Archive for August, 2007

 Word count for previous post: 666.

Did not realize this fact until after I posted, swear to G–…well, never mind–just realize that I’m telling the truth.

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Provocative title, no?

Unfortunately, the title cannot be true of Germans in general for the simple fact that, according to some sources at least, a plurality of them does not believe in a personal god and would thus be insane if they hated something that did not exist. Belief in God aside, however, religion is not as popular in Germany as it is in the United States. There are no doubt several reasons one can point to for this fact, but I believe that one of the strongest reasons can be gleaned from economics.

To an economist, strong competition is the most efficient and effective way of ensuring that consumers get products they value. When there are many firms competing to supply a particular good or service and consumers can easily buy from any firm they like, the inevitable result is that any firm not able to provide something that people value will soon go bust.

Though it may sound cynical (it is not), one can think of religion existing in a market of buyers and sellers. The market for religion has firms, or churches, producing a good, which can be simply called religion, in the hopes of selling it the consumers, who can be virtually anyone.

Now consider two countries, A and B, that have different markets for religion:

Country A has a free and open market for religion. Anyone who desires to start a church of any religion can do so with little difficulty, but they can do so only with money that they raise themselves. To stay in business, therefore, those who start a church must be able to convince consumers that their church is producing something of value, otherwise people will not be willing to pay money for it (in the form of tithes or other donations) and the church will soon go out of business. Thus, the clergy has a strong incentive to market the religion in such a way that will appeal to consumers. Furthermore, since it is uncomplicated to establish a new church in Country A, any successful church will soon attract imitators and innovators who believe they have a better product to sell. Over time, the market for religion in Country A is comprised of many churches selling many different religions, and only the churches that are best at selling its religion are able to survive for any length of time. In the end, consumers of religion in Country A receive a large degree of freedom to pick the specific church that best fits their needs and desires.

Country B, on the other hand, has instituted a more restrained market for religion. Country B’s government has decided that preserving and protecting religion is in the interest of the state, and it believes the best way to do so is to give large sums of public money only to those religions that carry an official seal of approval from the government. In addition, these seals of approval are hard to receive for new religions—sometimes impossible—and any religion that does not obtain official approval from the government cannot legally be established. Since churches that are already well established face little threat of competition and have guaranteed income, they act as monopolies and are able to function with little regard to the desires of the consumers. As a result, consumers of religion in Country B can choose one of the relatively few government-sponsored religions or simply not go to church at all.

The examples are admittedly a bit simplistic, but ask yourself which country you think would have a more religious population, A or B? And related to that, do you think America is more like Country A or B? What about Germany?

It is a bit of trick question, but the answers will be revealed after I return from my sojourn to Luxembourg this weekend. I’m sure all will be in suspenders, as my dear aunt used to say—or still does say, for all I know. She ain’t dead yet.

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Another econ blog that I view on a daily basis is Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal. I don’t read it as throughly as others, but there’s usually a post every few days that I find interesting. DeLong teaches various economics courses at UC Berkley and worked in the Treasury Dept. during the early Clinton years where he worked on NAFTA, inter alia.  He’s an extraordinarily bright and learned man with a quirky sense of humor that is perhaps better expressed through his writings than his speeches and lectures.

Yesterday I was perusing his blog and was interested to discover that he posted his lecture notes from the first day of an economics course he recently started teaching at UC.  Even more interesting was that he posted an audio podcast of the entire lecture. Intrigued, I quickly prepared myself some supper and listened to the entire lecture as I dined on bread, cheese, and cold cuts. The lecture consisted mainly of typical first-day-of-class syllabus nonsense, but even that I enjoyed hearing (especially the inane and irrelevant questions posed by students that are evidently universal in university courses).  I do not know if Prof. DeLong plans on posting an audio podcast for every lecture, but the implications if he does are worth pondering and will be the subject of a future post.

For now I will merely again sing the praises of the internets which allow me to attend university lectures with nary but the cost of my time.

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From The Onion:

Neither Person In Conversation Knows What Hedge Fund Is
AUGUST 22, 2007 | ISSUE 43•34

ASHLAND, OH—Despite their in-depth, seven-minute discussion on the pros and cons of hedge funds, neither Matthew Talbert, 27, nor Louis Dahlkemper, 29, has the slightest idea what the highly exclusive, unregulated private investment pools actually are.

