What am I up to now?
October 2, 2023
I’m back in Oxford! The first three weeks of Hilary TermOxford being special, this is just ‘early-winter-term’ if you’re from the US, or ‘Lent Term’ if you go to Cambridge. have been a blur. Andrea Ferrero is teaching us all about monetary economics. I find the methods interesting, the topics less so. Dr. Ferrero presented a case study on the 1724 French devaluation of the livre — which resulted in a 30% contraction in industrial production. This was intended to demonstrate that monetary policy can have real effects, but some quick maths demonstrates an even simpler lesson: don’t give 14-year-old Bourbons control of your monetary policy.
Micro and Metrics continue to hold most of my attention. Though we’re all sad to have moved on from Anders’ maximally efficient lessons on measure theory, the new lecturer for advanced econometrics,In his first lecture, he had not just one, but two xkcd comics! Martin Weidner, is covering more applied topics. This is especially appreciated at the moment, as it’s about time for the MPhil-DPhil students to think about our thesis topics for next year (or risk disappointing Meg MeyerMeg serves as advisor to all of the MPhil-DPhil students, and is also currently teaching information economics in the advanced microeconomics course. She also (presumably, unintentionally) presented two of her slides on cheap talk in almost perfect iambic tetrameter. Highlight of my week 2. ).
In week 1 of term, I spent a few hours reading old MPhil theses in the Social Sciences Library. Mainly, I wanted to understand where the bar was set — and it’s much lower than I expected. There are plenty of good theses of the genre “hey, I found a cool dataset and ran some regressions.” The majority of these are applied micro papers, which certainly makes sense as the easiest to put together. The few applied macro papers were slightly more impressive. Theory papers — especially metrics theory — consistently blew my socks off. Of course, anyone who chooses to write a theory paper in their second year is impressive enough and masochistic enough to do it well.
The first half of January was spent 2km above sea level.All this time at altitude reminded me of one of my first consulting projects, for the Colorado Air and Space Port. At 5,500 feet above sea level, their slogan was: ‘Launch Colorado: The First Mile Is Free’. Mexico City was a blast; the city is cheap and comfortable. There’s a non-linear relationship between the cheapness of a city and how desirable it is for expats. Freetown, Sierra Leone is cheap cheap — but no amount of money will let you live at US levels of comfort. In a city of a million people, there can’t be more than fifty dishwashers (and most of those will be in embassies). Mexico City isn’t nearly as cheap, and has no beaches, but has far greater amenities and hot chocolate. That, plus a far reduced risk of typhoid and malaria, attract tons of expats.
These expats tend to congregate in the same neighborhood — in bars in Roma Norte, you’re more likely to hear English than Spanish. I lived in Zona Rosa the whole time. Some travel writers I usually trust disrecommend the area, but I didn’t find the abundance of sex shops as off-putting.Tyler Cowen doesn’t mind seeing such businesses in De Wallen — are Dutch prostitutes classier than Mexican? There’s also a very large Korean community, and a growing Japanese community. La Condesa, Polanco, Roma Norte are all within walking distance. The suburb I loved most which wasn’t walkable was Coyoacan; Joe Biden’s NAFTAWhatever. visit threw a wrench in one of my attempts to spend more time there. See the eating section below for some highlights.
I have no travel plans in February, besides a couple short trips to London. A few friendsPolina, Andy, looking forward to seeing you. are coming to visit, which is a good opportunity to practice tourguiding Oxford. Anyone else passing through Oxford or London, please say hi!
Some housekeeping: there’s no page for “January, 2023,” as two people pointed out it makes more sense to name these updates for the month after they’re posted (as that’s when you’ll be reading them). No change other than naming convention.
Also, longer thoughts on books, restaurants, research, etc. have been moved to the “writing” tab at the top. This page will be a bit more list-y.
