Saturday, December 28, 2013

It's wishful thinking...

... to suppose that food will bring peace between Jews and Palestinians. But if anyone can do it, Ottolenghi and Tamimi got the goods. Clockwise from lower left: Root vegetable slaw, chicken with clementines and arak, cook, book, and the cook's Tartine country loaf.

How concerned should we be about rising income inequality?

I basically agree with Lane Kenworthy here, who argues that claims of the dire consequences of income inequality for other social desiderata are often overstated. Many of the arguments against income inequality that are floating around these days would work better if they instead targeted poverty, or inequality of opportunity, or racism, or barriers to full political participation. Instead, there are shaky claims that inequality in itself is bad for economic growth, opportunity and mobility, health, democracy, etc.

The best argument against income inequality qua inequality is, in my view (and Kenworthy's as well, I think), based on some version of fairness or justice theory. Most days my version is pretty much garden variety utilitarianism, backed up by a Harsanyi/Dworkin style argument from behind the veil of ignorance. The worst thing about the rich getting richer is, basically, that there are much better things that society (we the people) could be doing with rich people's money than they are choosing to do with it themselves (Bill Gates is an outlier, remember). "But it's their money!" you reply? No it's not... but that's an argument for another day...

Disclosure of potential financial conflict of interest...

... seems like such an obvious tenet of sound professional ethics in academic work to me. But apparently not to Professor Pirrong of the University of Houston Finance Department. Still, even if he prefers not to offer full disclosure, he might consider adding a footnote at the beginning of each paper or powerpoint deck on topics related to the industries that pay him big bucks... In fact he has written it already, in response to a reader who questioned his objectivity: "Uhm, no, dipstick... I call 'em like I see 'em." I'm reassured, aren't you?

Friday, December 27, 2013

My dialect map...

... definitely nails my time in southern New England: eastern Conn., ages 7-17, plus another five years in western Mass. Grinders and sneakers seem to be enough. But Wisconsin? Hmmm. Maybe from my mom, who was a kid there. Then again, she says grinder and sneaker too.

Update: Took it again. Most of the questions were the same, as were my answers, but somehow there were enough changes to eliminate the Wisconsin anomaly...

Marry me, Mary, and we will be merry!

I agree with Krugman on most things, including this... although apparently it is not just New Yorkers who historically have differentiated the pronunciation of these words: New Englanders do (or did) as well. Also, his pronunciation guide at the bottom of the post necessarily exaggerates the differences, methinks. And don't get me started on which vs. witch...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 35

Not sure what I'm doing yet...

Splitting the cost of carbon

Eduardo Porter has an interesting column about the issue of how to split the costs of carbon between "producers" and "consumers." From an economic point of view, the question has a simple and elegant answer: a uniform, global (harmonized) carbon tax would split the cost between producers and consumers in an efficient manner. Since the supply of most manufactured goods is probably quite elastic, much of this tax would be passed onto consumers. The exception would be the countries reliant on producing and selling fossil fuels: they would be hammered. Additional distributive questions would remain: Would it be fair to demand "reparations" for the West's historical carbon emissions? Should richer nations redistribute some of their carbon tax revenues to poorer nations? And the overriding question of who will exercise the necessary political will and global leadership would remain as well.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One thing leads to another

Donna Tartt is the author of The Goldfinch, Michiko Kakutani's favorite book of the past year. That's enough of an endorsement for me, but being a cheapskate, I'm waiting for the paperback. So I gave Tartt's first novel, The Secret History (1992), a try. If you have not done so, you should do the same.

The Secret History tells the story of a peculiar group of friends at a small New England college who decide, for reasons revealed in the book, to murder one of their friends. (You find out about the murder in the first sentence, so I am not spoiling anything here.) The story is told in a straightforward first-person narrative by one of the students, the last to join the group and thus an insider with something of an outsider's perspective. No fancy-pants modernism for Ms. Tartt; the plot proceeds quite linearly in a style that one of the cover blurbs describes as owing more to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth. I can't disagree, but this is nineteenth-century style of the very highest order--think Henry James--but done up with southern Gothic flare.

Narrative. As in, "one thing leads to another," and indeed it does, with a vengeance. Tartt takes her time telling the story--the novel weighs in at just over 550 pages--but the pace is anything but leisurely. We move from one set piece to another, from creepy to funny to tragic and back. The descriptions are crisp, precise, and startling... at the burial, for example, the mother of the victim and one of his brothers: "Patrick offered her an arm and she slipped a gloved hand in the crook of his elbow, inscrutable behind her dark glasses, calm as a bride" (418). Now there's a simile that knocks you upside the head. You are tempted to stop reading and think about that one, but your eyes race ahead to find out what's coming next.

There's much more to praise. Critics loved her clever literary allusions; I was equally impressed with her dead-on depictions of hangovers... one suspects she knows of what she writes, which makes you wonder what other skeletons reside in her closet.

Just read it!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Four colly birds

At a caroling party tonight, someone asked me, what is a calling bird? The answer always seemed obvious enough-- namely, any old bird singing. Wrong!

Wikipedia tells us that "...the line commonly sung today as 'four calling birds' is believed to have originally been written in the 18th century as 'four colly birds,' an archaism meaning 'black as coal' that was a popular English nickname for the Common Blackbird."

The common blackbird is a European thrush not closely related to our New World blackbirds, but in the same genus as our American robin, which in turn is not related to the bird Europeans call a robin. Got it? The colly bird is the blackbird Paul sings about in the beautiful Beatles song. Thrushes are generally wonderful singers. New World blackbirds... not so much.

What is your health insurance premium?

Dean Baker makes a crucial point about the affordability of health-insurance premiums, referring to a NY Times article today. People who have insurance policies through their employer usually share the cost of the premium, with the employer often "paying" a greater share. "Paying" in quotes here, because who really pays for the insurance depends on what the wage or salary would have been in the absence of the insurance benefit. This is a question of incidence, as economists put it, and as Baker points out, most economists believe that most of the incidence of a tax or charge on labor, or a benefit, falls on the worker side. In other words, a worker whose employer "pays" most of her insurance premium is actually paying most of that herself, because her take-home pay is less than it would have been without the insurance benefit.

