "Semilla Negra" and what this song brought novel:

"Semilla Negra introduced the first hints of what would soon become their signature contribution: latin rock based on a highly intellectualized basis (frontman Santiago Auserón holds a degree in Philosophy and is known for lenghty answers in flourishing vocabulary) but, notwithstanding, aimed at the streets and addressed to the general populace[...]."

And indeed, as you will surely agree, the lyrics of the song more than justify its characterization above. Another famous rendition of the same song is by the Peruvian rock band "La Liga del Sueño". You can also listen to their version on YouTube. While both Radio Futura's and Liga del Sueño's versions are very good, the one I personally prefer, at the same time the one most different compared to the others, is Marlango's superlative "Semilla Negra". Here you can listen to a pure audio clip of it on YouTube, while this one (but lower audio quality) is a clip from a live performance (Semilla Negra starts about 1:30 min in the clip). Since I talked already quite extensively (and will mention them again in the future) about Marlango, and since you might have guessed that I am totally crazy about Leonorcita by now (I confess: so far, I've been playing hard-to-get with her; that is, I haven't contacted or given her much attention, which I certainly hope will lead her to contact me very soon), I'll just end by wishing you: Enjoy!

Econlinks for 13-12-'07

  • Here's a very interesting post of Andrew Gelman (based on this co-authored article of his) on whether the Democrats should move, as an electoral strategy, more to the left on the economic policy axis. His answer says that no, au contraire, they could gain if they moved moved a bit to the right (indeed, how on earth could the Democrats move more to the left than where they are already, economic-wise?!) , but certainly keeping to the left of the Republicans. The analysis is quite insightful, but I think it ignores other dimensions that would/will play a big role in the electoral strategies; i.e, the left and right discussed herein are purely the economic ones, while probably the Democrats can win much more from positioning strategically on the political axis, where most Republicans are not what they should/could/ought be (beats me why...), libertarians that is... (e.g. think for instance of the 2-dimension political compass I've talked about a while ago). Also, linked to left-right economics opinions in the USA (and, in fact, in general), see a concise analysis from Greg Mankiw: he tackles the divergences in this context among the experts, so to speak...

  • Meet the Isaac Newton of biology (so says Esquire, but read on: they might well be onto something here), also known as Dr. Franziska Michor. Blonde, 25 years old, very good looking (that is already my opinion, not Esquire's). That she's got an impressive number of top publications, a PhD on the 'evolutionary dynamics of cancer' from Harvard at 22, or that she was a theoretical biologist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at 19, is certainly meritorious :-). But what's really killing is that she's also got a licence to drive 18-wheelers (part of a family-induced education that included two other essential chapters: cake baking and ballroom dancing): we love it, we love it!

Taphephobia (or "taphophobia", depending which spelling convention you follow) is the fear of being buried alive. A Chilean cemetery will build an alarm into a coffin for only $462. In 1995 entrepreneurs marketed a $5000 Italian casket with an emergency signal beeper and a two-way microphone/speaker to the outside world. The accompanying survival kit includes a torch, an oxygen tank, and a heart stimulator; don't ask who will administer the latter.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


You'll be glad to know that the acronym in the title does not actually stand for "Complete Fucking Rubbish" :-) . And there I ultimately agree with Andy :-), though, as can be read from his extremely funny (though I guess he was not laughing while on the described trip...) report, things can (should! must!) improve a lot. In fact, Andy's recent post reminds me so much of opinions (including my own, very elaborated ones...) that I gathered for an article called "Cu trenul prin Romania", for an online portal where I used to be quite active some years ago (when I had so much more spare time...), "Romania, Libera in Viitor" (RLIV). Unfortunately for people like Andy, those texts are in Romanian. But in many ways they describe similar experiences to Andy's (e.g. inter alia, I also pointed out the often experienced 'overheating', a problem I dedicated quite some space to, in my own 'opinions' part). Now, for those of you who do read Romanian, the texts I was mentioning can be consulted here (in PDF): part 1 and part 2, respectively. Or, in .html format, directly on the RLIV site: part 1 and respectively part 2. "Lectura placuta!", as we say it in Romanian.

Quote of the week 2nd to 8th of Dec '07

m-am îndrăgostit de un argument

era blond, livid şi psihologic
în prag de seară primăvara
cînd sentimentele
se repetă

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Today's musical piece: "Varjú", by Másfél

The musical (re)treat for today is "Varjú" ("Crow") by one of my favourite funk & acid jazz & psychedelic rock & drum n bass bands, the Hungarian group Másfél (wiki in Hungarian, official site). This piece is from their 2003 album, "Ballast". See also a shorter version of the live performance clip from above, as a funny (& very well done!) cartoon videoclip. On their official site you can listen to (very few) other excellent Másfél pieces. YouTube also does not have, unfortunately, most of them-- e.g. entire albums are missing (see here their entire discography)--, but you can also find some pieces, particularly more recent ones, there. From those, I particularly recommend: Piezzo (album Ballast, 2003), Lengyel (En Garde!, 2005), Angyaltojás (Angyaltojás, 2000).

Credits go to my good old friend Daniel :-), for introducing me to Másfél (as, after all, to other excellent Hungarian bands, some of which I've praised before on this blog, e.g. here or here).

