Saturday, December 31, 2016


Hip-hop just the way I like it: jazzy and heartfelt. Thanks, Aidan!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Palo Alto in winter

By February it will be spring. At New Year's, the first rainstorms have brought mushrooms and greened up the hills. But dormancy remains the dominant theme. That, and slanting light on pied textures.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Trump and the Electoral College

This column by Nate Cohn is a clever dissection of the Trump victory in the Electoral College, with some cute historical "what-ifs." His point is that the most commonly cited biases of the Electoral College– such as the over-representation of small-population states– did not have much effect this election. What did matter is the elevated role of chance resulting from winner-take-all in battleground states. If the toss-up states are sufficiently large, luck can easily decide the outcome. In this case, Trump, ever the Casino man, won four of the five decisive coin tosses. That kind of thing happens more often than you might like.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 76

A friend recently asked me for my favorite albums of 2016. I can't say I have sampled that many. But in that limited set, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny is an easy winner. Vu is a modern jazz trumpeter with all the skills... Miles is definitely an inspiration, but I hear a lot of Bill Dixon's emphasis on space and texture. Metheny is enjoying himself, his penchant for joyful noise finding its perfect match in Vu. The rhythm section of Stomu Takeishi and Ted Poor kills it. A great working band with a celebrity jazz soloist who, despite his fame, is underappreciated. Jazz just the way I like it. Hope you do too.

Eduardo Porter epic fail

Usually I find Eduardo Porter's columns in the NY Times interesting and thoughtful. But this one is sadly misleading, as Kevin Drum and others have been quick to point out. Here's Porter's main point:
There are almost nine million more jobs than there were at the previous peak in November 2007, just before the economy tumbled into recession. But the gains have not been evenly distributed. 
Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the labor force, Hispanics got more than half of the net additional jobs. Blacks and Asians also gained millions more jobs than they lost. But whites, who account for 78 percent of the labor force, lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years.
The problem is that this disparity largely disappears when one accounts for differential population growth across these groups. Hispanics have experienced a lot of the job growth because they account for a lot of the population growth. Employment and unemployment rates, taking account of the denominator as well as the numerator, show rather little difference in the experience by ethnic group, as Drum shows.

A disaffected white male might still argue that his job prospects would be that much better today had he not had to compete with an expanded nonwhite workforce. We can debate that point, but not using Porter's statistics or argument, which is unexpectedly below his standard.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Thomas Schelling, RIP

Schelling's little book, Micromotives and Macrobehavior, is a thought-provoking classic. For anyone interested in how individual preferences and simple decision settings can aggregate into complex and sometimes unexpected social phenomena, it is a great place to start.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I'm a sucker for alien contact, arrival, and invasion movie plots. In most cases, it's all about the anticipation– both because suspense is 90% anticipation, and because once the aliens show their ugly heads, fangs, or tentacles, they are almost inevitably disappointing, in spite of the technological marvels of modern special effects.

Arrival is an exception. The aliens are excellent. Why they have seven legs instead of the even number that any advanced product of evolution should have, I can't say. But it definitely helps that they live in a murky soup of foggy vapor that obscures their eyes (and therefore their facial expressions), and that their bodies are a mysterious compromise between the fluid plasticity of an octopus and the discrete jointedness of an old man's gnarled hand. Like cephalopods, they can squirt ink, and they are very good at it indeed. Cool.

The film is beautiful to watch, and beautiful to listen to. Amy Adams is truly a pleasure almost every moment her funny, lovely, intelligent face lights up the screen. And who am I to complain when the hero of the movie is a professor of linguistics! Still, I can't say I was nearly as enthusiastic about the rest of it. The other characters, the love story, the conflict, the woo-woo time-warp element... yawn. Don't expect too much... but go... and appreciate those heptapods.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 75

What makes one great Stevie song greater than another?