Archives for February 2013

The Great Rebalancing Review in The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal published a book review of The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy by Michael Pettis. The reviewer calls Pettis a “brilliant economic thinker” and gives a good background of the financial situation in China and why it needs to be rebalanced. If you are not quite sure what the book is about or what exactly is going on with the Chinese economy and why it is important at all, this book review is a great place to start.

A Banking Paper Tiger

China Development Bank underwrote a massive stadium in Loudi, Hunan Province—a city that lacks a professional sports team.

China’s econoPettis_GreatRebalancing_S13my sometimes seems the work of miracles: three decades of economic growth, with GDP compounding at an annual rate of around 10%; the world’s highest levels of savings and investment; vast trade surpluses, which feed the largest foreign-exchange reserves in history. The financial system has played a key role in delivering these economic feats, and no single institution within it has been more important than China Development Bank. “Understand CDB,” Henry Sanderson and Michael Forsythe write in “China’s Superbank,” “and you understand the core of China’s state capitalism.”

This so-called policy bank, founded less than two decades ago, boasts a larger loan book than J.P. Morgan ChaseJPM +3.41% . Over the past 15 years, CDB has lent trillions of dollars to finance China’s urbanization policy. More recently, it has dished out vast sums across the globe to secure China’s long-term energy supplies. Hugo Chávez, whose country has been the largest single foreign recipient of CDB’s loans, proclaims his financial benefactor as the bank “with the most money in the world.”

Read the FULL review at The Wall Street Journal online.

From feather alone…

pattern_barred[1]We’ve been focused of late on what’s beneath the feathers (see our book The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina Van Grouw), but The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab has just launched a web site where you can reverse-look-up a bird from feathers. Users select the pattern of the feather and the general color and are then given numerous possible identifications. Really cool stuff.

Get started here: http://www.lab.fws.gov/fa/idtool.php?button2=Get+Started+with+Feather+Identification

Why We Should Settle

In an ideal life we would all have everything we could ever dream of. Sports cars, model spouses, and mansions in a swanky neighborhood would all be ours in our ideal life. However, reality says this probably will not all come to us as picture perfectly as we hoped, so we must settle for what we have. This may mean settling for your 1999 Honda Accord, your non-existent significant other, and the house you rent in Trenton. When we settle on something, whatever that may be, it becomes fixed. But as Robert E. Goodin explains in his book On Settling and as an article in The New Republic reiterates, settling does not mean completely giving up. Cass Sunstein for The New Republic says, “fixity is not forever.” Instead, settling is a way to put one’s mind to rest on one matter in order to be able to strive for other things. He writes:

When we settle, we hold something—a job, a relationship, a place, an activity—as fixed. He contrasts settling with “striving.” But his most striking claim is that settling is not an alternative to striving, but its complement. The reason is that human beings cannot strive unless they keep a number of aspects of their life fixed. In that sense, settling is a precondition for striving.

Settling should not necessarily be seen pejoratively. Instead, the positive value of settling should be acknowledged and used to one’s advantage. When you settle on one aspect of life, you free up your mind to strive for another. Settle for some things now so you can strive for bigger and better things, and who knows, somewhere down the line you may be able to trade in that pre-millennium make for something from this decade.

Read the full article here.

 

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In a culture that worships ceaseless striving, “settling” seems like giving up. But is it? On Settling defends the positive value of settling, explaining why this disdained practice is not only more realistic but more useful than an excessive ideal of striving. In fact, the book makes the case that we’d all be lost without settling–and that even to strive, one must first settle.

We may admire strivers and love the ideal of striving, but who of us could get through a day without settling? Real people, confronted with a complex problem, simply make do, settling for some resolution that, while almost certainly not the best that one could find by devoting limitless time and attention to the problem, is nonetheless good enough. Robert Goodin explores the dynamics of this process. These involve taking as fixed, for now, things that we reserve the right to reopen later (nothing is fixed for good, although events might always overtake us). We settle on some things in order to concentrate better on others. At the same time we realize we may need to come back later and reconsider those decisions. From settling on and settling for, to settling down and settling in, On Settling explains why settling is useful for planning, creating trust, and strengthening the social fabric–and why settling is different from compromise and resignation.

So, the next time you’re faced with a thorny problem, just settle. It’s no failure.

Robert E. Goodin is professor of government at the University of Essex and distinguished professor of philosophy and social and political theory at Australian National University.

You can preview the introduction of the book here.

