Saturday, August 31, 2013

Arsenal at Tottenham Preview

Under normal circumstances, this derby match would be interesting because these two North London rivals just don't like each other. But even more than usual this early season match-up is significant because: (1) Tottenham came so close (but not close enough) last year to beating out Arsenal for the final Champion's League spot; (2) Tottenham has been spending like a drunken sailor this summer, thanks mainly to the generosity of Real Madrid, which is about to complete an 86 million pound deal to bring Gareth Bale to the Bernabeu Stadium; (3) rumors persist that Tottenham have been slowing that deal to the final day of the transfer window especially to prevent Arsenal from being able to buy any players from Real Madrid, who might become surplus to requirements after the Bale transfer; and (4) Arsenal - specifically, Arsene Wenger, has been so woefully negligent in allowing the squad to grow weaker during the summer, despite (a) promising to sign new players, with (b) more than 100 million in the kitty to spend, and (c) to the point where Wenger is now suggesting that the ridiculous Nicklas Bendtner may actually play for the Gunners this season.

I cannot bring myself to hope that the Gunners are embarrassed by the Spurs - that would be going too far - but I'm not sure that anything else would cause Wenger to finally realize just how negligent, incompetent, and out-of-touch he's become. If Arsenal win or even tie, I expect Wenger to continue whistling past the graveyard.

Is Wenger Really an Economist?

According to some sources, Arsenal manager has a Master's Degree in Economics. If that is indeed the case (according to his Wikipedia entry, his academic history is ambiguous) the school that awarded him the degree might want to revoke it after reading this quote:
Look, I don’t think the price is linked with the quality of the players at all, especially this summer. The prices today are just linked with the financial power and the desire of the buyer.
The observation is, of course, correct. The implication that price should be based on the quality of the player (however that might be determined), rather than supply and demand, suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of markets.

On the other hand, no manager in football has made such great profits for his club from the transfer market as Arsene Wenger. By selling his best players and buying cast-offs from other clubs (or, better yet, signing them on free transfers), Wenger certainly has helped Arsenal maximize revenues over costs. Whether he can continue to do so if Arsenal fail to qualify for next year's Champion's League remains to be seen.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Tim Harford on Garrett Hardin, Elinor Ostrom, and the Conservation of the Commons

An excellent piece in the Financial Times (here). And I'm not just saying that because Tim is kind enough to drop my name in the article. He really captures the very different ways in which Garrett Hardin and Lin Ostrom viewed collective action problems relating to common-pool resources.

I'm currently working on a paper with my IU and Ostrom Workshop colleagues Mike McGinnis and Graham Epstein, on a treatment of Hardin's "Herder Problem" (as "the tragedy of the commons" is known among game theorists), which (hopefully) will add substantially to our understanding of the problem, even beyond Lin's enormous contribution. The basic insight of our paper is that the institutional aspect of Hardin's story is even deeper and more intricate than either Hardin or Lin (explicitly) acknowledged.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Best Bike Mechanic in Bloomington?

My favorite bike mechanic in Indy, Scott Rodriguez, is now living here in Bloomington. You can find him plying his trade at Revolution Bike & Beans on 10th St. There is no bicycle problem that Scott hasn't seen and fixed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CL: Arsenal 2 - Fenerbahce 0 (Agg. 5-0)

Arsenal progressed for the sixteenth straight season to the group stage of the Champion's League, finishing off Fenerbahce in the return leg of their play-in tie. Two goals by the increasingly excellent Aaron Ramsey completed the job. But worries about Arsenal's depth remain.

Lukas Podolski pulled a hamstring early in the second half and had to be substituted. And after Arsenal went up 2-0 in the middle of that half, the Fener players seemed more interested in kicking Arsenal players than kicking the ball. They were fortunate to have a full complement of 11 players still on the field at the end of the match. Jack Wilshire and Ramsey took the brunt of the abuse. Wilshire limped through the last 10 minutes of the match, and Ramsey finished the game on the bench (leaving Arsenal with just 10 on the pitch).

Having gone off on the stretcher, Podolski seems unlikely to make the big derby match against Tottenham this weekend. Hopefully, Ramsey and Wilshire suffered nothing worse than some bad bruises; Arsenal will need both of them.

The strategy of having Cazorla drop deeper into the midfield seems to be working wonders for Arsenal. He has been able to find more space and use his vision and passing ability to open up defenses.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bravo NBC

I never thought I'd see the day when my two favorite sports would be featured on the NBC network back-to-back. Liverpool just beat Aston Villa in the English Premier League, and next is the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Perfect timing as well, as I feel like being a couch potato after my 40-mile ride this morning.

