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This weekend we attended a charity auction for my kids’ pre-school.  What does a game theorist think about at a charity auction?

  1. There is a “silent auction” (sealed bid), followed by a live auction (open outcry).  How do you decide which items to put in the live auction?
  2. The silent auction is anonymous, so items with high signaling value should be moved to the live auction.  A 1 week vacation in Colorado sold for less than $1000 (who would want to signal that they don’t already have their own summer home?) wheras a day of working as an assistant at Charlie Trotter’s sold for $2500.
  3. There is a raffle.  You sell those tickets at the door when people are distracted and haven’t started counting how much they have spent yet.  But what price do you set?
  4. The economics of the charity auction are such that vendors with high P-MC markups can donate a high value item (high P) for a low cost (low MC).  This explains why the items usually have a boutique quality to them.
  5. In the silent auction, you write down your bids with a supplied pen on the bid sheet.  Sniping is pervasive.  Note for next year:  bring a cigarette lighter.  You make your last minute bids and then melt the end of the pen just enough to stop the ink from flowing.
  6. When you are in suburban Winnetka on Chicago’s North Shore, for which kind of item is the winner’s curse the strongest: art or sports tickets/memorabilia?
  7. One of the live auction side-events is a pure signaling game where you are asked to give an amount of money to a special fund.  They start with a very high request and after everyone who is willing to give that much has raised their hand, they continually lower the request.  I think this is the right timing.  With the ascending version the really big donors will give too early.
  8. How do you respond when asked to pay to enter a game with the rules to be announced later?  Answer:  treat it like a raffle.  Surprise answer:  A chicken will be placed in a cage.  The winner of the game is the player whose number the chicken poops on.

That didn’t turn out to be such a good idea.  Someone forgot to put a lid on the cage and the chicken, well-versed in the hold-up problem, found a way to use his monopoly power:

The game of chicken

That is an actual-use, signed and engraved hockey stick from Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.  It subsequently sold for over $1000.  The chicken was unharmed and eventually spent the evening perched on a rafter high above the proceedings threatening to select a winner directly.


The phamily kind.  Let’s say you are hiding something from your husband.  For example, let’s say that you are trying to teach your husband a lesson about putting things “in their right place” and you hide his newly-arrived tomato seeds.  Its time to germinate them indoors to be ready for a mid-May transplanting and he comes to you and says

H:  I found the seeds.

Y:  You did?

H:  Yep.  Were they there all the time? I am sure I looked there.

Y:  I thought you would have.  That’s where you always put stuff.  You never put stuff in the right place.

H:  I always put stuff there?  Like what?

Y:  Like remember you put X and Y and Z there and I couldn’t find them?

H:  Ahh yes, X, Y and Z, I remember them well.  Thanks for telling me where my tomato seeds are.

As a SoCal transplant to the Midwest I have had two very different experiences with weather.  Growing up, I learned a few immutable climate axioms.

  1. If there is sunshine its going to be warm, if it is cloudy it is going to be cold.
  2. If there are clouds plus precipitation its going to be even colder.

The beauty of these principles is that you can look out your window and know how to dress.  The tragedy of these principles is that they are totally false.

In Chicago, sunshine means on average that it is going to be colder.  Especially in the winter.  Cloudy days are on average warmer than sunny days.  And precipitation, especially snow, means its going to be even warmer than if it was just cloudy.

Eventually I think I figured out why.  The true axioms of weather are instead

  1. How warm or cold it will be depends almost entirely on where the air is coming from.
  2. Whether there are clouds and how much precipitation there will be depends a lot on where the air is coming from.

#1 is obvious but would be completely lost on a SoCalian because the air pretty much comes from the same place all the time.  It blows in from over the Pacific.  This being constant, the only thing left to determine the tiny fluctuations in temperature is whether or not the Sun has yet to burn off the marine layer (essentially fog that comes along with water blowing over the ocean.)  Naturally therefore sunshine=warmer.

(A variation on this which still confounds the SoCalian is the occasional Santa Ana condition where the air is blowing offshore from the deserts.  This keeps the marine layer at bay (sunshine) and the desert air is of course warm.)