“Yup, hedge funds, that’s where the real money is,” said Dahlkemper, who is not only ignorant of financial concepts such as APR financing and the leave-a-penny, take-a-penny tray, but will also never come remotely close to achieving the minimum $1 million net worth required to invest in a hedge fund. “What with the interest rates so high, the whole housing bubble, and 401ks the way they are, you can’t go wrong with one of those.”

Talbert, who has accumulated nearly $30,000 in credit card debt, agreed with Dahlkemper, saying that he would most likely get a hedge fund “after [his] next paycheck matures.”

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Last night as I lay me down to sleep, I turned off my bedside lamp and was immediately taken aback by the soft glow of the waxing gibbous moon (thank you, 8th grade earth science) shining right through my bedroom window. I’ve had a lunar love affair for a while, so I immediately snapped a few pictures.

As no doubt any amateur photographer can attest, taking pictures in low-light settings requires a steady hand, so I was quite pleased that I was able to get a few clear images.Bedmoon

Manly mitts aside, however, I haven’t been so steady lately. For the past few days I’ve had some trouble with balance and orientation, specifically soon after I lay down or stand up. Often when I lay down and close my eyes I feel like the room is spinning or that my head is going to go right through the pillow and bed and hit the floor. And I’m now a bit out of sorts when I stand up after being recumbent for a while. Twice now I probably would have fallen down if a wall and bookcase respectively hadn’t broken my fall.

I think my thetan count is off or something–I might need to get audited.

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Hello Strange Coincidence!

Something strange happened to me today.

Because I live in a townhouse of sorts, I can often hear distant noises emanating from adjacent dwellings. Several times, for instance, I’ve heard some anonymous German practicing “The Kids Aren’t Alright” by The Offspring, particularly the throaty guitar lick that starts about twenty seconds in. Perhaps a little odd, but it barely meets the minimum interest quotient necessary to qualify as suitable cocktail party fodder.

Today’s occurrence however, was just a little bit more peculiar. This evening after returning home from a particularly laborious day I was seated at my desk eating some leftover pasta and browsing the internet. At some point I noticed the mellow sounds of some piano sonata by Beethoven drifting up from the rather large sound system of my host downstairs. The music quickly faded into the background of my mind and I hardly noticed when a new recording began being played. Soon enough, however, the notes began sounding their way into the fore of my consciousness and I realized the melody the notes were forming was quite familiar–in fact, it was the melody of song I had on my iPod. Still somewhat distracted, my first thought was that I had inadvertently starting playing the song in my iTunes library, but I quickly realized that the the song was not coming from my computer. Still, I wondered, why would my host have a recording with a same song as me?

But just then, the piano player made a mistake and briefly stopped before continuing on again. It wasn’t a recording after all, but someone playing in the adjacent house probably no more than five meters from where I was sitting. And then, the final realization came: the song that was being played was from the soundtrack to Goodbye Lenin!, a successful German film that came out a few years ago and whose music I enjoy much (and do indeed have on my iPod). Now, it would have been enough for the day if that had been the end of it, but as astute readers may have already realized, the song I chose to accompany the “Morning Journey” video posted below is from the same soundtrack as the one that was being played just a few steps away!

I have four main theories to explain this event:

  1. Pure coincidence.
  2. Anonymous German Piano Player Person heard the song playing over and over as I was editing the video and figured I was a Yann Tiersen fan. Playing another one of his works was a fun way of saying hello.
  3. Anonymous German Piano Player Person heard the song playing over and over as I was editing the video and figured that playing an unmistakably similar piece when I was sure to be home would be a polite way of letting me know that I was being too loud.
  4. Anonymous German Piano Player Person heard the song playing over and over as I was editing the video and figured that playing an unmistakably similar piece when I was sure to be home would clue me in on the fact that the walls are not as thick as I think they are and that Anonymous Germany Piano Player Person can hear a lot of what goes on in my flat, including when I talk to myself.

Surreal, to say the least.

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Morning Commute

I live about 12 kilometers from my language school, which is more or less in the city centre. To get to school, I walk to the U-bahn station at the end of my street, ride the 18 all the way into town, and from there can either walk or take another line to the next stop. From start to finish it takes about 35 minutes.

Ever since I first arrived in Köln I wanted to make an uninterrupted recording of the entire journey and then make some sort of video out of it. Well, I’ve finally succeeded and readers can see the uploaded result below (As a bit of a disclaimer, I was using a digital camera rather than a camcorder, so in order to be able to capture 35 minutes of uninterrupted footage on a 1 gig memory card I had to ratchet down the resolution; as a result, the video is not as clear as I’d like. So ist das.).

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