Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tokyo, Narisawa, Takemitsu: Arigato!

It happened almost two months ago (see last bullet point here), so I've thought it is about time I gave you some impressions about my Tokyo trip :-). Obviously I do not plan to get into what you can find described in detail online, e.g. the more than decent Tokyo-wiki source.

For starters, very briefly, some (incomplete, random, and likely very personal) general impressions about Tokyo. My good old friends Sae and Folkert gave me plenty of information and advice on what I must see, but unfortunately I did not eventually manage even half of that... For instance, places outside Tokyo, like Yokohama and Kamakura, are priorities for next time (though Kyoto is clearly my number 1 priority in what regards my next trip to Japan, will try to make that happen as soon as possible). I also had very little time, however, for Harujuku (but, just from what I did see, I have to say that I like Ginza as shopping area, and also simply as city area, much more) and I only saw Roppongi by evening/night time (restaurants in the area are lovely; the persistence of the many black American guys trying to get you in every (strip)club is quite annoying). Loved the Tsukiji fish market (though I arrived there pretty much after the main action was gone; I am not a morning person...), particularly eating very fresh sushi right in the middle of it (after queing ad infinitum: I guess I am not the only sushi lover). Very very unfortunately, I did not have enough time to look for and try this place called Daiwa sushi, allegedly the best sushi place in the world (see the third bullet point from here for that Guardian list), very close to the Tsukiji market as well. In any case, once you eat sushi and sashimi even in average places in Tokyo, you will never ever want to eat them outside Japan-- there is simply no comparison! To the other Japanese delicatesse: the "Kobe beef temple" in the middle of the electronic town (Akihabara) was fantastic; I could have basically eaten all that beef raw.

People in Tokyo are very stylish, in general. The style and very good taste are actually extending beyond personalia and are to be found everywhere; for instance, quite impressive is that the most unassuming, average restaurant/ cafe, will play Norah Jones, or Gershwin, or Mozart, or Takemitsu (of whom more below). I was negatively impressed however by how few Japanese speak English, and how bad they speak it when they speak it (just try to ask for directions to random people in the will not try a second time). They are also obsessively polite (which, very likely, you know already: what I am telling you is that they are even more polite than whatever you heard/imagined). The center is extremely crowded, at every hour (Amsterdam is Mickey Mouse compared to Tokyo, in that regard); I am still puzzled by the (seemingly stable...) equilibrium consisting of pedestrians and bicycles in full speed, sharing the very same sidewalk. Too humid and warm for my October mood, but I guess one can get used to it. The Japanese toilets are just the finest piece of technology ever put to basic needs use: I am actually very surprised that they did not get popular outside Japan; in Japan they are (still) en vogue (the very funny conference guide we had explained us that Japanese people might not want a dishwasher, but then every single one of them will have the latest technology toilet). The guided bus trip around Tokyo after the CAED conference, with a long stop at the legendary Senjoji temple in Asakusa, and particularly the great dinner & cruise on the Tokyo Bay (under a beautiful starry night) that finalized it all, were by far the best sightseeing part, from my perspective. Needless to say, the dinner ended-- as usually in Japan, I am being told-- with a very succesful karaoke (no, I did not participate in the singing part; you really wouldn't want me to participate) where, inter alia, I learnt that David Neumark has another competitive advantage next to that of the economist: he is the best interpreter of Deep Purple songs after Deep Purple themselves :-).

One of the absolute highlights was the lunch at Les Créations de Narisawa (many thanks to Valérie for the extremely inspired suggestion), a superb 1-star Michelin restaurant and the best restaurant of Asia (number 20 in the world) in 2009, according to San Pellegrino (this is by no means little accomplishment, particularly given the sea of Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo alone! Actually, I conjecture that Narisawa's restaurant will receive the 3 Michelin stars in 5-6 years, the latest). There are simply no words to describe my impression about the food, so I will let Valérie's pictures speak instead (I am too lazy to put mine online for now, but this will happen... at some point-- I might then link back to this blogpost): the menu, first appetizer, second appetizer , third appetizer, first starter, second starter, main dish, dessert plate, dessert 1, dessert 2, dessert 3, Japanese white whine (instead, I tasted a fabulous Chateau Lestrille, Entre-deux-Mers, 2008: it is the first wine described here), I also had the best mint green tea in the world; unfortunately you will have to imagine the taste from looking at the pictures, at least until you manage to get there...). The service was beyond perfection. And, to top it all, no less than the famous chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa himself, came at the end of the lunch to greet and have an informal chat with us: now this is what I call caring for your customers; I solemnly declare myself the biggest fan of Narisawa-san! In a nutshell, this was by far the best lunch I've ever had.

