Wednesday, December 31, 2003

1. The verdict has been reached, finally. Had a long meeting with JBB. Have to really complete this dissertation by early January, and that means ... in two weeks from now! He's leaving for sabbatical terms in Colorado and some European countries. If I can't finish early, that would be problem for both of us to communicate the research effectively. This is tough, so tough. But I understand his constraint. And I'm still strugling with my programming. Have to leave anyway. Insha Allah.

2. Friends debated about interest rates and inflation. Was inspired to write about the economics of riba'. Hold it, still have number one in the to-write-list: the economics of drinking coffee (have postponed this many times).

3. Music: Ahmad Jamal. This master is still powerful in his 70s. (Drums by Idris Muhammad, bass James Cammack). Great. No wonder even Miles said he was influenced by Jamal.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

1. An article in the NYT tells a story of the economic impact of smoking ban in NY city. As its title suggests, the result is "clear air", but "murky economics". Mayor Bloomberg was one of the pioneers in pushing the antismoking law in NY city. Banning smoking? I don't get it. If the goal is to protect non-smokers from the danger of being passive smoker, I think I could understand the banning policy. But, if you could use one bullet to kill two birds (my apologies to Jan Tinbergen -- this is just an expression, Professor!), why don't you do that? That one bullet is higher tax: Put high tax on cigarette, it will discourage consumption, both active and passive smokers will be reduced in number. Some anti-tax economists would disagree. But here's the story:

Friends asked me how I could quit smoking so easily. I told them, it's simple: cigarette is so expensive here in the U.S. Me the student could only afford smoking for the first year of my living in this country. The sharp difference between prices here and at home finally *forced* me to quit -- well to be exact, I *voluntarily chose* to exit. (And yes, I did it without all those pathetic patches, nicotine subs, etc). So, it's the high price. So, it's the high tax. The retail sellers inevitably raised prices due to the high tax imposed by the government. Message read. So, as far as discouraging smoking is concerned, high tax would work. What about generating income? Not really. For the latter, there would be a tax rate below which tax revenue could rise but beyond which tax revenue would fall. Becker in his eloquent book wrote that the treshold level of cigarette tax is about 95c per pack. Above this level, tax revenue will just fall. Why? Reduced consumption, disincentives for new smoker, and smuggling. (In this article, Becker argues against higher tax on cigarette. I agree, if the only objective is income generation. I disagree if it's to discourage consumption. In other part in the book, Becker agues for higher tax on alcoholic beverages. So I see a contradiction.)

How do we explain this? In theory of taxation, we know that taxes on cigarette, alcoholic beverages, and other "bad" products are called "sumptuary" taxes: the main objective of their imposition is to discourage consumption, NOT to generate revenues. The demand for goods like cigarette is usually inelastic, so quantity does not change significantly due to tax change. Harberger has proved that if income is your objective, tax the elastic good. But I would believe that you don't want to use cigarette tax as your income machine. Tax it for sumptuary reason. Banning smoking is useless, so is putting that stupid label: "Smoking is bad for your health".

1. Dede's column in Kompas couple of days ago somehow has a parallel spirit with Barro's column in BusinessWeek two weeks ago. The Indonesian government, reported Dede, is going (or forced) to give up the export quota for TPT (Indonesian abbrev. for textile and textile products, the country's export primadonna for decades). This is not a news, it should have been expected. The industry's czar has long been known as one of the strongest lobbyists in the government. There is now a hope, however, knowing that Rini Soewandi, the Secretary of Industry and Trade is in favor of the quota removal, despite the strong resistence -- even from her own department. Barro in BusinessWeek echoed the liberalization sentiment on the U.S. long time protected, textile industry. In Both cases, not very surprisingly, China seems to be the winner. As it is so, in regards with the growing exasperation toward the efficacy of NAFTA, as reported in the NYT today.