Fulham 1 - Arsenal 3

Sorry for the late and abbreviated match report, but I went out for a 40-mile ride immediately following Arsenal's fairly comfortable victory over Fulham at a very rainy Craven Cottage. It was a very solid team performance, much like the mid-week CL tie in Turkey. Olivier Giroud scored his third goal in three games, and Lukas Podolski, getting his first start of the season, scored a brace. Hopefully, rumors about his impending departure to Shalke in the Bundesliga can be put to rest. On the few occasions when Fulham created good scoring chances, Wojciech Sczesny was strong in the Arsenal goal. No one had a bad game for the Gunners (although Rosicky was not quite as sharp as in the first two matches of the season). Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla both had strong games (in addition to those already mentioned above).

All in all, a very good response to last week's poor start to the Premier League campaign. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will not take the good results this week as an excuse for not bringing in more players. With Bacary Sagna starting out of position today, and still no dedicated holding midfielder in the line-up, Arsenal still need to add both quality and depth.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

CL: Fenerbahce 0 - Arsenal 3

After getting off to a very rocky start in the Premier League, Arsenal started its Champion's League campaign on a much better foot today, taking the first leg of the playoff tie in Turkey 3-0, with goals from Gibbs, Ramsey and Giroud. But as if to stress the continuing need to strengthen and deepen the squad, Arsenal lost another defender to injury, as Laurent Koscielny left with a head injury in the second half, forcing fullback Bacary Sagna to play out of position (as he presumably will in this coming weekend's Premier League clash at Fulham). Absent a collapse of epic proportions, Arsenal will finish off an admittedly poor Fenerbahce in the return match at the Emirates, and continue their record run of consecutive appearances in the Champion's League. But if Wenger and Gazidis fail to substantial strengthen the squad in short order, Arsenal probably will not make it to the knock-out rounds.

Today's victory may give Wenger a brief respite from questions about the lack of new signings, but I doubt it will last past midnight tonight. Arsenal Football club remain like the rich man who goes about in shabby clothing.

The Most Insightful Commentary I've Read on the NSA's Global Surveillance Program

By Simon Jenkins here in The Guardian (which of course is now at the center of the controversy). While I agree with just about everything Jenkins writes, I cannot help but observe the irony of Jenkins' description of the US treatment of Manning and Snowden as "Putinesque," an explicit reference to the authoritarian ruler of Russia, the country to which Snowden "defect[ed]" from the United States. That irony hardly diminishes Jenkins' main point, which is that the US and the UK should be better at protecting civil rights and liberties. Unfortunately, the "surveillance state" is running amok.

I Say I Am Conscious, Therefore I Am

A fascinating article (here) by Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano at Aeon on the hard problem of consciousness. Here's what I take to be the take-home point:
The most basic, measurable, quantifiable truth about consciousness is simply this: we humans can say that we have it. We can conclude that we have it, couch that conclusion into language and then report it to someone else. Speech is controlled by muscles, which are controlled by neurons. Whatever consciousness is, it must have a specific, physical effect on neurons, or else we wouldn’t be able to communicate anything about it. Consciousness cannot be what is sometimes called an epiphenomenon — a floating side-product with no physical consequences — or else I wouldn’t have been able to write this article about it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another Symptom of an Unhealthy Political Environment in the US

Tomorrow, the 1972 Miami Dolphins will visit the White House. Well, not all of them. At least three of the former players are refusing the attend the ceremony because they can't stand President Obama or his administration (for whatever reasons) (see here).

Now, it's true that presidents use these photo ops with successful sports teams for politically self-interested purposes - they always have, they always will. And no one wants to provide political support to an administration of a person or party they don't like. But in the past respect for the office of the president was usually enough to ensure that invited guests  - even those with diametrically opposed political positions - would attend.

Apparently, that's no longer the case. It's all about whether you like or hate the person and the positions for which he or she stands. I feel sorry for those whose political views have become so personalized and consume so much of their lives (or who feel so self-important) that they can no longer tolerate spending a short period of time in the company of the chief executive of the United States - the only person subject to the votes of all American citizens.





Monday, August 19, 2013

Arsenal About to Pay the Price for Their Miserliness

Today, Arsenal had a 12 million pound for Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye rejected as "derisory" (see here). No doubt, Cabaye's value has skyrocketed since Newcastle bought him for 4.3 million pounds just two years ago thanks to his performances on the pitch. But Newcastle, like all other clubs, know that Arsenal are in crisis, need players, and have lots of cash on hand to spend. There is every reason to expect that selling clubs will extract maximum rents from a highly motivated buyer. If Wenger thought he could pick up some bargains before the close of the transfer window, he will be proved sorely mistaken. Having passed on Jovetic, Higuain and others earlier this summer apparently because the price grew too high, Wenger will end up paying even more for lesser talents.