I'll end with a few lines on one of my alltime favourite-things Japan, i.e. my favourite Japanese music composer, Toru Takemitsu. Unfortunately, although I planned it carefully before getting there, it turned out I could not save enough time to go and look in Tokyo for a bunch of Takemitsu works that I definitely definitely must have. So I'll probably end up buying them from Amazon instead. Anyway, here's just a flavour (with thanks to YouTube... and hoping they would not be removed from there any time soon) of some of my favourite Takemitsu pieces. Just ideal for starting the week, my very number 1 Takemitsu work, a 200% masterpiece: November Steps (Part 1; Part 2). And if you have even more time (you must!), listen also to my preferred Takemitsu soundtrack, Black Rain, and to one of the finest piano works out there, Rain Tree Sketch (which I actually heard being played in Tokyo, in one of the nice cafes from Ginza). Enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weekend econlinks

  • Sharing information in scientific research: yes/no/when. Interesting, but the analysis here is applicable only in the context of some sciences (arguably, not most). Moreover, sharing by means of co-authorship is discussed at best indirectly (if one is willing to expand on their repeated interaction game thread...). But my major "disagreement" has to do with their upshot: my conjecture is that know-how sharing is, ceteris paribus, over all disciplines, U-shaped in the degree of competition (and, since I also believe that, overall, very high competition dominates very low competition equilibria, you already know what my prior of the ideal is). Remains however an open empirical question for now.

  • We are what we ate: Tony Judt's culinary autobiography. Reminds me that (fortunately) I have only got to know top Indian restaurants in London (in general, Londonese Indian cuisine is probably, up to now, my favourite in the world; though surely there is a variance): a lot must have changed.

  • Cheaptalk on the election process of Econometric Society Fellows. Not extremely surprising or, for that matter, singular within Economics; after all, they almost forgot Hurwicz for the Nobel Prize..., for largely the same reason: most of the people who used to propose and lobby for him died at some point... I think Ely is right: focus on the young people-- at least that would be an attempt to solve the problem for the future... And yes, for potential candidates why wouldn't you just look to the Econometrica editions (Lones Smith's suggestion in the comments)...

  • Philip Greenspun on universities and economic growth; via Razvan, on Ad Astra. First impression: he writes much and he misunderstands a lot; particularly the Economics of it all (no, he is not qualified to understand what is clear and what is controversial in Clark's book, to give but one example). Also, doesn't seem to realize (not sure whether qualifying this as voluntary misrepresentation would be better or worse...) the difference between statistical and anectodal evidence. And, in general, he doesn't seem to have decided whether his target is to make people incensed at or interested in what he has to say. BUT, although he errs nearly everywhere else, I agree that a. much change is needed in the way teaching in most universities is done nowadays (see also the 3rd bullet point here on opinions on the value of college education & all that jazz); b. he has some very decent ideas there (others had/have them too) and c. these changes would not cost too much, with the benefit very likely to outweigh that cost. (Probably) Inadvertently, Greenspun is actually arguing for a "Japanese approach" (which the Japanese apply to both teaching and on-the-job training): give a rather broad ("customer-based", if you want some context) training, be able to/ focus on study/work in teams, always help the new/junior ones etc. etc. There is however a known problem with the (standard) Japanese perspective to (life-long) education that I am not sure Greenspun is aware of... Simply put, you really do not want to give no/wrong incentives at the very top of the ability distribution.

