Kudos to Paul Krugman

I was psyched to learn that Paul Krugman has won the Nobel Prize.  Reading his NY Times columns, it’s sometimes been easy to forget that he’s not just a pundit/commentator but a world-class economist.  He must have a swelled head now.  He and Al Gore can have private little “I Won a Nobel Prize on the Side” parties.

I recently went back and, to help my mother win an argument with a friend who denied that Krugman had correctly predicted the financial mess, pulled together some especially prescient columns from the last six years:

Aug 2002 — discussing our housing bubble

March 2003 — who lost the US budget

May 2003 — the lunatics are in charge of the asylum — our fiscal train wreck

May 2004 – our looming oil crisis

May 2005 — our housing bubble

From May 27, 2003:

How can this be happening? Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They don’t realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they …imagine that the Bush administration, like the Reagan administration, will modify our system only at the edges, that it won’t destroy the social safety net built up over the past 70 years.

But the people now running America aren’t conservatives: they’re radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need…. [W]hen will the public wake up?

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Most-emailed article on the Time Magazine site (as of a few days ago):

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

As a longtime imsomniac who is always trying to get more sleep, I am a bit skeptical of these claims:

Studies show that people who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hr. a night, as they report, live the longest. And people who sleep 8 hr. or more, or less than 6.5 hr., they don’t live quite as long. There is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short. The big surprise is that long sleep seems to start at 8 hr. Sleeping 8.5 hr. might really be a little worse than sleeping 5 hr.

Just to state the obvious, maybe the healthy long-life people just need less sleep to begin with. It would seem that there is no way to know if the 7 hours of sleeping a night were a cause or an effect of the good health.

I have weird sleep issues. My insomnia began in graduate school. I walk and talk and do odd things in my sleep. When I was trying to revise my dissertation I would sometimes get up convinced that someone was stealing my laptop, and several times in the middle of the night I arose to hide it in my sock drawer. I quite often run downstairs and check doors and windows, and check (this is a recent favorite) to see if anyone has stolen my bike. In my half-dreaming state I seem to be in some fairy-tale reality full of thieves and “robbers” (a word I believe I’ve used in my sleep-talking) and dangerously permeable borders to a hostile outside world. Recently I’ve sort of been coming to terms with the painful insight that even my late-morning coffee may be affecting my evening sleep. Now I try to avoid any caffeine after about 10:30 a.m. — maybe a decaf at lunch. And a lot of peppermint tea which seems to have some kind of habitual placebo effect.

Half-dressed man cavorting with a farm animal

This story is so odd.

Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, granted a 48-hour stay in the obscenity trial of a Hollywood adult filmmaker after the prosecutor requested time to explore “a potential conflict of interest concerning the court having a . . . sexually explicit website with similar material to what is on trial here.”

In an interview Tuesday with The Times, Kozinski acknowledged posting sexual content on his website. Among the images on the site were a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. He defended some of the adult content as “funny” but conceded that other postings were inappropriate.

Kozinski, 57, said that he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public, although he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends. After the interview Tuesday evening, he blocked public access to the site.

By Wednesday afternoon, as controversy about the website spread, Kozinski was seeking to shift responsibility, at least in part, to his adult son, Yale.

“Yale called and said he’s pretty sure he uploaded a bunch of it,” Kozinski wrote in an e-mail to Abovethelaw.com, a legal news website. “I had no idea, but that sounds right because I sure don’t remember putting some of that stuff there.”

Coming on the heels of the revelation that John McCain uses neither a Mac nor a P.C. because he has no idea how to make those computer machines work, this raises concerns about the computer literacy of our retirement-age population. Could we get some additional funds for basic “how to use the web” workshops in our public libraries? With an advanced class for Kozinski on how to password-protect your pornographic images site?

The judge said he didn’t think any of the material on his site would qualify as obscene.

“Is it prurient? I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “I think it’s odd and interesting. It’s part of life.”

Yes, I guess it is, in fact, technically the case that “naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal” are “part of life.” I also think it’s funny that he “sure [doesn’t] remember putting some of that stuff there” and so it must have been his son who did it.

Poor guy. I actually do not give a damn what he has on his webpage.

The Mutant Brooklyn Real Estate Bubble

Loved this New York Magazine article (by Adam Sternbergh) about Brooklyn real estate class warfare. Amazing that a reporter managed to conjure a cover story from the comments section of a local real estate blog, but the crazy thing is, I can almost picture the movie version.

The What is a troll who haunts Brownstoner.com, a Brooklyn real estate blog, as an avenging spectre of the real estate apocalypse to come:

The What’s favorite—and possibly only—subject of interest is the coming Brooklyn Apocalypse. He calls it the Mutant Real Estate Bubble. From the beginning, he has contended vehemently, and repetitiously, and often profanely, that there’s a massive correction coming to the real-estate market that will swallow the borough’s fresh-faced transplants and their artfully renovated brownstones as surely as if a chasm had opened up in the earth. Which, of course, means an end to the whole happy vision of recent Brooklyn: the flowering neighborhoods, the skyrocketing prices, the dissipating crime. To The What, Mr. Brownstoner and his readers are snoozing blissfully, lost in this intoxicating dream. And The What is the alarm clock.

