Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Make way for... ?!

Confused (but determined) mom in our (very) suburban back yard.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

George Jones, RIP

The greatest. A total mess of a person, but at least self-aware!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How about some flowers?

Pulgas Ridge, Redwood City. Perfect weather for a little hike.

Blue-eyed grass... check out the jaunty stripes...

Globe lily...

Something itsy-bitsy (this is an inch or so across)...

Ithuriel's spear...

Can't live on flowers alone... new manzanita leaves...

Proud UMie economist

The "heterodox" UMass Economics Dept. has lately been getting more media attention than it usually does, thanks to the Ash, Herndon, and Pollin critique of Reinhart and Rogoff, and to Arindrajit Dube's excellent work on the employment effect of raising the minimum wage (not much effect, as it turns out).

UMass was a great place to study economics as an undergrad. The faculty took ideas, and the clash of ideas, very seriously. The connection between political economy and moral philosophy was a living and breathing thing, not a quaint afterthought relegated to boring history of thought courses taught by old-timers. Many flavors of Marxism and alternative economic theory were represented, and (surprise, surprise) the radicals were just as inclined to disagree with one another as they were with the neoclassical mainstream.

Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis (now emeriti) were undoubtedly the best known in the wider world of economists. Both have continued to do pathbreaking work, in recent years at the intersection of behavioral economics, biology, and cultural anthropology. And Gintis's contrarian book reviews on Amazon are a hoot.

I do worry a little that the careful empiricism of the younger generation of faculty at UMass may dilute that old passion and intellectual ferment, at least for the naive but enthusiastic kids like me. For the sake of the next generation of UMie economists, I hope not!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Global Ponzi scheme?

Call me a purist, but I don't think humanity's degradation of the planet's natural capital is a proper Ponzi scheme. More like neglecting to repair your roof and save for your kid's college tuition so you can spend more on beer, that sort of thing...

Friday, April 19, 2013

R&R Hall of Fame

Randy Newman and Public Enemy inducted. Hard to beat that pairing.

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

Drought refugees from South Dakota. Montana. Arthur Rothstein, 1936.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

View of Hooksett, New Hampshire. Edwin Locke, 1937.

Shameless offspring music promotion

Caidance has an EP out. Buy yours today, and do some chair dancing!
Alexi recently performed the strange and beautiful Janáček violin sonata (with Yannick Rafalimanana) at the Kennedy Center (around minute 22, but check out the marimba guy who starts the program!).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

San Miguel

San Miguel is California's best-preserved and most beautiful mission, barely a stone's throw from the 101 just north of Paso Robles. The somewhat psychedelic interior frescoes have allegedly never been repainted, so visitors experience the church much as the missionaries and California natives would have 200 years ago, just a little faded, perhaps. It is peaceful, fascinating, and cool on a hot day.

Here's St. Mike himself behind the altar, below the all-seeing eye.

And here's a photomechanical print of the exterior from 1898.

How not to Excel at economic research

Turns out that that the widely cited work of Reinhart and Rogoff alleging an adverse impact of high national debt on economic growth suffered from some serious errors, including an incorrect cell range reference in an Excel spreadsheet.

I won't comment here on the substance of the debate, nor on whether R&R have provided an adequate response to their critics. But I would like to draw attention to one lesson I draw from the whole kerfuffle, and that is that Excel spreadsheets, whatever their virtues, are ill-suited to careful data work. R&R's mistake is a case in point. It is simply too easy to introduce errors in cell ranges and references in Excel, and way too hard to replicate results. This is not to say that scripts in SAS, Stata, or R are foolproof... far from it. But this kind of mistake, where part of the sample is left out inadvertently, would be quite unlikely, I think. Furthermore, Excel is ill-suited to sensitivity and specification checks. In smallish samples like the ones R&R are dealing with, sensitivity checks are essential.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 27