For a guy with a Master's degree in Economics, Wenger is surprisingly ignorant of the ways in which markets actually function. Or, perhaps he believes in his supreme arrogance, and all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that he can beat the market.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Arsenal 1 - Aston Villa (plus the Ref) 3

Arsenal started the game brightly, scoring early on a nice flowing counterattack, started by Rosicky and finished by Giroud from a lovely run and cross by Oxlade-Chamberlain. But the referee conspired with Aston Villa to snuf the Gunners out. A horrible penalty call against Laurent Koscielny, leading to Villa's second goal, followed by a soft red card to Koscielny a few minutes later, left Arsenal fighting an uphill battle with just 10 men. Arsenal created a few good scoring opportunities (particularly two created by the excellent but unfortunately errant Thomas Rosicky), but Villa also created plenty of good opportunities on the counterattack, hitting the inside of the woodwork on one occasion and scoring the final nail in Arsenal's coffin on another.

As I observed yesterday, if the Gunners started the season on the wrong foot, the fans will quickly be calling for the heads of Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis. Well, it doesn't get much worse that a home loss on opening day to a mediocre side. In fact, the crowd turned on the manager even before the ref blew the final whistle on today's game. The fans were chanting at Wenger, "You Don't Know What You're Doing!" On the evidence of today's game, who could disagree? With 100 million pounds in the kitty and superior (to what they have now) talent available, the lack of summer spending, despite promises to bring in star players, is not only puzzling; it is shameful.

They say that the proof always is in the pudding. Today, we Gooners were forced to eat some disgusting pudding, indeed, If Wenger had any sense left, having now been proven not just wrong but completely out of touch with reality, he'd resign immediately. Doubtless he'll try to shift all the blame to the referee. But even without Taylor's interventions, Villa were at least the equal of Arsenal on the field.

Who played well for Arsenal? Rosicky (even though he failed to score when, on at least one occasion, he really should have); Oxlade-Chamberlain (before being substituted at halftime); Sagna; and Koscielny (despite his thoroughly undeserved red card); Giroud (who scored Arsenal's goal and played hard throughout); and Cazorla (after taking a few minutes to acclimate to the match as a second-half substitute).

Who played poorly for Arsenal? Walcott (why are they still allowing him to take, which is to say waste, free kicks?); Szczesny (although not responsible for the first penalty, his tendency to go for long walks outside the goal area is troubling); Ramsey and Wilshire (both of whom were almost kicked off the pitch by Villa, but neither of whom either passed the ball well or even really tried to attack the defense). Of course, Arsenal's poorest player is still the manager, who is responsible for who is, and who is not, in the squad. And, by the way, what the hell did he think he was doing throwing Podolski on the field for the final few minutes?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Are You Ready for Some Football? (By Which I Mean Soccer)

The new English Premier League season gets underway tomorrow with lots of interesting subplots. How will Man U make the transition to the post-Ferguson era? Will Jose Marinho discover that you can go home again, as he returns to the helm of Chelsea? Will Arsenal experience deja vu all over again, making emergency acquisitions two or three games into the season after standing still during the summer, just to avoid falling out of contention for a Champion's League spot?

Last year, the Gunners finally jumped into the transfer market with both feet just as the summer transfer window was closing. We could well see a repeat this summer - that is, if any of the most talented players are still willing to join Arsene Wenger's squad. Throughout this summer, Arsenal came close but failed to close deals on the likes of Higuain and, most recently, Gonzalo. I have to wonder whether it was (a) a case of Wenger abiding by his traditional "moral economy" evaluations (as opposed to market valuations) of players, or (b) a case of players deciding that Arsenal was not a big enough club for them. At the end of the day, all players (let alone the best players) want to go to a club that will (1) offer them the most money and (2) have the best chance of winning championships. Arsenal haven't promised (2) in eight long years, and have never really promised (1).