Applying Game Theory to Watching the Oscars

k9998Why do Internet, financial service, and beer commercials dominate Super Bowl advertising? How do political ceremonies establish authority? Why does repetition characterize anthems and ritual speech? Why were circular forms favored for public festivals during the French Revolution? Michael Suk-Young Chwe’s Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge tackles these questions using a single concept: common knowledge. A recent New Yorker article, Is It Rational to Watch the Oscars? uses Chwe’s ideas about rational ritual to explore the question posed in the article’s title:

Events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl generate what game theorists call “common knowledge,” which itself has value. In the case of the annual Hollywood shindig, this knowledge isn’t confined to an awareness of which films win or lose. If that was what people really cared about, they could simply look at the list of winners online, or in the morning newspaper. (In the old days, that’s what most did, and it’s hard to argue that their welfare suffered.) The common knowledge includes all the other goofy stuff that happens at the Dolby Theatre: the wardrobe disasters; the unfunny jokes; the weird dance routines; the embarrassing acceptance speeches; the unexpected appearance of Michelle Obama on a large screen above Jack Nicholson’s head. (Yes, I ended up watching the last forty-five minutes.) …

Read the full article, here.

 

Susan Wolf Examines the Meaning in Life on BBC World Service The Forum

In day-to-day decision making, we are motivated by one of two factors: our own personal interests or general morality. Susan Wolf, author of Meaning in Life and Why It Matters, believes that there is a third factor that influences our decisions. Wolf says that sometimes we are motivated solely out of love for for the objects that we think are worthy of love. Wolf says that these actions are what give life meaning. In a recent segment on BBC World Service The Forum, Susan Wolf along with philosopher Alain de Botton and novelist Alexandre Mitchell discusses the meaning in life.

Listen to the interview here.

Book Description: Most people, including philosophers, tend to classify human motives as falling into one of two categories: the egoistic or the altruistic, the self-interested or the moral. According to Susan Wolf, however, much of what motivates us does not comfortably fit into this scheme. Often we act neither for our own sake nor out of duty or an impersonal concern for the world. Rather, we act out of love for objects that we rightly perceive as worthy of love–and it is these actions that give meaning to our lives. Wolf makes a compelling case that, along with happiness and morality, this kind of meaningfulness constitutes a distinctive dimension of a good life. Written in a lively and engaging style, and full of provocative examples, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters is a profound and original reflection on a subject of permanent human concern.

Susan Wolf is the Edna J. Koury Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of Freedom within Reason.

Q&A with Ian Roulstone and John Norbury, authors of Invisible in the Storm

We are publishing Invisible in the Storm by Ian Roulstone and John Norbury next month. The book explains how mathematics and meteorology come together to predict the weekly weather, prepare us for incredible weather events like Hurricane Sandy, and contribute to our understanding of climate change. They kindly answered a few of my questions for the Princeton University Press Blog:

 

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1.      I’ll start with the thing everyone is talking about. It seems like extreme weather more prevalent in recent years. With Hurricane Sandy and the recent unprecedented Nor’Easter behind us (ed. note: I’m writing from NJ), it bears asking whether the future holds more extreme weather? Can mathematics help answer this question?

Mathematicians think about weather and climate in an unusual way. Our ever-changing weather can be visualized as a curve meandering through an abstract mathematical space of logically possible weather. Any one point of the curve corresponds to a particular state of the weather. The surprise is that the curve does not wander around randomly–patterns emerge. One part of the pattern may correspond to ‘warm and dry’ and another part to ‘cold and wet’. Predicting changes in the weather for the week ahead involves working out if the curve will drift from one part of the pattern to another. Understanding climate involves working out how the pattern itself will change.

2.      So, is the pattern changing toward more extreme weather or can we not answer this question yet?

If we compare the results from different climate models (from different research institutions and weather bureaus around the world), then they show an increase in global average temperature over the next century. However, this could lead to quite different conditions in different parts of the world. For example, if the Gulf Stream was weakened, Europe could experience colder weather. However, we know our models are not perfect, and mathematics is helping us to understand the errors that are inherent in the compuer-generated simulations. This work is important as it will help us to estimate the likely extremes in weather and climate with greater confidence.

