Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hyrum, Go Long!

You've heard it on the news
You've laughed at the rumors
As seen on Oprah!
Now behold the Truth:
Hyrum walks.

He goes to..... He goes fro.....
He goes fast! He goes slow....

He goes left. Mmm, he falls right.
Hyrum's lookin' for Mama but Mama is nowhere in sight!

da-dada-DA. UNH.....

Economic Zen - Go Long

In a blog I read today by Scott Sumner, he makes a very interesting point (hat tip to Marginal Revolution):

"When I hear people discuss the long run I am sometimes reminded of students who mistakenly assume the term ‘long run’ means ‘the distant future’ and ’short run’ means ‘the present or near future.’ But that is not at all what these terms mean. The present, right now, is the “long run” for policies instituted years ago."

This is in stark contrast to the well-known Keynes quote: In the long run, we are all dead.

So, welcome to Bill Clinton's or Ronald Reagan's or maybe even FDR's long run.

The response from some people has been that we can't be in the long run right now because we aren't at equilibrium. The problem is that equilibrium is, in a Zen sense, not a very useful concept. To the 'real business cycle' economists, the economy is always either at or coming back to equilibrium without any policy intervention. If equilibrium is where we always are, no matter where we are, it's not a very useful concept. On the other hand are the folks (mostly Keynesians) who believe we are perpetually in the short run and never in a 'long run' equilibrium, making it again a very non-useful concept.

It also reminds me of a delightful quip from Val Lambson, one of my BYU Profs, who said that the typical Econ 101 student defines equilibrium as the place where supply meets demand. He responds, "And where is that? Dallas?"

Define universe and give two examples.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hyrum vs. Balloons

Tops has a wonderful promotional. They give you a free balloon for your infant when you go shopping there. Hyrum LOVES these balloons. Here he is at home playing with one. What a delight!

Stakes of Zion

Found this today at google video. It shows the growth in stakes (diocese - groups of congregations) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). For those less familiar with the history, back in the 1800s the church had a policy of encouraging emigration to Utah, so that's why there don't appear to be any stakes in other countries despite the fact that until about 1860 there were more members in England than there were in Utah.

On the one hand, I thrill to see how rapidly stakes have multiplied since WWII. On the other, it's amazing how large an area is still dark on the map. As Pres. Monson said at the last General Conference, "There remain, however, areas of the world where our influence is limited and where we are not allowed to share the gospel freely. As did President Spencer W. Kimball over 32 years ago, I urge you to pray for the opening of those areas, that we might share with them the joy of the gospel. As we prayed then in response to President Kimball’s pleadings, we saw miracles unfold as country after country, formerly closed to the Church, was opened. Such will transpire again as we pray with faith."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

You Need Help

Joy and I were reading Elder Richard G. Scott's October General Conference address, which was given to the priesthood brethren. In it, he asks a number of penetrating personal worthiness questions, including:

"If you are divorced, do you provide for the real financial need of the children you have fathered, not just the minimum legal requirement? If you are married, are you faithful to your wife mentally as well as physically? Do you assist your wife by doing some of the household chores? Do you lead out in family activities ... or does your wife fill in the gap your lack of attention leaves in the home?"

We talked about how we're doing and how we can improve. Following the questions, it was Joy's turn to read. She read:

"If any of you feel uncomfortable with any of the answers you have mentally given to the questions I have asked, take corrective action now. If there are worthiness issues, with all of the tenderness of my heart I encourage you to speak to your bishop or a member of your stake presidency now."

I commented that it is very unusual to for us to be encouraged with tenderness. I'm rather more accustomed to being encouraged with all the forcefulness, with all the energy, with all the persuasiveness, or with all the strength they can use. I joked that we men don't know what to do when another guy encourages us with tenderness.

It was then that Joy continued reading with the best dramatic voice I have ever heard her use:

"You need help."

We ROFLed for a while about the truth of that statement.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Derrill of Arabia 2

For the most part, I really enjoyed the food in Kuwait, particularly at the hotel. I fell sufficiently in love, I pretty much decided to have the same thing each night for dinner. I started off with the most artistically done chicken Caesar salad I've ever seen. They placed strips of meat on top of it to form apparently a crude version of the symbol for Allah. In the picture here, one strip of meat is missing. The second day it wasn't quite as picturesque as the first, but I didn't have my camera the first day.

I followed that up with their meat sampler. Chicken kebab (pretty good), shish kebab, kafta kebab, and lamb chop (standard lamb chop = yum). I asked what the difference was between the shish kebab and the kafta, since both are made of lamb. They only explained that that the shish was the short pieces and the kafta was the long one. My taste buds told me more. The kafta was a lamb sausage heavily spiced with onions and garlic, making a very hearty, flavorful dish (though since it's one long, thin, round dark brown thing, it would lend itself easily to some crude humor). The shish pieces had more secretive herbs and spices, but a denser, less-processed mouthfeel. It's the difference between a steak and hamburger in texture.