In Chicago, the air can be coming from just about anywhere Westish.  Air coming from Canada: cold.  Air coming from Missouri:  warmer.  Now, sunshine means that the excess moisture that would have been in the air to form clouds fell to the ground before the air arrived.  That is more likely to have happened if the air is coming from Canada because in Canada it is colder and that means the the air can hold less moisture.  Hence the correlation sunshine=cold.

Indeed, clouds indicate that the air has moved from some place warmer, where the air could hold moisture.  Finally, precipitation means that it was so warm wherever the air is coming from that there is so much moisture in the air that by the time it reaches cold Chicago, it has to fall out of the sky onto me.

File this one under Blogging Something I Know Nothing About, yes. But after the first few times I ran outside in shorts in January because the sky was crystal blue, I have come to depend heavily on this theory.  And its working pretty well, at least until I move to Hawaii.

If this is all obvious, forgive me I came late to this (I grew up in Orange County, CA where it last snowed in December of Yeah Right.)

The first thing to do, obviously is to make a snowball.  Your enemy combatant will do the same.  You each now have one snowball in your stockpile.  What next?

If you throw your snowball you will be unarmed and certain to pay the consequences.  So you don’t.  Neither does she.  You are at a standoff, but very soon you figure out what to do while you wait for the standoff to resolve.  Make another snowball.  Of course she does the same.

Now you each have an arsenal of two snowballs.  Two is very different from one however because if you throw your snowball you still have one to defend yourself with.  But you will have one fewer than she.  This still puts her at an advantage because once you use your last snowball you are again unarmed.  So you will only throw your first snowball if you have a reasonable chance of landing it.

The alternative is to make another snowball.  Which of these is the better option depends on what she is expecting.  If she knows you will throw, she is prepared to dodge it and then press her advantage.  If she knows you will make another one she will wait for you to reach down into the snow when you are most vulnerable and she will draw first blood.

So you have to randomize.  So does she.  There are two possible outcomes of these independent randomizations.  First, one or two snowballs may fly resulting in a sequence of volleys which eventually deplete your stocks down to one or two snowballs left.  The second possibility is that both of you increase your stockpile by one snowball.

Thus, equilibrium of a well-played snowball fight gives rise to the following stochastic process.  At each stage, with a certain positive probability, the stockpiles both increase by one snowball.  This continues without bound until, with the complementary probability in each stage, a fight breaks out depleting both stockpiles and beginning the process again from zero.

Special mention should be made of a third strategy which is to be considered only in special circumstances.  Rather than standing and throwing, you can charge at her and take a shot from close range.  This has the obvious advantages but clearly leaves you defenseless ex post.  Running away should be ruled out because you will be giving up your entire store of snowballs and eventually you will have to come back.  No, the only option at this point is to tackle her, landing you both deep in the snow.  With the right adversary, this mutually assured destruction could be the best possible outcome.

In this video, Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner talk about their finding that you are 8 times more likely to die walking drunk than driving drunk.

Levitt says this

“anybody could have done it, it took us about 5 minutes on the internet trying to figure out what some of the statistics were… and yet no one has every talked or thought about it and I think that’s the power of ideas… ways of thinking about the world differently that we are trying to cultivate with our approach to economics.”

Dubner cites the various ways a person could die walking drunk

  1. step off the curb into traffic.
  2. mad dash across the highway.
  3. lie down and take a nap in the road.

Which leads him to see how obvious it is ex post that drunk walking is so much more dangerous than drunk driving.

I thought a little about this and it struck me that riding a bike while drunk should be even more dangerous than walking drunk. I could

  1. roll or ride off a curb into traffic.
  2. try to make a mad dash across an intersection.
  3. get off my bike so that i can lie down in the road to take a nap.

plus so many other dangerous things that i can do on my bike but could not do on foot. And what the hell, I have 5 minutes of time and the internet so I thought I would do a little homegrown freakonomics to test this out. Here is an excerpt from their book explaining how they calculated the risk of death by drunk walking.

