Monday, November 30, 2015

Build, Baby, Build!

Looking at things from the unaffordable left coast, I think Krugman is right on. The mix of inequality-induced demand for urban amenities coupled with a slow supply response is driving the 90% out of our most desirable cities. Getting pissed at hipsters and Google buses may feel good and righteous, but only more housing units will ultimately solve the problem. That includes more affordable housing, but more luxury housing too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Black coffee

Peggy Lee's recordings range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Toward the ridiculous end there are strings and bongos... toward the sublime...

Nature publishes a comic book...

... about global climate negotiations. Alas, no superheroes. But do read it. You'll learn something. It is ideologically even-handed to a fault, and the recurring Bucky Fuller visual meme is powerful... the way it echoes the Eiffel Tower is especially effective and interesting. As time goes on in this account, you may find your anxiety level rising. Partly this is because the real crisis is becoming more urgent, year by year. And partly it is because the artists have crammed the lines of text tighter and tighter. Well done. Scary. Hopeful?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rhythm Killers

Yesterday's featured Wikipedia article. I actually have the damn thing in vinyl. It's a good album, in an overproduced 1980s Laswell kind of way. And they're still at it... I heard them backing Michael Rose in Santa Cruz not long ago.

Where would we be without Wikipedia? Give them some money.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Mavericks is justly renowned for its big-wave surfing competition, but the same reefs that create those gnarly breakers also extend ashore and provide some excellent tide pools. The king tides are coming this week, which means very low lows... I was there for low tide today, a bit early for the lowest, but still saw some cool stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

O Bobby!

For some reason, Bobby Jindal was my favorite GOP candidate. Well, maybe second to Chris Christie. I guess I just liked the idea of having a Bobby as president! Why was he so unpopular, when Ben Carson is cleaning up in the polls? The Republican mind, if such a thing exists, is truly an enigma.

Apropos nothing at all, here is Sam Cooke singing a jazz standard, and quite badly at that. A great singer and a great song do not necessarily a great recording make. But sometimes they do... look up Billie Holiday's version...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 63

Play loud. Don't listen to the lyrics too carefully. Just let the guitar and the beat wash over you, as intended.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Allen Toussaint, RIP

It will stand...

More on U.S. women's mortality trends

Striking and depressing. From this post.

Gelman on mortality trends

A recent article by Case and Deaton on mortality trends of middle-aged white Americans vs. folks in other countries has justifiably received a lot of attention. The contrast is, to put it bluntly, dismal, and poses a fascinating puzzle. What exactly is going wrong here?

Andrew Gelman throws a little cold water on the findings, noting that the apparent rise in mortality in the data is an artifact of the changing age distribution within the 45-54 year old age group, at least for white men. The recent upward trend is largely restricted to women, and not quite so dramatic. But as he notes, the takeaway of the Case and Deaton paper still stands—namely, the international contrast: presumably the age adjustment would have similar implications for the comparison countries and make their mortality reductions look even better. Why have white Americans failed to experience the recent gains in longevity evident elsewhere around the world?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Keystone: No

Gas prices are low and the incumbent is a lame duck, so the political costs were not high, but still, good on Barack. No more business as usual on fossil fuels.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”


Arbutus menziesii may well be our most beautiful native California tree, and it is certainly the most welcome this time of year. Here it is the dead of autumn, the entire color palette of the coastal hills muted tans and grays, and you come across a madrone covered in candy-colored fruit... not to mention the still-vibrant green of its rubber-plant leaves and the almost rosy tone of its smooth, cool trunk.

"Household surveys in crisis"

This article summarizes some highly important work by Bruce Meyer and colleagues on the ongoing deterioration of the reliability of household survey data, and its implications for measuring important social and economic outcomes. Measurement is a dry and boring topic to many, but anyone who has relied on Census-type surveys to analyze social trends has to be quite concerned.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is among the most important and widely used of these surveys. Conducted by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is the source of our monthly information on unemployment rates, as well as a standard source for income and poverty measures on an annual basis.

Our understanding of poverty as well as the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies rests critically on having good measures of the various sources of cash and non-cash income and assistance received by low-income Americans. As Meyer and Nikolas Mittag show in a new working paper, respondents to the CPS often fail to report receipt of various government transfers, and when they do they frequently under-report the amount. Hence the bias is strongly in the direction of over-estimating poverty, and under-estimating the poverty-reducing effect of transfer programs.

How can we tell what people are actually receiving? Meyer and Mittag link the CPS data for New York State to administrative records of the government agencies that are actually writing the checks. They find, for example, that for people reporting incomes at less than half the official poverty line, the missing transfers are worth a little more than the entire amount of their reported cash income. As a consequence of such measurement errors, "the poverty reducing effect of all programs together is nearly doubled" when transfers are fully accounted for.

The most poorly measured form of assistance in their New York data is housing subsidies. One reason for this may be that when these payments are made directly to the landlord, survey respondents may not be aware of the actual amount, and underestimate it. The CPS tries to impute rental assistance when it is not provided by respondents, but the imputation procedures are highly inaccurate, and downward-biased. Survey responses are incomplete and biased for other transfers as well, perhaps due to survey "fatigue", or stigma, or something else.

So there's bad news, but also some good news. The bad news is that these workhorse surveys are not nearly as reliable as we would have liked to believe, not through negligence or malfeasance on the part of the officials who run them, but because it is very difficult to elicit accurate responses. The good news is that administrative and other data sources may provide a more accurate picture. And better news still is the finding that thanks to government transfer programs, the social safety net is actually a lot more effective than we had thought.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Remember when kynect was considered the model for a state-run health care exchange? After our own shaky rollout, Californians could only envy the Kentuckians, who saw their percent uninsured drop dramatically. Well, so much for that. The people have spoken, and they have elected the mean-spirited asshole party. Good luck KY!

A similar spirit of tolerance and common sense seems to have prevailed in Houston as well.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Amartya Sen on the end of the one-child policy...

"What is needed is more reasoning..." Sen is a treasure, and the sentiment is solid, but I've always wondered whether he didn't have just a little too much faith in the Enlightenment project... Republican primary debates...