2. It's the U.S. economy's turn now to fear the economic impact of the Mad Cow. And it is so ironic that Secretary of Agriculture Vaneman has refused to meet with Dr. Prusiner, the Noble laurate (!), when the latter was trying to convince the Administration to do special meat inspection, due to his prediction on the coming disease to U.S. farms. Vaneman chose to listen to Bush's crony, instead, . And now, the $2bn cost is on the door. By the way, hey, come to think of it, why Mad Cow? A quick Wikipedia search would tell that the disease is most likely caused by the practice of feeding the cows with ground-up animal parts, mainly meat and bone meal from butchered animals. Wait a minute, animal? No wonder! Brazilian and Argentinian farmers keep feeding their cows with grass (as what Nature does). Now these two countries, along with NZ and Aussie, will takeover U.S. beef market happily. Force your cows to become carnivores, and they will be "mad". Eat their meat, and you will damage your brain. And you say it's about economic efficiency?

3. Can't remember exactly where I read this, but most likely it was Chicago Tribune two days ago. A report says there is an increasing number of suicides among the U.S. troops in Iraq. So far, 20 cases have been identified. This is sad. Those young guys might not stand the pressure of war. Somehow, two movies came into my mind: Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" and Reiner's "A Few Good Men". The former is more likely to represent what has been going on. Stress. Don't ask me why the latter.

4. Music for the last three days: Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else. (Listen to "Autumn Leaves", and you will understand why I still keep the CD inside. Listen to the duel of Cannonball and Miles in "Somethin' Else" and you might not understand why I should ever replace it).

5. According to Political Compass, I am a moderate Leftist (-1.00) with a tendency to Libertarian group (-1.25). Hm, so close to Center, eh?

6. Work so far: trying to write a code to calculate the confidence interval for the welfare measures.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

1. In a place where Christmas day means empty town. When 25th of December means only one car left in the parking area of Healey Apartment. Sitting on the couch chatting with Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Miles doesn't like coffee: he wants drugs. Duke only wants hot water. Both play the time, beyond the time. Miles trumpet blowing fills my cold room and Duke sends pianical tone to the ceiling. Me, coffee: as usual, as normal as it has been, for the past four or five years. A knock on the door, excuse me. It's Sir Past. Come on in. What do you play?

2. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or also known as Mad Cow disease is invading America. Only one case so far, i.e. from Washington State, but the impact on the U.S. economy is approaching fastly. A friend's comment really represents a popular view: "I won't eat beef for a month". Financial Times reported, shares of McDonald's fell more than 4 percent yesterday. Korea and Japan have decided to ban beef imported from U.S. Ten years ago more than 100 people died in U.K. after attacked by the disease (in the form of what so-called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, in their brains). Canada was attacked 6 months ago and by now has suffered $2bn loss in it's economy. Beef export of the U.S. amounted to $3.7bn last year. This case of BSE would definitely hurt its market so much. (Somewhere out there, Australia and New Zealand will gain a windfall profit -- Argh, economy).

3. A friend from Boston sent a pastime through email. It's an old Makassarese song. Last time I heard this is when I was 10 or so. It is really sad, I don't want to translate it : Kukanga tu nipela // Tu nibuang ri tamparang // Tu nianyukang ri je'ne' // Narappung tau maraeng // Ca'di ca'di dudu inja // Nanapela'ma' anrong ku // Mantang mama kale kale // Tu'guru' je'ne' matangku // Aule, sare sarena ikukang sayang // Sare tea ta kucini // Empo tena mate'nena // Aule, sare sarena ikukang sayang // Sare tea ta kucini // Empo tena mate'nena...

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

1. Completely demoralized by a rejection from one respected journal. Too depressing to tell. But anyway, the bottomline is, the reviewers are not happy with the use of only-first-stage hedonic model with attitude as anchor. They also allude that my use of embedding tehnique is not really strong to claim novelty. Others are related to endogeneity, bias from variable omission, etc. I have an impression that one of the reviewers is a pure econometrician. He/she is bothered by the use of terms like "instrumental variable", "calibration", etc. for referring things not necessarily in econometric context.

2. The day as it is ending sadly:: Breakfast: Panera's house blend coffee, cinnamon roll. Lunch: pizza topped with chicken, pinneaple, apple, and pesto. Dinner: indomie, egg, vegetable "egg"rolls, tangerine. Work: completing tables, agonizing with the rejection. Readings: Chicago Tribune (Get Fuzzy: Satchel the dog got christmas gift, a bug. He's so happy), Wall Street Journal (a short bio of an extremist-turned-moderate -- very biased report).