Consequently, as Baker shows, a couple with the U.S. median two-earner income would in effect pay nearly 20 percent of their income for the average family policy provided by American employers. This may be small comfort to the couple in the Times story, who would have to pay about 12 percent of their annual income for a policy from the individual marketplace under Obamacare. But it places the affordability of Obamacare in a rather different and less alarming light.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dry December

Still, there was a little water rushing down Webb Creek as we made our way up the Steep Ravine Trail from Stinson Beach. Even on a cool morning you work up a sweat on this relentless climb up and over the ridge to Muir Woods.

Fall colors are looking a little bleached out...

... and the oyster mushrooms that popped out after last month's meager rains are getting crispy and yellowed. Would probably be good in a soup...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Crow at play

Having observed crows keel and swoop through the air for no obvious reason but it must be a gas to be able to do it, it comes as no surprise to me that one would figure out how to snowboard.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Skynet is...

... Google!
Although the videos frequently inspire comments that the robots will evolve into scary killing machines straight out of the “Terminator” movies, Dr. Raibert has said in the past that he does not consider his company to be a military contractor — it is merely trying to advance robotics technology. Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.
Why am I not completely reassured? Maybe I'll let them know my concerns about what I saw on these youtube videos... send them a link to this blogger post... from one of my gmail accounts... on my android phone... busy day, better check my google calendar...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 34

Stevie sings some samba for ya...

Game of Thrones

Never cared much for that uncle, really.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Giulia Valle...

... is a jazz bassist from Barcelona. We were in San Francisco tonight looking for something to do and dropped in on her quintet's show at SFJazz, in the intimate Joe Henderson "lab." I was skeptical at first, as the band opened hesitantly with a new, tango-inflected piece... but after that they found their groove and took the audience on a musical journey through Valle's intricate and fascinating compositions. Special kudos to her pianist, Marco Mezquida, who has a classical touch but plenty of funky rhythmic intensity. And Valle herself, a musician and composer to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Big Star

I came of age musically in the 1970s, a nerdy jazz fan whose college friends taught him about rock and pop, from prog to punk. But Alex Chilton's band Big Star, darling of the critics and later generations of garage bands, passed me by. Listening to #1 Record and Radio City today, I don't get what's the big deal. Competent power pop, but dated in a way that some of their more famous peers are not, to my ear anyway... say the Byrds, Creedence, or the New York Dolls. I suppose it would grow on me, if this were 1974 and I had all the time in the world to listen and sing along. I don't.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

If I were a bell...

... I'd be ringing!

A fine quandary for left liberals

This provocative column by Paul Collier offers up an object lesson in applied ethics. Collier argues that liberals who advocate open immigration usually overlook or undervalue the adverse impact on less developed countries of self-selective migration: emigration drains away the brightest, most ambitious, hard-working, and talented individuals, harming the home country even as it helps the migrants and their families.

Let's grant for now his factual premise, which is that for small countries at least, the brain/ talent drain of emigration imposes a real net cost on those left behind. Do liberals concerned about helping the "bottom billion" then have a duty to oppose liberal immigration policies, at least with respect to immigration from smaller countries vulnerable to the brain drain? If the answer is in the affirmative, we must live with our message to the would-be migrants: You will be forced to stay where you are, for what we judge to be the good of your countryfolk.

From the perspective of distributive justice-- say a Rawlsian stance-- we may be tempted to concur with Collier that it is worth sacrificing the interests of the better-off of the poor to help the worst-off of the poor: maximin is a demanding taskmaster. I am generally down with Rawls, but why then my discomfort at Collier's conclusion? We needn't look far: Let's consider a bright and ambitious young African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago. She earns a scholarship to an Ivy League school and leaves town, never to return. So much the worse for the South Side. Should Yale or Princeton have ignored her application... or should Connecticut or New Jersey have declined to issue her an "interstate visa," in the interests of economic development on the South Side?

These Nozickian worries impose themselves whenever I think about immigration policy. Collier is a smart rhetorician, and he smartly pushes some liberal buttons: Allowing the most talented of the poor to immigrate, he writes, "appeals to economists as efficient, since the [migrants] are indeed more productive in the rich world than the poor.... It appeals to libertarians as freeing human choice from the deadening weight of bureaucratic control." He need not add: "Too bad it hurts the poorest of the poor."

Well played, Paul, but must the Rawlsian throw in the towel? Let's not forget that Rawls himself insisted on the "priority of liberty." If we require freedom of movement for a Chicagoan, why not a Ghanaian? Is that national border not "arbitrary from a moral point of view," as Rawls would put it? From behind the veil of ignorance, would we not place a very high value on guaranteeing a person the opportunity to escape from poverty, and pursue their life plan where it had a good chance of succeeding? Ultimately, Collier's argument demands an answer to the vexing problem of borders: What is so important about national sovereignty that it can trump the requirements of justice?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hunger Games

Watched the latest installment at the 9:00 showing in Redwood City last night. Packed house... clearly they have touched a nerve with this franchise.

I thought it was, like the first installment... not bad! As with the first, there was too much time wasted preening and fawning over the fashion elements, but then again, I am not unaware of the core demographic for this film. This one drags a bit in the middle during the buildup to the "game," which then actually goes by a little too quickly. There is a pack of vicious baboons (nice touch) and a poisonous fog (yawn).

The plot, if you are one of the four or five people who have not seen the movie, revolves around a smart, strong, skilled, and compassionate young woman who reluctantly assumes the role of leader in a rebellion against a tyrannical government led by Donald Sutherland... What's not to like about that? Jennifer Lawrence is just about perfect for the role. The movie also seems to have provided work for a number of male actors who are underemployed or who may just have moved into the coasting phase of their careers... in addition to the aforementioned Sutherland, we have Harrelson, Hoffman, Kravitz, Tucci, and Wright.

My two main complaints about the movie are (1) Not one of the insipid young male leads/ love interests is a worthy match for Katniss in any dimension, either as character or actor; and (2) There's no way a drunken Woody Harrelson could physically subdue our hero, even after the trauma of having nearly electrocuted herself saving the day... but I suppose when the main message of the movie is that men fuck everything up, it pays to offer a conciliating gesture or two to the masculine ego...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds

John Prine's 1999 album of duets with a number of the leading ladies of country music, In Spite of Ourselves, is a delight from beginning to end. He has great taste in songs, and even better taste in singers. Unsurprisingly, Iris DeMent stands out, but a couple of my other favorites are with Melba Montgomery, whose voice has the quaver of an old woman's, but retains a lot of beauty and spunk. I couldn't find recordings from the album on the youtube, I'm afraid. But earlier versions of the songs are around. Back in the day, Melba sang duets with another dude who was a smidge better singer than Mr. Prine...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

[Shoeshine stand detail, Southeastern U.S.] Walker Evans, 1936.

