Crying unabashedly during Disney movies

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You know how people say, “Well, I really feel old because…” and then it’s usually because they walked to school two miles in the snow with no legs and a harried Vietnamese sniper nudging them along with the tip of his bayonet the whole way?

Well, I feel old because I just realized that Beauty and the Beast, one of my FAVORITE Disney movies of all time, will be turning 20 years old in 2011.  That’s unbelievable, because I just watched it for the first time at age 6.   We’d just come to America and I was in first grade, and we were dirt poor.  We had this program in our school that gave gift certificates to movie rentals.  And the movie rental store was a couple minutes’ walk from our apartment, which was in the Philly suburbs ghetto.  Come on, the street was called Axe Factory Road.  And, it was 1992, so obviously, there were rows and rows of tapes crammed together, some missing cover artwork, some hastily scrawled on.

I believe we got these gift certificates once a semester or something like that, and it was the Hightlight of My Life.   When we went to redeem them (usually taking a walk with my mom,) the first time, for whatever reason, I got Beauty and the Beast.  And I was ELECTRIFIED.  I loved everything in that movie.  My parents did too, even though none of our English was stellar at that point.  We watched it on our ghetto VCR and ghetto TV that, if I recall correctly, my dad picked up from the curb way before it was cool to do so on Craigslist.   I watched that tape at least five or six times before we had to take it back to the rental, and ever since then, when I got the gift certificate, I always got Beauty and the Beast, except for one time when I also rented Santa and Rudolph, a big plate of tsuris for my mom. I distinctly remember, from that time, my favorite part was at the very end, when they showed the stained glass where everything was ‘happily ever after.’

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Since then, we rented it many times, at many different places.  When it finally came out on tape, we didn’t buy it, mostly because we didn’t have the money.  Other times, when it was re-released, we still hesitated, because, hey $20 is a lot for a tape, even though it was one of our favorites.  Recently, though, my parents caved and bought the tape.  And recently, about a month ago when I was home for the weekend without Dan, we watched it again.  And it was as amazing as always, and has become a family tradition.  This is very interesting for me, because we don’t have a lot of traditions that revolve around American anything.  98% of our DVD collection is culled from the greatest Russian movies of the 1960s and 1970s that my dad skipped class to go watch.

Recently, I brought up the movie to Dan, and he said he’d never seen it.  WHAT.  Unacceptable.  I thought all children over the age of 10 were supposed to have seen the great Disney movies of the early 90s by law. So, we got together, and I watched it with him.  I don’t think he was as thrilled as me, but that’s not because it’s not a good movie, but because also I think I have nostalgic associations with it, which heightens it in my view.

The other reason that I LOVE it, is because I’ve always identified with Belle more than any other Disney heroine.  She loves to read, is independent, and is always yearning for more than what life in her small town can give her, which is how I felt growing up in Mechanicsburg, where the main Friday night attraction is calling up all your friends and finding out which one of the two area malls they will be hanging out in that night. Which is why this part was always one of my favorite parts of the movie:

And this would probably be the second:

I know. This is the part where everyone makes fun of me for being a colossal N-E-R-D. But really, what better way to show a person you understand them than to give them something that fits it perfectly? Just the music and the thrill of seeing those books is enough to make me cry.  This is how I felt when Dan, whose being Jewish pretty much consists of agreeing with Noam Chomsky and telling me I don’t have any sehel and avoiding eating pork on Saturdays, proposed to me in a synagogue.  That’s when you know someone gets you.  And that is what this movie is all about for me.

Making sense of econbabble: Real vs. nominal values

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(source: Cincinnati Enquirer)

I recently had a client ask me for the difference between real and nominal prices in some data they were looking at. As an economist, this was one of the easiest questions I dealt with: real and nominal prices are one of the handful of pliers and wrenches in the Economic Vocabulary Toolbox that we deal with. However, I remember when I first started taking economics classes, at the crack of dawn (10:00 AM in college time), these concepts were all new to me in my sleep-deprived brain. I didn’t even know there were different types of prices. But, if you think about prices intuitively, it makes a lot of sense.

Nominal prices are the “face” value of an item. Say you have, oh, I don’t know, a pint of Yes,Pecan! Ice Cream (I know, I know.)Let’s say you bought it in 2004, and then it cost you $3.00 per pint. That’s the nominal value, the face value you pay in the store as you avoid the eyes of the cashier and cringe in embarrassment while you buy it. However, let’s say in 2007, hope for Obama’s ability to  restores peace to the Middle East (mainly by allowing Israelis to take over Gaza and the West Bank and setting up cheap “Gaza Strip Club” souvenir-type operations  and settling the Palestinians in Dearborn, Michigan, where 98% of all ethnic Arabs currently live by law,) cure the economic defect simply by glancing sternly at it, and singlehandedly rebuilds the crumbling infrastructure surged.

