Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

Frank Loesser wrote the song. Kacey makes it her own.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Larry Eisenberg, RIP

As an occasional writer of doggerel myself, I offer props to a prolific limerick master.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Walking the Dog

Warm up with JC and the organ trio...

Monday, December 17, 2018

Severin Borenstein on Uber and Lyft congestion

It really does seem like every other car you see in San Francisco these days is a Lyft or Uber (or both – multihoming!) on its way somewhere, or worse yet just cruising around waiting for an order. Adding to congestion on the streets? Taking riders away from more environmentally friendly alternatives? Severin Borenstein admits it may be so. So should we restrict these services? Nah. His solution is mine as well: Congestion pricing!

Many advantages come from pricing the congestion externality: Reduced congestion, of course, but also efficient allocation of the rides that do occur to their highest value, and revenue for the city that can reduce the burden of less efficient taxes or be spent on worthy projects, such as mass transit, services for the homeless, or cash transfers to low-income folks.

But here's a quiz question for you... What's the second-best solution if public officials can't or won't enact a sensible congestion pricing system? A question to ponder, Grasshopper, while you advocate for market-based solutions.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Nearness of You

One of my favorite songs. Hoagy Carmichael's simple melody could not be improved upon. Ned Washington's lyrics are more than serviceable. What is the best version? You can hear many of them on Spotify. A selection from best to worst...

And the winner is... Nancy Wilson!

[Postscript: I did not know she had died this very day, but perhaps her death pushed her rendition up the Spotify search list to where it caught my attention...]

Runners up... Of course Ella and Louie...

Dr. John pulls your leg with a little "Moonlight in Vermont" before turning to the pale moon that excites not...

Of course Frank, backed by the great great Nelson Riddle...

Norah Jones is lovely...

Rod Stewart? Why not?

Instrumental versions... there must be a billion... let's go with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, who made everything sound cool...

The worst? You might have supposed Sheena Easton, but she does a decent job...

Pretty bad... Babs! Love ya, girl, but no...

Ruben Studdard, dude, it's Hoagy, what were you thinking when you ignored the melody?

But the very worst... Annie Lennox, PLEASE just stop!

No planet but this one

John Quiggin on Voyager 2. Sad but true.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Reading roundup

From best to worst...

Bosh and Flapdoodle
A.R. Ammons
The last collection of poetry by Ammons, whom I hadn't previously read. The jacket blurb from Harold Bloom says, "With John Ashbery and James Merrill, Ammons was the Sublime of his generation of American poets." Bloom should know, but what I would say is that I devoured this little collection in one sitting, and then returned to several for a second helping. Funny, jazzy, touching, and a lot more accessible than Ashbery. His "Aubade" opens with this:
They say, lose weight, change your lifestyle:
that's, take the life out of your style and 
the style out of your life: give up fats,
give up sweets, chew rabbit greens, raw: and 
how about carrots: raw: also, wear your
hipbones out walking: we were designed for 
times when breakfast was not always there, and
you had to walk a mile, maybe, for your first 
berry or you had to chip off a flint before
you could dig up a root...

Lucky Jim
Kingsley Amis
The mother of all academic satires, and every bit as good as they say. I found it less nasty than I expected– Amis is surprisingly sympathetic to his characters, even the ones he skewers. Jim himself is a kick, often fantasizing the most appalling behavior but exhibiting only the mildly unacceptable, in part because he hasn't the gumption, in part because he's a good fellow after all. Needless to say he gets the girl. It reminded me of one of my other favorite books, Wonder Boys, which turns the story around and focuses on the washed-up old fart rather than the neurotic youngster.

Jean-Patrick Manchette
A nasty piece of work about a nasty piece of work, it clocks in at 91 efficiently nasty and amusing pages. Good for a short plane ride.

The So Blue Marble
Dorothy B. Hughes
Her first novel. I've raved about a couple of her others, here and here. This one is an oddity, mostly an ode to Manhattan and a certain lifestyle. Despite the mounting body count, nobody seems terribly flustered. Readable, but clearly she improved with practice.

Dark Certainty
Dorothy B. Flanagan (Hughes)
Hughes's first published book (1931) was this volume of poetry, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. In my post about her awesome suspense novel In a Lonely Place, I implied that she must have been a pretty good poet. Wrong.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Rain and rhyme

We sure needed the stuff...