Let’s look at some numbers, Each year, more than 1,000 drunk pedestrians die in traffic accidents. They step off sidewalks into city streets; they lie down to rest on country roads; they make mad dashes across busy highways. Compared with the total number of people killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents each year–about 13,000–the number of drunk pedestrians is relatively small. But when you’re choosing whether to walk or drive, the overall number isn’t what counts. Here’s the relevant question: on a per-mile basis, is it more dangerous to drive drunk or walk drunk?

The average American walks about a half-mile per day outside the home or workplace. There are some 237 million Americans sixteen and older; all told, that’s 43 billion miles walked each year by people of driving age. If we assume that 1 of every 140 of those miles are walked drunk–the same proportion of miles that are driven drunk–then 307 million miles are walked drunk each year.

Doing the math, you find that on a per-mile basis, a drunk walker is eight times more likely to get killed than a drunk driver.

I found the relevant statistics for cycling here, on the internet. I calculate as follows. Estimates range between 6 and 21 billion miles traveled by bike in a year. Lets call it 13 billion. If we assume that 1 out of every 140 of these miles are cycled drunk, then that gives about 92 million drunk-cycling miles. There are about 688 cycling related deaths per year (average for the years 200-2004.) Nearly 1/5 of these involve a drunk cyclist (this is for the year 1996, the only year the data mentions.) So that’s about 137 dead drunk cyclists per year.

When you do the math you find that there are about 1.5 deaths per every million miles cycled drunk. By contrast, Levitt and Dubner calculate about 3.3 deaths per every million miles walked drunk.

Is walking drunk more dangerous than biking drunk?

Here is another piece of data. Overall (drunk or not) the fatality rate (on a per-mile basis) is estimated to be between 3.4 and 11 times higher for cyclists than motorists. From Levitt and Dubner’s conclusion that drunk walking is 8 times more dangerous than drunk driving we can infer that there are about .4 deaths per million miles driven drunk. That means that the fatality rate for drunk cyclists is only about 3.8 times higher than for drunk motorists.

That is, the relative riskiness of biking versus driving is unaffected (or possibly attenuated) by being drunk. But while walking is much safer than driving overall, according to Levitt and Dubner’s method, being drunk reverses that and makes walking much more dangerous than both biking and driving.

There are a few other ways to interpret these data which do not require you to believe the implication in the previous paragraph.

  1. There was no good reason to extrapolate the drunk rate of 1 out of every 140 miles traveled from driving (where its documented) to walking and biking (where we are just making things up.)
  2. Someone who is drunk and chooses to walk is systematically different than someone who is drunk and chooses to drive. They are probably not going to and from the same places. They probably have different incomes and different occupations. Their level of intoxication is probably not the same. This means in particular that the fatality rate of drunk walkers is not the rate that would be faced by you and me if we were drunk and decided to walk instead of drive. To put it yet another way, it is not drunk walking that is dangerous. What is dangerous is having the characteristics that lead you to choose to walk drunk.

These ideas, especially the one behind #2 were the hallmark of Levitt’s academic work and even the work documented in Freakonomics. His reputation was built on carefully applying ideas like these to uncover exciting and surprising truths in data. But he didn’t apply these ideas to his study of drunk walking. Of course, my analysis is no better. I just copied some numbers off a page I found on the internet and applied the Levitt Dubner calculation. It only took me 5 minutes. (And I would appreciate if someone can check my math.) But then again, I am not trying to support a highly dubious and dangerous claim:

So as you leave your friend’s party, the decision should be clear: driving is safer than walking. (It would be even safer, obviously , to drink less, or to call a cab.) The next time you put away four glasses of wine at a party, maybe you’ll think through your decision a bit differently. Or, if you’re too far gone, maybe your friend will help sort things out. Because friends don’t let friends walk drunk.

Apple is opening a new retail store on a neglected chunk of land in the middle of a gentrifying part of the North side of Chicago.  Before moving in they will tidy up a bit by landscaping an adjacent lot and refurbishing a run-down CTA subway station entrance and underground train platform (the North and Clybourn red line station) with a total cost of up to $4 million.