…He’s posted comments such as, “Real Estate is fucking over!!!!! Real Estate is fucking over!!!!! Real Estate is fucking over!!!!! Real Estate is fucking over!!!!!” His posting style is so schizophrenic that one might suspect he is either (a) several very different people posting under the same name or (b) schizophrenic. He sometimes sounds like he’s locked in a basement somewhere, surrounded by newspaper clippings on all four walls. He touches down in comment threads like a rhetorical Tasmanian devil…

I am the ultimate wet-blanket Irrational-Exuberance believer — I was warning about the real estate bubble so early that arguably, I should not get any credit for it because anyone who listened to me would’ve lost about 8 years of huge profits. But I don’t in fact think the NYC housing market is really going to crash; I’m convinced that the global-finance world capitals now play by completely different rules than everywhere else. But (see Sha Na Na post), what do I know.

Paul Pierce, Willis Reed, and epic sports analogy

Celtics star Paul Pierce falls to the ground in pain in the first game of the NBA finals, clutching his knee. He’s taken off the court in a wheelchair, and fans fear the worst. Less than two minutes later, he returns, quickly hits two three-pointers, and leads his team to victory.

Metaphor and analogy erupt. First, in their most histrionic/epic Boston-fan form:

By Dan Shaughnessy
Boston Globe Staff / June 6, 2008

It goes down in Hub hardwood history as the Miracle on Causeway Street. Paul Pierce and his chariot of fire.

Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Larry Bird enjoyed some great moments in the old Boston gym, but not one of those Garden gods ever vaulted out of a wheelchair to lead the Celtics to victory in the NBA Finals.

That’s what Paul Pierce did in Boston’s 98-88 win over the Lakers in Game 1 last night.

In this first-report hometown newspaper report, we see that almost arch (or just naive?), pleasurably extremist form of sports myth-making. If someone is taken off the court and then returns, you don’t just invoke storied injury comebacks from NBA and Celtics history, you give the episode a grandiose name, declare it a chapter in local lore and legend, and toss in a chariot of fire.

We also see a more self-conscious version, which reaches for the epic analogy but calls attention to it in a way that to some degree questions it:

Sports of The Times
Celtics Redux: Grit Over Glamour

By HARVEY ARATON, Published: June 7, 2008
It was tempting after Pierce returned, to hit consecutive 3-pointers in the Celtics’ 98-88 victory, to invoke the memory of Willis Reed’s limping onto the court at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the 1970 finals against the Lakers.

So, in this non-booster/fan version, the author can’t resist the “temptation” of using this epic metaphor even as he suggests that it may be exaggerated or not fully earned.

By the time Bill Simmons weighs in at ESPN.com, the metaphor has become controversial and a topic of debate in its own right:

Piercing the silence in Game 1
By Bill Simmons
ESPN, Page 2

If you’re a Lakers fan, I fully support your right to be cynical about Pierce’s injury and return… Only a fool would compare the significance of the moment to Willis Reed, or even Larry Bird’s comeback in the ’91 Indiana series, for that matter. At the same time, the crowd went from “My God, we are completely screwed!” to “My God, we are back in this series!” in the span of 10 minutes. So it WAS a significant moment, whether you like it or not.

Simmons underlines the metaphor’s role in competitive boosterism: the truth of sports as “a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms” (Nietzsche) turned out against the other team. But even as Simmons declares that you’d have to be a “fool” to believe the analogy, he keeps it in play.

By Saturday the whole thing has metastasized into new metaphors, analogies, and mocking parodies:

Willis Reed comparison sore spot for Phil Jackson
By Mark Murphy
Saturday, June 7, 2008 –
Boston Herald Sports Reporter

Phil Jackson played with Willis Reed. And Paul Pierce [stats], you’re no Willis Reed – at least not in the eyes of the Lakers coach and former Knick.

Mere hours after making references to a “pants malfunction” and a “broken drawstring” when asked about Pierce’s quick return from a knee injury during Game 1, Jackson expanded on his skepticism.

Told some were comparing Pierce’s return to Reed’s limping return to the floor in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, Jackson responded yesterday as if asked about the lone gunman theory.

“Well, if I’m not mistaken, I think Willis Reed missed a whole half and three quarters almost of a game, and literally had to have a shot – a horse shot – three or four of them in his thigh to come back out and play,” Jackson said. “Paul got carried off and was back on his feet in a minute.

“I don’t know if the angels visited him at halftime or in that timeout period that he had or not, but he didn’t even limp when he came back out on the floor. I don’t know what was going on there. Was Oral Roberts back there in their locker room? But he certainly carried some energy back on the floor for them.”