The Cycle
Theodore Roethke (1941)

Dark water, underground,
Beneath the rock and clay,
Beneath the roots of trees,
Moved into common day,
Rose from a mossy mound
In mist that sun could seize.

The fine rain coiled in a cloud
Turned by revolving air
Far from that colder source
Where elements cohere
Dense in the central stone.
The air grew loose and loud.

Then, with diminished force,
The full rain fell straight down,
Tunneled with lapsing sound
Under even the rock-shut ground,
Under a river’s source,
Under primeval stone.

Saturday, November 24, 2018


Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place
Tana French, The Witch Elm

Both novels feature a troubled young male protagonist and murder(s) by the same technique. Both explore the terrain of "toxic masculinity." Hughes's book, first published in 1947, is one of the best noir crime novels I have read. It is even better than her 1963 The Expendable Man, and that's saying something. Whereas Tana French's latest is, in my view, her weakest novel yet, rave reviews notwithstanding. But if you are a fan– as I am– you will probably read it anyway, so I'll try to avoid any spoilers.

In The Witch Elm, as is standard in a French thriller, a messy Irish family and deep psychological trauma form the backdrop for murder and nastiness. As usual, the past is never dead– it's not even past. The novel has its gripping moments, but I found the writing more ham-handed than her norm, and the first-person protagonist psychologically unconvincing. Big themes about luck and fate are at play here, including moral luck, whether we make our own luck, and so forth. But this is not Dostoevsky, this is a crime novel! And the ultimate crime: just when it feels like we should have entered the denouement, French drops a farfetched plot element and drags the whole thing out for another hundred pages or so.

Dorothy B. Hughes, a deadly efficient writer, would have written The Witch Elm in about half the pages. It was interesting but hardly surprising to learn from Wikipedia that Hughes's first published book was a book of poetry; her terse prose has a music to it, though it never resorts to the pretentious "hard-boiled" noir style.
Once he’d had happiness but for so brief a time; happiness was made of quicksilver, it ran out of your hand like quicksilver. There was the heat of tears suddenly in his eyes and he shook his head angrily. He would not think about it, he would never think of that again. It was long ago in an ancient past. To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget. They made happiness a pink marshmallow.
In these few short sentences you learn nearly as much about the twisted psyche of Dix Steele as you do about Toby Hennessy in Tana French's entire book. Send a few dollars NYRB's way and get the beautiful print edition of In a Lonely Place with Megan Abbott's insightful afterword about Hughes, noir, and masculinity. It fits comfortably in your hands, which is where it will likely stay until you have finished it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The End of the Great War, 100 Years Ago Today

Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Sonny Fortune, RIP

I don't suppose he'll be best remembered for this album, but slide it on over to minute 8:00 or so and enjoy Sonny and the band.* Then stay on while the star of the show, Pete Cosey, truly and completely shreds it. Jazz that rocked like nothing before or since. Sonny was a part of that, and much more.

* Better, find it on Spotify and play it through some good speakers or headphones, loud, without commercial interruption...

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dexter Gordon

Because we need some beauty when the world gets ugly.

Friday, October 26, 2018

CA Prop 10

A YES vote removes some state restrictions on local rent control ordinances. I like letting local governments set these kinds of policies, even when they make mistakes. So I might vote for it. But I believe rent control is at best a distraction from good solutions to our housing affordability problem. Over time, it may well make matters worse. So I might vote NO... Still mulling it over.

Cities! Education!

"Our instrumental variables estimate is that on average, an extra year of schooling [city average] is associated with 22.0% higher hourly wages across cities." (Glaeser and Lu) Their methodology, if valid, implies that this is a causal effect of human capital spillovers, not just productive cities building more schools or attracting better-educated migrants.

A human capital spillover of this magnitude seems enormous to me, given that the typical estimate of the individual-level return to a year of schooling might be on the order of 10%. It's as if a city gets a 200% bonus on the return to schooling because smarter people get to interact with other smarter people.