Over the years, the CTA’s building has fallen behind on maintenance. The paint is peeling, the windows are filthy, an electrical sign has dangling wires, and metal framing is rusting. Inside the building and underground, the station features white tile walls and fluorescent lighting, with hallways leading to two narrow platforms underground.

In the agreement approved at an August 19th Chicago Transit Board meeting, in exchange for the improvements the CTA will lease the bus turnaround to Apple at no cost for 10 years, with options on four, five-year extensions. The CTA will also give Apple “first rights of refusal”  for naming the station and placing advertising within the station, if the CTA later decides to offer those rights.

Memo to Steve Jobs:  you will probably also want to take care of the crater-sized potholes on North Avenue just West of your new home.  Thanks.

Via Mac Rumors.

Is Friday’s IOC vote his last stand?

Q: How do you prove the existence of Spring in Chicago?

A: By continuity.

In February it was zero Farenheit. Today it is muggy and approaching 90.  By continuity, Spring happened somewhere in between.  But note that this existence proof is not constructive.  It is of no help in telling us exactly when it was that Spring fluttered by.  I must have been sleeping at the time.

Tom Schelling has a famous example illustrating how to solve coordination problems.  Suppose you are supposed to meet someone in New York City but you forgot to specify a location to meet.  This was before the era of cell phones so there is no opportunity for cooperation before you pick a place to go.  Where do you go?  You go where your friend thinks you are most likely to go, which is of course where she thinks you think she thinks you are most likely to go, etc.

Notice that convenience or taste or proximity have no direct bearing on your choice.  These considerations may indirectly influence your choice, but only if she thinks you think she thinks … that they will influence your choice.

There was an old game show called the Newlywed Game where I learned some of my very early training as a game theorist in my living room roughly at the age of 7.  Here is how the show works.  4 pairs of newlyweds were competing.  The husbands, say, would be on stage first, with the wives in an isolated room.  The husbands would be asked a series of questions about their wives, say “What wedding gift from your family does your wife hate the most?” and the husbands would have to guess what the wives would say.  (This was the 70’s so every episode had at least one question about “making whoopee,” like “what movie star would your wife say you best remind her of when you’re makin’ whoopee?”)

When you watch this show every night for as long as I did you soon figure out that the way to win this show is to disregard completely the question and just find something to say that you wife is likely to say, which is of course what she thinks you think she is likely to say, etc.  You could try to make a plan with your newlywed spouse beforehand about what to say, something like the first answer is “the crock pot”, the second answer is “burt reynolds” etc.  But this looks awkward when the first question turns out to be “What is your wife’s favorite room to make whoopee?” etc.

So the problem is just like Schelling’s meeting problem.  The truth is of secondary importance.  You want to find the most obvious answer, i.e. the one your wife is most likely to give because she thinks you are most likely to give it, etc.    For example, if the question is, “Which Smurf will your wife say best describes your style of makin’ whoopee?” then even though you think the answer is probably “Clumsy Smurf” or “Sloppy Smurf”, you say “Hefty Smurf” because that is the obvious answer.


Ok, all of this is setup to tell you that Gary Becker is clearly a better game theorist than Steve Levitt.  Via Freakonomics, Levitt tells the story of a Chicago economics faculty Newlywed game played at their annual skit party.  (Northwestern is one of the few top departments that doesn’t have one of these.  That sucks.)  Becker and Levitt were newlyweds.  According to Levitt they did poorly, but it looks like Becker was onto the right strategy, but Levitt was trying to figure out the right answers:

The first question was, “Who is Gary’s favorite economist?” I thought I knew this one for sure. I guessed Milton Friedman. Gary answered Adam Smith. (Although he later apologized to me and said Friedman was the right answer.)

Then they asked, “In Gary’s opinion, how many more quarters will the current recession last?” I guessed he would say three more quarters, but his actual answer was two more quarters.

