The competition for world’s ugliest building has a lot of competitors from Russia

I just finished a fun and interesting book about Russia called Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.  In one fascinating part of the book he writes a lot about Moscow architecture.  I’m going to write more on that later, but here I want to point out what sounds like the ugliest restaurant in the world.  Pomerantsev writes:

“We were having dinner in the Sosruko restaurant, the town’s most famous, named after a local mythical hero, a sort of Hercules. The restaurant, twenty meters high and concrete, is in the shape of the head of a medieval knight, with helmet and huge moustache, perched on a hill above the town and lit up in neon green, the only building well lit aside from the new mosque.”

and he’s not exaggerating.  Here are some photos of this lovely dining establishment:

sosruko

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it sort of looks like Putin! (not a compliment)

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What a beautiful mountain range and what a hideous eye sore!

This got me thinking about other ugly buildings in Russia and this story from BusinessWeek, hilariously titled “The 12 most absurd Soviet-era buildings that are still standing.”  (very important to include the modifier “that are still standing”).  All 12 are pretty horrible but this is my favorite:

this-radio-building-in-bratislava-slovakia-took-16-years-to-build--mostly-because-its-basically-upside-down

by the way, how is this building “still standing” given that it was built upside down.  I don’t know much (read: anything) about engineering, but that looks like a tragedy waiting to happen.  I would not have wanted an office on the first floor.

The funniest thing about the article though is the reaction to it by the Russian media.  Here are a few quotes:

“Insulting the memory of over a million humans who struggled through the largest battle in human history is a new low, even by the standards of Western media. American “Business Insider” today published the rating of the 12 “most absurd buildings of the Soviet era that are still standing”. This list included the monument “Motherland”, located in Volgograd. As stated on the website, Volgograd statue, reaching a height of 85 meters, is twice the size of statue of Liberty. It is worth noting that the list was published less than two weeks before the 70th anniversary of Victory day.” [my notes: does size of the statue matter?  if it’s tall enough it cannot possibly be absurd?  why is it worth noting that the list was published less than 2 weeks before the anniversary?]

The article goes on to argue that “No reasons by which certain buildings were included in the ranking were stated by Business Insider. However, the author of the list used the words “weird” and “ugly”.”  I think it’s pretty self-explanatory what the decision making process was for inclusion on the list, but it’s funny to see the Russian media trying to ferret out what could possibly cause these buildings to be listed as absurd.

Markets in Everything, Narco Halloween Edition

It turns out that the most wanted man in Mexico (and in the US) is also the inspiration for a very popular new Halloween costume.  I present to you, El Chapo:

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As you can see from El Chapo’s mug shot above, the likeness leaves a little to be desired, so it’s a good idea to have the name embroidered on the shirt and the shovel as an accessory.  All in all it is a pretty terrifying ensemble.

The Persistence of Human Capital

I just ran across a really interesting working paper by Rocha, Ferraz, and Soares called “Human Capital Persistence and Development.”  They take advantage of a historical curiosity in Brazil to explore whether human capital differences last over time and if so, how much that was reflected in per-capita income.

Here they describe the historical curiosity;

“After the international ban on slave trade in 1850, and in the midst of a massive inflow of European immigrants to Brazil, immigrants with relatively more education were channeled into specific localities through deliberate government policies. In the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, public authorities established a number of official settlement colonies throughout the state of São Paulo. This policy had goals involving occupation of territory, food production, “whitening” of the population, and was driven by a centralized decision at the state level. The settlements were established typically near previously existing rural villages and were occupied by relatively high- skill European immigrants of various nationalities.”

Amongst other things, one of the reasons this is so interesting is that the state-sponsored settlements were not appreciably different from other regions except for the fact that they had higher levels of schooling on average.

So what did they find?

First, “in 1920, a few years after the establishment of the last settlements, the literacy rate in settlement municipalities was 8 percentage points (or 27 percent) higher than elsewhere in the state, despite an only marginally higher share of immigrants.”

Second, one century later, people living in those regions had an average of more than half a year of schooling, and more than 15% higher average per-capita incomes, than people living in other municipalities.  That’s pretty amazing after 100 years.

It reminds me of the Western European economic growth after WWII, which was said at least anecdotally to have been helped by high human capital levels pre-war.  The paper has more interesting parts and is definitely worth checking out in full.

How about Yuntao Bi Zuckerberg?

I guess Mark Z. really really really wants Facebook in China.

Let’s break this down. Dude is worth $9 billion plus, but he tries to suck up to Xi Jinping by asking him to name the future baby Zuckerberg.

Wow.

Xi refused to give a reach-around, but as loyal CG reader Tyler suggested to me, Xi should have picked a super-inauspicious name and stuck Baby Z with it, “I got your baby-name right here, Mr. Zuckerberg, here is your baby name”.