The authors note that although huge, their estimate doesn't come close to explaining the bulk of China's growth in per capita income over the past three decades. Still, it's pretty good news for education- and city-boosters... like me!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Tokyo Story

Some say that this 1953 Ozu masterpiece is the greatest film ever made. Finally having seen it, I can't say I disagree. Trigger warning: I'm still wiping my eyes. Exquisite.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Funk Box

Now on a Spotify player near you. From Aretha to Bootsy to CHIC all the way to Zapp, even the cheese (think George Benson) will worm its way into your pleasure center.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Nomination: Miguel Zenon's successor in SFJAZZ Collective

Big shoes to fill. Why not Jon Irabagon, perhaps the greatest saxophonist of his generation. He'd shake things up a little. But Jon, maybe lose that bow-tie.

Monday, October 8, 2018

SFJAZZ Collective, 2018-19

We caught their season opener in San Jose (of all places!) last night, featuring arrangements of Jobim. As usual, the musicianship was jaw-dropping, the compositions were clever and complex, and the fan could only wish they would cut loose a lot more than they do. This being their first performance of these compositions, some tentativeness was to be expected. For me, Miguel Zenon's crazy arrangement of "One Note Samba" was the highlight of the evening... he will be missed after this, his final season with the group. Warren Wolf was, as expected, un-humanly virtuosic on vibes. Etienne Charles on trumpet is a welcome addition. The show was too short, because all the tunes were "radio-length." Will the solos lengthen and become woolier as the season progresses? I sure hope so.

Climate change economics

Climate change economics is back in the news, because of both the release of a new and dire IPCC report and the awarding of a Nobel in economics to William Nordhaus, perhaps the best known of economists studying climate change.

Nordhaus's work on the costs of climate change is based on integrated assessment models (IAMs), which integrate climate modeling with economics. IAMs provide a veneer of scientific objectivity to the study of optimal climate policy, but some healthy skepticism is in order. A recent article by Robert Pindyck does a good job laying out the limitations of IAMs as guidance for policy. In particular, the policy implications can be enormously sensitive to assumptions about key parameters that are simply unknown, controversial, or reflective of value judgements rather than objective measurement. A great example is the choice of discount rate, the "interest rate" at which future damages are weighed off against present costs. Whether a model implies drastic action against climate change, or rather complacency, hinges on the discount rate more than anything else. Pindyck:
Put simply, it is much too easy to use a model to generate, and thus seemingly validate, the results one wants. Take any one of the three IAMs that were used by the U.S. Interagency Working Group (2010, 2013) to estimate the SCC. With a judicious choice of parameter values (varying the discount rate is probably sufficient), these models will yield an SCC estimate as low as a few dollars per ton, as high as several hundred dollars per ton, or anything in between. Thus a modeler whose prior beliefs are that a stringent abatement policy is (or is not) needed, can choose a low (or high) discount rate or choose other inputs that will yield the desired results. If there were a clear consensus on the correct values of key parameters, this would not be much of a problem. But (putting it mildly) there is no such consensus.
The Interagency Working Group did not try to determine the “correct” values for the discount rate. Instead, it used middle-of-the-road assumptions about the discount rate (setting it at 3 percent) as well as other parameters and arrived at an estimate of around 33 dollars per ton for the SCC (recently updated to 39 dollars per ton). But other well-known studies have not used these middle-of-the-road assumptions and have arrived at very different estimates of the SCC. For example, using a version of his DICE model (one of the three models used by the Interagency Working Group), Nordhaus (2011) obtained an estimate for the SCC of 11 dollars per ton. On the other hand, using the PAGE model, Stern (2007) found an extremely stringent abatement to be optimal, a result that is consistent with an SCC of more than 200 dollars per ton. Although the models differed in a variety of ways (e.g., the degree of disaggregation and the choice of damage function), the main reason for their wildly different SCC estimates is that Nordhaus used a relatively high discount rate, while Stern used a relatively low discount rate.

Women: Rock that vote!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Hamiet Bluiett, RIP

On the baritone sax:  “It’s like being in the water. The baritone is not a catfish [or any of those] small fish. It’s more like a dolphin or a whale. And it needs to travel in a whole lot of water. We can’t work in no swimming pools.” .... “The other horns will get a chance to join us. They’ve just got to change where they’re coming from and genuflect to us—instead of us to them.”

Here's the WSQ in its original and best configuration with Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. Starting around 43:20 you get a full dose of Mr. B. deconstructing "Sophisticated Lady"... a sound so fat you could slice it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Not Russian meddling, not Kavanaugh...