Woe be to Wenger, Gazidis, and the rest of the Arsenal brain trust, if the team struggle out of the blocks once again this season. Personnel wise, they are clearly better than the squad that started last season. But they also appear to be, once again, a club that will compete for a Champion's League spot, but not for silverware.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Most Interesting Sentences I Read This Morning

[H]igher city-level GDP growth is statistically and economically significantly positively related to greater odds of the city's top cadres being promoted. On the contrary, higher city-level environmental investment is statistically and economically statistically negatively related to better odds of the city's top cadres being promoted.
Source: Jing Wu, Yongheng Deng, Jun Huang, Randall Morck, and Bernard Young, "Incentives and Outcomes: China's Environmental Policy," NBER Working Paper No. 1874 (Feb. 2013).

The authors findings relate directly to the arguments I made in a recent blog post (here; also see here) about systematic impediments to emissions trading in China.

Levermann on Sea-Level Rise from Climate Change

Over at RealClimate.org (here), Anders Levermann reports on recent predictive studies of sea-level rise due to global warming. The take-home conclusion from the studies is that "in total sea level rises quasi-linearly by about 2.3 metres for each degree of global warming" over the course of up to 2,000 years. Most of that sea level rise is expected to come from terrestrial ice masses (e.g., Greenland's ice). This is something that should worry us all, especially those who live in coastal regions.

I have some problems, however, with unwarranted assertions Levermann makes in his article. I first posted those problems in a comment at RealClimate.org and have decided to repeat them here:

Let me begin by saying that RealClimate.org is the best site on the web for scientifically accurate information about climate change. With respect to this posting, I do not question the findings of the studies the author cites, and I am convinced that sea level rise is a major problem that will require very expensive adaptation (not possible for all places).

Having said all that, the author goes too far in suggesting that: (a) because GHG emissions remain in the atmosphere for a very long time, they commit us to a certain extent of sea-level rise over the course of up to 2,000 years; and (b) “Society needs to decide whether we want to give up, for example, the Tower of London, or put the brakes on climate change….”

There is no warrant for the author’s implicit presumption that no technological innovations over the next 1,000 years could alter the relationship between carbon in the atmosphere and sea-level rise. Already, we have technology to reduce the terrestrial effects of GHG emissions by inserting sulfur aerosols (or other reflecting particles) into the upper atmosphere. (Whether doing so is a wise policy remains, at this point, a contested issue.)

The author’s other implicit assumption that there is no feasible way to protect a coastal (or tidal) city from the effects of sea level rise is simply false. Amsterdam has been sitting below sea level for centuries, and yet we haven’t had to “give up” on the Rijksmuseum. Whether Amsterdam can technologically work its way around another few meters of sea-level rise, remains to be seen. This is not to say that coastal areas won’t suffer grievously from climate change; sea walls may protect a city, but only at the cost of inundating other (presumably less valued) coastal areas.

The most important point, however, is that climate scientists do not make it any easier to convince skeptics (let alone deniers), when they draw the more dire, catastrophic conclusions from every study. It is far better to be parsimonious and limit conclusions to what can reasonably be inferred from the science, and leave the hyperbole to the “talking heads.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On a Day Like This, One Simply Must Ride (If At All Possible)

It was in the mid-50s this August morning in South-Central Indiana. The high temperature for the day was 75. The sun is shining; humidity is low, and a fresh breeze is blowing from the north gusting to around 15 mph. For any avid cyclist, weather like this in mid-August is a pure gift of nature. Who could refuse to accept such a gift?

With about 10 days until the start of school, and my summer work mostly finished, my schedule right now is a bit more flexible than usual. So, I had no trouble getting out for a 27-mile ride (the "Orchard Ride") this afternoon (with my highest average power of the entire year). I enjoyed the solo ride, but even more than usual, I miss my comrades who are gone (Karl) or injured (Tim). Having missed my share of fair-weather riding this season (which has, truth be told, been an epic season for cyclists in this part of the country), I'm also mindful of my cycling buddies who are too tied up to get out for a ride today, and hope they can get out tomorrow and/or the next few days, so long as this glorious weather lasts.

Tomorrow promises a ride with Dr. Jim. Should be a nice day to ride around Lake Lemon and up Beanblossom into the Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Simplistic Analysis of Pollution Economics

In today's New York Times, here, Dirk Forrister and Paul Bledsoe, observe China's new carbon emissions trading program and wonder why the US seems to have abandoned efforts to create a emission trading system for controlling carbon emissions. I wholeheartedly support their (no doubt vain) call on Congress to pass climate legislation of some sort; although, as long as we're pretending to live in a first-best world, I'd prefer carbon taxes over cap-and-trade. But that's a minor complaint relative to the two big problems with their op-ed: (1) their casual presumption that emissions trading is always superior to traditional regulation; and (2) their supposition that China's emissions trading system will be successful.

