Friday, June 29, 2012

Hand me the back of the envelope, please, edition 2

In which we learn that the social cost of the carbon in the coal to be removed from the North Porcupine Coal Tract of Wyoming is about 90 times what the mining company will pay the government for the coal. This at a SCC of $65 / ton CO2. Oh, perhaps you prefer the more conservative $12 median estimate from the economics literature? OK, then only 17 times...

Hand me the back of the envelope, please

I listen to NPR News every day, and I am much better informed for it. But often I wish they would do a little more real reporting. Such as asking pointed follow-up questions, and trying to figure out the actual magnitudes of things without relying on he-said, she-said. Dean Baker offers a great example of how to do it, reacting to a particularly egregious report on the implications of the ACA decision.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey hey ACA

It certainly seemed paradoxical that Medicare, which provides universal government health insurance coverage to older folks and levies a broad tax to pay for it, could be constitutional, while a system of private insurance that requires participation or payment of a fine (ACA) might not be. Why isn't the fine basically the equivalent of a tax to support a system of private provision? And so Justice Roberts decided the matter. Still, if the power to tax trumps the conservative interpretation of the Commerce Clause, what's to prevent the Feds from regulating whatever the hell they want to, by punishing noncompliance with fines and calling them taxes? Why, they could even force you to buy broccoli that way.

I'm glad the decision went the way it did, but I can understand why Scalia might be scratching his head.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jean-Jacques

Thanks to Bill Connolly, the professor who had the biggest influence on me, Rousseau was the first philosopher I ever tried to think deeply about. I have moved on to shallower waters, but I remain convinced that Rousseau asked the essential questions in political and social theory. His answers are still worth grappling with, flawed as they are, and flawed as he was.

Climate news

This decision upholding the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is good news, and may even hold up in the Supreme Court given Kennedy's previous votes on related cases. That is, until President Romney replaces one of the moderates with another Republican ideologue.

Of course it will be too little too late anyway, with a future of more wildfires and deluges our likely fate. Mind you, my parents in central Florida, who have been suffering years of drought in their neck of the woods, are happy to put up with a little deluge. If they stay put a few years, they might even have beachfront property...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Maybe we're safe, after all...

It is reassuring to know that when the singularity occurs and a superhuman artificial intelligence evolves in the cloud, it will be preoccupied with internet cat images, just like its human predecessors. Maybe it will be too distracted to bother exterminating us.

Hat tip to Echidne.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 16

I think "Rent" is the very best Pet Shop Boys song. But there is a lot of competition. Happy Pride Day!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Um, call the cops maybe?

Philadelphia monsignor found guilty on one count in church abuse case

"The defense said Lynn tried to address cases of pedophile priests, compiling a list in 1994 of 35 accused predators and writing memos to suggest treatment and suspensions.

He was hampered because he could merely make recommendations to his boss, the head of the archdiocese, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the defense said."


Two of my favorite plants, out in force in the front yard... seems a little early this year. Eriogonum grande rubescens (rosy buckwheat) and E. fasciculatum (California buckwheat). The rosy's can be cut back pretty drastically come fall. They also re-seed themselves like a weed. The California looks a lot tougher but must be treated more gingerly... a mild haircut OK, no amputations. I've found it a challenge to propagate. Like rosy, it produces tons of seeds, but not a one of them ever seems to sprout. Cuttings rarely root. But then, I really have no idea what I am doing in the garden...

Ellsworth Kelly's plants

My old friend MD just brought to my attention Ellsworth Kelly's plant drawings, many now on view at a major exhibition at the Met. A show I'd love to see.

Here's a briar, presumably of the genus Smilax, a thorny bugger that forms thickets and used to frequently draw blood from me on walks in the Connecticut woods. I was about to write that we do not have native Smilax in California, but that's not quite correct. Thankfully the ones we do have all live well north of my regular woodland haunts...

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The Heat seem to have too much talent to make it a fair contest, but LeBron still deserved to win it all. He plays a disciplined, unselfish, and frightfully beautiful game of b-ball. He seemed genuinely ecstatic and genuinely gracious in victory.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Our garden

Given the mindboggling diversity of life on earth, it should not be surprising that our bodies host a whole, complex planet's worth of little critters... bacteria, viruses, fungus, protozoans, god knows what... some of them our friends, some our enemies, many of them, perhaps, just hitching a ride in a warm and moist environment. Pass the kombucha.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


A pretty damn terrible novel from start to finish. I do think it likely that the computers will take over some day, so the well-worn plot is plausible. I don't know whether the humans will be exterminated, or just maintained as harmless amusements or appendages, playing with their i-phones. But if the computers decide to kill us off, you can be damn sure they will not be as incompetent as the evil AI in Daniel H. Wilson's story. Or as boring. Spielberg's making the movie.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pullen - Adams Quartet in Tokyo

Of the four original members, only the bassist Cameron Brown lived past 1995. What a loss. Make sure you stick around for Pullen's solo... my all-time favorite jazz pianist abusing his hands and the keyboard as only he could.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies

I could not hope that the sequel to Hilary Mantel's masterpiece, Wolf Hall, would live up to that extraordinary novel, and for a good three-fourths of the new book my expectations were confirmed. After Wolf Hall's expansive canvas-- its virtuosic blend of history, politics, and theology, in which we come to know a most extraordinary man, Thomas Cromwell, through his inner longings as well as his outward dealings with a larger-than life historical cast: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More-- well, suffice to say that Bring Up the Bodies is in many ways less ambitious, more constricted. After all, the simple problem is right in front of our faces: Anne must go, but how? In solving the problem, our hero unquestionably emerges a less sympathetic character than he was in Wolf Hall. Meanwhile, the palace intrigue begins to drag, just a bit. But then, the accusations and the trials... the narrative accelerates toward its brutal and shocking conclusion. I trust it is not a spoiler to say that the execution of Anne is, for me, the most chilling four pages I have ever read in any novel.

In the brief denouement, our protagonist, a monster whom we still find admirable, even likeable, reflects that he is "stuck like a limpet to the future." So typical of this writer at the peak of her considerable powers: even as we understand the truth, we also understand the irony; for though he is stuck to the future, Cromwell is no limpet, but to the contrary, a man in constant motion. History tells us that this life force must come to a violent end, a future any reader of these wonderful books must surely dread.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Your FSA/OWI photo of the day

Aboard a trap fishing boat, the end of the trip. About four hours after they have left (in the dark) fishermen return home. By eight o'clock, sometimes nine o'clock, the day's work is finished. Provincetown, Massachusetts. Edwin Rosskam, 1937.

Caroline, No

Very few songwriters of the pop-rock era have seen their work successfully transition to the jazz context, let alone become standards in the Tin Pan Alley vein. I don't count Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, or Steely Dan... they were writing jazz already. Nor the bands that have been covered by The Bad Plus as an exercise in irony.

What's required is something now rare in popular music: A beautiful melody, sure, but also enough harmonic interest to get the improvisatory juices flowing. And it helps--even in an instrumental version--to be able to evoke the memory of lyrics that establish a particular mood.

Brian Wilson had it:

On hiking up Half Dome

The cables were slow but fun, the view from the top is as good as most in the park. But I prefer the excellent water features you see on the way up...

From Half Dome hike, June 2, 2012

From Half Dome hike, June 2, 2012

... and the gardens...

From Half Dome hike, June 2, 2012

... even at the very top...

From Half Dome hike, June 2, 2012