... but the steady gutting of federal government capacity by way of corruption, disinterest, incompetence, and ideological hostility... perhaps in that order, from what I heard of Michael Lewis's interview on Fresh Air. The scariest and most dangerous thing happening under the Trump regime.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The War of the Worlds

I'm a sucker for alien invasion stories, but I had not until now read this one, the mother of them all. It's a fine novel: well written and plotted, providing plenty of food for thought without beating you over the head with it.

It is indeed a book about a war, and there are vivid battle scenes, especially in the first half, but it is really more an exodus story, describing in gripping detail the chaos and cruelty as people are driven forward by the oncoming Martian death machines. And as the story moves into its final third, it becomes a journey through a post-apocalyptic hell, with our unnamed protagonist and narrator wondering whether he might not be the last man on Earth.

The scientific elements of the book are remarkably good, given that it was published in 1897. Wells was a committed Darwinian; his Martians have managed to develop capacities well beyond those of humans thanks to a longer period of evolution and the selective pressures of the more challenging conditions on their native planet. Yet smart as they are, the Martians fail to anticipate the problem posed by terrestrial pathogens, which proves to be their undoing. Our narrator speculates that back on Mars, they had long ago solved the problem of disease. But surely they cannot have eliminated all microorganisms! It was fortuitous for humans that they did not bring with them their own killing germs along with their guns and steel.

The Martians are also post-sexual and reproduce by budding, allowing them to avoid the inefficiencies and emotional baggage that plague our own sexed-up method. How they managed to continue to evolve without the genetic randomization provided by sexual reproduction is not explained. Most likely an intelligent, advanced species like theirs would have been using CRISPR and gene drives to engineer themselves. Wells, writing pre-double helix, could hardly be expected to have come up with that kind of outlandish scenario.

The book is quite fair-minded about the Martians. To them, we humans are a handy food source on what seems to be a pretty darn livable planet. "The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us," observes the narrator, "but at the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit." Indeed, one of the narrator's interlocutors, the artilleryman, figures that the Martians intend to domesticate and raise the humans like sheep, and that the average sheep-like human might not find such an existence all that disagreeable.

Upon finishing the book, I re-watched the Spielberg movie, starring Tom Cruise and a bug-eyed, high-pitched Dakota Fanning. The film is quite true to the novel in most respects, right down to the protagonist's fight with the curate, although the tone is more action film than philosophical drama. Of course, it being Spielberg, there's also a broken family to be fixed.

Spielberg's Martians, whose big heads and long, knobby fingers suggest some common ancestry with ET, are more agile than Wells's gravity-bound, sluggish creatures. Although Wells provides descriptions of the Martians themselves, it's clear that he is much more taken with their various machines and devices. It's hardly surprising. Darwin was in the air by the 1890s, but it was the machine age, and it must have been logical to think of future progress in terms of more powerful, capable devices and the means of building them. Those spindly, three-legged killing machines, with their dextrous tentacles and deadly ray-beams and poison gas, are the archetype for sci-fi killing machines and nasty robots up to the present day.

The book hints that the Martians may have sent another crew to Venus, no doubt a much less hospitable joint, which raises the possibility of more trouble ahead for us earthlings. One difference between then and now is that nowadays this prospect would be a clear signal of a sequel, but Wells refrained from writing it. Too bad for us.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Buffy, again

Watching Season 1 from scratch. Within four episodes you know the main characters as if they were your best friends in high school too. You know they live on the hell mouth. You know that upon first laying eyes on each other, Buffy and Angel have fallen for each other hard, eternally, like the Juliet and Romeo they are. You know that Buffy loves and respects her mom, and vice versa, no matter how bad it's been... and it's been bad. You know that Willow and Xander would willingly go to hell and back and even transcend their stereotypical teenage selves for their new best friend Buffy... and not just because– in spite of being so much cooler and beautiful than they are– she treats them like human beings, but because, yeah, she is the Chosen One, and that's, like, really really important. You know that Giles is smart, lonely, and (mostly) platonically smitten with this strange creature he is nominally in charge of. Most of all, you get Buffy, TV's single greatest creation.

Meanwhile, as a bonus, you also get ridiculously clever plots, and even more ridiculously clever dialogue. This is the TV show that loves our crazy English language more than any other.

