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September 23, 2014

"The Exaggerated Death of Inflation"

By Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard. Not known to be a gold bug or a right-wing nut. 

I am not arguing that inflation will return anytime soon in safe-haven economies such as the US or Japan. Though US labor markets are tightening, and the new Fed chair has emphatically emphasized the importance of maximum employment, there is still little risk of high inflation in the near future.

Still, over the longer run, there is no guarantee that any central bank will be able to hold the line in the face of adverse shocks such as continuing slow productivity growth, high debt levels, and pressure to reduce inequality through government transfers. The risk would be particularly high in the event of other major shocks – say, a general rise in global real interest rates.

"Every Insanely Mystifying Paradox in Physics: A Complete List"

Solve one of these mysteries. Go ahead, I dare you.

"What is and is not child abuse"

By sportswriter Leonard Pitts, Jr. Letter perfect.

Here's what I do believe. A parent must be loving, accessible, involved, but also an authority figure, the one who sets limits, and imposes real and painful consequences for kids who flout them.

"What Are the Chances Your Marriage Will Last?"

My wife and I have apparently beaten the odds

"What Wellesley learned when it stopped giving out so many A's"

Good, nontechnical summary of what a recent paper in the professional economics literature (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2014) reported. 

Related: "Princeton and Wellesley May Re-inflate Grades".

"What NYC Restaurant Menus Looked Like 100 Years Ago Vs. Today"

Very interesting. One noticable thing: there were a lot more vegetables on the menu in those days.

September 22, 2014

"Don’t Take Your Vitamins"

Economist Emily Oster argues that because randomized studies don't reproduce the results of observational studies, for the vast majority of people vitamin supplements probably aren't beneficial.

In these trials, participants were randomly assigned to take supplements. Because the assignment was random — and the trials were big — the demographic and health characteristics of the supplement group and the non-supplement group were similar before the study started. When researchers looked at participants’ health over the long term, they could therefore be confident that any differences they saw across groups were due to the supplements, and not some other factor.

When the results of these studies came out, they largely refuted the idea that these supplements offered benefits.

Which conclusion would be fine if we were confident of the randomized studies' results. I can, offhand, think of two potential problems.

1. Were the vitamin dosages in the treated groups sufficient? In a metastudy that Ms. Oster links to the treated groups were given, apparently, an average of 2000 IU of vitamin D per day. That dosage, at least for some people, may well not be enough. The right amount depends on maintaining a high enough blood level, a level which depends on a number of characteristics, including age and weight. 

2. Another potential problem is whether the range of the data is large enough. For instance, Ms. Oster cites the Physician's Health Study, a study of "14,000 male physicians". What if physicians were really healthy? (I've seen my share of doctors and I've seen only one that might have been overweight, and he wasn't seriously so.) The marginal effect of treating one group might be very hard to detect.

An example of this problem from education: some people argue that SAT scores don't predict college grades very well. They cite studies of Ivy League students. And yes, the difference between 1400 and 1450 (on the old 1600 scale) might have little correlation with college grades. But the difference between 900--those folks should be relatively rare at Ivy League schools--and 1400 can, and seemingly does, matter a lot. 

A final point: maybe supplements are a waste of money for most people, most of the time. But so are all forms of insurance. 

"How to see into the future"

Philip Tetlock is updating his classic work. With advice on how to forecast with the acronym CHAMP.

Link via Marginal Revolution.

"Learning another language? Don’t bother"

Foreign language fluency for native English speakers is rapidly becoming a lousy investment because of 1) big, rapid improvements in machine translation and 2) the diffusion around the world of English. But there are supposedly cognitive benefits.

"The Downside of Giving Every Student a Laptop"

I believe it

A new study suggests the policy may be doing more harm than good. It finds public school students in North Carolina who gain their first regular access to a home computer between the fifth and eighth grades experience “a persistent decline in reading and math test scores.”

In their analysis of data from 2000 to 2005, economist Jacob Vigdor and his colleagues warn that, for disadvantaged youngsters, the positive impact of having access to online instruction “may be negated by counterproductive use of computers, particularly by students in unsupervised home environments.”