The last night I just had shish kebab (all of these complete with blackened peppers, tomato, onion, etc.) but a sampler platter with the hotel cous-cous and Arabian appetizers. They had a parsley and tomato salad that you season with lemon. It was strong. I enjoyed the first several bites, but it was easy to have too much. They served a meaty spring roll and some other meat-in-a-wrapper bites that were quite enjoyable. There was another kind of salad but the dressing was really not to my style.

Normally I wouldn't have had all my dinners at the hotel restaurant - the organizers planned big, fancy dinners at various places in fancy dress, but I slept through them all thanks to jet lag. Given that I really enjoyed the hotel meal, I didn't mind.

Breakfast was a standard expansive buffet. They do some very nice chicken sausages that were quite flavorful and suited the eggs. The surprise food was a grilled cheese called hammoula. It's squeaky. They grilled it with tomatoes and layed them out in layers. It's like mozarella, but with a bit more kick. Their yogurt is closer to ours than to Germany's (which is runnier). I prefered their smooth and soothing mango juice to their tangy and tart orange juice. (I mention this only because it is strange - I prefer orange to mango 9 days out of 10.)

Lunch at the Arab Organization building (see next post) promised more than I felt it delivered. They had the same massive buffet spread out each day and by the last day I finally found a set of foods I enjoyed by sticking heavily to the salads and finding Arab chicken nuggets. Even though they served several foods that I had just eaten the night before at the hotel, they just weren't as good.

Now you shouldn't have any trouble identifying the shrimp, the grapes, or the vegetables. The meat in front is beef. The white round thing on the left are decorative mashed potatoes (individual ice scoops of potato molded to look swirly), the chicken kebab is hiding behind it ... and what IS that green thing there at the top of my plate? Cones of green sat on top of a green gloppy pudding. I took one bite and rejected it with haste. There were also some meat cones somewhere I didn't dare try after that. The dessert table featured much chocolate, but I kept myself admirably to my New Year's Resolution and largely avoided the table except for a little sugared caffeine.

Of course, there was no pork anywhere around. The thing that took some getting used to was dropping my defenses. When someone at a fancy establishment starts pushing a drink in my hand, I instinctively worry that it's alcoholic. Alcohol is highly illegal in Kuwait, though, so I needn't have worried. I convinced myself of that after a couple days.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Derrill of Arabia 1

Sorry I was keeping this so much under wraps, but I wanted it to be a surprise for my family when I told them at Disneyland in January. Some time early December, Per grabbed me to ask a favor. He had agreed to do a presentation at the Global Development Network in February and only recently realized that he also had to turn in a paper in connection with it. The problem was that the paper was due in a month. He didn't have time to do it by himself. Would I be willing to be coauthor?

So I spent December hurriedly writing a paper about something I knew very little about just before: natural resource management. Cleverly titled "The Food System and Natural Resource Management," it talks about how agriculture affects the environment and some of the policy implications, particularly in getting prices right and helping the poorest people reduce their dependency on natural resources.

The surprise was that Per agreed that I could come to the GDN also ... in KUWAIT! I left Feb 1 and got back late Friday the 6th. It's about a 12 hour flight and an 8 hour time difference. My internal clock quickly got seriously out of whack. I moved 8 hours the wrong direction: I was ready to fall asleep at 3/4pm (6am here), woke up at 10/11 pm and was up for the night.

Guide book info: Kuwait has about 3 mil people, 1 million Kuwaitis and 2 million guests. 90% live in Kuwait City, and about 80% are Arabs. Given the large number of foreigners, most people speak English and most of the signs are in Arabic and English. Kuwait City was an interesting mix of brand new skyscrapers with the curved walls all made of glass, sandy-colored buildings with those cool Arab windows,

and a number of gray-sand blahdo apartment buildings that scream urban renewal ... and they're all next door to each other! This apartment was next to the hotel above.

There's a lot of construction going on everywhere. Aside from the more pedestrian signs of Americanization (like McDonald's and the KFC right outside my window), they have imported other US businesses, like Johnny Rocket's. The hotel TV had a fairly wide mix of English and Arabic channels, with more English than Arabic, plus one German station.

This is the view from my hotel room. Looks like a standard big city. That's a KFC down at the bottom. It's also a major bus terminal.

Traveler's tip #1 - Don't insult the ruler. The newspaper had a story of an Australian woman who had a misunderstanding with an official at the airport back in early December, in the course of which she apparently said some things that were ill considered. The newspaper said that she would be in jail another two weeks.