Our old DVDs are a bit fuzzy on our ridiculously large screen. And apparently the HD versions are insultingly badly rendered. Mr. Whedon, this is your claim to immortality, so why don't you spend a few of your well-earned dollars and give us the definitive version that we, and you, deserve?

Rachid Taha, RIP

Project Cybersyn

Driving around with the radio tuned to KALW the other day I stumbled across a great episode of 99% Invisible on Project Cybersyn, which first aired a couple years ago. Project Cybersyn was a plan to use networked computers to connect and coordinate Chile's factories under Allende's socialist government. I had no idea. The whole scheme reminded me of the earlier Soviet plan that inspired Francis Spufford's Red Plenty.

As a believer in the virtues of market coordination, I'm pretty skeptical that Cybersyn could work under the best of circumstances, and it's clear that even frontier computer technology of the early 1970s was not remotely up to the task of coordinating an industrial economy. Regardless, in 1973 the generals, with a little help from the CIA, put the kibosh on the whole episode.

Still, you have to wonder. Once Amazon is the intermediary for all transactions between producers and consumers, will decentralized markets still play a role as a coordinating device? Or will Amazon's AI set the market-clearing prices to match orders on both sides? Red Plenty, by capitalist means?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Martina on Serena

I agree with her completely. Just because the men get away with bad behavior more often doesn't make it right. On the other hand, I can't help thinking the umpire should have shown more forbearance and refrained from administering the one-game penalty, rather than have risen to the bait. When it comes to refereeing, I generally favor the more minimal "play on" school of thought... especially when being a stickler for the rules ends up tainting the innocent opponent's victory, as it did in this case. Osaka sure didn't need that game to win the match.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Yes, scholars in the past had it worse...

... After all, they pay me pretty well to teach supply and demand and regression discontinuity and write my little papers. Then again, the ghost of Cold Mountain can take some comfort in the likelihood that another thousand years from now, not just the homeless dogs but the clever computers who succeed us will probably still be reading his wry poems, translated to some machine language they understand. For now, Burton Watson will do quite well.

By Cold Mountain (Han-shan), translated by Burton Watson.
Here we languish, a bunch of poor scholars,
Battered by extremes of hunger and cold.
Out of work, our only joy is poetry:
Scribble, scribble we wear out our brains.
Who will read the works of such men?
On that point you can save your sighs.
We could inscribe our poems on biscuits
And homeless dogs wouldn't deign to nibble.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Serena quote of the week

“I just feel like not only is my future bright, even though I’m not a spring chicken, but I still have a very, very bright future,” she said. “That is super-exciting for me.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


"Ah, but I was so much older then... I'm younger than that now." (Photo credit)

Sex and pop culture

I'll get to that momentarily...

Laura and I spent four nights in beautiful Ashland, OR, last week. Lovely place, even as the oppressive smoke from various wildfires drifted in and out. We took in a couple plays, rafted the Rogue, and shopped for local crafts, wine, and peaches.

Smoke is a serious issue. Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival has had to cancel many of their outdoor performances this season, taking a $2 million hit. We had tickets to Romeo and Juliet, which was moved to the local high school auditorium due to hazardous smoke levels. We opted instead to trade in our tickets for their indoor production of Oklahoma!

This Oklahoma! came with a trendy twist: both of the lead couples were same-sex. I'm not fond of musicals; I prefer my Rodgers with Hart; and politically correct theatre generally leaves me cold. Three strikes... but I loved it. The performers were first-rate and the staging was brilliant. I couldn't help thinking that the bawdy, leering, but good-natured double entendre and physical theatre (think butter churn operated vigorously between trans legs) would be considered distasteful if not oppressive in a "straight" production... but the LGBTQ version was liberated, and liberating. Bravo!

Meanwhile, we've been watching The Innocents on Netflix. It's mostly a snooze. Perfunctory plot involving some shady researchers and reluctant shape-shifting human guinea pigs. Beautiful locations squandered. But the leads, a couple of innocent teenagers in love, keep your attention. Spoiler alert: In Episode 4 they finally do it. Tender– a little bit of heat, a little bit of flesh. True love. Then by Episode 5 we are back to the standard fare of smart characters acting dumb. So disappointing.