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

1. Got back from a long trip to Washington, DC for seminar on Indonesia hosted by one of the running parties of the 2004 general election. The seminar was interesting, DC was cold, but overall, we had fun. Riding a 15-passenger van was quite an experience: 700+ miles East felt shorter with all the fun talks, teases, and even self-mockeries. Food were more than enough: chicken satay, lontong, plantain, chocolate chips, tangerines, etc. Departed at midnight on Friday, we arrived at Washington on Saturday afternoon, after two small detours to Lafayette, IN, and Pittsburgh, PA.

2. Visited SMI in Bethesda, MA. She was the Director of LPEM when I joined that research institute back in 1996. I also had assisted her in Microeconomics course (1995?) in Univ. of Indonesia while completing my college years. SMI is one of the Indonesian top economists, now serving as one of the Executive Directors in the IMF. It's been a while we haven't met again. Last time, she came to Champaign-Urbana, IL with her family to visit her alma mater before starting the new role in the IMF headquarter. Had breakfast with her family: nasi uduk, krupuk udang, tahu goreng, and rendang! It was so good, especially after all this years consuming American food. Thanks a lot, Mbak Ani!

3 Now, back to office.

4. The day as it resumes:: Breakfast: salmon, boiled eggs, rice. Lunch: indomie and lontong. Dinner: not yet, will go to dinner farewell of two friends later this evening. Work: checked simulation result at home, now trying to assemble with the previous ones. Music: J. Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

1. It's freaking cold outside. Snow is not that much, but oh my, why is it supercold like this? Those weather guys said it would be 27 F this afternoon with wind chill of 14 F. But it feels like 20 F, really. God, I miss Jakarta. (No, I miss Makassar more.)

2. Campus is quiet. Those happy undergrads have left for homes. Most faculty members are travelling to South, seeking warmth. Good for them. Only a few people are left. And of course those few people are mainly... us grad students. Finish, finish, finish!

3. The day as if it is ending (it's Friday, c'mon!):: Breakfast: Costa Rican, medium bodied roasted coffee plus choc croissant. Lunch: catfish and salad. Dinner: has yet to come. Reading: none (what a wasted day). Work: writing up summary estimates, done with fixed parameter model, now on limited random parameter; still running one at home. Radio: none (actually, they are still talking about George Ryan. Boring). Music: Hillary Hahn (Bach Concertos), Herbert von Karajan (Forever), Benjamin Britten (Bach's Brandenburg Concertos 1-6).

Friday, December 19, 2003

1. It feels good when you find a plausible answer to what you thought was anomaly. Good that I discussed the problem (yesterday, # 1) with YC and JBB. Now things fall into places. Have run separate smaller regression and got identical results leading to the "anomaly" yesterday -- now in quotation, since as it turns out, it is no longer anomaly. Here's the story. Those respondents who claimed that lot size is "very important" factor when buying a house happen to already have larger-than-average lot size (compared to the overall sample mean). Same thing with house size. That is why, despite the fact that they expressed greater importance of lot size, the variable itself, as shown by the estimate, doesn't have big effect on their buying decision.

2. A reporter from Chicago Tribune contacted JBB, asking to make appointment for extended interview regarding our report on the Project W. He wrote to JBB that "people keep citing your study" and "it was very influential". Let's see how the coverage plays out.

3. The day as it is crawling:: Sahoor: indomie, egg, chips, tangerine. Ifthar: pita, hummus, chicken, salad, pepsi. Coffee: Guatemalan. Music: Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Weather Report. Reading: NYT (Tom Friedman's column. He is still a liar! Lexus and Olive Tree time is over, buddy). Radio: George Ryan's bribery scandal (and he was nominated for a Nobel? Give me a break). Work: discussed the strange result with JBB via email (see # 1 above); extended models as to include dummies for family size; interacted with each main attributes; running another set at home with OxGauss (letting the parameters lot size, house size, public areas, and class size to be random); cross-checked matrix order (Gauss is poor when it comes to data manipulation, Stata is better. But Stata is not good for simulation -- Gauss is), JBB reminded me to send an abstract for Colorado workshop -- due Dec 31. Others: compressed old files to create more space in this lovely old machine: yeah I have been abusing it forever; light but constant snow: now 2 inches outside; Mumford Hall is quiet: people are having holidays? What, holidays?

