Tuesday, December 30, 2014


We watched HP and the Half-Blood Prince (No. 6) again the other night. Pretty good movie. The book was even better, of course. Was Ms. Rowling aware that muggles was slang for marijuana back in the day? Did she know Armstrong's 1928 recording by that name, with its short and exquisitely economical trumpet solo? Nah. Maybe? The great wheel of popular culture spins on.

Forgot about this one... mighty fine...

"A lotta people ask me, why I started rapping... I say I dunno, it just kinda happened..."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Big Eyes": a review

There should be a new, stronger word for when a movie is both bad... and dull... it's b'dull!
Hat tip to:

Friday, December 26, 2014

Anderson Collection at Stanford

Basically it's a near-perfect survey of postwar American art, including excellent examples of most of the big names. The Andersons had excellent taste and the resources to back it up. A very fine Pollock was hanging in their daughter's bedroom. Thankfully she never spilled anything on it (or maybe she did...). They got to know Nathan Oliveira, who apparently helped them pick some very good stuff, including some of his own best work. This Franz Kline was my favorite picture on my first visit to the gallery today. You can go see for yourself why it is so extraordinary next time you are in the Bay area. The museum warrants a special trip, and admission is always free. https://anderson.stanford.edu/

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Quasi-feminist Christmas musings

Baking Mexican wedding cakes tonight... also known as Russian teacakes, or in my family, growing up, pecan sandies... A very pleasing activity: grinding the pecans (don't overdo it!), rolling the buttery dough balls (like snowballs or play-doh), and then once they are baked and fully cooled, rolling them again in confectioner's sugar. The house is filled with that nutty smell. This is quite possibly the best cookie in the world, and the recipe is foolproof. Every manly man should have the opportunity to make these for family and friends. Feminism is win-win!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

Untitled photo, possibly related to: Spanish trapper and his children taking muskrat pelts into the FSA (Farm Security Administration) auction sale which is held in a dancehall on Delacroix Island, Louisiana. The fur buyers come from New Orleans. See general caption no. 1. Marion Post Wolcott, 1941 (?).

Happy Hanukkah!

Howie's makes the best pizza in Palo Alto. They also have an excellent selection of beer on tap. And two days a year, they serve latkes for Hanukkah. I had not had them until tonight. They are fantastic.

Nothing new under the sun

This Chris Mooney blog post reports on a startling new "discovery": White racial prejudice appears to be greater in states that have a higher percentage African-American! Chris calls for more research: "... there is still more research to do in order to further home in and refine explanations for the striking pattern shown in the map at the start of this article." He suggests that such research might include seeing whether the geographical pattern holds at the county level as well.

Hmmm... that sounds familiar. Perhaps it's because people have been looking at this question for over half a century. Social psychologists have been talking about a "threat effect" of large numbers of minority members since the work of H.M. Blalock and Gordon Allport in the 1950s. Various studies have employed county-level data. Why, I even did so myself in the context of examining the racial wage gap.

The issue is complex and ambiguous, for obvious reasons: exposure to "diversity" may increase familiarity and reduce prejudice, but once the percentage minority is sufficiently large, whites may perceive minorities as a threat, leading to increased racism, discrimination, and potentially collective action. Of course, historical and cultural context are important. But my read is that the net effect in the United States, at least within the South, is that the threat effect dominates. Furthermore, given a distribution of white prejudice, an increase in the percentage black leads to more blacks coming into contact with prejudiced whites for employment and other social interactions. The result, as Gary Becker hypothesized and Charles and Guryan (JPE 2008) and I (JEH 2007) showed, is that discriminatory outcomes are more likely in places with relative more minority members, even holding racism constant.

See Chris? All it takes is a little search on Google Scholar!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EPI Top Ten Charts of 2014

All ten are interesting, if pretty dismal... one example below. EPI does important and very careful work: a labor-oriented think tank run by people who care about getting the facts straight. As the tax year closes, send them a little money.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NY Times front page

Good job Barry. But the eye-catching advertising in "global warming red" suggests you've got your work cut out for you making more progress on some policy fronts...

Thursday, December 11, 2014


"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that’s all."
Unlike President Obama, Mr. Brennan pointedly refused to say that the methods — including waterboarding, shackling prisoners in painful positions, and locking them in coffin-like boxes — amounted to torture.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 51

Is there a more exciting piece of recorded music than "Right Off?" Miles sounds great, but Cobham and Hancock sound even better, and John McLaughlin... ouch.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again...

... Dick Cheney is back. Of the American torturers he says, "They deserve a lot of praise. As far as I'm concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized." Indeed... and if so, he should be proud to have their exploits brought to light, for all Americans to observe and praise. Nothing to be ashamed of, right Dick?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Suzuki Method

Apparently Mark O'Connor has some problems with Shinichi Suzuki's violin method, and some doubts about Suzuki's professed biography. I have no knowledge of Suzuki's personal story, but I do know something of the Suzuki method and its place in violin pedagogy. My son Alexi learned from the Suzuki books when he started violin at age 4. Suzuki's idea was that little kids could learn to play by ear and from memory before they were able to read music. To me it is a very sensible concept, although in my son's case he started reading musical notation almost from the very beginning. No harm done: the Suzuki books do have written music, so a precocious reader can learn to play both ways: by ear and by note. And that, of course, is how it must be for any serious classical musician. From there, it was on to the student repertoire and then Mozart and Vivaldi.

Any "method" is at best a useful tool in the hands of a gifted teacher, and a resource in the hands of an enthusiastic young violinist. Natasha Fong was the gifted teacher, and Alexi Kenney the young artist. It was a good match. Suzuki is a "good" method if good teachers find Suzuki books good for their students: full stop. It seems that many do.

O'Connor is disdainful of Suzuki's beginning lesson based on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (which my son sang as "Kappa Maki Sushi, Kappa Maki Sushi..."):
In a recent interview, Mr. O’Connor explained the goals of his own violin method, which he calls “an American school of string playing,” and spoke excitedly of his hopes of inspiring a new generation of players. He took out his violin to demonstrate why he thinks “Boil ’Em Cabbage Down,” the fiddle tune that starts his book, is superior to the well-known “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Variations” that the Suzuki book begins with.
I find this somewhat amusing. If the "American school" of string playing is supposed to appeal to today's American kids, then violin transcriptions of Katy Perry or Drake are in order. I see no harm in that. But any kid can also learn the fun and beauty of Twinkle Twinkle, or Vivaldi, or maybe even the Bach Double. And every interested kid deserves the chance to give them a try. Mark, if that is your goal, more power to you. But there's no need to throw Suzuki under a bus in the process...

Saturday, December 6, 2014


"By any standard I can think of, the Obama-era job recovery has been stronger than the Bush-era job recovery." So writes Professor Krugman, and the graphs are clear enough. But shouldn't some consideration be given to the depth of the trough? A job recovery from 6% unemployment simply has less far to go than a recovery from 10% unemployment. By the time the economy returns to full employment, total job gains will necessarily have been considerably greater, because Obama started much lower.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Slurp... slurp...

... OK, maybe you can't really hear the trees sucking up all that water. But it's hard not to project a sense of relief, even exuberance, as one walks through misty Huddart County Park after a week of plentiful rain.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 50

It seems only fitting that installment #50 should be a piece by one of my all-time faves, David Murray. The man is nothing if not prolific... just how many DM albums are there? The amazing thing is that even a middling Murray CD is excellent by most standards. And a first-rate Murray album, such as some of his octet recordings is, well, exquisite.