I love everything about this song. As for the video... Marty's green suit is outstanding, but maybe somebody should buy him a grown-up guitar. Also, the fella in the 10-gallon hat looks stoned out of his mind.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"i love this, she reminds me of my mom." (YouTube comment)

Ouch, that hurts. And it doesn't help that the lead advertisement when I visit the video is for "Silver Cupid: Looking for Mature Women?" Still, Chrissie could rock... still can, presumably. I was never quite sold on the lyrics to this song, but who cares really?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Close quarters

These kids will be flying the coop pretty soon, I think... (photo: LMK)


When I was a young birder, certain birds were legendary for their rarity and endangered status. The elusive (and now apparently extinct) ivory-billed woodpecker would surely top the list, but another famous species was the California condor. By the 1980s its wild population had dwindled to as few as 22, and thus began a massive and remarkably successful attempt to restore the wild population through a captive breeding and release program. There are now over 200 in the wild, and a bunch of them live in Pinnacles National Park. I had looked for them there once or twice before, unsuccessfully, but Aidan and I were fortunate to watch a couple yesterday during our visit.

Aside from the fact that the bird is truly impressive (up to 10-foot wingspan), anyone who was a conservationist and nature buff like me in the 1970s and 1980s must catch their breath at seeing for the first time this rare and fantastic thing soaring high overhead. 

Unfortunately, lead poisoning from consuming ammunition in animal carcasses kills enough of them that the wild population of condors is not sustainable without ongoing and expensive human intervention. If you hunt, don't use lead!

Of course there's lots more to see and do at Pinnacles, including some very fun hiking over the rocks, and a fantastic springtime wildflower display...

Bush poppy:

Cirsium occidentale, known as cobweb thistle for obvious reasons:


And to get to the west entrance, one drives through the splendid Salinas Valley, with its miles of fertile vegetable farms, sleepy little Mexican-American towns, rugged high hills east and west, and on the gentle slopes at the edges, a growing number of pretty vineyards (view south from Rte 146):

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Up and down the job ladder

The authors of this paper (Beaudry et al) suggest that the demand for skill has been falling since around 2000, reversing the trend of several preceding decades, and as a consequence skilled workers are shifting down the occupational ladder and displacing lower-skilled workers. They claim their model "offers a novel interpretation of the current employment situation in the US." Perhaps so, but the model of skill upgrading and downgrading itself is hardly novel, having been articulated quite nicely by Melvin Reder in a classic 1955 article. Reder's principal interest, as I recall, was in how cyclical changes in aggregate labor demand could have repercussions for wage inequality. This approach to thinking about labor markets as clusters of job tasks to which worker skills are matched, imperfectly, is now sometimes known as the assignment model. I'm sorry to report that Reder's contribution is cited neither by Beaudry et al, nor by Acemoglu and Autor in their chapter on the assignment model in the new Handbook of Labor Economics.

Mel was an occasional informal mentor to me in grad school, and always an interesting guy. I'm sorry not to have kept up with him.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Count your blessings...

... that modern dragonflies are simply too small to be interested in humans as prey. I'm actually skeptical of the NYT article's claim that "they’re often grouped with butterflies and ladybugs on the very short list of Insects People Like." Says who? They are big and buzzy and somewhat menacing, and up-close they are downright creepy. Beautiful and fascinating, no doubt, but creepy.

photo credit

Pattycake, RIP

I inherited a love of zoos from Dad. I still visit them often and with enthusiasm, but not without mixed emotions. It is difficult seeing the big cats unfree, but on the other hand I know that my own unfree cat seems content. The tiger... not so sure. The chimps always seem angry, neurotic... they should not be in captivity, period, except possibly to preserve the species. Certainly to be on display is beneath their dignity. The gorillas are in some ways the saddest and most opaque. What are they thinking, as they make the rounds of their "habitat" and studiously ignore the crowds of gawking visitors? And they are thinking...

Gamble Garden...

... puts on quite a show for the next few months. Easy to get to and enjoy.