Dolphy, Berlin, 1961

You can decide which is cooler: Eric Dolphy deconstructing "God Bless the Child" on solo bass clarinet, or Eric Dolphy in shades tearing apart "GW" on alto. Extraordinary.

The state of the job market

In the NY Times, Greg Mankiw offers a pretty balanced assessment of the current macro state of the U.S. labor market and its implications for monetary policy. For the most part, things still look pretty bad, but there are some hints of upward movement in wages and a rising rate of job vacancies that could signal, especially to inflation hawks, that the Fed should ease its foot off the accelerator. Dean Baker provides useful notes of skepticism.

The vacancy rate is an interesting series, providing a demand-side indicator of market tightness to complement the unemployment rate on the worker side. Unfortunately, the modern vacancy series only goes back to 2001. Here it is, displayed with the unemployment rate and employment-population ratio:

The vacancy and unemployment rates can be combined into the vacancy-unemployment (v/u) ratio, which has the common-sense interpretation of measuring the ratio of job openings to workers looking for them. It should be procyclical. In the following diagram, I plot v/u and an alternative index using one minus the employment-population ratio in the denominator:

The recovery since the bottom of the crisis is pretty clear, but by this measure of tightness, the labor market has a long way to go before it returns to its pre-crisis conditions, let alone the state it was in as of early 2001. Of course, it's possible that the labor market was "overheated" on the eve of the financial meltdown, and maybe we would prefer not to go there. But there's not a whole lot of evidence that wage inflation was accelerating in 2006-2007, as the following chart with the annualized rate of change in average hourly earnings suggests:

P.S.: You too can have fun with FRED!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Townsend's warbler...

... is, like many warblers, a gem, a gift one can never tire of. Like most warblers, it is coy, and flits overhead in the branches, flashing its exceptional yellow and black facial plumage, often with a friend nearby. If you are patient and still, they may come nearer... curious, or just oblivious?

Townsend's warbler is named for the naturalist John Kirk Townsend, who identified the bird for western science in the 1830s. Townsend came from a rather remarkable Quaker family, it seems, back when the world was smaller and people were bigger...
John Kirk Townsend was the son of Charles Townsend and Priscilla Kirk, he had five brothers and four sisters. His sister Mary wrote a book called, "Life In the Insect World" in 1844. And Mary and another sister, Hannah, wrote "The Anti-Slavery Alphabet" in 1846, which was sold at the Anti-Slavery Fair in Philadelphia. His brother Edward was President of the Philadelphia Institution for Instruction of the Blind and helped organize the Philadelphia Dental College.
Photo credit.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Inequality undermines growth?

Kevin Drum's blog pointed me toward this short piece, by David Callahan, suggesting that economic inequality reduces economic growth. This would commend to us a "bigger pie" argument for redistribution.

Like Drum, I don't find the case very compelling on the face of it. Why would greater inequality slow growth? One old story is that the rich save a greater share of their income than the rest of us, so redistribution upward would raise the aggregate savings rate and reduce the share of consumption spending in the economy. (Back when I was an undergrad at UMass, the notion that the owners of capital save more of their income than do the workers was called the Cambridge saving function.) If inequality lowers consumption, this could dampen aggregate demand, slowing economic growth, a la Keynes. Since inequality trends are fairly longterm trends, this claim would require the existence of "secular stagnation," another old idea that seems to be making a comeback these days.

Still, there is a long-run argument based on the Cambridge saving function that goes the other way. Since growth is partly a function of capital accumulation, more saving means more investment means more productivity and a bigger pie. This is the classic trickle-down story. Not just Reagan, but Bob Solow.

Which story is correct? That, my dears, is an empirical question.

It would be nice to have strong empirical evidence on the causal relationship between inequality and aggregate growth. Alas, the identification problem is daunting. "Identification problem" is econo-speak for "correlation does not imply causation." And just what is the raw correlation between growth and inequality? Here's the OECD. Ummm....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pied Beauty

Why are wood rat nests... female pintails... patches of lichen on a boulder... hawthorn leaves half green and half gold... so lovely to me? Gerard Manley Hopkins would attribute it to God. I cannot. But I like his taste.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


The hawthorn looks splendid.

Harvest time

Alexi planted yams in the back yard early in the summer, then left the work to us. The results were impressive...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Raul Ramirez, RIP

The California Report is probably the best thing on the radio: a news program of integrity that never insults your intelligence. I knew of Raul Ramirez only from the credits... he was apparently a leading light behind the scenes. Sad news.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Myra Melford and Snowy Egret

Yes, there are snowy egrets in the Palo Alto Baylands, but in this case Snowy Egret is the name of pianist Myra Melford's extraordinary jazz quintet, with whom she premiered her major multimedia work, Language of Dreams, last night at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. The work is inspired by writer Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy, and features short excerpts from that work, in English and Spanish, spoken by the singer Sofia Rei, usually over the music. It was performed before a large two-screen backdrop of grainy, impressionistic video footage, loosely connected to the themes of the work, as well as intermittent dancing by Oguri.

What to make of this concoction? First, the spoken-word element worked really well. The snippets of Galeano were selected primarily for their poetry rather than as narrative, and Rei's delivery was wonderful, as musical as the musicians'. Second, the videos: They seemed superfluous to me. I would say they were a distraction, but I paid little attention. Third, the dancing: This was truly weird. Oguri works in a kind of avant-Butoh tradition, which was, to say the least, jarring against Melford's modern jazz and Galeano's pan-Latin American politics. Oguri appeared and reappeared, in his PJs, playing a fool, a drunk, a clown, a spirit, a marionette, an exploited peasant, a... who knows? He is excellent... In fact, I liked it so much that it really was a distraction. What are you getting at, Myra?

But let's get to the main point: the music. Amazing. The band plays somewhere in the space between chamber jazz and free jazz, shifting from swirling soundscapes to pulsating grooves, in harmonies inspired by Melford's studies in Indian music as well as blues and Latin jazz. I was excited at the prospect of hearing Liberty Ellman on guitar, whose liquid runs did not disappoint. Drummer Jeff Davis was a real discovery.

And then there is Melford. A pipsqueak of a woman, she plays with extraordinary focus and power. I have heard her in a number of contexts now, including this summer with Allison Miller's band at Stanford. As a sidewoman, she can sometimes blend into the background. But when she is on, especially leading a band, she can be the best in the business.