And as the economy starts growing again, prices rise. This phenomenon is known as inflation. Think about the economy now. It’s clinging by its fingernails to the edge of the toilet. People are desperate and offering buy one get one free CARS. When it starts to get better again, demand will outweigh supply and dealers will not have to make such steep bargains. Consumers will want cars as their salaries rise, causing the prices of cars to rise, and similarly, the price of a pint of Yes, Pecan! At inflation rates calculated by using the Consumer Price Index, that pint of ice cream will cost $3.37 in 2008.   That is its nominal price in 2008.

But what is its real price?  We sometimes call the Consumer Price Index (CPI) a deflator because its job is to deflate, or lower nominal prices to adjust for inflation.  The equation for deflating nominal to real prices is

Real Price=Nominal Price *(Base Year CPI/Current Year CPI)

The part in parentheses is the deflator, which can be obtained from the BLS website.  The CPI for 2008 is 215.3 and for 2004 it is 188.9.  So, from the equation, we have

2.97=3.27*(188.9/215.3)

So, the real price is $2.97, which makes the ice cream cheaper than the $3.00 it cost in 2004, which makes sense, because the economy is doing poorly, therefore the cost of consumer goods (that make up the CPI calculation) is less.

Changing My Last Name: Or, how I totally screwed over feminism

When I got married this past October, I remember the happy times:

I also remember the not-so-happy times: changing my last name (did I mention, by the way, that I HATE being called Mrs.?)

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I had this debate in my head for a long time, ever since we got engaged.  Do I change my last name and achieve family unity with my husband, making everything from insurance to office parties easier?  Or do I keep my last name and remain unique and feel like I’m an individual instead of a “Buy One Get One Free” set?

I had many conversations about this: on message boards, on blogs, with my family, with friends, and most importantly, with myself.  My husband didn’t care either way.  Although at first he wanted me to take his last name, he talked with a coworker who told him how much hassle it would be to change my name and he recanted, leaving the decision completely up to me. In the end, I took his last name, Boykis, forsaking Korchagin forever (relegating it to my middle initial, K. in my Social Security card.)

Although now it’s getting close to feeling natural (much like wearing a mitten feels natural), I still feel a little resentful, even though my husband didn’t have much to do with my decision, like I was pressured into it by society.  Because I know that if I kept my name, I would have many of the same issues that the woman in the following Wall Street Journal article does:

Mike ultimately supported my decision. Some of my relatives reacted with outright hostility, however. My mother repeatedly scolded me for childishly using my “little girl’s name.” Ignoring my wishes, she ordered wedding thank-you notes emblazoned “Joann and Mike Pollock.” Those unused cards sat untouched atop her refrigerator for years.

Nevertheless, I was surprised at the slow acceptance of married couples with different last names in business dealings and social settings. The Chicago Motor Club, for instance, rejected my enrollment as an associate member through Mike’s full membership unless I shared his surname.

For years, perplexed party hostesses couldn’t figure out how to introduce my husband and me as a couple. We finally started dubbing ourselves “the Lublin-Pollocks.”

Women have always had this dilemma.  Even for those that choose to keep their last name, they are often alienated, if not by their family, then by society, who expects them to have one name or another.  No matter which decision they make, they end up feeling guilty:

My best friend and her husband hoped that hyphenating their daughter Nomi’s last name would prevent such sticky situations. Instead, she encountered a different set of problems. When she reached her early twenties, new acquaintances “always assumed I was married because of my hyphenated name,” Nomi remembers. “People would say, ‘Oh, you’re so young to be married!'”

Married last year at age 27, Nomi now faces a fresh conundrum. She strongly believes that when she and her husband have children, everyone in their family should share his surname. Yet “it doesn’t feel completely right to give up my name,” she frets. The hyphenated moniker “incorporates my Mom’s and my Dad’s.” Nomi may solve her dilemma by triple hyphenating her name when she has children. However, doing that “becomes a little complicated,” she admits. Her well-meaning parents “put me in a complicated position.”

In the end, it’s really women that lose out.  Even though we say we are past feminism and all that, the last name conundrum indicates that we clearly are not.  Although the name we are given at birth is our father’s, we make it our own and accomplish things with it and make it our own brand name, often times through college and into our first career.  I feel lots of twinges of regret when I Google my old name (oh yes, I’m narcissistic.) and see everything that I accomplished under it.  Now, if I do anything significant, it feels like my husband has something to do with it, even though he is clearly innocent.  The other part that I think is really unfair is all of the document changes to make your name permanent. On the other hand, if you don’t take it,

But changing my name full stop felt dishonest, while keeping my own name felt weirdly disrespectful to both my husband and any of our future offspring.