While in Ashland, we also escaped the smoke one night to watch BlacKkKlansman. I liked it a lot... but that's a topic for another post. Suffice to say that there is less exothermal chemistry between the two leads in Spike's joint than there is between the kids in The Innocents, or between the same-sex farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma! Thank goodness for the youngsters and gay folk who are keeping sex safe for entertainment.

Christgau on Reagan

From the latest installment of his occasional Q&A series, Xgau sez. He sez it right.
[Q] Politically "rock critics" run in a hopey-changey herd. Take Greel. During Ronald Reagan's presidency he caterwauled about how America--a nebulous abstraction in which Greel has a vested interest--had betrayed him. No doubt voting Carter/Mondale then Mondale/Ferraro. Yet a recent historians' poll--did you miss it?--ranked Reagan as the most "influential" 20th century president after FDR, with some placing him third after Wilson or Teddy. A president is not a human being but an image, personality, character, idea, platform, administration, record, legacy, cop or crook, mix of both, legend for good or legend for ill, etc. Complicated. Alone the deep focus of time reveals a president's place in history. Which, face it, is academically sanctioned fake news. So, Dean Christgau, over time has your own opinion of Ronnie changed--especially in light of the exhausting dramedy of President Donald "Spankee" Trump from our beloved Queens? -- Coco Hannah Eckelberg, Long Island City, New York 
[A] The historians' polls I've missed are without number, but the word "influential" is a typical non-normative academic/journalistic evasion--"most humane" is so ideological, and "best," fageddaboutit. Of course Reagan was influential. But he was also the most evil of 20th-century presidents. He began the evolution of the Republican Party into the amoral pack of Ayn Rand-worshipping, Jesus-perverting Repuglican empathy deniers it is today. He used the air traffic controllers strike to kick into gear an ongoing attack on the union movement that has done untold harm to most Americans. He empowered the entire Oliver North school of rightwing dark-op specialists who infest both government and the ever vaster private security infrastructure. He wasn't as bad as Trump because Trump is truly a special case--a barely sane megalomaniac who is among other things immensely more dangerous than Christianist hypocrite Mike Pence. And though I could go on, I have other things to do, so I'll stop except to say that rooted in racism though its promise will always be, I still believe in America too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Not with a bang but a slither

The rattlesnake, like all snakes, is a noble creature– beautiful and graceful, and generally quite peaceable– like this golden beauty that crossed my path at Arastradero Preserve today. So it is completely inaccurate and unfair of me to apply the noun form of slither– a perfectly honorable mode of transit– as a pejorative for the behavior of the bottom-dwellers associated with our president.

It's somehow so disappointing that what will probably bring the bastard down is not some grand conspiracy with Putin to steal the election, but the cumulative litany of petty and venal tax evasions, frauds, payolas, sweaty one-night stands, and back-room deals. Which is not to say I'm convinced that he's not the Manchurian Candidate or a serial rapist.

Oh, and apologies to all you bottom-dwelling flounders, carp, tubeworms, skates, and larvae. Nothing against you guys either.

Killer Trees

Get me out, cut me down...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Dwight Garner, reviewing Nate Chinen's new book of jazz criticism:
He writes about “tracing a historicist agenda that actualized in the 1970s.” The composer Anthony Braxton’s music “utilized proprietary strategies.” Vijay Iyer’s dissertation “helped frame his personal interface with the piano.” The saxophonist Joshua Redman “prioritized an agenda of direct emotional clarity.” Sentences like these prioritize an agenda of not being able to stay entirely awake.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The most perfect 15-second TV commercial ever?

Apparently there is a longer version that provides context, but frankly I like the mystery and gentle melancholy here. Lovely.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Pull me under

Thanks for this one Lisa!

Monday, August 6, 2018

California burning

Taking the long way home from Carson Pass a week ago, Aidan and I drove southeast and back over Sonora Pass on 108. We passed this resort just one day before the fire started that would destroy it. The new normal, some say.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 81

What's the big deal about Kanye? Yeah, stupid tweets, Kim Kardashian, and all that bullshit. But fellow old white folks... listen up...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Carson Pass once more

Aidan and I got up there for a quick overnight at Woods Lake earlier this week. Smoke from the Ferguson and/or Carr fires obscured the views much of the time, but the flowers were still lovely. In the meadows, lacy white angelica has replaced the lupines of two weeks ago... dusty rose paintbrush adds a splash of color. We also paid a visit to the Columns of the Giants along Route 108. Nifty columnar lave rocks. Alas, it was also the trip during which my trusty Asolo boots finally gave out. Bummer.