The next question was, “Who does Gary think will win the next Nobel prize in economics?” This is a hard one, because there are so many reasonable guesses. I figured if Becker writes a blog with Posner, he might think Posner would win the Nobel prize, so that was my answer. Gary said Gene Fama instead.

The last question we got wrong was one that was posed to Gary, asking which of the following three people I would most like to have lunch with: Marilyn Monroe, Napolean, or Karl Marx. I know Gary has a major crush on Marilyn Monroe, so that was the answer I gave, even though the question was about who I would want to have lunch with, not who Gary would want to have lunch with. Gary answered Karl Marx (which makes me wonder what he thinks of me), but did volunteer, as I strongly suspected, that he himself would of course prefer Marilyn to either of the other two.

What is there to do outside Chicago with bored young boys?  I imagine easy day-trips to Cape Cod or Cape Ann for parents in Boston.  And I can’t even speculate about the options available in San Francisco or Palo Alto….I turn green with envy just thinking about it.

Unsuccessful hikes in rural Wisconsin, a horrible weekend in a seven golf-course resort outside Galena have soured us on the idea that any escape is possible.  Over the last year, on the advice of seasoned veterans of the Midwest, we’ve decided to give the day-trip one more whirl.  Saugatuk, Michigan, was a big success.  Good food, good beer, cheap house rentals, private sandy beaches and pretty countryside.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Closer to us and in some ways more historically interesting – Lake Geneva in Wisconsin.  I thought its description as the Newport of the Midwest was a stretch till I saw mansion upon mansion lining the shore of Lake Geneva.  The empire than Wrigley’s chewing gum built is as impressive as any feudal monarch’s.  And it has a chewier, softer and more benevolent foundation than the war and pillage that lead to a typical King’s wealth.   The boat ride that allows the great unwashed a fleeting glance into the capitalist palaces does not hold a child’s attention for long.

For that, we had the East Troy Railroad Museum.  The first carriage we saw had “Evanston Express” displayed on it.   An old El car that ran between Evanston and Wilmette.  The museum has a good cappuccino and smoothie stand and there is an ice cream parlor next door.  The trip we took in an open carriage was exhilarating.  We spotted old train stops that had been left to crumble.  People waved from the houses and cars we passed.   Our joy was infectious.  At the start of the ride, on one side of the line are McMansions and on the other trailer parks.  This is left behind soon for countryside and then finally a farmer’s market.  But it’s the open carriage itself that’s most fun.  With old lights and seats that flip around for the trip back.

The train was driven by an enthusiastic old volunteer and there was a young volunteer guide.  Public good provision that left us all charmed.  Good to know that the torch will be passed from the Senior Members to the Junior Members and the East Troy line will live on.

Alex Kotlowitz has a beautiful essay about the wonderful city of Chicago.  Here is an excerpt about the Hideout, where Jeff and I performed a few weeks ago:

One recent evening, Hogan met me at the Hideout, where she bartended for more than nine years and still sometimes performs. It’s hidden in a small industrial corner on the north side, so when Hogan gave me directions, she instructed me to go over the river, past the railroad tracks, across the street from the city’s fleet of garbage trucks. If you get to the old U.S. Steel plant, you’ve gone too far. She paused. “I guess it’s a good place to bump somebody off,” she laughed.

The Hideout is a wood-framed house built at the turn of the last century, probably by squatters, when the neighborhood was mostly working-class Irish. After prohibition, the downstairs became a drinking hole for steelworkers. In 1996, it was purchased by four partners who did little to change the look — photos of the original owners, Angelo and Phil, still hang over the bar — but brought in musicians. The thinking was that musicians could experiment here, and they have; on any given night you could stumble upon a jazz quartet or a rock band or a folk singer. Neko Case played the Hideout before winning wide acclaim. Fiddler/violinist Andrew Bird worked his way from swing to indie rock here. And when the Frames passed through town, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová used the place to test some songs they were writing for a little movie called Once — one, “Falling Slowly,” won Best Song at this year’s Oscars.