Besides the name in the title, here are a few others that Xi might have suggested:

Jianren Lao
Shousheng Qin
Tong Fan
Liting Xie
Yong Wu
Tou Zhu
Ziteng Du

Even after this epic beatdown, Zuckerberg continued the brown-nosing on his Facebook page.

LOL, like Xi even has a Facebook page.

I can’t see crude butt-kissing being very effective with hard-core dudes like Xi. Usually people who are susceptible to having smoke blown do not rise to become dictators of large countries.

If I was Xi, I would offer to name the baby of the CEO of Instagram, just in case Daddy Zuckerberg has not fully absorbed his point.

I thank the inimitable YW for help with the Mandarin name suggestions!

How Not to Fight Corruption, Mexico Edition

Ernesto Villanueva has a great post up about the uselessness of Mexico’s new anti-corruption scheme currently being debated in the Mexican Senate.  He also has a hilarious (but sadly, accurate) description of the background to this constitutional amendment:

It was precisely a corruption scandal involving the president, his wife and his treasury secretary, Luis Videgaray, that led high-level figures to prioritize anti-corruption legislation in the first place. President Peña appointed Virgilio Andrade — a close friend of Secretary Videgaray from their university days — to investigate a conflict of interest case involving Peña, his wife and Secretary Videgaray. To be clear: Andrade was asked to investigate a conflict of interest case involving a party with whom he had a conflict of interest. The result was predictable.

And here are some reasons he is skeptical about the new amendment:

a. It would “leave the president untouched and outside the scope of the anti-corruption regime except in two cases: a) treason against the nation and b) serious criminal offenses. Since treason is almost impossible to prove in Mexico, and all serious criminal offenses specified in the bill have disappeared from the Criminal Code.”

b.  “In order to protect legislators´ freedom of speech and avoid persecution due to statements made in Congress, legislators were given “fuero,” or immunity, in 1917. The fuero has been distorted and is now used to guarantee impunity for politicians. Aside from the need to eliminate the immunity provided by the fuero, the anti-corruption reforms do nothing to address its misuse, and it remains intact.”

c.  This one might be my personal favorite: “a mandatory declaration of financial assets is not made public unless the public servant agrees to it.”  And it gets even better:  “Although the declaration is made under oath, the financial information is not checked to confirm its accuracy.”  Because no public servant would ever lie under oath!

d. To wit, the amendment would call for a huge new bureaucracy that has little power (it can only “recommend prosecution but cannot actually prosecute”) but will almost certainly increase corruption by incentivizing “the partisan distribution of government jobs.”

Villanueva sums it up perfectly when he says that the reform gives “an impression of change, but not change that is in any way real.”  That pretty much sums up a lot of reform in Mexico.

Bernanke gone Wild

Wow.

The Bernank has a WSJ op-ed titled How the Fed saved the Economy where he appears to say the Fed has done a good job managing the unemployment rate!

Wow.

He’s totally right to take a victory lap on the inflation hawks, but it’s borderline delusional to say the Fed CAN manage the labor market and that they’ve done a good job at it. Is he taking “credit” for the decline in participation rates?

“better than Europe” does not equal “Fed has the power to manage the labor market and has been effective in doing so.”

Disappointing piece from someone who I felt was an excellent Fed Chair. He gets credit for bold action when things looked darkest. He gets credit for ignoring the inflationistas.

But the labor market is just a bridge too far.

“Finland’s No Good”

It’s funny that we expect refugees to be happy wherever they land in Europe, figuring it has to be better than where they’ve fled.  And while the latter is probably true, the former is not.  Yahoo has a story documenting refugee disenchantment with Finland:

Hundreds of predominantly Iraqi migrants who have travelled through Europe to reach Finland are turning back, saying they don’t want to stay in the sparsely-populated country on Europe’s northern frontier because it’s too cold and boring.  Migrants have in recent weeks been crossing back into Sweden at the Haparanda-Tornio border just an hour’s drive south of the Arctic Circle, and Finnish authorities have seen a rise in the number of cancelled asylum applications.”

“You can tell the world I hate Finland. It’s too cold, there’s no tea, no restaurants, no bars, nobody on the streets, only cars,” 22-year-old Muhammed told AFP. 

Of course some Finns haven’t exactly been very welcoming of the refugees.  For example:

a. “Around 40 demonstrators — including one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — threw fireworks at a bus transporting asylum seekers to a new reception centre in the southern city of Lahti.”

b. “A 50-year-old man threw a petrol bomb at an emergency housing facility for asylum seekers.”

c. Quotes like this: “The flow from the border has been out of control. I have been scared and have avoided going shopping in the evenings because we don’t know who these people are,” said one 66 year old pensioner.

I wonder what the Finns who want to keep the paradise that is Finland all to themselves will think when they realize many Iraqi and Syrian refugees cannot wait to leave.  Will they be offended or happy? (or both?)  It sounds like a situation that will sort itself out naturally, although Sweden might not be too happy about it because the refugees are flooding back to that country after the disappointment that was Finland.