The Italian Vilm Vestabule


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Christian Ferro is a young superstar striker for Roma. Growing up in a rough area is a far cry from the millionaire lifestyle he is now living, which has attracted party-animal friends from home as well as the return of his long-lost father. When Christian’s determination to prove to his friends that he remains rebellious lands him in trouble again, his coach Valerio Fioretti gives him an ultimatum: get back in line and pass the high-school exam, or get out. But Christian’s world of fame and Ferraris clashes with Valerio’s humble circumstances.
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Dafne is a witty 35-year-old woman with Down syndrome. Despite being fiercely independent, she still lives with her ageing parents. When the sudden death of her mother shatters the family balance, Dafne’s father Luigi falls into a depressive state, and it is left up to Dafne to construct a new life path. When she proposes that she and Luigi undertake an adventure across the country, this sparks a series of events that give Dafne a new and exhilarating self-confidence and provide the ointment needed for her and Luigi’s wounds to heal.
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In a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Taranto, high upon the rooftops framed by the Ilva steel factory, we meet Tonino a.k.a. “Barboncino”. Tonino has just committed a robbery and, in a moment of foolishness, fled from his accomplices, taking the entire loot for himself. He escapes upward, clambering from roof to roof, until he can go no further and must take refuge in an old water tank. Here he finds Renato, a strange and eccentric man who believes he is an American Indian from the Sioux tribe. Trapped with no other choice, Tonino is forced to team up with Renato. A strange and crazy friendship is formed, and Tonino learns to see things from a very different perspective.
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Observations on Poland and the Baltics

The family cycled from Berlin to Tallinn this year, giving me an opportunity to see how Poland and the Baltics have fared after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s. Some observations:

–          Poland is doing well. Agriculture there is as organised and productive as in Germany, with the newest combine harvesters collecting flour for millions of bread rolls.

–          You see large new houses in the minor villages in Poland, and lots of new infrastructure in the towns. People drive in reasonable cars, horse-drawn carts have disappeared, and the youth looks tall and healthy.

–          Interestingly, the Polish are quite bad at English and usually don’t understand you in bars, hotels, and restaurants. Their German and their Russian is a lot better on average, even amongst the younger generation. This in turn seems to be part of the success of Poland: because their English is poor, they can only do somewhat menial jobs abroad, meaning that they get treated as second-class citizens in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, etc. That in turn encourages them to go back and work on the future of Poland, with great success. So lacking good English language skills, which will have cost them in the early decades after the Soviet Union, is now helping them emerge as a more vibrant and self-conscious society. The opposite can be seen in the Baltics….    Continue reading

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Is it the social scientists job (or anyone else’s) to make models of reality? (Hint: no).

Quantitative research for social scienceThere is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think – which is fundamentally a moral problem – must be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

As journalism is the first draft of history, some of my emails are the first draft of blog posts. As here where I was responding to someone with whom I’d already agreed that in economics there’s lots of emphasis on using models to understand reality but not much care given to the question of fitting them to the world.

To paraphrase in a way that’s unfair to him – but which is only intended to provide a point of departure here – he then suggested that social science was about model building and fitting the world to those models and, to shift the world towards better outcomes for social science (we were talking about economics), one needed different kinds of participants in this. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Methodology, Philosophy, Political theory | 5 Comments

How Good are Refugees? This year’s MUST ATTEND dinner with Santo Cilauro. 12th Sept, Melb.

If these kinds of things existed in my country, I wouldn’t need to be running for President to fix everything up.

Elizabeth Warren

The only thing that didn’t leave a nasty taste in my mouth last year was the food.

Barry the hypothetical troll from last year (He’s been debunked, defrocked, unfriended and univited this year)

You may not be in that exclusive group of less than 200 people in Australia who have been to one of my dinners for refugees. But whether you’re Donald Trump or Douggie Hourigan,1 you’ll have heard of them. I can tell you they’re a blast. Born out of a birthday party that went strangely right, I have made this an annual event since. Each function has been in support of refugees.

The basic idea of the dinner is to meet interesting people, have fun and raise a decent amount of money for refugees. Last year, with Christos Tsiolkas as our guest of honour, we raised over $10,000 for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and, in so doing helped them establish a program to train refugees to become program evaluators. I’m thrilled to say that that this is now bearing fruit.

This year, as with the first year, we’re raising money for Urban Refugees. It targets the refugees who are outside the UNHCR process and the protections it affords – that is the millions of refugees living not in refugee camps, or in host countries but largely on the outskirts of cities of the low and middle income world like Kuala Lumpur and Kampala.

It will mostly be dinner and meeting and talking to friends and interesting people you’ve not met before, but Santo Cilauro from Australia’s best TV production company Working Dog will be our guest of honour and we’ll hear from him. We’re inviting you to pay your way at $60 which will include approximately $25 which will be receipted as tax deductible donation. 2

So Book Now for 7.00 pm on Thursday Sept 12th at Tazios on this link. And NOTE: Though it’s still on Flinders Lane, Tazios has moved since last year’s dinner.