With Doc Rivers invoking Lee Harvey Oswald, the analogy goes over the top:

Pierce’s plight source of friendly debate
Associated Press
Saturday, June 7, 2008

(06-06) 18:54 PDT — Paul Pierce’s return to Game 1 of the NBA Finals – shortly after he was carried off the court – was great theater. But was it award-winning acting or Willis Reed Part II?

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who had front-row seats at both events, wasn’t impressed.…

Jackson’s doubts about Pierce’s injury were relayed to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who responded: “Oh, I don’t care. Aren’t we skeptics anyway now about everything? So what the heck; let it begin. Let it begin. Lee Harvey Oswald did it.”

Local news story of the week

Local news story of the week:

Police: Funny fudge made with lavender, not pot

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana University police say brownies a girl gave to dorm workers didn’t contain marijuana at all. The leafy substance mixed in was lavender.

IU Police Capt. Jerry Minger said the 13-year-old girl came forward after the case was publicized to let officers know the brownies were safe.

The fudge was given to workers at IU’s Eigenmann Hall on May 23 and police were called after one of the employees took a bite and noticed a green, leafy substance inside.

The girl gave some of the lavender to police for a field test, and Minger said it registered a “weak reaction” on a test for marijuana.

The girl made the fudge for a school project, in which she had to make a Swedish food.

Information from: The Herald-Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

This story received coverage and updates all week. The Herald Times even saw fit to bestow one of their dreaded ‘onions’ (as in Orchids and Onions, an editorial system of praise and blame) on the malefactors who decided to secretly intoxicate the unwitting IU administrators who work in Eigenmann Hall. Quite a letdown to learn it was all a misunderstanding borne out of a local student’s quest for better understanding of world cultures.

Sarah pointed out that it showed a confused, Reefer Madness-esque mindset to believe that someone would make a big expensive batch of pot brownies and… hand them out to random university administrators.

One question: what kind of school project requires that you “make Swedish food”? Hmm, maybe there is more to this story after all…

Panicked Republicans

Panicked Republicans, such a harmonious, euphonious phrase, I enjoy just repeating it to myself…

Here’s Josh Marshall on why the Republicans are feeling panicked about the loss of an open seat in a heavily Republican district in Mississippi:

And here’s the Adam Nagourney article:

Scott Reed, a former chief of staff to the Republican National Committee, said the defeat would dampen fund-raising. “Republican leadership needs to really take a good look in the mirror,” Mr. Reed said. “They’re taking the party off the cliff.”

Republican House members said the political terrain was tilted against them, and some expressed despair about the months ahead at the private meeting on Wednesday. One House Republican rated the panic expressed at the meeting as a 7 on a scale of 10.

Biodegradable Couches

An amusing lit-crit prof cameo in this article from the NYTimes House & Home session about biodegradable furniture.

In any case, there is something quixotic and poignant about makers of home goods — particularly large home goods, like sofas — advertising their wares for their evanescence.

Their longevity, in the past, has always been part of the thing that gives them value,” said Bill Brown, chairman of the English department at the University of Chicago, best known for his work on “thing theory.”

He explained how the value of a piece of furniture you come in contact with often, like a dining room table or a sofa, draws much of its worth from that contact: the longer we keep it around, the more psychologically valuable it becomes. “We use the ‘object world’ to stabilize human life,” he said. “Hannah Arendt said that sitting at the same table grants man his sameness, which is to say his identity.”

The idea of biodegradable furniture, he said, seemed perverse and comic. “We all live such cluttered lives in which so much of what we have we’d be better off without, yet most of us are better off with our dining room tables or our sofas,” he said. To thing theorists like Mr. Brown, who poses a kind of “my furniture, myself” worldview, degradable home goods suggest an identity crisis.

It would be nice if some of the couches on front porches around town were biodegradable and would eventually melt in the rain. They would probably get really disgusting in the intermediate stage, though.

The plot of one of the greatest British novels, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, revolves in part around the dangerous desire for expensive furniture, by the way. Lydgate “did not mean to think of furniture at present; but whenever he did so it was to be feared that neither biology nor schemes of reform would lift him above the vulgarity of feeling that there would be an incompatibility in his furniture not being of the best” (ch 15).

What’s the Matter With Kansas

This is incredibly condescending but also pretty funny: Kansas as a Burmuda Triangle of dullness and vacuity. “The last known communication from Corcoran was sent from somewhere within the Rectangle, and made reference to plans to marry a large blond woman and enroll in a local technical college.” I remember one holiday party in Cambridge, a year or two after moving to Indiana, when we had the distinct impression that people were racking their brains to remember something about the difference between Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. It was then, perhaps, that I truly started to become Midwestern (as a mode of resentment of/opposition to bi-coastal condescension/ indifference).

I guess since the Onion is Midwestern (at least in origin) it’s OK for them to make jokes like this.

30 Years Of Mans Life Disappear In Mysterious Kansas Rectangle

The Onion

30 Years Of Man’s Life Disappear In Mysterious ‘Kansas Rectangle’