Luxury cars on the streets of Hanoi by mattsteinglass
December 5, 2009, 1:05 am
Filed under: Vietnam

Vietnam is entering that period of its economic development, passed through by most countries on their way to industrialized wealth, in which it destroys everything that used to be valuable about its built environment, makes every possible stupid mistake in failing to adapt its landscape to the coming threat of wealth and modernity despite abundant warning from neighboring countries that have gotten there first, and generally attempts to make itself look like a fat, ignorant, corrupt executive’s conception of Orange County, CA. In underdeveloped countries, especially a Communist one like Vietnam, the distastefulness of this phenomenon is exacerbated because, lacking any longstanding indigenous wealthy class, the newly fantastically rich take to the phenomenon of wealth as if they had just invented it. The idea that there might be anything crass or displeasing about gross displays of conspicuous luxury in a country where per capita GDP remains just over $1000 does not seem to enter people’s heads. And so you get this:


Lovely color for a Rolls. Matches the flag.

Lovely color for a Rolls. Matches the flag.

And this:


Maserati sedan sits in traffic in downtown Hanoi.

Maserati sedan sits in traffic in downtown Hanoi.

Ecco anti-GFC stimulus spending! The really absurd thing is that it’s virtually impossible to drive through the Old City of Hanoi in a car, especially at rush hour, let alone park anywhere. The purpose of owning a fantastically expensive luxury automobile (and import tax on such cars in Vietnam is in the range of 100%; a Rolls can run well upwards of $1 million) is purely to drive around in them showing off. The Maserati above contained three people in their early 20s, the driver wearing ripped jeans. Who bought the car for him? Who knows? It was past 5 pm, and they sat in rush-hour traffic on Ly Quoc Su, inching towards the intersection of Hang Gai, for 15 minutes. The stereo system sounded great, though.


'Those of us who have the privilege of marriage by mattsteinglass
December 3, 2009, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Religion, Sexuality and Gender

…and treat it so cavalierly.’ Andrew Sullivan posted this powerful speech by New York State Senator Diane Savino, from just before the New York marriage equality bill went down to defeat.

[youtubevid id=”dCFFxidhcy0&feature=player_embedded”]

She starts out nervous, but keep watching. In America we privilege accent as a signifier of authenticity, and the speech draws some of its force from hearing the case for gay marriage made in Savino’s Staten Island Catholic vowels. She’s like the anti-Giuliani.

The right side doesn’t always win in the short run, and it doesn’t always win in the long run either. In some cases it just keeps losing indefinitely. But it’s still right. Anyway, in this case, it’s pretty clear it’s going to win within the next decade or so.

Add: I almost wrote in the original post “Queens Catholic vowels,” but didn’t because I wasn’t really sure it was a Queens accent rather than Staten Island. But this New York Magazine interview reports she’s from, yes, Astoria, Queens. It’s incredible how specific New York borough accents still are, in an age when most Ohioans sound just like Californians — I hope they stay that way.

Metrics and NFL quarterbacks and Afghanistan by mattsteinglass
December 2, 2009, 2:28 am
Filed under: Afghanistan, Sports

Matthew Yglesias posts on Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ humility regarding Brett Favre’s great season and his own limited quarterback-season prognostication abilities:

I think the lesson here is that people just tend to overrate the extent to which variation in the success of an NFL passing game is driven by variation in the skill of the quarterback. I think you can especially see this with Favre, who appears to be putting together the best season of his career at age 40. Common sense says that he can’t be actually reaching the peak of his abilities as an athlete at this age. Fans who (like me) watch the games but don’t have experience playing football have a very hard time distinguishing slightly below average offensive line play from exceptional offensive line play, but obviously that makes a huge difference.

What we’d want to look at here are some metrics that give us a good proxy for offensive line play. We could look at how often Favre is getting sacked. But that’s not such a perfect indicator, because a good quarterback is going to be able to do one of two things: either get the ball away before he gets sacked, or turn a sack into a rushing attempt. A better indicator would be the sum of four indicators that a QB isn’t getting protection: sacks, interceptions (which show he’s being hurried), rushes, and fumbles. If you look at sacks alone, you’ll see Favre appears to be getting pretty good protection, but not exceptional: 22 sacks in his 11 games so far this year, vs. 30 in 16 games last year for the Jets, 15 in 2007 for the Packers, 18 in 2006, 29 in 2005, etc.


But if you add up sacks, ints, rushing attempts, and fumbles, you get…

2009: 32

2008: 75

2007: 68

2006: 70

2005: 81

2004: 39

2003: 63

2002: 77

2001: 91

2000: 85

This metric would suggest Favre is getting better protection this year than he’s had since 2004.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had metrics like this to measure how well we’re doing in Afghanistan? Unfortunately, we don’t. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that I’ve cherry-picked the above metrics to produce something that appears to explain Favre’s great season this year. If we did have some kind of metrics for Afghanistan, pundits, generals and political leaders would no doubt do exactly the same to produce results that make it look like we’re winning. Or losing. Oh well.

…and here's your deficit-neutral stimulus by mattsteinglass
December 1, 2009, 2:25 am
Filed under: Economics

I posted the other day asking why stimulus had to be deficit-funded rather than deficit-neutral. Ask, and the Internets shall provide! Brad DeLong points to the Economic Policy Institute’s “American Jobs Plan,” a deficit-neutral stimulus plan. Though it’s not really deficit-neutral in the way I was thinking: it spends $400 billion next year on new public-service jobs, COBRA extensions, and various other useful stuff, then pays it back over 10 years through a financial transactions tax. As DeLong points out, the problem with an FTT is that you have to institute it everywhere at once, “or Wall Street moves to Canary Wharf”.

(I kind of like that as an alternative Macbeth, with Nouriel Roubini, Paul Krugman and Nassim Taleb as the witches. “Until great Wall Street to Canary Wharf shall come!” And talk about “birther” controversies — I want to see the certificate that shows MacDuff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.)