- •”Eruptions That Shook the World,” by Clive Oppenheimer. With the last name Oppenheimer, I expected more doom and gloom about his volcanoes. But this is more like a textbook and work of scientific passion than the dramatic title implies. It’s superbly organized in chapters which would line up with a semester of Volcanoes 101. One example — Oppenheimer’s treatment of the Deccan Traps vs. Chicxulub crater controversyWhat killed the dinosaurs? Despite Zach Weinersmith’s excellent contributions to the asteroid case, this is less settled than my middle school science teachers would have you believe. The asteroid-touting astrophysicists have had the run of the debate for the past fifty years, but the geophysicists are coming for them. is much more evenhanded than anything I’ve read from the astrophysicists.An exception from (honorary astrophysicist) Randall Munroe: ‘The dinosaur extinction, famously caused by a meteor impact in what is now Mexico, was also accompanied by one of these blorps (Large Igneous Provinces), the Deccan traps in what is now India. The outpourings were already happening by the time the space rock arrived, though they seem to have gotten a lot worse around that time. Scientists are still debating how the two events were connected and how much each one contributed to the extinction. The main extinction seems to have happened right at the moment of impact, so it was definitely the key, but all that lava couldn’t have helped the situation.’ The book has a quiet passion for volcanic science. It’s this which caught Werner Herzog’s attention, leading to the release of two volcano-themed films in 2016. The first, Salt and Fire, is an action-thriller;Think Jurassic Park, not Geostorm. the second is a documentary with Oppenheimer about “belief systems” tied to volcanoes around the world.
- •”Eichmann in Jerusalem,” by Hannah Arendt. The first of two books I read on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Very short, worth your time. There are two bits to this book — the psychology,‘Banality of evil’ and all that. and the history. The history will stick with me for longer. Arendt paints detailed portraits of each Nazi-occupied or -allied government’s behavior when confronted with Holocaust demands. Bulgaria, Italy (!?), and Denmark look heroic; France, Poland, and Greece are depressing; Romania is a nightmare within a nightmare.
- •”The Disappearance of Joseph Mengele,” by Oliver Guez. Tyler Cowen’s recommendation is that, ““I’ve read enough about the Holocaust” is not a good reason to avoid this book.” I agree — but Cowen’s summary — “How does in fact a sophisticated doctor become a Nazi and then frame that decision to himself?” — is miles off. Of the dozens of Nazis the reader meets in Argentina, Uruguay, Switzerland, Brazil, and Germany, Mengele is the least interested in justifying his previous political beliefs. There was no “becoming” a Nazi in this book. The Doktor’s phrenological racism was a primitive — Guez’ Mengele is bored of the debates and justifications of the other Nazis in the Southern Cone. He is nothing more or less interesting than a paranoid and sadistic man.
- •”South”, by Ernest Shackleton. A much lighter read than the aboveBesides the disease, death, shipwrecks, and possible cannibalism. — and an amazing Antarctic memoir. Each episode is fantastical, and completely true.
- •I also read all of the fanfiction in the appendix of Chris Olah’s dating profile.An odd sentence to write, I’m sure also an odd sentence to read. Highly enjoyable.
- •Castizo, CDMX
- •The sixth taqueria tent on the right, Base Camp, Nevado de Toluca. The chorizo verde was amazing; each taco was $0.22, for easily the best value meal of the trip. The champurrado was the best of the many I tried.
- •La Rifa, CDMX. The best “trendy” hot chocolate spot. The secret is cardamom.I tried 17 hot chocolates and champurrados while in Mexico; some spontaneously, some taken from the hot chocolate review blog Ultimate Hot Chocolate (because of course). La Rifa was the overall winner. Champurrados are on average better than hot chocolates.
- •The Hawaiiana tostada from literally any stall in CDMX, CDMX.
- •Luis Mota and Luzia Bruckamp’s yogurt dip and hummus, Oxford.
- •Dosa Park, Oxford. Not amazing; I’ve had better in London and DC, and certainly Bangalore. But it’s become a meeting place for a small group of friends, and I already have pre-nostalgia.
Some favorites. This month, Finn’s list provided the most new listening material.
- •The Abduction from the Seraglio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. A very energetic recording. I don’t have the patience to listen to opera straight through (even Hamilton took me three sessions my first listen through). This recording sounds stately & classicalIn some non-ironic sense. without dragging. If only my attention span could hold up to operatic standards.
- •Welcome 2 America, Prince. The first posthumous Prince album; very political and funkily infectious. Prince is not usually on my must-listens (I couldn’t name more than a few of his 40 albums), but this is a re-listen.
- •El Arte Del Bolero, Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo.
- •50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater, Tower of Power.H/T Emma. Ooh this was good.
- •Renaissance, Apashe.H/T Sam. Not my usual stuff. Thanks to the #music channel on the work Slack.
- •La Grande Folie, San Salvador. French a capella with the intensity of the Kill Bill theme music.