Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lack of Activity

The Misanthropic Economist is still alive and fairly well. I'm just really busy with classes right now. Don't give up on me; I'll start posting more frequently in mid-July.

For any of you who happen to be in college or will soon be in college: be very, very careful about what types and how many classes you take in the summer. Unless you're a mathematical genius, two upper level math courses crammed into 5 weeks is probably not the smartest thing to undertake.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Distorting Turkey Waste

Here's an article in The New York Times on burning turkey litter to produce electricity:

A couple of issues have come up with using turkey litter to produce energy. One is that turkey litter is really useful as an organic fertilizer. Therefore many environmentalists and organic enthusiasts don't want turkey litter to be burnt for electricity. This would be a simple problem to solve if not for issue number two.

Electricity produced this way is expensive. Here is how it is made economically viable: "The plant was built by Fibrowatt, a Philadelphia-based company, with financial incentives from the State of Minnesota." So Minnesota subsidizes this plant.

This subsidy makes using turkey litter as an energy source more attractive than alternative uses, such as an organic fertilizer. Without the subsidy, the organic gardeners and farmers would have an easier time bidding the litter away from energy usage and the turkey litter would be much more likely to flow to its most highly valued use. Burning the stuff for electricity may be the most highly valued use for turkey litter, but the with subsidy who knows? Economic calculation has been distorted and society is almost certainly poorer for it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Understanding Broken English

On a college campus, this can be a major problem. Even if the speaker speaks English fairly well, an accent can cause problems.

This occurred to me while listening to a 3 hour lecture from an instructor that someone else claimed to not have been able to understand. I see 4 very broad possibilities why I could understand him while my associate could not.
1) I can hear better than my associate. Not very likely.
2) I've spent more time around foreigners and immigrants of various language backgrounds (including watching lots of British sitcoms) and I've become fairly decent at filling in the blanks and determining what the speaker means to say. In one class, our Nigerian professor had me translate the somewhat rough English of the Indian students into language he could understand!
3) I read a lot more than my associate. Therefore, I have a better command of the English language (although that's not always obvious from reading this blog!) and I can figure out what other people, especially foreigners or immigrants, are trying to say. Or
4) My associate is from east Texas and well, let's just say Jeff Foxworthy would occasionally need a translator here!

I'm sure someone has done some research on whether reading is correlated with the ability to understand what those with accents or who speak in broken English are trying to communicate. It'd interesting to see.

One more fun thing about many immigrants and foreigners is that they don't initially realize what is and what is not appropriate casual conversation in America, therefore they will occasionally say something to you that would result in an American being punched!