It's just an op-ed, after all - not the place for an extended analysis of the issues. But overly simplistic treatments of complicated regulatory issues and instruments don't do readers any favors. The authors might at least have acknowledged that emissions trading systems have a mixed record of success, and that both theory and evidence (including my own 1998 article with Peter Grossman, here) explain that economic instruments, including emissions trading, are not always preferable to traditional regulatory standards.

Meanwhile, there is little reason to presume that China's experiment with emissions trading will be successful, especially given the past history of unsuccessful deployment of economic instruments for pollution control in socialist economic systems. Under communism, Poland developed the world's most extensive system of environmental taxes, fees, and fines. But endemic soft budget constraints on state-owned enterprises, whose survival depended only on meeting planned production targets, completely undermined that system. (On the history of failed environmental protection efforts in communist Poland, see my book, Instituting Environmental Protection: From Red to Green in Poland (Macmillan 1998)). What reason is there to expect that China's efforts to impose market-based environmental controls on enterprises not subject to market-discipline will yield better results?

It's long past time for advocates of cap-and-trade to stop treating their preferred regulatory instrument as an environmental panacea. There are no universal first-best solutions to complex and highly contextualized pollution problems. Sometimes, cap-and-trade can be expected to work very well, e.g., where monitoring is inexpensive and regulated firms are subject to hard budget constraints. At least one of those requirements is not met in the case of Chinese emissions of carbon dioxide. And given the dysfunctions in the US Congress, stemming from gerrymandering following the 2010 census and abuse of the filibuster in the Senate, no basis exists to complain about the costs of EPA's greenhouse gas regulations compared to some ideal emissions trading program that cannot possibly be enacted.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Arsenal Should Move On from Suarez

Liverpool's owner has said that Luis Suarez will not be sold this summer, regardless of price (see here). I hope Arsenal will take this good news - and it is good news - seriously. Arsenal should not want the biting racist in the first place, and a quick resolution of their misguided efforts to sign him will free their attention to focus on signing a central defender and a defensive midfielder, which are the team's most pressing needs.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Steven Pinker Defends Scientism

Here in the New Republic. I fully agree with Pinker that anti-science scholars in the humanities have been attacking the wrong target. In doing so, they are playing into the hands of forces that are not just anti-science and anti-enlightenment, but anti-intellectual.

If There's a Better Guitarist Out There Right Now Than Jake Cinnenger, I Haven't Heard Him (or Her)

I'm just saying.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Xabi Alonso is One of the Best Defensive Midfielders in the World - Does Arsenal Know That?

Arsenal are in desperate need of a defensive midfielder. Alonso's current contract at Real Madrid expires in 12 months, and Real have yet to make a new contract offer. Already, Chelsea have expressed interest in signing Alonso, who is in the process of recovering from groin surgery (see here). It is to be hoped that brain-trust at the Emirates Stadium is at least making inquiries.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Ride

I haven't been posting about my rides lately, not because I haven't been riding but because it's been so inconsistent week to week. Between my two jaunts to Europe for conferences, followed by two weekend trips to Chicago to visit family, I've managed to get in a few 130+ mile weeks. But then my left knee started aching, and I eased back on the miles a bit to give it more rest. But there was no way I was going to rest it today on the nicest day for riding I can ever remember in August.

When Dr. Jim and I left my house at 10 am, the temperature was 68 degrees, with low humidity and a nice breeze from the northeast. We did a moderately hard 40 mile ride (Jim probably got in an extra 15 riding from and back to his house) that featured more than 2800 feet of climbing, including Beanblossom, Salem Rd, Buskirk, Kinser Pike (up to 37), and Hinkle back up to my house. It was a good test for my knee, a test that the knee did not pass with flying colors. I think it might be time to schedule an appointment with my orthopod, Dr. Joe.

Back to Basics

I'm sure wonderful new fiction is out there, which I should be reading, but I've failed to find it this summer.  Buddenbrooks, Mann's first novel in the allegedly "superior new translation" of John E. Woods. Since I am unable to read Mann in the original German, it is impossible for me to compare the two translations, but I will say that while Lowe-Porter's translation seems more elegant, Woods strikes a more natural, colloquial note.
All the new novels I've started reading (and mostly failed to finish) have disappointed. So, I've gone back to my favorite novelist, Thomas Mann, who never disappoints. For the first time, I'm reading him in a translation not by H.T. Lowe-Porter, with whom Mann collaborated closely. Instead, I'm reading

Read in whichever translation, Mann's Buddenbrooks should be read and savored, along with everything else he wrote.