3.      To return to the end of your first answer, how can mathematics detect climate change?

Climate depends on many factors: the atmosphere, the oceans, the icecaps, land usage, and life in all its forms. Not only are there many interconnections between these systems, the timescales over which changes occur vary enormously: trees can be felled in a few hours or days–changing the character of the local landscape quickly–but carbon stocks in soil vary much more slowly, perhaps over several millennia. To predict future climate we have to account for the short- and long-timescale effects, and this can pose subtle problems. Mathematics helps us to quantify how the different timescales of the changes in the components of the Earth system impact on predictions of climate change. Using mathematics, we calculate how cloud patterns change over the next five days, and how the Arctic ice-sheet changes over the next five years.

4.      How does mathematics help forecasters predict the weather for the week ahead? 

One of the main sources of information for a new forecast is yesterday’s forecast. New generations of satellites gather more, and more accurate, readings, ranging from the sea surface temperature to the state of the stratosphere. Data is exchanged freely around the world among weather bureaus; global weather prediction relies upon this protocol. However, we will never have perfect, complete weather data, and this is why we need mathematical techniques to combine the new information with the old.

5.      Years ago, it seems like weather was much simpler — will it rain, snow, sleet, or be sunny? These days, mathematics enables weather forecasters to forecast more than rain or shine: the computer simulations are useful for predicting everything from pollen levels and pollution to flood risk and forest fires. Can you explain how mathematics is part of this?

Mathematics is the language we use to describe the world around us in a way that facilitates predictions of the future. Even though hay fever and floods are very different natural phenomena, predictions of their occurrence can be made using mathematical models. Weather forecasters are actively engaged in combining their predictions with models that help us forecast weather-related phenomena.

6.      It sounds like a one-way street — mathematics helps us understand meteorology — but you note in the book that the relationship is more reciprocal. Can you elaborate?

To most of us, meteorology and mathematics are a world apart: why should calculus tell us anything about the formation of snowflakes? But mathematics has played an ever-growing and crucial role in the development of meteorology and weather forecasting over the past two centuries. Our story explains how mathematics that was originally developed for very different purposes, such as studying the ether or the dynamics of the solar system, is now helping us to understand the dynamics of the atmosphere and oceans, and the changes in our climate. And it is a two-way process: the diversity of phenomena we seek to quantify means we have to describe them using new mathematical ideas that capture the rapid changes, the slow changes, the randomness, and the order, we observe.

7.      Is there a current area of mathematical/meteorological research that you are particularly excited about? Ie – what’s next?

     There’s one particular subject that’s attracting a lot of attention right now: it is called data assimilation. This is the part of the forecasting process where new observational information about the state of the atmosphere is combined with the previous forecast, to give us the starting conditions for the next forecast. Improvements to this part of the forecasting process nearly always lead to better forecasts. And the technology applies to modelling the climate too. In this case, we’re not so much interested in whether we have the correct starting conditions, but whether we have used the correct values of the parameters that define the processes and physical phenomena which affect climate–for example, the carbon cycle, from leaves to biomass and carbon dioxide. One of the reasons this is a really exciting area for mathematicians is that we need some new mathematical ideas to analyse these problem. At the moment we rely heavily on math that was developed over 50 years ago–and it works very well–but as we strive to increase the detail we want to represent in our weather and climate models, we have to unravel the Gordian knot that ties together the many different parts of the Earth system we have to represent.

 

Take Flight with the Crossley ID Guide: Black and White

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Click on the photo above to view a larger image.

 

What happens when you take away the color-markings of raptors? In certain light, you may lose the colors and be left with a black and white palette. Plates like this one from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors train you to recognize patterns and shadings in any light.

Black and white! In the field, birds are seen in various lighting situations, and often they can appear colorless. This is especially true against a white sky or when backlit. Even the shapes of birds can appear to change lightly in various situations, so practicing watching hawks in situations other than blue skies will prove useful. Take a stab at these black-and-white images…but notice how nearly all the ID traits are still visible. Learning to see birds as a pattern in shades of gray will make you a much better field birder.

To see ALL the sample plates from The Crossley ID Guide, click here.

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Admati on CBSNews.com’s Moneywatch

Anat Admati appeared on CBSNews.com’s Moneywatch to discuss the problems with the banking system and possible solutions to remedy the problems. Admati is co-author of The Bankers’ New Clothes, a forthcoming book that not only critiques big banks but also gives them advice to fix their mistakes before it is too late.

Also, read the accompanying article on CBSNews.com.