  • One of the two prediction markets on the 2009 Romanian Presidential Election is now closed and cashed-out (the other one is also "closed", but waiting for the final results on Dec 6th), as the official First Round results of that election are out. Several participants won (virtual) money (yours truly included), but the congratulations go to Dan, as he is the one who won the most (a fortune!). Which means that he is obviously going to pay for the (very good: e.g. the French on this list?) wine, with the occasion of our next meeting :-).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Wine Spectator's Wine of 2009

The highest rated in terms of points (99/100) of top 10 is number 8, a 2006 Flaccianello .

This was the wine of the year for 2008.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On U2's poverty of music trap

We will be lending African musicians to U2 to try to refurbish their sound to satisfy the urgent and growing needs for diversionary entertainment at a time of crisis in the global music and financial sectors.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekend econlinks

  • Blogossary. With some definitions completely redundant.

  • "If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you're an idiot." And many other smart thoughts from Umberto Eco (Part 1, Part 2).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songwriters as innovators

Irving Berlin and Cole Porter were two of the great experimental songwriters of the Golden Era. They aimed to create songs that were clear and universal. Their ability to do this improved throughout much of their careers, as their skill in using language to create simple and poignant images improved with experience, and their greatest achievements came in their 40s and 50s. During the 1960s, Bob Dylan and the team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney created a conceptual revolution in popular music. Their goal was to express their own ideas and emotions in novel ways. Their creativity declined with age, as increasing experience produced habits of thought that destroyed their ability to formulate radical new departures from existing practices, so their most innovative contributions appeared early in their careers.

This is the abstract of David Galenson's new paper on the two creativity patterns in songwriting. Extremely interesting, very convincingly argued, and at the same time a crash course into the musical biographies of Berlin, Porter, Dylan, Lennon and McCartney. See also a previous entry on Galenson's research.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Top Gear in Romania. Or: keep up with the Sandero!

If you're not going to die of laughter before that, you will when the Dacia Sandero appears (and overtakes them) :-). Oh, and this gem from Clarkson is to save for further reference: "If Simon Cowell came here [Mamaia, Romania], they'd put him on income support". Brilliant!
Thanks to George for the tip!

PS. Looking forward for the rest of the upload on YouTube. UPDATE, 17 nov: second and respectively, last part of the episode, with thanks to Bogdan. Watch them before they are removed from YouTube.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After this, what is left for us to write?

... so is said to have rhetorically wondered a deeply impressed Schubert, after witnessing a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet no. 14 in C sharp minor, Opus 131. And so must repeat yours truly after listening to his favourite Beethoven string quartet, flawlessly performed by the Takács Quartet, in the Lille Sal of the Aarhus Musikhuset-- a mere couple of hours ago.

The program contained three pieces, strategically chosen from the three distinct creativity periods of Beethoven, namely: the String Quartet no. 1 in F major, Op. 18, from the early period (1799); the String Quartet no. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 74 (the "Harp"), from the middle period (1809); and the already mentioned Op. 131, a late Beethoven quartet (1826). I have known the Takács Quartet, for quite a while now, for their superlative recording of Béla Bartók's string quartets (I would not miss a Bartók concert with them for anything in the world!), and have found out much more recently (why?!) of their perfect, highly acclaimed, recording of Beethoven's three "Razumovsky" Quartets (Op. 59) plus the "Harp". Hence, on the one hand I had very high expectations; on the other hand, especially since the Op. 131 is my most treasured of all Beethoven's quartets, I nonetheless knew that I would not be easily impressed... But they did deliver beyond my expectations! I have found a Guardian review of their performance from just a week ago, in Norwich, where The Takács played the same pieces from tonight (in the Nov 8 performance); that to a great extent seems to summarize also my impressions. Else, indeed, there isn't much left that we could write; perhaps, as on-site reporting, only that their first violonist, Dusinberre, was so much out there, into the music, when playing the last movements of the Op. 131, that he inadvertently used his mouth as well a couple of times-- now that is what I would call true passion :-).