Thursday, December 18, 2003

1. Burnt out. At first, you think you get great results after waiting so long before your econometric model converges. Then you start making sense out of the obtained estimates. Then before long, you realize: many of them are plainly non-sensical. What will you do? I was happy to find out that all variables for school quality are in expected signs and significant. Households prefer buying a home close to public school with smaller class size. Those who speaks English reveal this effect stronger. So as those who live in W. Furthermore, those who stated that school quality is a very important factor in house buying decision reveal stronger effect. Great. I expected all this. But what is going on with lot size and house size? As standalone variables, they are good: houses with bigger lot and larger living areas are preferable. But why are these effect LESS strong on those who actually think that these attributes are very important? I am confused. Also a little surprised that family size and child(ren) presence are insignificant. Environmental-related variables are so far less complicated. So are income and price variables.

2. Moore wrote a satirical column on Saddam. He analogized Saddam with Frankenstein (he of course meant Frankenstein's monster). Unfortunately Moore wasn't careful. Did he ever read that Frankenstein novel? He mixes up the analogy like almost everybody else. True, the accidental creator of the monster in the original Mary Shelley's novel is Victor Frankenstein, but the crature never has a name! and Victor Frankenstein is NOT a doctor, he's a graduate student who likes to experiment in his own scince room. I bet Moore only watched those misleading movies.

3. The day as it is ending: Breakfast: self-brewed Arabica coffee, macaroon, ginger bread, tangerine. Lunch: grilled chicken sandwich topped with Swiss cheese and green pepper. Dinner: salmon, salad, tortilla chips (yes, getting bored, but still alhamdulillah), Starbuck's coffee ice cream. Reading: AlterNet (Moore's column). Work: see # 1. Radio: Gov. George Ryan's and Attorney General John Ashcroft's corruption scandals. Music: Modern Jazz Quartet, Mahavishnu Orchestra, George Benson. Others: 21-32 F.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

1. Honestly, I had mixed feeling when I saw the TV coverage on Saddam capture Sunday morning. I always hate him (as much as I do to Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Pinochet, and Milosevic). There was a relief in me knowing that he's going to pay for what he had been doing to the Iraqis. This man is powerful, yet evil. But, when the camera showed him in that Karl Marx look but with deemed eyes, he looked so powerless. Fine, he's paying up. Then it was shown how the US officer "checking on his health condition". This is when I felt something bothering me. Why do the media show that to the word? Is it just me: or is it not anywhere in Geneva convention or whatever that enemy should not be humiliated in public? But maybe I was wrong.... Another thing: what if that scene invites even more misundestanding, more bloodshed?
So to make long story short, I was having coffee this morning at Panera. I picked up USA Today, and came across this piece by Stan Weintraub. He can't describe what I felt better.

2. The day as it finishes: Breakfast: Panera's hazelnut coffee plus choc croissant. Lunch: Indomie plus sun chips and two tangerines. Dinner: mackerel, salad, salsa plus chips. Readings: DI (a story of local taxi driver), NYT (Krugman on Halliburton-Cheney scandal in Iraq), Morey and Rossman 2003. Work: Consulted with Rossman of BSC. She sent her Gauss code for bootstrapping confidence intervals. Simulating main effects plus attitudinal variables in one set, letting the environmental parameters to be randomly drawn from normal distributions. Got frustrated with Excel (it can only handle 254 variables!). Music: Armstrong-Ellington-Bechet. Bads: Got ticketed for illegal parking (oh, $20). Others: Today is 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers invention (Google logo is cute).