It’s almost cliche now to say that your name is part of your brand and image, but it is.  And when you change it, everything associated with it changes as well.  This is more acute for me as a writer who constantly deals with words and their meanings, but true for everyone, I think.  One of the most significant downsides to changing my last name is that Korchagin is distinctively Russian, at least to those familiar with Russian last names, constantly leading to conversation starters, even through mispronouncement, whereas with Boykis I simply blend in.  While this is somewhat welcome, I am used to standing out and so can be a little disconcerting at times.

I am still getting used to my new last name and still going through a bajillion document changes, I think as of now that I made the right decision because ultimately my children will take my husband’s name anyway, and I think people that hyphenate, while not pretentious, give out an air of pretention on first impression.  And my old last name is still a part of my name, as my new middle name (I didn’t have one before.)  When I am feeling especially defiant, I will write out my full name on checks.  Then watch as people struggle. I am a bad, bad person.  Forget you know me.

Helpful Economics Forum

Often when I was an undergrad majoring in economics, and even now, using living, breathing economics as a career, I would often have many questions that the people around me, especially busy professors, sometimes couldn’t answer.  That’s why I think it’s so great that I came across this site.  If you are either student or working with econometrics, please contribute to this community and help it grow.

This one looks particularly interesting for me, but  I highly urge you to take a look if you dabble in Eviews or are curious about r squared.

Predictions on the Economy from a Dismal Scientist

Since most everyone in my extended family knows that I am an economist, I get frequently asked when the recession will end, as if I am Frodo holding the ring to throw into Mount Doom, where Mount Doom is really a combination of Freddie Mae, Citiman Brothers, and Goldman Ford.

So, here goes:

The economy will hit the bottom in the third quarter of 2009 and start slightly trending upward in the fourth quarter. What does this mean, and how will it come about? The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research has predicted that

The most likely duration for this recession is somewhere between 18 and 24 months, with the trough likely at some point in the second half of 2009. The magnitude and the timing of large projected fiscal stimulus from the incoming Obama administration in early 2009 could ultimately have some bearing on the timing of the recovery. However, there is a high probability that this could be the longest postwar recession of all (the previous record was the 16-month recession in 1973–75).

(via my company’s chief economist)

What will it take for the economy to turn around, and how will we be able to tell?

Economic growth, the opposite of recession, depends on GDP (gross domestic product.) The economic equation for GDP is

Y=C+I+G+(X-M)

where

C=Consumption;
I=Investment (as in business investment into new machinery, new methods, etc.);
G=government spending and
(X-M)=exports minus imports.

There are several ways according to classical textbook economics to get out of a recession:

1) More government spending to increase G and therefore make Y bigger

2) More consumer spending (which is what Bush was trying to encourage with the stimulus or

3) More business investment through lowered business taxes, giving them incentives to spend more money spreading their business instead of being more cautionary.

So what has to happen in order to alleviate this recession?

1. The extra supply of houses in the United States must decrease so that demand can catch up and boost the housing sector, the segment most hurt by (and the one most hurting) the economy. This will stimulate consumer spending, as well as business investment. This may happen either through a stimulus package for consumers or friendlier terms on loans by banks. What may also help is the lowered federal funds rate (the rate at which banks loan to each other, which directly translates into the interest that you get in your bank accounts, such as your savings account.)
2. Friendlier terms on loans by banks, which allows consumers and businesses to put more money into savings. Think about it, would you rather save money at a 2.4% interest rate (the current rate on my ING account) or at 4.5% interest rate? While the Federal reserve is trying to stimulate spending by keeping interest rates low, as rates increase, banks will have more money to lend out, resulting in more loans and more business investment. You’ll notice that in the GDP equation, some parts can balance others out.
3. Oil prices need to remain low in order to lower investment prices for businesses. If you’ve been listening to the news, businesses are constantly talking about how operating costs have increased. Transportation costs, of which oil is a part, have had a large role to play in that; however, this may be hard to do given that OPEC is already trying to instate production cuts to hedge its losses.

4.  Consumer demand needs to increase, which may or may not happen with Obama’s proposed stimulus package.  While this helps in the short term, it gets us into more debt in the long term.

The problem is that the economy is not a closed laboratory that can be operated on. It is a living thing with so many millions of moving parts that it must be a nightmare for the Fed, the Treasury, and other regulators.  This is one of the reasons that economics is an imprecise science at best.  Even if you increase consumer confidence, what’s to say that investment will also increase?

Also, are government policies efficient?

These are the questions facing policymakers, as well as academic economists, and one of the reasons it is next to impossible to do anything about a recession right away.   One thing that helps, though, is public sentiment.  So, if you think positive, and your neighbor does, and investment in stocks starts again, which starts a chain reaction, the economy may become healthy again.