Traveler's tip #2 - Kuwait does not require that men wear headscarves. Most of the men I saw on my walks near the hotel did not, though all the officials at the conference wore them. Most of the ladies I saw around town wore headscarves, the hotel staff did not. I saw a few contingents of burkas, but they seemed the minority. At the airport at the visa check gate, they had a separate line labeled "Veiled Ladies Identity Check" where a burkad lady sat to assist travelers in need.

The hotel is along the beach, but they were doing construction there and it was 10pm by the time I went on my walk, so nothing to see here. This was the moon. I thought it would have been more appropriate to be in the Middle East when there was a crescent moon and took this shot in remembrance of that idle thought.

This was the best Do Not Disturb sign I've ever read. Click the pic and enjoy the many reasons a person might not wish to be disturbed.

The skyline as seen from the Kuwaiti Scientific Center we toured our last day there. That's the Persian Gulf, which sticks its finger right into Kuwait City's eye.

The hotel had this cool system of glass leaves that formed a fountain. From the restaurant on the mezzanine level down to the ground, water pours to a small fountain and reflection pool. It's a lovely, soothing sound.

(to me) Random tall spires and intricate walls are juxtaposed with apartment buildings, malls, skyscrapers, office buildings, and restaurants.

The highway was well decorated, with cool red sandstone bricks along the way and many palm trees and other greenery. One of the surprising things to me was how many buildings had radio antennae on them. There was this one stretch where literally every building I saw had one or more.

I didn't see any mosques in my wanderings, but someone insisted there was one right next to the hotel. On my way out the door to the taxi home, I took a snapshot of this spire by the hotel. As the taxi pulled out, the rest of the building came in to view, I realized that THAT WAS A MOSQUE! Maybe that other random spire was one too....

The mall across the street was JAM PACKED with jewelers, money changers, dress sellers, and a few knick-knack shops you could walk through sideways. ... None of them had postcards. I asked several people for postcards and no one even knew where you could find them. I went back to the concierge who was certain they were in this mall. He led me to a knick-knack shop and asked for them. The owner went to the far back corner of the store and pulled out a shoebox with some postcards that were - get this - 25 years old. We went through a number of them and None were within the last 18 years (since the Gulf War). The economist in me thinks there must be an opportunity for an entrepreneur here somewhere....

What is "the church"?

Let's have a poll, shall we?

The last few weeks have gotten me pondering how many different things we* mean when we say "the church." So when you think "the church," what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Which did you mean the last time you said "the church"?

1) The kingdom of God on earth, the church that will "come forth out of the wilderness of darkness and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners" (D&C 109:73). The Atonement, the plan of salvation, the church as it has always existed in eternity and through each dispensation from Adam to Jesus and now Monson.

2.1) The prophet, apostles, scriptures, doctrines, and revelations. The church that teaches and instructs, provides direction and truth from Heaven.

2.2) The prophet and apostles themselves. The brethren. They are imperfect, but we are assured that the Lord will not allow them to go astray.

3.1) The organizational bureaucracy that includes not only that beautiful pyramid structure MBA's get glossy-eyed about, but auxiliaries, departments, councils, quorums, and, above all, committees. The meetings, the structure, the rules, the programs, the handbooks and restrictions. The order of things. "We believe in meetings...."

3.2) Organized religion - a socioeconomic political organization that starts wars, oppresses minorities, and opposes scientific progress. (I meet enough people in Ithaca who believe this it seems necessary to include it.)

4.1) The members, imperfect though striving, around the world. "The church is not a museum for perfect people." They come from diverse backgrounds, heritages, languages, and cultures, but share a common belief in our Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel restored to earth in these latter days. The global church.

4.2) "Utah Mormons," who sadly are never mentioned by Californians, Ithacans, or 2/3 of BYU students without contempt and derision. (The 1/3 from Utah refer to "Idaho Mormons" instead in the same vein. I don't know who the saints in Pocatello mock.) In class last week, they were portrayed as: white, Republican, lots of kids, bad drivers, and jello-eating. "Mormon culture." Joy specifies "green jello and carrots with mayonnaise on the top."

4.3) The members who are not as spiritually enlightened as I am. This is the church that doesn't understand free agency as well as I do, or the role of grace and works, or my favorite hobby doctrine.

There's also one other definition, but I've never seen or heard anyone confuse this definition with the others:
0) A building, usually of brick, with a few particularly recognizable architectural styles, divided into predictable sets of rooms, where members gather for worship and social activities. ie - "The church is down the street." Visitors, it should be noted, are always welcome at the church for Sunday meetings.

These are the definitions that I could come up with. Which do you mean most often when you say "the church"? Which most recently? What other definitions have you heard? Feel free to combine them or give them percentages or any other free-form response you want. Post a comment.

What "the church" believes and teaches depends a great deal on which of these you mean. I'm thinking it might facilitate understanding if we were a bit clearer about which we mean. Personally, my first thought is some mixture of 1 and 2.