Finally, since I cannot leave you without any concrete 'musical feel' of all this, I have searched all of YouTube and here is my gift to you: firstly, I have found the First Movement of the Op 131, by the Takács Quartet themselves (and there is nothing piu espressivo than this rendition here, just as required by the great Ludwig van; I have to get hold of this late Beethoven quartets recording immediately!); secondly, I have managed to retrieve the whole Op 131, albeit interpreted by a different quartet (I personally strongly prefer the Takács, but these folks are not bad at all). Enjoy!

PS. Last time I saw a performance of a string quartet close to this level was in Amsterdam, some months ago: Schubert's String Quartet no. 15, in the interpretation of the Artemis Quartet (though, for a fair comparison, one should also take into account the differences between the two locations: Aarhus's Musikhuset is more than decent, but, in all honesty, not even close to replicating the unique acoustic features of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw).

Sunday econlinks

  • One of the reasons I just love reading Landsburg: he is acid and funny. Here's something that hopefully will open a longer exchange between him and Krugman: I really think Steve Landsburg is the proper counterpart to Paul Krugman in any debate (NB: Mankiw is great, but too serious and not engaging--understandably-- enough in the type of debate Krugman seems to love). And I tell you beforehand that I shall bet all my money on Landsburg :-). This for instance should be kept for posterity: "But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he’s been awarded a column at the New York Times)."

  • Who should go to college and who should pay for it: with many specialist opinions (via MR). Signalling seems to be dominating as point of view, though I myself think that university also has a genuine positive effect (I agree that matters most for the students in the top of the ability distribution). Else, all might be boiling down in the limit to competition between cats with fraudulent diplomas (via boingboing, via MR).

  • Kirman has been writing about these things for quite a while now (with high frequency recently), and almost always on such a revolted tone; these things are happening within Economics, for quite some years now, much of what he mentions is mainstream or closeby (think of social interactions and networks, herding behaviour in finance etc). Plus arguing for discarding these old and well known models (my belief is that most serious economists are very well aware of their limitations for each specific context), just for the sake of discarding them, is madness (who is ideologue here?...). I really don't think this is the way one should argue for different approaches. All my respect for Alan Kirman's scientific work, but with his (especially recent) comments he does seem to go/fall a long way in the direction of non-Economists misinterpreting Econ fundamentals (first bullet point), or, worse, of the several nonsense people writing now and then in The Guardian, e.g. here (6th bullet point) or here.

  • Tim Harford on the "Jamie Oliver Feed Me Beter" experiment in UK schools. Features recent econ research analysing effects of that experiment, by Michele Belot and Jonathan James; you can download a draft version here. The preliminary results suggest that good food has considerable positive effect on educational outcomes. Extrapolating: so stop telling me not to spend my money on Michelin-starred restaurants :-).

  • I think "wine critics/commentators" should move-- what they should have done a long time ago-- to identify / classify wine quality ranges, rather than preserve the current practice of grading on a 1 -100 scale. In any case, the last paragraph in this article is the one to retain.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Noncommutative Geometry, String Theory, and the EU vs. US academe

All this in a 2005 interview with Alain Connes, in Iran (initial link to the PDF of the interview via Tyler Cowen, on MR).

First, I think this is a very welcome, very open interview (several questions/comments are just great, congrats to the interviewers!) and it is extremely interesting to see the opinion of this great mathematician (inter alia, Fields Medalist in 1982) on a wide range of topics. The pros: I completely agree with Connes's view on the distinct (ir)relevance of String Theory for Mathematics and respectively, Physics. I also like his (humorous) detachment from being considered the guru of NCG (of which unfortunately I know currently epsilon, albeit once I was almost sure this is what I wanted to do...) and from the tendency of always looking for / looking up to the one mastermind, in general, in any (sub)discipline. So no more on those, read for yourselves in the transcript of the interview. What I don't quite agree with is summarized below:

  • resources (money) in research are not important (Connes's context has to do with the large interest/funding in Bio-Mathematics; he actually says "nothing", which I take as far stronger than "not important":-)): to the extent that it shapes incentives, I think it is actually very important. Intrinsic motivation is (the most) relevant, but it is not everything. The marginal (very able-- let us simplify) scientist can be moved into one direction or another by means of designing proper (or improper; but then again, who is to decide what is proper/improper in the context: I think we ought to take the view that lots of money is being thrown in one direction, because there is a lot of interest in that particular direction) extrinsic rewards. That being said, I personally (also) think there are a lot more interesting things in/to Maths than Biomaths :-).
  • the European academic system is better than the US one. Hmmm, this is an endless debate and, as always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Inter alia, it goes back to whether you need/want tenure or not in the academe (see for instance such a debate I've earlier linked to, especially within Economics) and to what goals you expect researchers to meet. And this also goes beyond one or another discipline, although it is perhaps interesting to discuss it indeed in the light of fundamental Mathematics, given its very abstract nature. Now, Connes believes that a system such as the French CNRS (which possibly is in the process of changing since 2005, when this interview took place) is perfect for mathematicians working on extremely complicated issues, that take years and years and years, since they are insulated from being subjected to those "n publications" requirement per year and in general from the eternal harassment of frequently showing how you compare to your peers, something specific to the top US institutions (Connes dismisses that the US places are ultimately inherently better in producing top scientists, because they get all the top European people-- not (entirely) true and to a great extent working eventually against his thesis, e.g. need to justify preferences of those very high European achievers for the US places, but let us not get also into that). The potential problem (sacrifice), as acknowledged by Connes, is the cost of such a practice, given that a lot of people might end up not producing anything and that the vast majority of them will be very far from getting Fields Medals or similar recognition among their peers... I say that the main problem is who bears that cost, namely the taxpayers here; and the public (not all of them having the same goals as Connes or as the specific, minority, group of the scientists, in general) is justified in knowing and assessing (whenever it so pleases) where its money is going and what precisely it pays for (if the funding is private, all this discussion has a completely different flavour-- remark that the US top academic places are privately funded, while all European examples Connes mentiones are public institutions; in my view, this again tips the balance towards the US academia). Related, but extremely surprising, Connes seems to be nostalgic after the Soviet Union academic system, but I think he deeply confuses things-- anyway, let us just say for the sake of this brief post that, fortunately, France was never quite like the Soviet Union, despite its tendency to lean extreme left, particularly within its academe... As for the claim that the Soviets would have been far ahead US and everybody else, if their system remained in place, I guess we'll never know (though I have opposite priors). And I think it is better we don't... So I am rather dissapointed that one of my idols in Mathematics has/had (this was '05) such, hmm: uninformed, views. But then again, I've always thought Economics (Not Politics. Politics is just a surface, not relevant in the long run, ultimately all boils down to Economics-- really!) is far less intuitive than Mathematics or Theoretical Physics :-).

I am sure one can go on and on, but I trust the main ideas are all outlined above (read also between the lines).

Friday, November 13, 2009

John Adams on concert coughing

So the loud cough, most likely completely unconscious, is a way of saying “I can’t handle this, folks. You all may be crowding round Mahler’s deathbed for one final intimate confession. You may be letting Debussy whisper opium secrets into your ear. Perhaps you like being ravished by Takemitsu’s lush penumbras. BUT I AM OUTTA HERE!"

Excellent!-- I don't think anyone could have written this better than Adams.

PS. Unfortunately, I think there are even more types of concerto coughers. For instance the person who just cannot stop coughing-- desperately wants to, but simply cannot-- somebody who should have stayed at home, or even better, in a hospital. Provided s/he does not die before, s/he is usually gone after the break...

Thursday, November 12, 2009


  • Endless Summers (via Mankiw). Supercilious he might well be, but some of us still find him absolutely fascinating-- I think I am (in the process of) understanding why :-). Earlier (first bullet point).

  • They cannot be blamed for defending/arguing what's in their best interest (click on the British flag in the upper right corner to get to the article in English, if you do not see it immediately through the link above); however, in my opinion, their general case is overstated: most of the translation services as hitherto understood are redundant. There is still a case (and a premium) for translation services from/to Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese & the like, but certainly not for European to European languages, and certainly not in countries from Scandinavia or Benelux...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vedrai vedrai...

An old, but eternal, musical masterpiece to start the week, with a well-preserved Luigi Tenco live performance video clip from the 60's. Lyrics.