Like many top modern jazz ensembles these days, Snowy Egret plays intricate, polyrhythmic music that is beautiful and often compelling, but occasionally over-written, and even when collectively improvised, a little too safe. Something of the ecstatic that can be heard in the solos of the great jazz improvisers-- think Armstrong or the later Coltrane-- is often missing. Myra Melford is certainly capable of it, as she proved in her best solo of the evening, building energy and tension with repeated motifs, and then dropping some of her mentor Don Pullen's best sonic explosives: fists and elbows, but also whipping glissandos, the piano in flight. Tough on the hands, thrilling for the ears. Give us more, Myra.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Late fall in the garden

The Epilobium canum is having its second (or third) wind... eventually it must be cut back to the ground, but not yet, not yet...


The Palo Alto Baylands are teeming with waterfowl right now. On my morning run today I got a nice up-close look at a flock of northern pintail. This is the most beautiful and graceful of our ducks, in my opinion. The male is simply a splendid creature, with his dark chocolate head, elegant coloration and markings, and eponymous tail feathers. But the female should not be overlooked, with her richly tawny head, subtle mottling, and equally graceful long neck.
(Photo source)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Health and housing

An informative and hopeful piece by Harold Pollack on the link between expensive hospital stays and homelessness, and the promise of reducing the former by addressing the latter. Humane and cost-effective policy... therefore a non-starter in the U.S. House...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Say a little prayer

Oh, this is more like it. The illusion of effortlessness. Fantastic.

What it is, what it is

The glory of the studio version of "Rock Steady" is the relaxed funky grind, which Aretha makes her own so splendidly. The Soul Train rendition captures the feel. For some reason the folks on the Flip Wilson Show decided they needed to speed things up... a lot. When you're the world's greatest singer, that ain't no thing: a moment of adjustment, and then it's just another smoking gospel number. Her backup singers struggle to keep up.

Full Moon on the Quad

Perhaps the Stanford tradition of mass (consensual) interclass kissing on the first full moon of the year had not yet made its comeback when I was a grad student in the 80s. Or perhaps the undergrads made a point of making sure Econ grad students didn't hear about it. Prudent on their part, I confess.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 33

Was this the Duke's response to Hamp? Nah, just "a melody written for percussion... that will rattle in your brain until you die," according to Gary Giddins. Sounds about right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed, RIP

The noisy experimental stuff, the artsy Warhol scene, that was all lost on me. The jangly guitars and edgy songcraft never get old.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Obamacare woes

"Hopefully in the long run it won't matter, but there's a reason some of us expect our liberalism to be competent, especially when it's really just technocratic centrism advertised as liberalism."

Atrios is right... not the end of the world, but we expected better. After all, the guy in charge is the guy who used the web to build a coalition that elected our first African-American president... if you can do that, a health insurance exchange shouldn't be all that difficult.

Offspring report

My violin-playing offspring had a good week. Watch for him at a venue near you. Or listen to some samples here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Immersive movie experience

I thought Captain Phillips was just about as good as the critics said. Barkhad Abdi, as the Somali pirate "captain," is even better than advertised. When I go out to the movies, I like to sit well into the front half of the theatre to get the full big-screen experience. But being out at sea with Paul Greengrass's restless camera and claustrophobic action sequences, I might have preferred sitting back a few rows.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Yep, that's me...

... looking grim... feeling glum... about recent events at my University...

Our model California government

I voted for the nonpartisan redistricting commission, and I'm very happy if it is doing its job to reduce polarization and gridlock. Easing of term limits was a good idea too. But let's face it: California state government is working right now because we have one-party rule, and the one party consists of Democrats, led by the most grown-up Democrat of them all, Jerry Brown. Jerry is a sensible man who can get shit done because the idiot Republicans can't do a damn thing to stop him. Jerry can veto Dem stuff he thinks is too radical, or bad for the economy. Those of us to his left will shrug our shoulders and live with it, because frankly we love our Jerry!

The rest of the country could have this too. Grow up, kids.

Great American music in Menlo Park, of all places!

A couple Friday nights a month the Cafe Borrone All-Stars play at their namesake establishment in Menlo Park. The lineup varies a little, but is always superb, and usually includes Leon Oakley, among the best jazz cornetists I have ever heard anywhere. A real treat.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Best show on TV

You are suffering Breaking Bad withdrawal... aren't we all? I suppose you'll be watching The Americans, Homeland, or Game of Thrones. Entertaining. But none of them quite satisfies. You want genuine suspense, in the sense of unpredictability... action, real human drama... but leavened with humor, if possible. Where to find it? Food Network.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Goose egg

Goose egg, nothing, we got nothing,” said Representative Thomas H. Massie, Republican of Kentucky.

Gee, I wouldn't say that Tom. Just three short months from now, you get another opportunity to act like a brat, wreak havoc on the economy, and cripple our political system. And your nut-job constituents may well reward you for your irresponsibility with reelection. What's not to like?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tennis, 1972

Stan Smith led the U.S. team to victory over Romania in the 1972 Davis Cup finals. This article in the Times tells the fascinating story. I like this picture because Stan is swinging a Wilson Jack Kramer, the racquet I was using as a 14-year-old at that very moment in time. I still have it in my garage, strings intact and ready for action (well, first I might wrap some tape around the moldy grip). Not long thereafter we all went metal, with the Wilson T2000, perhaps the ugliest tennis racquet ever made, leading the pack. (It even sounded ugly, with the sweet spot registering an unpleasant "clank" rather than a satisfying "thwok.") I ended up playing for a while with an aluminum and plastic job, made by an obscure company I can no longer recall the name of. Wish I'd hung onto that one too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Nobel in Economics

John Quiggin asks, "Why do we *still* have a Nobel Prize in economics?" Indeed. My heroes among living economics Nobelists, Arrow and Heckman, are both brilliant beyond belief, and have done much to help me and many others think about how the world works. But that doesn't make economics a science...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Steve Earle

He was in San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival... I passed on the dusty crowds in Golden Gate Park and paid my hard-earned dime to hear him last night at a nice but crowded venue on Valencia in the Mission, The Chapel.