* - By we, I guess I am implicitly assuming fellow latter-day saints (ie - Mormons, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). People from other faiths might well have varients on these themes or other themes altogether.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

He ate WHAT now? (Hy) - updated

Our son,
the lazy eater, (always)
the picky eater, (recently)

Who refuses his favorite foods,
Who won't eat cereal unless there's fruit in it,
Who changes his mind every WEEK...

Ate Brussels Sprouts today
"Like they were going out of style."

My son loves Brussels sprouts.
This week.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Who said WHAT now? (econ)

Whoda thunk THEY said that?

"[Capitalism] has been the first to show what man's activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals. ... [Capitalism] ... draws all nations ... into civilization. It has ... rescued a considerable part of the population from ... idiocy ... . During its rule of scarce one hundred years, [it] has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together."
-- Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto, as quoted by Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socailism, and Democracy, p. 4.

"Of course, competition is an ideal type, like a Euclidean line or point. No one has ever seen a Euclidean line -- which has zero width and depth -- yet we all find it useful to regard many a Euclidean volume - such as a surveyor's string -- as a Euclidean line. Similarly, there is no such thing as "pure" competition. Every producer has some effect, however tiny, on the price of the product he produces. The important issue for understanding and for policy is whether this effect is significant or can properly be neglected, as the surveyer can neglect the thickness of what he calls a 'line.' The answer must, of course, depend on the problem."
-- Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, (1962) p. 120 [emphasis added].

"Organized public works, at home and abroad, may be the right cure for a chronic tendency to a deficiency of effective demand. But they are not capable of sufficiently rapid organisation (and above all cannot be reversed or undone at a later date), to be the most serviceable instrument for the prevention of the trade cycle."
-- ready for it?
-- John Maynard Keynes, six years after he wrote the General Theory which everyone is citing today in support of the bailout and massive infrastructure projects. Hat tip to Greg Mankiw. Empashis added.

And, for anyone worried that all economics has been turned on its head recently, may I recommend this fairly readable piece by future Nobel winner Daron Acemoglu. (Seriously, he's a shoo in.) I don't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, but he does a good job pointing out some specific blind spots that need future research and some other areas that are still very valid and ought to be remembered.

Monday, February 9, 2009

One Small Step

Sunday afternoon, Joy and I were sitting comfortably on the couch planning out our week when our son decided to join us. He was standing at a chair next to the couch, let go of the chair, and took 2.5 halting steps towards us until he could grab the couch.


And we both got to be there!!!

He has been repeating the feat (feet?) all over the house today. He took a pause for a few weeks on learning how to walk, but today it seemed to be all he wanted to do. He took two laps around his high chair (gripping the chair, admittedly) as his longest unassisted but supported walk. We cheered every time he took or tried to take a step on his own into the unknown. It's very exciting.

"Sometimes he bounces just a little too much to stay on his feet," Joy reports.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Crushing Blow

One of Disney's cool new attractions is Turtle Talk with Crush. Crush was the dudical sea turtle from Finding Nemo. A movie-quality version of Crush appears on a large monitor and interacts with the audience. Really. Not only does he ask questions and give generic responses, but he remembers your name and refers to you by name (he called out an audience member for trying to confuse him between Jammin' Jerry and Jamaica Jim), answers your questions, and with only a few preprogrammed controls does a very impressive job. It's a great schtick.

So I got a chance to ask Crush a question and thought I'd see just how flexible this program is. The convo, where I spoke in my most fluent Turtle, went something like this:

C: So, Dudical Derrill, what's your question?
D: Do you have, like, a totally awesome recipe for, like, Turtle Soup?
... (Crush's mouth dropped open in shock for a moment while the crowd tittered. He then fled behind some rocks on the left. Peeking out, he said)
C: Duuuuuude, TELL me that you are just kidding!
D: I mean the soup that turtles eat, dude.
C: ... That would be sea water..... There's a lot of it.... Everywhere... (He's still hiding, though). So what do you eat, and DON'T say Turtle Soup.
D: Pizza.
C: That's cool. (He came back out.) When I eat the sea greens, it turns my skin a righteous green color. Does your skin turn pizza color?
(I thought about the times I've spilled pizza on myself.)
D: Sometimes.
C: (Crush thinks about that for a second). That's good. That means you're eating enough pizza.

At the end of his show, he was making a pun about avoiding an enemy/anemone, and when he had too much difficulty saying anemone correctly, said "avoid Derrill" instead. "He eats turtle soup."

It surprised me that he reacted so strongly to my question. I mean, I thought he was a more seasoned actor than that. Thyme, marjoram, bay leaf, some onion and celery..... I think I set back human/turtle relations several Pixar films.

This attraction comes highly rated. Just don't tell him I sent you.