Grazie, Elena-- it is indeed high time I was reminded of Tenco's superb voice and style.

PS. Luigi Tenco is yet another of my top five Italian cantautori (earlier, here and here).

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Weekend Econlinks

  • The Levitt vs. Heckman leitmotive (actually the rest of that Univ of Chicago Magazine article is more interesting; in general, I think people put too many resources into this sort of personalized academic fights). Earlier on the same topic (3rd bullet point). See also an essay on the economics-made-for-fun genre, kind of vague / unfocused, but some parts are well worth your time (such as the beginning summary of the books in this econ-made-for-fun area)

  • Best US cities for classical music, in '09. Worldwide, I would place London, Amsterdam and Vienna somewhere in top 5. Not sure about Tokyo yet, since I was for too little there (and still have to put my impressions on paper... well, blog).

Friday, November 06, 2009

The new Danish ranking of journals

Ridiculous, if you ask me (needless to state, this is a very personal opinion). Unfortunately, in Economics (you find that category under "Samfundsøkonomi" in the linked pdf), there will be many years till Denmark will catch up with the best places in the Netherlands, for instance (see here an Economics journal ranking of the Tinbergen Institute (TI) , which has its imperfections-- such as Journal of Finance placed in the 'AA' category... -- but it is way way better), in competitiveness, attitude in this context etc. Not to mention the top places in US or UK (NB: the non-existence/ non-marketing of an explicit journal ranking on the (web)sites of those departments does not mean the non-existence of a very strict, informal hierarchy -- decisive in hiring and, especially, promotion decisions--, in many ways similar in spirit to the one of the TI linked above!).

The simple test the folks who made up this hierarchy (there was and still is a lot of disagreement among them apparently, this solution seems to be a compromise solution) should(have) subject(ed) themselves to is the following: if you are in the process of deciding where to submit the best paper you ever produced as yet, i.e. something you are satisfied with and very proud of, would you submit it to Econometrica, AER, JPE, QJE, ReStud, or to any of the other places (yes, some extremely good, much better than others paired with them..., but just somewhat below the very top category), which are placed in the same category in this ranking (if I were them, I would ask this question to any potential candidate I would consider hiring in my Danish Econ department). That first hierarchy level (labeled "2" in the pdf) can/should be further split in at least 3 sublevels (even the general editors of those journals in question would all agree; I doubt they were asked when this ranking was made up...). I won't even touch on assessing the fact that the rest of the journals were all bunched together in a second hierarchical level (labeled "1" in the document). This is not about my being obsessed with rankings, this is about having an idea about scientific quality. And about proper incentives.

PS. The hilarious thing is that some would like to add even more journals that nobody reads/cites to these two categories.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Prediction markets for the upcoming Romanian Presidential election

I opened up two distinct markets (with the help of InklingMarkets-- hat tip to Al Roth, on Market Design), both active until November 21st (the first election round is on November 22nd, the eventual second one on December 6th) :

Sign up and trade!

PS1. Hope I didn't make any mistakes; I put these up in less than 5 minutes :-).

PS2. Although you might really not share this opinion, I 'conjecture' that, if the outcome is not clear in the first election round, the future President will eventually be the first round's runner-up. Wanna trade against that? See above :-).

Monday, November 02, 2009

This week

... I am in Amsterdam and The Hague, working with Coen on a couple of great, but demanding, revise & resubmits. Unfortunately, it does not look like I will have much time for any serious cultural immersion, unlike my usual spells in lovely Amsterdam & Holland, in general (for instance).

Long PS. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis has a very decent cantine. I would pay the extra 2 euro and upgrade the cantine at the Aarhus School of Business in a similar vein (I believe it is just matter of incentives-- otherwise our Danish cook seems extremely talented); maybe somebody with decision powers in this realm reads this post? :-). Which reminds me that in Spain and Portugal I have experienced the best university cantine food so far, counting here University of Alicante, Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Autonoma and Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, and University of Minho, in Braga. My bet is that neither the Netherlands, nor Denmark can ever catch up on that...