Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Case Schiller Index California

I decided to graph the June 2009 Case Schiller Index report (seasonally adjusted data). As a reminder of the dictum that all real estate is local. Well, all economic realities are local ... so I wanted to get a picture of the local pictures close to me ...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spinning the Markets, July 12 2009

Here's the headline from Bloomberg, prior to the Aisan markets opening:

"Retail Probably Rose, Factory Slump Eased: U.S. Economy Preview"

My initial reaction, "Probably rose? What the ...?"

So, what is this rosey prediction based on? A "median estimate" from Bloomberg's "News survey" .... Whatever that means....

Here are some rather official looking details:

Sales gained 0.4 percent after a 0.5 percent increase in May, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey before the Commerce Department’s report on July 14. The next day, Federal Reserve figures may show industrial output fell 0.6 percent last month after a 1.1 percent drop in May.

Looks like hard numbers, right? I mean those are rather specific seeming statistics, right? The language is so, well, statistical sounding, right?

But it is utter and complete nonsense. There are no actual measures of retail sales behind these numbers.

Bloomberg could have just as easily written, "We did a "news survey" and about half of those we talked to thought that retail sales were going to improve a little bit from the month before. Of course, no one we talked to actually has hard data, so, please understand that these estimates are really guesses, so please read these with some caution."

Nope ... the market manipulation will have no refreshing honesty. Instead, the reporting is presented as if survey respondents actually had some clue as to what they are talking about.

Well, these reports are due this week ... so we will see what actually comes out...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Trade Volumes Down

A very interesting read over at the LA Times: Here're the opening lines:

Trade at international ports is on track to drop more than 10% this year,
one of the steepest declines ever, according to a new maritime industry

Cargo ships will carry 27 million fewer containers by year's end than they
did in 2008 -- a reduction roughly equivalent to all of the cargo containers
handled by the five busiest U.S. seaports in a typical year, according to
London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants' Container Forecaster Report.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thoughts and musings on course design no 1

I have the very good fortune this summer of being part of a team that has been tasked by my little university to assess the educational effectiveness of the Social and Behavioraal Science program.

I won't bore anyone with the details, and they're not for public consumption anyway. [A Bottom Line: "We Aren't too Shabby -- Nor are We Too Chic"]

But as I am looking over how various courses are being designed I have been forced to reflect on some of my own courses, and the design issues that I confront with those.

The issue that I keep thinking about is the degree to which the course is a selection of topics to be covered with the hope that students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of those topics, to analyze key themes, issues, concepts and theories that have been identified by specialists working in those areas, and to bring those into critical or corrective synthesis with their own ideas or the ideas they encounter in other contexts.

On the other hand, does the course present a series of problems and ask the students to bring in empirical information and competing theories that might explain the problem, then work on solutions by reconciling both theory and evidence.

This second option is practically unheard of as one peruses the course syllabi at just about every school on the planet. This observation bugs me. Why? Because I personally do not learn about something very well by trying to catalog all of the themes and topics that relate to the problem or area that I have become interested in. I learn about things, and write about what I have learned, much more effectively when I am able to ask a question about the problem, and then systematically gather information and ideas that help me to answer those questions, share my work with others to get feedback on the adequacy of the solultions I am thinking of, and finally releasing the product for further examination and comment by others should they choose to do so. Indeed, this is the heart of the scientific endeavor, or any critical exercise for that matter. It is, frankly, the method toward enlightenment (thinking of Kant here).

So I wonder ... why do we tend to organize courses the way that we do? [i.e., As a selection of topics that we review with students. ]