1. Woke up with anxiety. Been like that for quite some time. This time pressure is overwhelming. Maybe not. Maybe it's just me, always procrastinate when it comes to academics. Then have to pay it up with panic everytime the promised due dates are approaching fast. Have tried to always remember JBB's advice: Write, Do Not Wait Until Get Perfect Result. But I just can't. A friend also gave good suggestion: For Now, Finish Quick Not Finish Well -- I wish these two were complementary for my case. Apparently not. Maybe, I have to lower my expectation. Am in denial: I am Pinocchio. Where's Jiminy Cricket?

2. Conclusion: Life is still the same. Wake up at 6: then daily errands to do. Get to office at 8 or 8.30, preceded by: coffee and something (if Panera: Colombian blend or Costa Rican conquistadores plus chocolate croissant; if Espresso Royale: Ethiopian or Mexican plus chocolate muffin). Oh, on the way from coffee shop to Mumford Hall, grab the Daily Illini, skip most of the news but not the Boondocks. Or forget about newspaper, if NPR is more interesting. Then, office. Wake the mouse up. Enter password on the screen. Check emails. Browse the New York Times. If time permits, look quickly to any Conservative media, just to make sure not to be too Liberal-influenced. (BTW, William Safire's column today is about Saddam's capture. As usual, Safire with his insider-information-type-of-showoff like Friedman, lies). Then really start working from 9. And time flies. Lunch at 1 or 2 (Bevier or Red Herrings or any chinese restaurant on Green St; or simply some indomie of course). Get back, resume the work. And time flies. It's 4.30 or Maghrib time, whichever comes first. Go home grab some quick dinner. Relax a little bit with BBC or PBS or The Simpsons or Everybody Loves Raymond. Until 7.30 or Isha whichever comes first. Then come back to office. And time flies. Go home at around midnight. Sleep and wake up. See, life is still the same. But that's OK, I tell myself...

3. Today as it flows: Fasting. Music: Miles-Coltrane-Bechet. Reading: DI (Saddam, Boondocks), NYT (Safire: of course, biased), Train 1998 (focused on the WTP/CV), Morey et al 2003 (focused on interaction terms). Research: OxGauss (random parameter logit, singular Hessian again! oh), Stata (clogit to test standard estimates, now including attitudinal responses, converged, but what's the rationale?). Dinner: salmon-salad-tortilla. Coffee: Espresso's House. Bad(s): illegal parking twice.

Monday, December 15, 2003

1. Saddam captured. Euphoria shown on TV, broadcast through radio, printed on papers. Question: so what? It took too long and too many lifes to get this one man? Even by the "most powerful, mighty nation" in the world? Something is so fishy. Especially near the election. As for some, Saddam seizure is "one down, three to go" sort of thing. And that three is Bush, Blair, and Osama. Say what?

Friday, December 12, 2003

1. Publish or perish. This has been the adagium I would like to believe until not long ago. Until I learned that publishing your work in academic journal could actually cost you a fortune. Maybe because I have few times made money by publishing popular article in newspaper, I wrongly do not anticipate that when it comes to scientific article for academic journal, there is an awful lot of page charge, correction fee, plus additional charge if you want some color plates involved! Sent a manuscript to a high profile, specialized journal about a month ago. Got a response from the Editor. The attached documents there asked us the authors to sign an agreement to pay charges of about more than $2,000. That's only for page charge (it's $60/page). Then there was $1 per correction on the page proof, and finally $1,000 if a colored paper (for graphs, etc) requested. [Long sigh here]...
This is discouraging. How can you publish if you don't have enough fund? How can you not perish? An overoptimistic view, however, would be: publish once (is alright, but only) in Number One Journal! Then enjoy the fame afterward... [Sigh, once again]... Should the adagium really be expanded to: Publish or Perish or Pay Up?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

1. Media today center on the death of US Senator from Illinois Paul Simon. I heard he's a great guy. But I have no idea about his political life (nor do I know of general politics). Pity my ignorance, to hear everybody talks about him: NPR, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Sun Times -- all headlines. This gentleman was something, at least I can conclude. If my quick skimming on the Tribune this morning was accurate, he happened to run for presidency. Also, back in Reagan's USA, Democrats were beaten everywhere, except Senator Simon from Illinois.