Econlinks for 06-12-'07

  • from the 'exotic entreneurship' stories cycle, another example mentioned in Tyler Cowen's very well written book, Discover Your Inner Economist (see also my previous example from there). Today: "the crying bar" (since I have some relatives that own a bar in Romania, this might be particularly of interest as business strategy for them; it's high time we copied the Chinese:-)):

" The truly regretful in the Chinese city of Nanjing can visit a "crying bar". There's a sofa, some tables, and a great deal of tissue paper. For about $6 an hour, customers can sit and cry. The owner, one Luo Jun, claimed he hit upon the idea from customers of a previous bar. They wanted to cry, but they had no venue for this desire. The crying bar solves their problem by making the show of maudlin emotion socially respectable and indeed socially expected. I hope I don't see you there"

Monday, December 03, 2007

Funniest thing I've read today about a "conversation with a slightly-lingual-in-two-languages toddler". Via Andy's blog. Enjoy (and try to stop laughing) :-).

Song of the day: "Kala", by Yann Tiersen

THE perfect song for today is "Kala", one of the pieces from the latest album of Yann Tiersen, Les Retrouvailles. About Tiersen, one of my very favourite musicians ever, I've written a lot on this blog already, e.g. here or here or here. Kala is also featuring Elizabeth Fraser, from the former "Cocteau Twins" group (wiki, official, pieces from them on YouTube). Enjoy!

Quote for week Nov 25th- Dec 1st '07

To be reconciled to the social world, one must be able to see it as both reasonable and rational.

John Rawls, The Law of Peoples

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Probability of being a serial killer: the case of Lucia de Berk

Here's a post on an extremely interesting story at the intersection of law, statistics and professional ethics in several disciplines. Inter alia, the issue has been covered in some of the best scientific journals. See for instance a). a report in the Science edition of the 16th of November (you need a subscription to access the PDF); b). a very good report on this case in Nature, January this year; you can read here that PDF (subscription free).

What is this about? One of the most interesting legal cases ever, involving multiple homicide, is now under review by the Supreme Court in the Netherlands. The case deals with the former trial of Lucia de Berk, a Dutch nurse, accused and sentenced to life imprisonment in spring 2003, for the alleged murder of seven hospital patients and the attempted murder on three others, in places where she had worked between 1999-2001. The issue is that there was never direct evidence to implicate De Berk (and she has always denied all accusations): she was condemned solely based on the fact that she happened to be always around when these patients died; basically the courts (an appeal court also upheld the initial verdict) decided that it was very unlikely, essentially only one chance in 342 million, according to the expert statistician who testified at the trial, that so many deaths could have occured accidentally while she was nearby.

What happens now is that the 2003 sentence is being challenged by several scientists who signed a petition to re-open the case (this is what the Supreme Court needs to decide on, after last months a justice department panel indeed recommended that the case be reopened). Richard Gill, a Leiden University mathematician and organizer of the petition, states that the previous conclusion, leading to the condemnation of De Berk, is based on "every statistical mistake in the book". Gill and others concluded that the previous statistical testimony was based on an incorrect analysis and that in fact the probability estimated earlier, of 1 in 342 million, is in fact as low as 1 in 48 or even 1 in 5, which are very unlikely to meet the criterion of "beyond reasonable doubt" needed for a criminal conviction. Here's the website of Gill dedicated to this case (with his detailed discussion of the statistical aspects in this case here and Gill's synopsis/reconstruction of the case + other interesting details here). There is even a whole book criticizing De Berk's conviction on scientific procedure, by Ton Derksen , a philosopher of science from the University of Nijmegen. Mark Buchanan, who wrote about the case in Nature (see the link above) summarizes the legal essence of the argument this way: "The court needs to weigh up two different explanations: murder or coincidence. The argument that the deaths were unlikely to have occurred by chance (whether 1 in 48 or 1 in 342 million) is not that meaningful on its own - for instance, the probability that ten murders would occur in the same hospital might be even more unlikely. What matters is the relative likelihood of the two explanations. However, the court was given an estimate for only the first scenario."

This is certainly not an easy case, despite the fact that it is not the first one that might involve wrong statistical evidence in a criminal sentence (the Nature report linked above also mentions another high profile case involving misuse of statistics, the case of Sally Clark, from 1999, in Britain). My opinions are the following. Firstly, I strongly believe that the Dutch Supreme Court has more than sufficient basis to re-open De Berk's case and carefully re-analyse all the previous evidence (I've obviously signed the petition as well). Further, one can only hope that a wrong verdict is overturned swiftly in De Berk's case, should the petitioners be right (and then I wouldn't want to be in the place of the 'expert statistician' who testified to start with, although it is true, as can be read on Gill's discussion, that this expert "always insisted that his analysis only showed that the observed coincidence could not be due to pure chance, not that Lucia caused the the deaths"; moreover, this expert himself wants the case to be reopen; but the scientific flaws would still be there, if the petitioners are right.). More generally, one can only hope that science will be used with the greatest care in any legal processes, especially criminal ones, given the extreme emotions and stakes typically involved (but not only: science has to be done properly, anytime, anywhere, anyway...).