Thursday, June 30, 2016

Those crafty, evil Canadians

The Donald seems very concerned about the Mexicans and the Chinese, but meanwhile he is largely ignoring the more serious threat from north of the border. Not only are the Canadians our top trading "partner" (globalism! bad!), but it seems that their primary objectives are to take in scary Muslim refugees and make us look bad and ashamed of ourselves while they're at it. Not to mention that their PM has a very French-sounding name. Something needs to be done! Canuxit!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Marshall on economic freedom

Here is a nice post by Tim Taylor quoting Alfred Marshall at length on competition and economic freedom. Marshall expresses some views on "backward people" using language that we would not choose today, but his observations about the traits of deliberation and trustworthiness exhibited and reinforced in modern market societies are nuanced. I was reminded of this famous paper measuring prosocial behavior across cultures, which finds that "the higher the degree of market integration and the higher the payoffs to cooperation in everyday life, the greater the level of prosociality expressed in experimental games."

This felicitous view of economic freedom is not shared by all... e.g., Marx and Engels:
The bourgeoisie... has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gender-neutral gender bias

Here at Santa Clara University, we are (in my view) justifiably proud of our generous parental leave and tenure-clock policies for faculty. A full academic term of paid leave and a one-year extension of the tenure clock are automatic for new parents. The policy is gender-neutral. In addition, birth mothers qualify for paid pregnancy disability leave of up to 12 weeks.

Sigh. This recent post by Justin Wolfers has drawn attention to an interesting research paper revealing an unintended but not entirely unanticipated consequence of gender-neutral parental tenure clock extension policies: They help men and hurt women. Using data from top-50 economics departments, Antecol et al show that after an institution implemented a gender-neutral tenure clock extension policy, the average rate of achieving tenure increased by about 20 percentage points for males and decreased by a similar amount for females. Why? Quite likely, to put it starkly, many dads took advantage of their extra year to push out some more articles, while many moms devoted their extra year to what it was intended for: childrearing.

When women (and some of us men) advocated for more family-friendly policies, we knew this outcome was possible, but the size of the effect the authors find is well beyond what I would have expected: a widening of the gender gap in tenure rates of about 40 percentage points. That's huge, and hugely discouraging.

Of course, this is just one study, looking only at economists... maybe things are not so bad elsewhere. But to me the message is pretty clear, and accords with common sense. When women's advancement in the professions is hindered by societal gender roles, gender-neutral policies in the workplace may not reduce inequities, and may in fact increase them.

So... what to do? There appear to be four options.
(1) Strong gender-neutral policies (our status quo), which may well have paradoxically gender-biased implications.
(2) Gender-conscious policies: parental leave for women but not men. Politically touchy, and too bad for the handful of progressive dads.
(3) Gender-neutral policies with strict rules and enforcement. Surveillance cameras can ensure that dads on parental leave are playing with junior rather than running regressions. Non-starter.
(4) Narrowly targeted gender-neutral policies: e.g., subsidized child care. Universities would do well to identify, assess, and support such initiatives.

Monday, June 27, 2016


As expected, my visit last week to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park evoked mixed emotions. The Diggins is a large (by historical standards) pit mine in the gold country northeast of Sacramento, where hydraulic mining was used to blast away whole hillsides in search of the gold. Large volumes of water were diverted and collected uphill and then piped down to the mine, where thanks to gravitational force the water could be sprayed at high pressure and volume through impressive cannon-like monitors to wash away the gold-bearing gravel sediments. The resulting gravel slurry then flowed through large sluices where the gold settled out, often with mercury added to aid the separation.

The removal of whole hillsides and the erosion that followed were undoubtedly an environmental disaster, at least locally. But the impact was felt far more widely. The large volumes of waste mine tailings were washed down into the local watersheds (in the case of Malakoff, this meant the Yuba River). Havoc ensued downstream in the rich Sacramento Valley farming region, where the sediment covered farmland, clogged waterways, and induced flooding. The farmers sued the mine, and in 1884 the Sawyer decision largely put an end to the practice.

Despite the mess, one can't help but admire the ingenuity and resourcefulness of human beings driven by greed. They got the job done. And the Diggins are beautiful in their fashion, having been compared, aptly, to a miniature, human-made Bryce Canyon.

But for me, the most heartening aspect of my visit was seeing nature take back the Diggins. The floor of the pit is covered over with pines and manzanita at the margins, thickets of willow in the flats, and a marsh of reeds and water plants at the lowest point. Within another century or so, I suspect the "canyon" walls will be obscured behind the trees, and visitors will wonder what all the fuss was about. The mercury contamination will, of course, be with us for a good while, as will the changes in the Yuba.