One of the Hideout’s owners, Tim Tuten, told me, “We’re conscious of what made Chicago great. We have a historical reputation to uphold. This is the city of Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Rawls. It’s from the ground up.” It was past midnight, and Tuten, who speaks with the drive of a Hendrix guitar riff, expounded on the 1893 Columbia Exposition (The Devil in the White City made everyone feel like an expert on it) and the time Wilco played at one of their block parties (kick-ass block parties being a city tradition) and how he recently discovered that in the 1960s Nelson Algren would down a beer at the Hideout. On the drive home, I listened to a CD Hogan had burned for me. She’s singing covers — from Allen Toussaint to the Violent Femmes. Her voice, rich and eclectic as the city’s neighborhoods, wanders throughout an exhilarating range. As Tony Fitzpatrick once told me of Chicago, “It’s a place that allows you to run.”

I’m on leave next year and the article makes me wistful. (Of course I live in Evanston so I’m a fake Chicagoan!).

I have been trying to come up with a practical measure of the length of Chicago winters.  Here are a few.

  • On Oct 4 I swapped out my summer clothes for winter clothes.  Tomorrow I will take the summer clothes back out of storage.  7 months of winter.
  • On Nov 10 I wore my heavy winter coat for the first time.  I downgraded to my wool coat for the first time on March 27.  4.5 months of deep winter.
  • Sep 9 was the first day I did not wear flipflops. I wore them for the first time last week. 4.5 months of non-winter.

On Friday the 13th of February, the City of Chicago saw the first of a planned series of parking meter rate hikes which will eventually quadruple the hourly parking rate in the downtown area.  This is happening because last year the City of Chicago sold the cash flow from parking fees for approximately $1 billion to a private investment fund.  (No doubt soon to be securitized and tranched into Meter-Backed Securities.  Quick:  tell me how to price CDS protection against the event that Daley renegs once the billion is spent.)

The deal enables Chicago Parking LLC to raise fees according to a set schedule over the next ten years.  After that, further rate increases must be approved by the City Council.  The contract expires in 75 years.

Why would the City go for such a deal?  Yes it is starved for cash and parking meters currently hard-wired at 50 cents an hour in most of the city are long overdue for an uptick.  But this just argues for a fee increase, it doesnt explain why the meters should be privatized.

The economics of privatization are straightforward in this case.  The city seeks bids for the parking meter cash flow.  A bidder offers an upfront payment and a schedule for price increases.  The upfront payment will be no less than the present value of the cash flow as determined by the new prices.  Competition will ensure that the payment will be exactly this cash flow.  This means that the high bidder will be the one who demands a price that maximizes the present value of cash flows.  In other words, the monopoly price.

Remember from your textbook microeconomics that the monopoly price is associated with inefficiently low quantity.  Zero marginal cost doesnt make this any less damaging, in fact it implies that on many streets there will be empty spaces all day long.  Cozy, inviting parking spaces will be utilized by nobody.

Again the city could set the monopoly price on its own, so we still have the puzzle of why, if the City is willing to allow monopoly pricing it has to use a private entity as its agent.  The answer is not because the City wants its cash up front.  Apparently it does want its cash up front but it could always just borrow against the parking cash flows.

The only answer I can come up with is a commitment problem.  The City could certainly borrow against the cash flows and set the monopoly price but then the City itself would be the target of the uproar that will soon occur when drivers in the city realize that their cars are now worthless.  The political pressure would force the fees to be kept low and the City would then have to find another way to finance its parking debt.  In fact, foreseeing this, no lender would be willing to lend the full present value of monopoly cash flows.

By contractually delegating the fee-setting to a private agent, the City effectively commits never to lower fees so that the monopoly cash flow is guaranteed and the City can extract it all in an upfront payment.

Why did we decide to do this blog?  I’m not really sure.  A creative outlet?  A way to throw out random ideas? A vague hope that something fun might come out of it?  A replacement for endless websurfing?

