Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Arts and Crafts

I own a couple of CDs by Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts. Mostly wonderful, in parts a little precious. But what comes across as precious on a recording becomes engagingly goofy in live performance. Wilson is a real jazz ambassador and keeper of the tradition. He plays drums like nobody's business, in every jazz and soul idiom, and he surrounds himself with first-rate collaborators. At Stanford Sunday night, local boy makes good Taylor Eigsti sat in at the piano. Eigsti is undoubtedly technically brilliant and a clever improviser, though to my ear he always sounds too cautious and studied. A gig with Wilson could definitely loosen him up a bit, as was evident Sunday.

Taylor isn't on this one, but you'll get the idea. Catch Arts and Crafts if you can. It's a great show.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mobility: good or bad?

Paul Krugman weighs in on an econ-blogosphere mini-kerfuffle about whether economic mobility is a good thing. (He thinks it is, by the way.) You can follow the links and see what it's about, but the basic issue is simple. Economists measure mobility, whether within or between generations, by seeing how much churn there is within the income distribution. In a more mobile society, where individuals or generations have a greater chance of moving up the ladder relative to others, there is also by implication a greater chance of moving down. If there is no mobility, the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. If there is lots of mobility, many poor become rich, and many rich become poor.

Now it turns out that careful studies tend to find that there is no more mobility, and probably less, in capitalistic America than there is in socialistic northern Europe. Tyler Cowen offers some arguments for why mobility thus measured is overrated. One of these is that if habit formation and loss aversion are important, moving down the ladder is a LOT worse than moving up the ladder, so the net effect of more mobility is less total happiness. Krugman and DeLong make fun of this, but I don't see why. They are both fans, I would guess, of Bob Frank's work on relative consumption, and Cowen's conclusion follows quite logically from Frank and the work of many behavioral economists. I think Cowen makes one additional very important point: if possible, we should count international mobility in our calculations. Rich countries that are more open to immigrants from poor countries should get mobility credit for that.

I happen to agree that mobility is good, but a utilitarian defense of it is difficult. Better justifications rest on democratic values and a critique of caste, and/or equality of opportunity. And in most such arguments, I suspect, we will view mobility as a consequence and thus indicator of something we value, rather than as an end in itself.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stats R Us, Part 1

Here's my initial blog post on teaching intro econometrics with R, posted on our Technology in Teaching blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It does matter who is elected president...

... for many things that matter, but probably not when it comes to abuse of power in the name of national security. Obama's place in history will suffer, but basic human rights will suffer more. Shameful and, I have to think, pointless.

Gazpacho Andaluz

Tomato season!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Political ideology in America... what's it all about?

I do know a number of sincere libertarians who favor a minimal state, and that includes a minimal military. But in terms of U.S. politics, I think Dean Baker basically has it right... the ideological divide is less about the size of government than the distributional impact of government. This is also broadly consistent with the fascinating and important work of Keith Poole and his collaborators on political polarization. So, yeah, class warfare. Who's to blame for the polarization since the 80s? You decide...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Annals of taking yourself way too seriously....

... or not... how can you tell? They did invent their own language for the purposes of rocking all the more prog-ly. Someone I know owns the live double album in vinyl... what a dweeb!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 17

No lip-syncing for Luther V on Soul Train... and where can I get that sweater...?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Joe, Dave, and Al

40 minutes of jazz trio goodness for y'all...

Genre fiction

I read a fair amount of it, especially during the summer. Excellent genre writing can be excellent in different ways, but it always performs the same balancing act: provide the reader her fix of the formula she craves, while transcending that formula, if only modestly. And the writing must be superior. The greats get the job done time and again: P.D. James is a great storyteller and lovely writer in the grand tradition... unfailing powers of observation and a keen sensitivity to human psychology; Elmore Leonard is a poet of the vernacular, and a hoot; John LeCarre portrays the internal moral angst of modernity through the external mechanics of suspense. And there are newbies worthy of mention in the same paragraph, such as Tana French.

So why is it that so much science fiction sucks? One might think that being liberated from the constraints of reality would make it easier to entertain. Cory Doctorow and Ken MacLeod wrote glowing blurbs convincing me to read John Scalzi's Old Man's War. The writing is pedestrian at best, and the ideas are at the level of 12-year-old philosophy. But 12-year-olds usually have better taste in fiction. Say, Harry Potter. Even The Hunger Games provided more food for thought.

Here's what passes for description: "You average Whaidian looks rather like a cross between a black bear and a large, angry flying squirrel." Funny, huh? Can you picture it? Such lazy writing abounds. Thankfully there are still a few Alan Furst historical thrillers that I haven't read...

Your FSA/OWI photo of the day

House, Houston, Texas. John Vachon, 1943.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

One-eyed cat "hides" in goldenrod

Solidago californica. Summertime! (Hat tip to LMK for photo)

Gumbo for dinner

Organic okra from Full Belly Farm. Summertime!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Male circumcision

I think it's inhumane, other things equal, but the evidence on HIV and other health benefits makes it a close call for a lapsed Unitarian like me. But Germany, no, you cannot outlaw it. Just don't go there. Fascist thugs are running around Greece with clubs looking for immigrants. Now is not the time. Probably never. Nah, just never.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A dry winter...

... makes for a sub-par summer wildflower display at Carson Pass. Sub-par is a relative term. Irises at Meiss Col:

From Carson Pass country, July 2012

Penstemon atop rocky, windswept Elephant's Back:

From Carson Pass country, July 2012

Primula suffrutescens (Sierra primrose):

From Carson Pass country, July 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Congrats, Barney!

Being married to Barney Frank could not possibly be a bowl of cherries, and a good-looking 42-year-old carpenter from Maine might have other options... but the fact that they are able to tie the knot and give it a whirl is just one more reason I could never be a Republican.

Life is good...

... if someone feeds you and regularly cleans your litter box.

Duck and cover...

... is what I would do faced with Serena's serve. But then again, standing still would probably be just as safe, since the damn thing will blow by you on one side or the other, unpredictable and unreturnable. Magnificent playing.