Color contrasts between the sediments are striking:

Here's a monitor, taking aim:

The Hiller tunnel allowed the tailings to wash from the basin into the Yuba watershed:

I wouldn't want to swim in murky Diggins Lake, but the vegetation seems satisfied with the accommodations:

Nature takes back the metal pipes, too:

Humans are helping out a little with the recovery. Here a "brush box" does its job of slowing the erosion process and trapping soils, allowing saplings to take root:

Lakes Basin in bloom

Spring has arrived in the Lakes Basin of the northern Sierra. A reasonably wet winter (at last) means lingering patches of snow and lush vegetation in late June.

The burnt-over hillsides are covered in creamy tobacco brush (Ceanothus velutinus):

Another handsome shrub, bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata), is ubiquitous:

In rocky places, Sierra stonecrop (Sedum obtusatum):

And in damp spots, mountain maple (Acer glabrum):

Higher up, arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) is a delight whether in living color...

... or blazing black-and-white:

I was informed by some foraging older hippy-types that the newly budded, burgundy-colored foliage of this manzanita makes a tincture good for treating a bladder infection. I hope they left some new growth behind:

Disclaimer: all plant identifications should be taken with a grain of salt!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bernie Worrell, RIP

In the words of my old friend MD, "Psychedelic boogiers are dying (now Bernie Worrell) just when the world is running a real-fun deficit." Indeed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The perfect summer read

I picked up J.L Carr's slender 1980 reverie A Month in the Country on a whim at the library book sale. It is a perfect gem of a story, one of the most lovely and poignant novels I have read. It counts as a summer read only in the sense that summer–in this case summer in 1920 in a small Yorkshire village–is a principal character to rival the protagonist and narrator, Tom Birkin.

Newly returned to England from the Great War, Birkin has been hired to uncover and clean an old mural in Oxgodby's parish church. The parallel restoration of the hidden medieval masterpiece and of Birkin's damaged soul is hardly a subtle device, but the writing is so heartfelt, the characters so carefully and vividly drawn, the description of the countryside and the livelihoods of its inhabitants so poetic, the humor so sharp but good-spirited– one wishes to linger far longer in Oxgodby than Carr's economical 135 pages allow. Summer ends, and like Birkin, we must move on– moved.

Prince Be, RIP

That funky hippie groove.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Go ahead and listen. They have great taste. You'll hear something new that you like. Then maybe send them a few dollars.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Not good at all...

I wish this were attributable to a temporary boost from Trump's mouth, but even his exhaust fumes are not yuge enough to account for it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I voted...

... for a lady for president today. Last time I voted for a black guy. Each the most qualified candidate. Cool.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 71

This is one of my treasured vinyl possessions. The cover is so cool, and McCoy is so cool. His dense, modal sound instantly recognizable. Think "A Love Supreme," but more rocking, and more accessible. Azar Lawrence cooking on sax. Guilherme Franco cooking on cuíca.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Do Gorillas Even Belong in Zoos?

Good question. The obvious answer is an emphatic "No." I say this as a zoo-lover and frequent observer of gorillas and other primates at the San Francisco Zoo. The more nuanced and utilitarian answer calls for an answer to another question: Can zoos help humans appreciate the moral standing of gorillas and other animals, and therefore prevent their annihilation? I am aware that it is a self-serving conceit of the zoo-lover to answer "yes," but for that, it may still be true. The correct position is Peter Singer's. Can we be objective enough to act on it?
Peter Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton University, said, “Our primary concern ought to be the well-being of gorillas, but zoos are constructed the other way around: The primary concern is that humans can see the gorillas.”

The Three-Body Problem

I devoured this sci-fi novel by Liu Cixin this weekend. That could mean one of two things: (1) It kept my attention, or (2) I'll do anything to avoid grading. In this case, a little of both. The Three-Body Problem is your typical Cultural Revolution meets virtual reality meets alien encounter mashup. It is certainly entertaining—plot-driven and clever—but the political mise-en-scène never really meshes with the sci-fi, which is too bad given the possibilities, and it made me wonder whether the Chinese censors had something to do with it. The best scene involves a large-scale guzheng (zither): I don't know if it is scientifically plausible, but it is a great concept. The ending, involving the unfolding of a proton, is unconvincing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hard-working Americans

By this reckoning, U.S. work hours are about what you'd expect in a country with 1/15 of our income per capita, such as Indonesia. Time for summer vacation, everyone!