Aside from his album with Del McCoury, The Mountain, which is one of my all-time faves, I have not followed Earle closely, but he is a great singer and a wonderful storyteller. I mean a great singer not in the virtuosic Al Green or George Jones fashion, but an expressive pop interpreter in the Dylan or Willie vein. He is also a lefty redneck. I feel no guilt whatsoever enjoying Merle Haggard's jingoism, but if you do, and need an excuse to listen to some good ol' country, check out Steve Earle. He confessed that he could no longer imagine living in Nashville, in his native Tennessee, which is why he now calls Greenwich Village home, and would choose San Francisco if he had to move. Country and roots-rock are great American populist art forms, and why should the left be deprived of the good stuff? Why, populist and progressive used to go together... remember Woody Guthrie and Upton Sinclair?

The first half of Steve's performance was the better half. As the night wore on, he could not resist a little gratuitous Walmart bashing (not my cup of tea, but forgivable) and a little kumbaya (less so), and even worse, he swapped his beautiful 6-string acoustic for an overly jangling 12-string and then even a banjo, which he played badly, and finished with some kind of mando-guitar. But when he opened his mouth, all was forgiven.

The opening act was Steve's son, Justin Townes Earle. The guy plays a mean guitar and has a good strong folk voice. I found his songs and style precious, a bit like Rufus Wainwright channeling, who, maybe Steve Earle? His best song of the night was by Buck Owens. Boy got good taste, at least.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Maybe Boehner's actually a hero!

Here are the arguments, courtesy of James Fallows... and regardless, he sure has lovely eyes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Russians and mushrooms

Russians and their mushrooms:
“If you are normal, you search for mushrooms,” said Julia Schelkunova, a Moscow-based Russian translator and guide (and owner of a plant nursery), sounding as if she were shrugging her shoulders. “Calling yourself a mushroom hunter is like calling yourself a pizza eater. You just do it.”
 A slice of mushroom pizza would be tasty right about now...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The shutdown

They have been unable to gut or kill Obamacare through constitutional legislative channels, and have thus resorted to extortion. It's really as simple as that. Thankfully it appears that the president has finally taken enough of their crap. Too bad so many have to suffer. But I do hope Boehner is among the sufferers. For a while I felt sorry for him, but he is so deserving.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Vulgar Marxist blogging

Simon Johnson finds the silence of the business elite (i.e. capitalist class) in the face of Republican madness "somewhat shocking." Is it possible that he is simply wrong about where their self-interest lies?
The silence of much of the business and financial elite on the debt ceiling — as well as on the sequester and the government shutdown — is somewhat shocking. This is a group that is usually quite vocal in promoting its self-interest. It benefited greatly from the expansion of the global economy after 1945, and that shifting perception of what business needs was part of the pressure that encouraged the Republican Party to become much more international in its orientation. The trajectory of current fiscal policy will hurt the pocketbooks of this elite.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad, Finis

People will rightly place it up there with that other "greatest TV series of all time," The Wire. The superficial similarities are plain to see: drug dealing, violence, gritty realism, moral relativism, complex bad guy protagonists, and deeply flawed good guys. Great writing, story-telling, acting, and directing... these go without saying. Both series also establish an extraordinary sense of place: the city of Baltimore, and the high desert and sprawl in and around Albuquerque. And sense of place reveals how these two masterpieces could not be more profoundly different. The great subject of The Wire is, ultimately, the city itself. The setting is the story. As the ensemble evolves and the story arcs change from season to season, the character of the city and of its people reveal themselves. Breaking Bad, on the other hand, is a love story. The setting is a metaphor for the psychological terrain on which this story plays itself out. The question that sustains us is, which will win out in the end: Love of the game, or love of the surrogate son? Must we then conclude it is a cop-out when in the end WW gets to have them both?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Marcella Hazan, RIP

I love to cook, and I aspire to cook the way Marcella Hazan instructs me to cook in the three cookbooks of hers that I own. The books are a pleasure to read: clear, mouthwatering, authoritative, and more than a little authoritarian... don't even think about using store-bought noodles in your lasagna. Well, Marcella, mea culpa, but as I opened that pasta box your (literary) voice was there, scolding me. I have also made it with the fresh noodles, and you were right, of course.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Brought to you by climate change... deadly giant hornets!

"A sting from the hornet’s quarter-inch-long stinger feels like a “hot nail through my leg,” according to an entomologist who got too close for comfort. The venom contains an enzyme that can dissolve human tissue, and too much of it can also bring renal failure or death." (source)

On the plus side, maybe they can be trained to take out the NSA drones that are spying on your house.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Carbon nanotube computer!

“This is a general computer and we can do anything with it,” said Max Shulaker, a Stanford graduate student who is a leading member of the research group. “We could in principle run 64-bit Windows, but it would take millions of years.” (NY Times)

No worries... I switched to Mac this year... I'm sure the OS X version is a good deal faster...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking Bad denouement

Being a callous sort, I almost never suffer nightmares from movies or TV shows. I took Alien and 7even in stride. The penultimate episode of BB was not even that strong, by the show's high standards. But I woke up early this morning in a cold sweat and was unable to get back to sleep. I can't remember my dream exactly, but I know it was unsettling, and had something to do with Jesse's predicament.

I agree wholeheartedly with these points made by Boing Boing reviewer Kevin McFarland... definitely count me among the 99%:
  • "I am convinced that if every other fan favorite character dies, but Jesse gets to kill Todd, 99% of Breaking Bad’s viewership will be satisfied.
  • Seriously, though: What did the DEA do with Huell? Side note: I would watch a spin-off entitled 'Everybody Loves Huell."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mal Sharpe...

... is a true San Francisco original and a very funny person. Coyle and Sharpe's early-mid-60s radio spoofs were indeed ahead of their time, but their humanistic and gently anarchic humor shares more with the beats, hippies, and pranksters of their own decade than with the shock radio, jack-ass movies, and Sacha Baron Cohens of our own.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ben Bernanke

Whine all you want about how he could have done more, sooner. Has anyone in a position of real power anywhere done more economic good than he has?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ranking elite colleges on graduate salaries

Here we learn that graduates of Oberlin earn a lot less on average than graduates of Harvey Mudd. Huh, wonder why? To be fair, the reporter does note that it may be a function of the fact that Harvey Mudd graduates engineers and scientists, Oberlin musicians and poets.

There is no big surprise here. Colleges differ in many ways besides quality of instruction, including quality of students, distribution of majors, location. Students and parents cannot make an informed judgment about the earnings potential of a degree from a particular institution without implicitly controlling for these other factors.

In fact, we have readily available public data on college graduates' salaries by field of study. So how hard would it be for the NY Times to run some simple analysis predicting the salary differential between Oberlin and Harvey Mudd implied by field of study? And how hard would it be to do a google scholar search and find that many of the best minds in empirical economics have taken a look at the relationship between pay and elite college attendance, trying to control for selectivity of attendance (e.g., here and here)?