Makes L.A.'s initiative seem all the more dopey: "Supt. Deasy's early and avid support of iPads under intense scrutiny".

"Judgmental Maps"

"Your city. Judged."

Not for the politically correct or the overly sensitive.

I'm neither, and I laughed.

"The Subsidy Show: Colbert, Fallon and the crony capitalism of the creative class"

More refutation of "government is the name we give to things we do together". Why should New York residents have to pay to keep Colbert and Fallon where they were going to stay anyway?

See also "California Triples Film And Tax Credits Even As Other States Say They're A Huge Waste Of Money" and "Are film tax credits cost effective?"

September 21, 2014

"How to Win at Jeopardy! According to the King of Jeopardy!"

Master the rhythm of the buzzer

"27 Of The Most Delicious Things You Can Do To Vegetables"

Everybody should--ugh--eat their vegetables. Maybe these recipes will help

September 20, 2014

"This Is the Williamsburg of Your City: A Map of Hip America"

"Below, you'll find the definitive list of "hip"—or formerly hip and now just rich—neighborhoods in major metropolitan areas in the U.S., Canada, and around the globe."

"In college sports, a top coach like Nick Saban is worth every penny"

If he wins everything, sure. If he doesn't . . . 

September 19, 2014

"What the Hell Happened?"

If there's an actor or actress who you have wondered what happened to, this might be the site for you

"I Am"

By Sick Individuals. (That's their name; I had nothing to do with it.)

Big room house forever!

"Buddhist Extremist Cell Vows To Unleash Tranquility On West"

The Onion, of course.

September 18, 2014

"Why You Should Meditate — And How To Do It"

I find it difficult to believe meditation would have the benefit described, or even if it did, would it be better than a good nap? But given the low cost it might be worth a try. 

"Common Core’s Five Big Half-Truths"

Frederick Hess of AEI whacks common core some.

Syllabus for "Soc 710: Social Theory Through Complaining"

Satire.

Each week we will focus on something grad students complain about when forced to take theory.

Link via Vox.

"A Man Perfectly Captured What Every Mumford & Sons Song Sounds Like"

"Perfectly" is too strong. But he's pretty good.

September 17, 2014

"'Remember The Titans' Is A Lie, And This Man Still Wants You To Know It"

It doesn't surprise me that Hollywood would take liberties with a true story. It is discouraging, though, that so many people would confuse the fiction and the reality.

And note the difference between our current president's confusion regarding the movie and the similar situation, say, of Ronald Reagan's thinking "Born in the U.S.A." was patriotic. (Though little remarked upon in the latter case is the enormous difference between the lyrics and the music. Springsteen wedded very downbeat, depressing lyrics to some of the most enhilarating music in rock. It's an awful cheat, but entertaining.)

"There Are Now 52 Explanations For The Pause In Global Warming"

60? Do I hear 60?

(Call me crazy, but this reminds me of Ptolmaic epicycles.)

"A Pakistan-Based Developer Is Building A Huge House For His Family After Selling One WordPress Theme"

You gotta love PCs and the Net

"Forget the Mediterranean diet . . . go Nordic!"

The Nordic diet is the new hotness.

More information here

September 16, 2014

"Every Type Of Email College Students Send Their Professors"

Bullseye. A+

“Hey Dr. X, I actually have three other assignments due the same day as your assignment, and your class is the least important to me, so can I just not do it, or do it late or something? Thanks in advance!!!”

“hey professor!!! noticed that im getting a D- in the class, any chance you could make that a B+, otherwise i wont be able to graduate this spring and my entire life will be literally ruined forever. ps i probably won’t be in class tomorrow my hands are kind of cramping up”

Read the whole thing.

Link courtesy of my younger daughter. 

"Sinkhole of bureaucracy"

I would say I didn't believe it, but these days I'd believe almost anything about the federal government.

This is one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government — both for where it is and for what it does.

Here, inside the caverns of an old Pennsylvania limestone mine, there are 600 employees of the Office of Personnel Management. Their task is nothing top-secret. It is to process the retirement papers of the government’s own workers.

But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper.

Link courtesy of Patrick S.

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