Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is equality of opportunity worth it?

Ezra Klein blogs that "No one really believes in ‘equality of opportunity’," and goes on to suggest that equality of outcome and equality of opportunity are inseparable: "You can’t have real equality of opportunity without equality of outcome." His argument is that truly leveling the playing field in terms of the life chances of kids would require providing kids with poor parents the same start in life as kids with rich parents, and that would require providing them with... rich parents!

Well, that's not necessarily correct, as John Roemer has argued. One could imagine an equal opportunity policy regime in which the government provided compensatory assistance to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, to the extent that a poor kid who worked just as hard to succeed as a rich kid could expect a roughly equal result... this need not entail giving the poor kid rich parents, but giving them enough other advantages to make up for the disadvantages of family background. But what Roemer and his co-author Julian Betts have shown is that such a policy could be enormously expensive. Based on what we know about the return to spending on education and other developmental policies, the bang for the buck is not that big, and the gap due to differences in family background is huge.

As Klein writes, Republicans often talk equal opportunity against Democrats' alleged support for equal outcomes (egalitarianism). But it's easy to imagine that any policy approaching true equality of opportunity would be much more costly to taxpayers than a highly redistributive tax-and-transfer egalitarianism. That would require the Republicans, based on their rhetoric, to be the big social spenders. Not really what they have in mind.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Down, boy!

As a public intellectual, Paul Krugman has done a lot more good than harm by speaking truth to power. But he does get carried away and sloppy. Righteous anger mixed with a regular op-ed deadline and the mixed blessing of his blog are probably to blame. His attacks on fellow academics who disagree with him have sometimes been intemperate and, perhaps worse, undiscriminating. I'm not so concerned that he has hurt Reinhart and Rogoff's feelings... more damaging is that he has hurt his own reputation as a straight shooter in the process. And to what end? The whole R&R kerfuffle has been a distraction.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Only the good die young

I would certainly place Billy Joel high on my top ten list of musicians I cannot stand. But it's nothing personal. And I do like this picture of him.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013


A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit.

I suppose some Detroiters will say this adds insult to injury. But the silver lining is that you can burn it... clean energy, kinda like coal! Thanks, Koch Brothers!

"No, it wasn’t a death panel! It was asking somebody to make a decision."

Words of wisdom from the world's richest man.
When you’re running a poor country health-care system, you can’t treat a year of life as being worth more than, say, $200, $300 or else you’ll bankrupt your health system immediately. So, with very few exceptions, you do nothing for cancer. If you get cancer, you’re going to die....
But here’s the good news for these countries. If you spend the less than 2 percent of what the rich countries spend, but you spend it on vaccinations and antibiotics, you get over half of all that healthcare does to extend life. So you spend 2 percent and you get 50 percent. If you spend another 80 percent you’re at over 90 percent.
The whole interview is worth reading. Maybe I should have bought another Windows machine to throw a little more money Bill's way, instead of the Macbook I just purchased. At least there's hope that Laurene will do something worthwhile with her share of the take...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hey Barack!

I voted for you twice, no regrets, but maybe instead of overseeing our gradual transformation into a police state, you could devote some of your considerable talents to solving real problems, like unemployment or climate change... I can't imagine you'd lose that many votes, and... hey, you're not running for reelection anyway!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Feather River country

California State Route 70 is one great drive, winding its way up the spectacular Feather River Canyon from Oroville. Across the river from the road (most of the time) runs the Feather River rail route, originally built by the Western Pacific in the early 1900s. Freight traffic still seems to run pretty regularly along this historic passage across the Sierras.

Above enormous, artificial Lake Oroville, the Feather is a heavily managed river, with a series of small dams and hydroelectric facilities. Indeed, the human imprint on this entire region is striking, what with the rail line, the timber roads, and the rusted equipment and holes in the ground that serve as frequent reminders of what brought folks out here beginning in 1849.

Me? I came for the scenery, and for the plants. I like the rocks, too, but gold country geology is too complicated for me to appreciate. May is a bit early for a lot of the mountain meadow flowers, but it is the season for dogwoods and pitcher plants (see below). It is also, apparently, the season for the occasional gullywomper of a hailstorm, as I discovered driving down a steep section of Route 49. I pulled over and listened to the roar as the Prius was pelted, and thought of one of my favorite scenes in Magnolia, when frogs fall from the sky. No frogs in the mix this time, I'm sorry to report.

The Feather River Canyon itself is lined with a most lovely variant of sticky monkeyflower:

Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata) was new to me, growing in the rivers and creeks in abundance:

Dogwood in bloom all over the place:

Plenty of succulents clinging to rock walls with lovely mosses:

I made a special trip to the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area to see the rare (but locally abundant!) California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica). A carnivore, Darlingtonia lures bugs into the pitcher, where they are trapped and digested. This time of year the waxy flowers are popping up all over.

Plumas-Eureka is one of our budget-challenged state parks. This old mining structure is off limits to visitors... perhaps as tax revenues recover we'll be able to fix it up. The park does have some nice old examples of mining equipment from the more industrial phase of the gold rush, including a giant hose nozzle (monitor) used for hydraulic mining, whereby entire hillsides were washed away (reminiscent of mountaintop removal), and giant crushers for hard rock ore, which would then be processed with mercury to amalgamate the gold. A nasty business... tourism is much nicer.

While you're up there, take a drive through the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. This time of year you'll have the scenery largely to yourself. Not another soul was to be seen on the Big Bear Lake trail:

The rugged Sierra Buttes look mighty fine with a thundercloud or two for contrast:

And then it's time to say goodbye and head on down the Gold Lake Road toward Sierra City...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Justice for Ríos Montt

Better late than never. Too bad his U.S. cronies like Ronald Reagan never got the same.
When General Ríos Montt seized power in March 1982, President Ronald Reagan’s administration cultivated him as a reliable Central American ally in its battle against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and Salvadoran guerrillas....  
By the end of 1982, however, the State Department had gathered evidence that the army was behind the massacres. 
But even then, the administration insisted that General Ríos Montt was working to reduce the violence. After a regional meeting, President Reagan described him as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.”
Commitment is one word for it.

400 ppm... Move along...

... nothing to see here...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

For the record...

"Correction: May 4, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary misspelled a top thrash metal band that emerged in the 1980s along with Slayer. It is Megadeth, not Megadeath."
- NY Times obituary for Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman

That his deth may have been related to "a rare flesh-eating disease that doctors said he might have contracted through a spider bite" seems poignant, in a thrash kind of way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 28

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing... oh, it gots it!