And yes, there are nonpecuniary benefits to a college education that salary statistics miss. And we haven't even touched on the cost side of the benefit-cost calculation.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Breaking bad

Yes, Walter White is bad-ass... but not THIS bad...

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney, RIP

Too young... seemed likely he had some good poems left in him at 74...

Lifting (from A Lough Neagh Sequence)

They're busy in a high boat
That stalks towards Antrim, the power cut.
The line's a filament of smut

Drawn hand over fist
Where every three yards a hook's missed
Or taken (and the smut thickens, wrist-

Thick, a flail
Lashed into the barrel
With one swing). Each eel

Comes aboard to this welcome:
The hook left in gill or gum,
It's slapped into the barrel numb

But knits itself, four-ply,
With the furling, fat, slippy
Haul, a knot of back and pewter belly

That stays continuously one
For each catch they fling in
Is sucked home like lubrication.

And wakes are enwound as the catch
On the morning water: which
Boat was which?

And when did this begin?
This morning, last year, when the lough first spawned?
The crows will answer, "Once the season's in."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bayard Rustin

An American hero who, like A. Philip Randolph, needs to be remembered on days like today... and every day.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Happy People

Werner Herzog's "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga" is a typical entry in Herzog's recent oeuvre, a documentary exploring human strangeness in extreme conditions... in this case, a year in the lives of fur trappers in a remote part of the Siberian taiga. It is a beautiful and fascinating movie. The trappers spend some of the year in the village with their families, but they prefer solitude and living off the land in their harsh environs, especially over the long, vicious winter. That's when they trap their wild sables in a variety of simple contraptions, moving in a circuit from hut to hut across their assigned hunting territory. Solitude is not quite correct, however, because there is always a dog. The partnership between man and dog is the central relationship of the movie, and a complex one. The dogs are valued--indispensable perhaps--and, in a way, loved, but also mistreated.

The economist in me couldn't help but wonder how they do it. The trapping production process appears to be surprisingly capital intensive. The short summer is devoted to repairing and building traps, and particularly to maintaining and stocking the network of trapping huts, which are rustic but quite robust structures, built to withstand the elements. There are snowmobiles and small motorboats to buy and maintain as well. Year after year, it's a considerable investment in time and money, and blood too: the mosquitoes are, well, beyond belief. All this for the occasional frozen, somewhat bedraggled sable pelt, crushed in a simple but effective deadfall trap. They must do it for fun, not profit... how strange is that?

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

Convicts from the Greene County prison camp at the funeral of their warden who was killed in an automobile accident, Georgia. Jack Delano, 1941.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

France "in decline"

A NY Times article finds the French lamenting their country's alleged slow decline and provides a laundry list of economic woes. Way down in page 2 one finds a few caveats... yes, the French economy "retains plenty of strengths." Sneering a little at those generous vacations, the reporter concedes that "When the French work, they work hard.... labor productivity... is still relatively high..."

Actually, France's real output per work hour in 2012 was sixth highest in the world, ahead of Germany, Sweden, the UK, and Switzerland. Not so shabby for a bunch of wine-swilling slackers!

Update: Dean Baker has more, and is more explicit about the not-so-subtle agenda behind the article. Here's a typical line, without any indication or evidence whatsoever regarding whose "underlying understanding" this is: "There is nonetheless an underlying understanding that there will be little lasting gain without structural changes to the state-heavy French economy." My guess is that it's the underlying understanding of people who would like to gut the French welfare state.

Louisa Jo (Louis) Killen, RIP

"We're all bound to go."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard, RIP

For some reason, I never read poetry until I was well into my 40s. With the exception, that is, of Elmore Leonard's novels. Sad there won't be any more.

Monday, August 19, 2013


On topo maps, my house appears to be at about 8 feet above sea level. High enough that I don't have to panic about the new IPCC prediction of a 3-foot rise by 2100. On the other hand, I presume they are simply ignoring the possible collapse of the Greenland and/or Antarctic ice caps. In which case maybe I should be thinking about selling.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Yes we can!

In the fresh-tomato euphoria at the local farmer's markets this time of year, it's easy to forget about the tomatoes we rely on the other 10 months of the year. Bittman recently visited a big "industrial" California tomato grower and a canner, and basically liked what he saw. I have to say that not all canned tomatoes are created equal, and I have grown a bit too fond of the pricy Solania San Marzanos at Costco. But even middling canned tomatoes are a remarkable and indispensable product. Now excuse me while I sauce these organic dry-farmed Early Girls and San Marzanos that I picked up in Berkeley today...

Ruth Asawa, RIP

The word "irony" is often misused, but I suppose this might truly qualify:
Ruth Aiko Asawa was born on Jan. 24, 1926, in Norwalk, a Southern California farming town. Her third-grade teacher encouraged her artwork, and in 1939, her drawing of the Statue of Liberty took first prize in a school competition to represent what it means to be an American.
In 1942 F.B.I. agents seized her father and sent him to an internment camp in New Mexico. Ms. Asawa did not see him for six years. Two months later, she, her mother and her five siblings were taken to the racetrack. After five months, they were taken to a camp in Arkansas.
Still, she claimed not to be at all resentful of her family's treatment. She went on to produce works of extraordinary beauty and immediacy that obliterated the distinction between craft and high modern art.

Photo source

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer reading roundup

The most recent three...

Seth Rosenfeld, Subversives.
He was on Terry Gross today. The book is good, and the author's efforts to get out the truth about FBI repression of dissent at Berkeley through years of FOI Act requests was heroic. It suffers a bit from the author's desire to put a narrative spin on the history, and excessive length. We get some fairly canned pop psychology regarding the book's dramatis personae: heroes Mario Savio and Clark Kerr, villains J. Edgar and Ronald Reagan. Of course one is hoping for a smoking gun that condemns Reagan's legacy. Instead, there are some sordid FBI favors, atrocious but politically expedient lies about the nature of the campus protest movements, and a lot of criminal behavior by local law enforcement. Clearly J. Edgar and Ronnie saw eye to eye, and were happy to help each other out when it was mutually beneficial, but Rosenfeld can't really prove that Reagan's rise to power owed very much to the feds. The revelation that Black Panther Richard Aoki was an FBI informant is a shocker, but its importance for understanding Panther history remains vague. Did he act as an agent provocateur, and if so is it possible that through his activities the FBI successfully steered the Panthers toward a more radical, violent, and therefore marginalized politics? 
I was intrigued by some of the book's fifth business, particularly FBI agent Don Jones. This guy was always around, spying on the subversives, issuing reports. But he called it as he saw it, and the way he saw it didn't always accord with what Hoover or Reagan wanted to hear. "Almost all of the faculty members at UCB have expressed opposition to student agitational activities which result in violence, damage or terror, while expressing sympathy with constructive change in the usual process, social and political reform and orderly descent [sic]," he wrote in an extensive report about the 1969 Third World Liberation Front protests (p. 446). In other words, Berkeley was a hotbed of... liberalism!