2. While I have to admit, my grief this morning goes more toward Record Service. This is a local music store on Green Street. It is closing as an inevitable response to coming bankruptcy, today's Daily Illini reports. I remember, every once and a while, I go there. Not necessarily to buy CDs (student, student!). Just browsing around, updating myself with recent releases, or simply to check if somebody is crazy enough to sell his/her used Duke Ellington or Sidney Bechet (in which case, I woudn't think twice to forego a take-out dinner), is more than enough to balance out the torture from some econometrics. Or, sometimes, as I pretend that I can enjoy classical music, too, as I do with jazz, I go there, and proceed to the second floor: Figaro -- its classical music separate section.
Now they're closing. They can't compete with the Internet.... I checked my membership card in my wallet: soon this will become a memorabilia....

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

1. Frustrated with slow progress in research, I spent 15 minutes of my morning with coffee, bagel, and news. Happened to check Guardian Unlimited (my favourite UK-based mag - linked on the side), I got across this news. It tells about an FM jazz radio in Manchester that has to change its name, because it is "literally turning people off". And it will not only change its name from "Manchester Jazz FM" to "Smooth FM", but it will also "play a broader mix of music". I feel sorry whenever reading this kind of news. When identity has to be given up to whatever market dictates.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

1. There is this small neat restaurant at the corner of Fourth and University. It sells Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese food. Prices are reasonable, food is delicious. And what I like the most is, all the food come in real, decent serving dishes. (I hate eating in a Chinese restaurant where, when I order "big meal" like fish, it comes in that soft, styrofoam "plate", or even worse: paper plate). This restaurant is recommended, both in terms of food served an in the way it serves its customers. Not to mention the clean and convenient room.

But it had been closed for more than a week. What happened? I had been coming there several times only to meet the same notice on the door: "Closed". Luckily, today it's finally open. I went there this afternoon. The nice lady who co-owns the restaurant and also serves as one of the cooks looked so sad. I asked the waitress what had happened that made them closed for many days. And she told me this sad story. The husband of the sad lady is in the hospital. He was hit on the head by a drunkard some night. Really hard, he now can not retrieve a single memory. Poor man. This is the same nice man who always offered me fried eggs, sunny side-up with two eyes, whenever I asked for combo fried rice. Now he is lying in the hospital not able to remember anything. God, please let him have his memory back. If all is too much, at least the good ones: about his wife and his cute little girl.

2. As usual, stopped by Espresso Royale to buy a cup of coffee. And as usual, looked up to today's coffee list. Two kinds served: Peruvian and Sumatran. Funny thing is, they wrote: "Frank Sumatra". I like the humor. I told the waitress, I am from (the country where) Sumatra (is). She stamped my club card twice.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

1. Gloomy and rainy again. It's December, I can't believe. My sixth December in this country. Hopefully the last for this long term period. Many things have happened, many are still slowly moving. Expectation is still up there. Can't even jump to reach it. Got three to five months left to end this significant part of the journey. Choices: finish well or finish quickly?

2. It's always a pleasant excitement to meet old friends. And I just met an old mate through the web. He happens to live in the other side of the Atlantic. "Notes from Ronver Road", Tomi named his weblog, after his apartment street somewhere in London. Reading his nicely written notes in the blog -- he is a well-known Indonesian journalist -- makes my mind travelling back through the time tunnel. About my beloved country (as problematic as it is), about my hometown, about my childhood...

Tomi was my classmate in high school, 15 years ago in Makassar. We became closer as we both joined a karate club in our school. We managed to go to regional competition. Together, with different results. Tomi won something, I was knocked out by a big guy in the very first round of the competition.... (I was in Jakarta 4 years later when I heard Tomi had become one of the karate instructors, while pursuing his college years doing mechanical engineering.)

While doing economics, I spent most of my college years playing around. Not (really) the bad ones. I was excited being involved in campus journalism. Making friends with so many people. Including those from other departments. One of those young journalist fellows was Karin....

I was surprised -- and happy-- to hear couple of months ago: Tomi and Karin got married! What a small little world. Congratulations once again, fellas.

And, nice to meet you again.