I’m also hoping you can make an additional tax deductible donation. In fact I’m so hanging out for you to donate that, as in other years, I’ll match every dollar you donate over $100 up to a total liability of $5,000 for me. 3 (In the first year, Ross Gittins decided to play hard-ball and try to bankrupt me with a thousand dollar donation which took $900 out of my pocket right there! Bring it on I say! I’m planning to sponge off my kids in retirement in any event.)

If you’re making a donation of over $200 (that’s over $300 with my matching donation) and would like to, please feel free to email me on ngruen AT gmail and I’ll send you my bank account details so you can avoid all charges.

The first donor of over $500 will be flown First Class to London where they’ll be chauffeured by Theresa May driving the trusty Aussie hot rod ‘Rooter’ (How good is Rooter?) and taken to dinner with Boris Johnson who will arrive late with carefully towselled, bleached hair.

And there’s a special deal for those from out of town. They can make an even larger donation as they don’t have to pay for dinner.

And please pass this invitation around.

  1. My friend in Grade One – where are you Douggie?
  2. The bloodsuckers of our financial services industry will impose upon you a fee of 30 cents plus approx 1.75% on your payment.
  3. Note the bloodsuckers of finance will subtract 30 cents plus approx 1.75% of your payment and you’ll receive a receipt for the rest. This is altogether fitting and proper given their commitment to making the world a better place for all the little people.
Posted in Blegs, Films and TV, Humour, Media | 4 Comments

There’s no such thing as a free launch: Launching John Quiggin’s Economics in Two Lessons.

Delivered at Melbourne University, Friday 19th July, 2019 and cross posted at The Mandarin.

Welcome to the launch of another book by Australia’s most overachieving economist. A global authority on decision theory, he also publishes in the daily press, in submissions to government inquiries on his blog and in academic journals in any number of other fields in environmental, agricultural, welfare, tax and finance economics to name a few areas I’m aware of. As you do.

I’m not much of a fan of the endless KPIs into which academic life has descended (it’s an important reason why I’m not an academic). I hate the reductive gravity to which they subject pretty much everything in their path. Academics’ KPIs enable the performance of those whom we trust to be at the forefront of human knowledge to be judged by people who know nothing of their field or their work. What could possibly go wrong?

Still, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, in John’s case I’ll make an exception. His KPIs have been achieved whilst actually addressing useful questions rather than disciplinary arcana. John’s been placed in the top 5% economists in the world according to IDEAS/RePEc and two Federation Fellowships from the Australian Research Council.

I don’t really believe a word of this.

The dark dirty secret is that these accomplishments stem from a time when John wore a big black beard that had people wondering who he really was – and why he looked so much like Captain Haddock from the Tin-Tin cartoon books. It’s not the kind of thing one is thanked for when launching a book obviously. But this is an existential matter for anyone who still clings – however quixotically, however much it offends the Nietzschean verities – to the idea that he’s still part of the reality based community.

To speak truth to a poster-boy of our KPI riddled academic community, behind that beard he could have been any number of people – all at once. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Education, History, Humour | 1 Comment

Market – what market? The catch 22 that stops ‘scaling’ innovation in government in its tracks

Cross posted from the Mandarin

There is a huge catch 22 driving impact measurement in human services. A lot of the evaluation is done because governments seek it, but then it goes nowhere – and for good reason. NGOs and others hoping to ‘scale-up’ innovation can’t escape this without something like an Evaluator-General, writes Nicholas Gruen.

There’s a spectre haunting service provision. For decades now, we’ve presumed that new and innovative service provision will emerge from innovation out in the field, with successful pilots and innovative programs initiated by NGOs being grown to their appropriate size and unsuccessful ones being improved or closed down. But it almost never happens. 

As Peter Shergold put it in 2013, things don’t actually work out this way: 

Too much innovation remains at the margin of public administration. Opportunities are only half-seized; new modes of service delivery begin and end their working lives as ‘demonstration projects’ or ‘pilots’; and creative solutions become progressively undermined by risk aversion and a plethora of bureaucratic guidelines.1

As I’ve pondered this paradox over the past decade, it’s slowly dawned on me that, however well-intentioned we’ve been, it’s all built on a lie – a lie we’re not even admitting to ourselves. 

There’s a catch 22 at the heart of the system. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy, Innovation | 7 Comments

Comparing the Census to alternative data or information: What is the right counterfactual?

You might think that on a post about counterfactuals, we’d have a picture of sliding doors together with two contrasting pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow. But you’d be wrong. We’re full of surprises here at Lateral Economics.

By Matt Balmford; Gene Tunny; and Nicholas Gruen

Our inaugural blog post for the Valuing the Census project provided an overview of our strategy for estimating the benefits of the Census to the Australian community.

From here, we’ll be blogging about various issues that we’re grappling with in making this assessment.

To assess the value of the Census, we need to assess the additional value it generates over alternatives in its absence.

These alternatives are counterfactual scenarios to assess the benefits of the Census against.

So, that value is of the extra precision or insight for a given use, compared with the next best alternatives.

(In later blog posts we’ll get into what Census-related data or information means, as well as what the impacts of this extra precision or insight might be.)

But what are the alternatives to the Census? Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy | 6 Comments