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin.
Just your usual story within a story within a story within a story novel. All the stories are great, and the writing rarely lets you down. It's my first Margaret Atwood novel, I'm somewhat embarrassed to say. It won't be my last. This got me thinking... how many Canadian novelists have I read? I consulted Wikipedia's list. Not many, it turns out, and Saul Bellow hardly counts... but the average quality is high, regardless.
Margaret Atwood
Saul Bellow
Robertson Davies
Barbara Gowdy

Carl Hiaasen, Bad Monkey.
Funny in parts, mostly a little flat and disappointing. It was so damn predictable that the bad monkey would save the day by chomping on a bad-guy's dick. Hey, it had to be said.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jean Bethke Elshtain, RIP

She was a very influential and admired professor at UMass when I was an undergrad there in the late 70s... I think generally considered a person of the left, but definitely an independent thinker. She was my advisor on an independent study project, and I'm very proud that she liked my work.

On the other hand, she was one of those folks whose moral compass wandered a bit after 9/11. “I get very irritated when people say Bush lied,” Dr. Elshtain said in a 2010 interview with The University of Chicago Magazine. “These are very dense, thick issues.” Er, no, not really. Bush lied. She was certainly entitled to think that ridding the world of Saddam was worth the chaos and loss of life. But she was not entitled to rewrite history.

Normal, standard people...

Yelena Isinbayeva, the world champion pole-vaulter and the biggest star in Russian track and field, said she supported the new law, which bans “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships,” and she urged athletes to respect Russia’s views on sexuality....
“It’s my opinion also,” she said. “If we all to promote, you know to do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation, because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live boys with women, and women with boys.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Just because you're paranoid...

... doesn't mean they're not out to get you...

Social Security

This chart, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tells you most of what you need to know about the importance of Social Security. Barring very bad political decisions, it will be with you through thick and thin, reliably keeping you out of poverty, unlike, say, your Detroit city pension, 401K, or Vegas real estate investments. And thanks to its near universality and contributory element, it is rather well protected against very bad political decisions, as FDR shrewdly intended.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Edward Snowden, Patriot

As I listened to the President, I had exactly the same reaction as Ezra Klein, here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Milton Friedman, Unperson?

So sayeth Dr. Krugman. Who knows, if Uncle Milty is remembered, it may be less for his contributions to macro than for something like his defense of the negative income tax, which is nothing less than a guaranteed basic income. If the right renounces Milton, maybe the left can embrace him!

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 32

Far be it from me to pronounce my own offspring (the violinist here) perfect. You be the judge.

Music in Focus: International Program Artists from Music@Menlo on Vimeo.

Eric Harland

The drummer doesn't seem to be moving much. His head is rolled back a little... could be meditating. Every once in a while he looks out and flashes a winning grin, or pauses, shakes his head gently. Then back to work. But what exactly is he doing back there? Most of the focus is on the snare and toms... not a lot of cymbal work, not even a lot of high-hat. Not much flailing about for impressive effect. The beat is propulsive, but where exactly is it in that fascinating, swirling rumble of sound? None of the big back-beat or hip-hop glitch effects that seem popular among top jazz drummers these days. More implicit than explicit. He is in perfect sync with the rock-steady bassist, Larry Grenadier.

Chris Potter is the headliner, and he takes most of the solos. Technically, he may be the most impressive jazz saxophonist I have heard. Although he definitely gets into the zone, I do wish his playing went outside a little more... he'll deliver a squawk once in a while, but then it's back off into his liquid modal arpeggios and runs. But who else can play arpeggios and runs like that?

Potter is great, but he gives the final solo to Harland. For not the first time, the bandleader stands off to the side and observes with a bemused expression, as if just as mystified by this subtle virtuosity as the audience is. The climax of the solo is a drum roll on the snare, which seems to last for three or four minutes. If you are Eric Harland, you can squeeze the whole world into a drum roll.

(Stanford Jazz Festival, 8/7/2013)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sam McDonald County Park

Peaceful and shady on a Sunday afternoon in early August. Some old-growth redwoods, impressive douglas firs, tanoaks suffering badly from SOD, exposed meadows atop the ridge.

I was pleased to find this cozy wood rat nest tucked into a hollow redwood... unusual to find the critters living in these groves, in my experience:

This artist's conk (Ganoderma applanatum) was lying on the ground, detached. I felt compelled to make an artistic statement:

You might easily walk right by the tiny, delicate California harebell (Asyneuma prenanthoides):

And yes, there were some nice lichens on the oak just outside the Sierra Club hiker's hut...

One more, why not?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen in bitter, moralizing, Old Testament mode... a la Crimes and Misdemeanors. The movie is relentless and cruel, and could easily be accused of misogyny in its treatment of the title character. Except that Cate Blanchett, pushing it past the limit at times, commands your attention and grudging admiration every moment she is on screen. Woody consigns her to the depths of hell, but you know she will keep clawing her way back up, gulping xanax and swilling Stoli all the way. Recommended.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 3a

I already plugged the album a while back, so I can't give the song a new volume number of its own. I'd describe his voice as more butter than honey, but it does stick with you.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I have mixed feelings about this

It's nice to know that there are some self-proclaimed Republicans who accept that anthropogenic climate change is a reality. On the other hand, they fail to name names. Such as... the names of the deniers who seem to dominate the entire GOP leadership. They could also have showed some gumption and advised Republicans who care about the future of the planet to vote Democrat. All 10 or 12 of them.

Precautionary security policy

Whenever someone mentions yet another horror story about internet identity theft, or the bad consequences that have come of some kid posting stupid or mean things on facebook, or google's tracking our every move and trying to sell it right back at us, my reaction (to myself) is usually something like, "Yes, bad, bad, but the technology is still brand new, and we are still finding our way, in terms of social norms, the law, technological fixes, and common sense. It will be a little chaotic until we figure it out."