Well, the “vague hope” rationale has already worked out.  Jeff and I had a wonderful time at our appearance on the Interview Show at the Hideout.  There are a lot of dimensions to why we enjoyed it and I’m sure we’ll both blog about it.  The thing I want to talk about now is the club itself and its owners.  It is a little west of the big Home Depot on North Av.  There is weird industrial stuff all around and a large filling station for trucks.  And slap bang in the middle of all of it is a little house which has been turned into this club.  I thought it would be full of truckers and instead it is weirdly middle class.  I had a Bell’s Oberon, definitely in the microbrew category. I could have been ironically postmodern and had a Hamm’s but I did not spot it in time.  I love the crappy end of American beer!

Jeff and I are too old to know about clubs but the Hideout gets rave reviews among the cognoscenti.  The owners, Tim and Katie Tuten, are very interesting.  You might expect some ex rockstar to own it.  Maybe,  Tim and Katie have this history in their deep, dark past.  Now, they have regular day jobs – Tim works in the Chicago Public Schools and Katie for a charity.  They’re also a little older than you might expect. (I hope they do not mind me saying this! ) They more than make up for it by having the extroversion and energy of twentysomethings.  Tim did a little stand-up before Mark Bazer came on. They also have incredible taste in music – that night’s act Anni Rossi was transporting.  Tim worked for Arne Duncan in Chicago and will join him in DC doing special events.  As we left, Katie  ran to the door and said all economist number-crunchers were welcome, except those from the University of Chicago.  I’m sure if she met Phil Reny, Roger Myerson etc she would welcome them too.

And I’d never have met them if it weren’t for this blog!  I also got to hang out with Jeff on his own, a rare thing as we’re so busy nowadays.  I enjoyed his humor while he dealt with my depression with grace.

I should think about some clever econ thing to blog about and see if it leads anywhere.

(I have taken to titling my posts in the style of an Alinea dish.)

I was reading one recent morning to my 2 year old boy a story from Frog and Toad.  In this story, Toad is grumpy about Winter but Frog talks him into coming for a sleigh ride.  Once the sleigh gets going really fast, Toad begins to forget all of his complaints and enjoy the ride.  Unbeknownst to Toad, Frog is knocked off the back of the sleigh as the sleigh starts to hurtle faster and faster down the hill.  Despite the sleigh being without a driver and completely out of control, Toad begins to feel more and more secure and at peace with the Winter.

Of course, something is going to happen to bring it all crashing down on Toad.  In fact, what happens is not that the sled crashes into a tree, at least not yet.  What happens is a crow flies by and upon hearing Toad describe what a wonderful ride he and Frog are having, points out to Toad that Frog is not behind him anymore.  Its only after learning that there is nobody at the wheel does Toad panic and cause the sleigh to crash.

This is a recurrent theme in children’s literature.  I think the quintessential expression of it is from the cartoons, especially the roadrunner/coyote cartoons.  Here is the image.  Coyote is chasing roadrunner through some rugged canyonland along a steep ridge and the chase brings Coyote to a cliff.  He is so focussed on finally nabbing the roadrunner that he does not notice that he has run off the cliff.  He keeps running.  In mid-air.  But then at some point he looks down and notices that there is no ground beneath his feet and at that moment that he falls to back to Earth.  (At which point he turns to the next page in his ACME catalog and the chase is on again…)

If you run off a cliff you should make sure you are running fast and that the opposing cliff is not too far.  It also helps to be like the roadunner: looking down is not in his nature and he always makes it to the other side.

I think of Obama’s first 100 days as running off a cliff.  We have a pretty good running start.  So far we are not looking down.  I hope we get to the other side before somebody does.  And please, pay no attention to the crows.

I saw this at one of my regular lunch spots in downtown Evanston today:


They are offering $125 gift certificates at the price of $100.  Should you take it?  The answer is after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

This person is actually cooking from the Alinea cookbook.  And blogging it.  Note that his (her?) most recent effort failed because he tried to do without the liquid nitrogen.

By the way, would someone please tell me exactly what it means to swim the Atlantic?  I mean, she’s not sleeping in the water is she?

I think I am going to set a record for the least-trained pianist to play Beethoven’s Hamerklavier.  I will play one note per day.

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