Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bipartisanship and working for the White House

"You'd have to be a Republican to work for the current White House" remarked one of R-'s friends, after learning that I am deferring Cornell to take a job as CEA economist in the Bush administration.

Of course the converse was also said back when I was an intern for the Clinton administration.

One of the ideals I hold dear is that partisanship is orthogonal to good governance. The writers of The West Wing seem to agree (why I love that show).

According to the NYTimes, the original plan for this season was that the Republican (played by super liberal Alan Alda) was supposed to be elected president. Despite the fact that the show's heroes are mostly Democrats, it would have been fitting to end the show on an up note with a Republican victory. Alan Alda's character continues the line of good Republicans from John Goodman's presidency, to the Speaker of the House in the first episode, to the eminently likable republican lawyer Ainsley Hayes.

Leo's death changed things so that the show's creators decided to have the Democrat win, which bummed me out until I saw that they would do even better; they would maybe make the Republican, the Vice President for a Democratic presidency. The first split ticket since the disasterous cantankerous Adams administration, but a resounding reaffirmation of the message of bipartisan governance. Great stuff.

I still like Ainsley's quote that I wrote about a couple years ago. When her Republican friends were making fun of her colleagues in the show's Democratic administration, her reply:

"The people I have met have been extraordinarily qualified. Their intent is good. Their commitment is true. They are righteous, and they are patriots... Is it so hard to believe, in this day and age, that someone would roll up their sleeves, set aside partisanship, and say, 'What can I do?' "

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Randy Cohen - Ethical Moron

here is a very short list of people I don't like, even shorter after Noam Chomsky worked his way off of it, but I should add one more, Randy Cohen, the ethicist from the New York Times and NPR.

It is really extremely rare for me to ever read something that I cannot give at least some credence to. I am all about seeing all sides, and giving credit to differing points of view. Randy Cohen has the truly unique ability of saying something I find totally off base and irrational on nearly a weekly basis.

Mostly because of his righteous castigation of many opinions that I believe reasonable. How he equated illegal downloads with theft, with no hint of nuance. His complete rejection of any hint of utilitarianism. How he looked like a complete moron when he hautily dismissed the suggestion by a reader that the Business Reply Cards found in magazines are intended for new subscriber.

Monday, April 17, 2006

fun with economics

My friend A- sent me this story about how a man has traded a paperclip for a house:

This story provides an interesting demonstration of economic principles. A- used a physics analogy to think about the story. Paperclips like electrons have a value/energy level. To exchange a paperclip for a house, you have to add tons of value/energy.

In efficient markets, trading a paperclip for a house would be impossible by some type of law of conservation. However, because of "transaction costs" (see Williamson), barters can be made where there are gains from trade, where the value of an item to the seller is greater than the value to the buyer, and thus "profit" is made.

So to prevent arbitrage, these gaps can only exist in the presence of search costs, and that is where the value/energy is added.

The Marx' theory of value that says value comes only from labor holds here. The value is created from the man's labor, in using the internet to find all these mutual exchanges of wants.

Of course, that is only the base analysis. We could get into more detail by saying since this is a special case, it makes a cute story. Some value is also created from the sheer entertainment value of the story. Each person who participated in the chain gains status and satisfaction from telling how he played a part in this scheme, and thus is willing to trade for more than the items were originally worth...

Isn't economics fun!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

new york techno-flann

I took the early morning (5am) train from Baltimore to New York last week. Had an hour or so to kill before meeting up with family, so had a quick "techno-flann." Wrote the following while sitting in Bryant Park:

watched House on my laptop on the train ride up. took a nap.
got off at pennstation, turned on ipod, and people watched, fun to
watch the crowd.
arranged ride with mom via cell phone
checked for location of Banana Republic using googl via cell phone (there's a blazer I've vaguely wanted to get)
enjoying beautiful east coast springtime (a bit humid) enjoying the nice irony given all the rain in the bay area,
walked up 7th ave to times square enjoying food stands
saw nypublic library in sun-hazed distance, wound up in bryant park, with free google wi-fi!
so here i am writing this e-mail
beautiful beautiful morning, a nice diffuse new york haze. convinced me i should enjoy mornings more...

see a video from my new camera, uploaded to google video

Saturday, April 01, 2006

flânning in baltimore

A baltimore neighborhood
Originally uploaded by benho.
The nice thing about waking up at 5am (R- has to be at the hospital by 5:30 for rounds) is that I can work for 6 hours, take a 3 hour nap, and still be justified to quit for the day a 2pm, time I have spent flânning around baltimore all afternoon.