Eventually, this unsettled period will shake out into a system of more stable institutions and rules. Once that happens, patterns of behavior will become self-reinforcing and rigid; change will become a lot more difficult. In my field (economic history), we call this lock-in, or path dependence. You really don't want to lock in bad rules. But during a period of flux systems are sensitive to "small perturbations." In our era, it's an unfortunate coincidence that one of those perturbations was 9/11, which has afforded political advantage on security and communications policy-making to those with authoritarian inclinations, or those who find it expedient to feign them. What's happening right now is a struggle over the set of rules that may be locked in.

All the more reason to err in the direction of skepticism, libertarianism, and resistance when it comes to government surveillance and the security state. It seems that many Americans, and even many Congresspeople, agree. So, Mr. Putin, even though you are a tyrant, and your motive is as childish as thumbing your nose at Uncle Sam, thanks for keeping our whistle-blower (yes) Mr. Snowden safe and sound for a few more months, while we try to figure it all out and protect the freedoms that you disdain.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The $3500 bottle of wine

I won't dispute Neil Irwin's claim here that "If you spend $41,500 on a case of wine, you just might be a moral monster."
If you are about to drink a $3,500 bottle of wine, you have to think for just a minute about this option instead: Drink a $100 bottle of wine that is about as good, but from a less renowned chateau. And deploy the other $3,400 to pay for malaria-preventing mosquito nets in Africa that, by one charity’s calculations, would be enough money to save about 1.5 human lives.
But it's hard to see why the logic doesn't extend a lot further down the expenditure chain, as Peter Singer famously argued. How much will you suffer if the $100 bottle is replaced with the $20, or for that matter the 2-buck chuck? Utilitarianism is a tough taskmaster.

Note: title fixed 7/31

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Three million attend Mass led by Pope Francis in Rio

Wow. I don't suppose he said, "We're more popular than Jesus now."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Caturday blogging

Everyone else does it, why not me?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 31

The almost always reliable "Dean of Rock Critics" Bob Christgau gave the album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" his very rare A+ rating. I always thought it lacked some of the authenticity and immediacy of the two classics that preceded it... to me, a little bit of the "Lucinda trying too hard to sound like Lucinda" syndrome. But every damn song nails it, hard. I may have been wrong.

This live version shows that while she may not need that particular guy, she is well-served by the guys in the band.

Thanks, Anna Eshoo

My Rep did the right thing and voted to defund the NSA's bulk collection of domestic telephone records. Too bad she couldn't get her buddy Pelosi to join her, or any 7 of the 83 Dems who sided with the national security state and its ruler, our occasionally very disappointing president.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'd love to know the poet...

... who spray-painted (quite unobtrusively) the following exquisite one-liner on the pedestrian bridge across 101 at Embarcadero:

This hair that I leave on boys' pillows splits the sun's rays for my eyes only.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

By popular request, a picture in honor of Detroit. This shot is rich in history and perhaps some irony. Ford Motor Co. was a notoriously brutal union-buster. The UAW gained recognition at GM and then Chrysler in 1937, but it was not until 1941 that they succeeded at Ford. Meanwhile, partly as a means of dividing and conquering, Ford earned a reputation as a major employer of African-American workers. Fortunately the UAW recognized the virtue in and necessity of cross-racial worker solidarity.

Detroit, Michigan. Ford workers carrying American flag and union banners in the Labor Day parade. Arthur S. Siegel, 1942.

Friday, July 19, 2013


All on one fallen oak branch...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I'd sorta forgotten about this album. I sure like the sound.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From the sublime Quincy Jones...

... to the ridiculous Jerry Fielding. On the other hand, this theme song was quite lovely and somehow captured the gentle quality of this amusing 70s TV show. Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James were one of the great TV couples. Proof that chemistry does not require sexual attraction, I reckon.

And another...

... sound quality a bit murky, but hang in there for the awesome Hubert Laws flute solo. This may the all-time greatest TV theme song.

Here, have another...

... you deserve it...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 30

"You get some uh, have you ever had any rozinrizin"... well, have you?

Oh golly...

The worst David Brooks ever! Men who can't find a good job are just like... John Wayne in The Searchers! "Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating." But apparently that hasn't stopped Mr. Brooks...

Nuke it, Harry!

The American system of government has checks and balances up the wazoo. Already the Senate way over-represents lame states like Wyoming and Idaho. The filibuster gives even more power to the obstructionist dumb-ass minority. The argument against the nuclear option is that when the Repubs regain the majority there will be hell to pay. Maybe so, but if that's what the people want...

Trayvon Martin

Given the law and the evidence (or lack thereof), it seems unlikely that the verdict could have been otherwise, as Ta-Nehisi Coates cogently argues in this post. It's not even clear to me that "stand your ground" per se was necessary to Zimmerman's self-defense defense. No doubt we'll see more of the same.

Friday, July 12, 2013

It's the cheese

Joe and Mary Matos make one kind of cheese only, Saint George, a medium-hardness cheese based on the cheese of the proprietors' native Azores. A visit to their little cheese "factory" on the outskirts of Santa Rosa is for me always a highlight of a drive through Sonoma County.

From their sign on Llano Road, you head up a narrow gravel drive through the cow pasture, park, and enter the closet-sized front office. A loud bell announces your presence. Some minutes later, an oldish woman appears from the door to the aging room. I think it used to be Mary herself, but I believe it was someone else on my recent visit. She slices you a generous taste, and if you are like me you say, "I'll take a wheel" (the small size is ten pounds). She asks, in very halting English, "Want it cleaned?" The first time I bought a whole cheese I had no idea what she meant, but I figured it must be a good idea. "Sure." In the aging room, she takes a wheel down from the shelf, seats herself on a low stool, and with a large knife (small machete?), proceeds to scrape the entire surface of the cheese, white curls flying into a box between her knees. The sight and sound of this simple procedure justify going out of your way, regardless of any savings on the price of the cheese.

The price of the cheese... did I menton the price of the cheese? You can find St. George in a number of cheese shops around the Bay Area. At retail it runs between $15 and $23 per pound, usually around the middle of that range. Factory direct you can get as much or as little as you want for $7.50 a lb.

The cheese is very good. It has a pleasing, simple nuttiness and a little cheddar tang, and a wonderful airy texture. It is a great table cheese and would, I think, be great for cooking too. Trust me, you will want to buy a wheel and share some generous slices with your friends.