Saturday, December 24, 2016

books

Before signing off of the internet for the last time in 2016...

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: Crazy stories from the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole, in which the pole party made it there one month after the Norwegian team beat them and then all perished on the return. And that isn't even the worst journey in the world referred to in the title...

The Economics of Rights, Cooperation and Welfare by Robert Sugden: Good, but outdated now.

The Commitment, by Dan Savage: Funny followup to The Kid but not as interesting.

The Kid, by Dan Savage: Both funny and interesting tale of gay open adoption.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson: You can't not love Bill Bryson, and these make me homesick for small-town America. I can't tell how much of my enjoyment of these essays is due to being written from the perspective of an expat returning from another commonwealth country but the humor definitely transcends it.

In the interest of time I've been watching lots of Antarctica-relevant documentaries rather than reading the books... Highly recommend Around Cape Horn, Life in the Freezer, Antarctica: A Year on the Ice, Welcome to Union Glacier, Encounters at the End of the World, Race for the Pole, and The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Of course March of the Penguins is also great, and Operation High Jump is dated in a hilarious American military/cold war/exploration manner that will almost make you forget what an asshole Admiral Byrd was.

See you in 2017!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I knew this must exist somewhere!!

I am so happy right now. Linguaphiles, musicophiles, cartophiles, geographiles, politiphiles, and surely many others will love this: http://radio.garden/live/ (If it doesn't work, try a different browser).

Unfortunately lots of the African stations are unresponsive but I'm quite satisfied with Nigeria's Beat 97.9 for the time being.

Friday, December 16, 2016

price inequality

I can't believe I haven't done this before, but I finally went to a really nice concert at the Teatro Municipal de Santiago, a gorgeous 160 year old theater* that reminded me eerily of certain great European tiered-style theaters like the Berlin Staatsoper. We heard a lovely solo piano program of Beethoven, Scriabin, Chopin, Mozart, and Schumann. The best part: it was $3.

This is an instance of a very convenient phenomenon in Chile (and many other non-Euraustramerican countries) in which great economic inequality is matched by great price inequality. Of course prices are correlated with quality for the most part (although my daily $1.50 fresh chicken fajita bought from the street vendors outside PUC is much, much tastier than a $6 Starbucks sandwich) or at least search costs (I tried several very underwhelming hamburguesas before finding the delicious fajitas) it means that cheapskates price sensitive people like me can get by on dramatically less money than average Chilean upperclassman. It's my penny pinching paradise.**

Nonetheless I was surprised this also applies at a fancy concerthall. My 12 year old self already experienced the thrill of a partial view ballet (at the aforementioned Berlin Staatsoper) in which graceful swans leapt into oblivion and then reappeared in midair after a suspense-filled indeterminate delay, so now that I'm an adult with a good income I would certainly be willing to spring for floor seats in such a situation. But for a piano recital, why on earth would I pay $60 for the privilege of seeing the guy's head swaying above the piano lid?

Peacocking is such a waste of money...

Obviously nothing can compare to the cultural scene of New York or Berlin or London or other such cities, but after this experience I might be even more aggressive about seeking out live music opportunities outside of those places than in them. The bang for your buck is just incredible.

Actually, this goes back to what I've said before about the merits of small university towns. You may expect a town of 38,000 people isolated in the Oklahoma plain to be the cultural middle of nowhere, but because Stillwater is a university town there were more free or nearly-free concerts than any normal person wants to go to. I certainly never would have had so much classical music exposure growing up in a big expensive city.

~~~

* Unoriginally, great composers and playwrights' names were inscribed over the ground floor entryways, and also unoriginally, Beethoven took the honored center aisle position. I don't care how unoriginal, deference to Beethoven*** will always put me on your side.

** Q: Who invented copper wiring? A: Two dutchmen on either side of a penny. (HT to my uncles).

*** or emacs

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

free normative lunches

Lots of social norms are arbitrary (kiss or shake hands) and lots are obvious encouragement to contribute to public goods (don't double park) and there's no great, comprehensive model of which norms should arise in a given society, but any model I would consider credible would predict that if public good is free to contribute to, a norm will dictate that you should.

Apparently I would be wrong.

Speaking in generalities (as always), Chileans are ... not the most polite. Not like the Italians, who seem to be impolite even by their own definitions, but definitely impolite by German or even American definitions. The most obvious difference is that the concept of proactively getting out of the way doesn't exist. If you say permiso, they'll always move (albeit grudgingly if it's a crowded subway), but walking down the sidewalk is like an endless chicken series; I always lose and weave through so I have no idea how right of way is negotiated usually... a bit like bumper cars, I can only imagine.

The obvious explanation would be that conscientiousness of this sort is not zero cost and Chile is simply in the noncooperative equilibrium. It seems more efficient to choose the everyone-habitually-cooperates-and-socially-punishes-noncooperation-to-maintain-the-equilibrium equilibrium, but inefficient norms abound so that's not a mystery.

But in some situations I just can't imagine that the cost isn't zero! In one instance (only the most clearcut, but a thousand subtle variations prove it wasn't a singular bitchy woman) someone was standing squarely in the middle of a doorway, and I walked up to her and stopped right in front of her, obviously wanting to go through. There was nowhere else for me to go, no one else around, and although she was talking to her friend down the hill, she looked right at me and still didn't scoot six inches to the side so I could pass. This was shortly after I arrived in Chile for my first longish stay*, so I was too confused to gather enough wits to string any Spanish together, so I ljust ooked over my shoulders and turned in a circle trying to figure out what was going on, but nope, nothing. Luckly she left on her own volition around then and spared me further embarrassment.

If this is a phenomenon, it's strange that I can't think of other examples of this (although most costless cooperative actions at least require paying attention, like merging to the right when not passing). So which is it? 1) I'm culturally blind to other zero-cost public goods that aren't provided and the true model of norm selection needs to explain these, or 2) I'm culturally blind to hidden cost of taking a step to the left?

* I'm currently in Chile for two months visiting my wonderful coauthor Rosario Macera at PUC Santiago.