(to flânn is my own personal coinage from the french term flânneur which is a very french concept describing what parisians seem to do all day, the american heritage describes it as aimless idling or loafing, but a better description would be aimless loafing with a mission, to experience life, to breath in experience. as i said, very french.

So after two amazingly productive mornings where I finally got a hold of the data I've been meaning to get for a year, (amazing the power of the internet and e-mail connections and Granovetter's weak ties), I rewarded myself with a flann about town. Something I try to do in every city I visit, but haven't done in baltimore despite coming here regularly for almost two years now.

so the first day, in a bright beautiful sunny day (in ironic contrast to current california rain) I had lunch in mt vernon, the historical neighborhood where Amistad was filmed filled with the peabody, a nice park, old colonial architecture, where I had fantastic pad thai from Thairish, a hole in the wall, little more than a kitchen and a couple tables, with limited menu, but fantastic pad thai, nice chewy freshly fried noodles, with firm meaty shrimp, cooked by the proprietor, a Thai immigrant with an Irish wife, who's been serving food there for decades.

Stomach sated, I walked north past slowly revitalizing hipness, past the university of baltimore and mica to penn station (beautifully ornate like the many other penn stations, and the former penn station in new york), with the giant calder metallic burning man statue out front. from penn station, i continued north, to the other side ot the railroad tracks, where I found myself the only non-black person to be seen, and garnered strange looks at times. though i was comforted by the fact that every store placard was written in korean, including the hair place, which i knew was a hair place despite having no apparent english, by the large posters of black women hairstyles in the window. I wound up at a Safeway, which was amazingly well appointed, nothing like the dodgy key food in my old brooklyn neighborhood, complete with the same occassional gourmet food sections as teh safeway back in palo alto.

the next day, again at 1:30pm ish, I set out, this time for Blue Moon Cafe (rated best breakfast in baltimore) in fell's point, one of my favorite neighborhoods, a 2 or so mile walk, but again, beautiful weather, a bit more humid than dry california, but comfortably so for an east coaster. Walked through downtown, this time past colonial french architecture, reminded me a bit of new york complete with hot dogs and "new york style" buffet delis which I remembered well from my morgan stanley days, occasionally nice neo-gothic church spires would appear in the cracks between buildings, or an italian renaissance tower, or a ugly brick tower which I had to investigate and discovered it was a police memorial.

walked through another all black neighborhood, this one completely residential, a nice new development of brick rowhouses, still vaguely uncomfortable especially after being chased down the street a couple weeks before (thankfully I was in a car). But felt protected and happy by the bright sunlight, and the soothing sounds of terry gross on my ipod, a podcast (these rock) of an interview with a half-black/half-white writer for the show Scrubs, and enjoying the really nice discussion of race (As opposed to the crassness of crash) and medicine which reminded me of R-.

entry in fells point was heralded by the heavenly smell of baked goods emanating from two large commercial bakers, apparent warehouses but for the smell of raisin oatmeal bread and other confections, whetting my appetite for the blue moon cafe which i finally reached, and found myself. a dark, hot, stuff and cramped shack with just a few tables, but it was late, so i had the place to myself, to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, which went perfectly with a banana chocolate scone and a great italian omlette. also proud that i managed to only eat half, (little victories, J- would be proud) and after savoring the meal a bit with my economist magazine, headed out to walk back along the water front, and industrial canals, to the tunes of Rilo Kiley. A random solitary store in a residential area caught my eye, and I found myself in an irish boutique, where the proprietor, a MICA graphic design graduate discussed her 25 year history of owning that store, and we talked about my cousin, and R- for whom I was looking for a present.

finally, time to head back with a couple final errands to whole foods and a little south asian "quik-e-mart," with "for entertainment purposes" slot machines in the back with a regular permanently seated, a scene i've seen in many of these markets whether south asian or hispanic.

Showing J- around Baltimore last week proved to me that I really have come to know baltimore reasonably well. i for one have come to sorta like it, though don't think R- would totally agree. it's got a nice "realness" to it, whatever that means. I guess the best way to sum it up is that it's a city where it's almost impossible to find a Starbucks, and I mean that in the best way possible.