All 15 Volumes of The Robert Lehman Collection Reviewed in The New York Review of Books

2-25 Robert lehmanThe New York Review of Books featured all fifteen volumes of The Robert Lehman Collection, a comprehensive catalog of the pieces included in The Robert Lehman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lehman’s extensive collection includes 2,600 works including paintings, sculptures, drawings, pottery, ceramics, and more. The fifteen volume series divides The Robert Lehman Collection into separate categories  so that each has its own catalog. Some volumes include American Drawings and Watercolors, European Sculpture and Metalwork, and Decorative Arts. While all fifteen volumes are not all currently in print, the most recent volume, The Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Volume XV: Decorative Arts, is newly available to complete the full collection.

Read an excerpt from the review below:

“[T]he monumental, fifteen-volume catalog of the Robert Lehman Collection has at last reached completion after almost thirty-five years of labor by a pantheon of eminent scholars, beginning with John Pope-Hennessy, who published the first volume, on Italian paintings, in 1987. […] Few private collections have been honored with a catalog so complete and containing such superb, informative scholarship as this one, which is, as one of its contributors rightly claims, ‘unique in American museum scholarship in its scope and range.’”–Walter Kaiser, The New York Review of Books

Read the full review here.

Bernard Carlson, author of Tesla to tour college bookstores

W. Bernard Carlson, author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age, will tour the Northeast with a Tesla Coil in hand, visiting college bookstores at Johns Hopkins, U. Penn, Dartmouth, and Harvard during the first week of May.

j9941[1] Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla’s private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an “idealist” inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion.For details on the events, please visit the following links: 

 

 

[This post was originally published on February 4, 2013]

Admati on Fox Business Network

Anat Admati appeared on Fox Business Network’s Money with Melissa Francis on Tuesday to discuss the government’s regulations for the financial sector. Admati is co-author of The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do About It which examines the current banking system problems and how to fix them in clearly defined terms.

Watch the full interview here.

Additionally The New Yorker, Bloomberg Business Week, and Business Insider all discuss the financial situation and possible solutions as laid out by Admati and Hellwig in The Banker’s New Clothes. Admati and Hellwig say that “higher equity requirements would therefore alleviate the problem of banks being too big, too interconnected, or too political to fail. Not only would banks be less likely to fail, they would bear more of their own losses should they incur losses.” James Pethokoukis for Business Insider agrees and sums up that “capping bank size, limiting bank activities, higher equity capital requirements — all tools in the toolbox for eliminating the crony capitalist subsidy of the US financial system by government.”

Read the articles about The Banker’s New Clothes:

“Should Congress be more like honeybees?” asks NPR’s Robert Krulwich

If bees ran the world, the filibuster simply wouldn’t exist, according to this report by Robert Krulwich at NPR (accompanied by charming illustrations, too!).

Bees are democrats. They vote. When a community of bees has to make a choice, like where to build a new hive, they meet, debate and decide. But here’s what they don’t do: they don’t filibuster. No single bee (or small band of bees) will stand against the majority, insisting and insisting for hours. They can’t.

Bee biology prevents it.

See, scout bees will find a location they think works for the new hive. They campaign for their location by dancing — communicating the coordinates of the site and inviting the rest of the hive to check it out.

If she feels really strongly, she will dance with extra energy, for a longer time.

Even if most of the other bees have chosen a different tree, they won’t stop her dance, or tell her to be quiet. Or have three-fifths of them invoke “cloture,” a fancy way of saying “shut up.” They will wait her out.

But what happens if the hive votes a different way? The scout bees don’t hold resentments or filibuster, they simply stop dancing  and go with the flow. Drawing heavily on the ideas of The Honeybee Democracy and the research of author Tom Seeley, Krulwich asks, “would we be better off being more beelike?”

Biologically-induced congeniality sounds like a nice alternative to what we’ve got now, a spitting, snarling mosh pit of politicians. But even so, I don’t wish a bee lobotomy on our senators.

Yes, they are petty, shortsighted blowhards too much of the time. Some have lost the art of compromise. But would I prefer the bee model? A polite, genetically induced quiet? No, I wouldn’t.

I see the advantages, but speaking as an intelligent, free willed mammal, I’m afraid their system seems a little … umm, what’s the word?

Inhuman.

Read the complete article here, or listen in to an earlier interview with Tom Seeley.

j9267[1]You can read more of Tom Seeley’s book The Honeybee Democracy in two ways.

The complete book is available here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9267.html

A Princeton Shorts titled The Five Habits of Highly Effective Honeybees (and What We Can Learn from Them) is also available through most major e-book retailers. Learn more about this e-book here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9648.html