Rethinking voting rights restrictions

Can't we just restrict suffrage to college-educated women?

These plots are revealing in a number of ways. The discontinuous break of non-college white men from blue to red coincides almost exactly with Obama's election in 2008, and if anything has grown under Trump. The same Obama break appears among white men with college degrees, although they clearly have soured with the GOP since Trump. What's a little unclear to me is how the Dems held the White House for eight years, given these generic party preferences. I'm sure the political scientists have an answer.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mission: All Too Possible

"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to produce an action film that commits the cardinal sin of action films– namely, to produce an action film that is boring."

And indeed, "Mission: Impossible– Fallout" is very boring. The generally quite positive reviews and an 8.5 from IMDb had got me thinking I should make this my must-see summer blockbuster. Bad decision. The movie is an hour too long, the dialogue is very bad (although unfortunately not often madly bad, just sadly bad), the acting is worse, and the action scenes are ho-hum, with the exception of the preposterous finale, which shows some energy and humor, though too little too late.

Now you're saying to yourself... What were you thinking, Bill, it's a fucking Tom Cruise movie! But you see, I actually like Tom Cruise. Did like, anyhows.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Expendable Man

The themes of this 1963 noir by Dorothy B. Hughes could have been torn right from today's headlines. Gripping and very well written, it is a fine example of genre literature that transcends its genre.

If you have not read anything about the book or its plot, please don't. The Expendable Man would still be well worth reading even if you were already in on the crucial revelation dropped in the very clever first third or so, but the experience of the epiphany will reward your forbearance.

The bad-luck protagonist, Hugh Densmore, a young doctor, is at once naive and worldly for reasons revealed in time. Set in and around Phoenix, the narrative turns up the heat in every way. Judging by this effort, Hughes was rather better at description than dialogue, but even the sometimes stilted interrogations and confrontations pull you right along. Highly recommended.


I'm growing two heirloom varieties. It's a beautiful plant with beautiful flowers and fruit. I expect to harvest about one pod per week. That makes for a pretty small batch of gumbo.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Carson Pass, 2018

I arrived at the peak of a fantastic wildflower season in this Sierra wildflower Mecca. The 15-mile "big loop" hike, with its 4000 feet or so of climbing, was more day hike than I am comfortable with, but I really can't complain. It is one of the best places on earth.

As usual, I camped at Woods Lake National Forest Campground, where site #7 featured a private view of beautiful Round Top, a giant sawtooth mushroom (Neolentinus ponderosus) of mindboggling size, and, in the site next door, a rubber boa quietly shedding its skin. Awesome. You can camp there and enjoy dinner at the historic Kirkwood Inn, just a short drive down the hill, where the food is mediocre but the pint of Deschutes Black Butte porter tastes as good as any beer you have ever quaffed. Thanks to longtime campground hosts Larry and Mary, who are retiring after this summer and will be missed.

Damn you, NYRB!

I fell for the 50% off offer... they all showed up today, wrapped in plain paper as they should be.

I've never read Lucky Jim... required reading for any academic... nor War of the Worlds (illustrations by Edward Gorey!)... nor Elizabeth David's classic on Mediterranean food, one of my passions... the rest are modestly informed crap shoots...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Further musings on the Filet-o-Fish

The bun is steamed, which probably accounts for its family resemblance to the steamed bun of dim sum. The history is of interest: The FOF has Catholic roots, and won a place on the McDonald's menu against a competing vegetarian sandwich that featured a slice of pineapple in place of the fish (the Hula Burger!).

I've always found it somewhat anomalous that such an exquisitely symmetrical sandwich should have only a half-slice of American cheese, rather than a full square to nest right below the fried filet. But as the purpose of the cheese is more adhesive than gustatory, a half-slice is probably sufficient. 

From Wikipedia:
The sandwich was invented in 1962 by Lou Groen, a McDonald's franchise owner in Cincinnati; his store was in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood, which led to falling hamburger sales on Fridays resulting from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays...
The sandwich was the first non-hamburger menu item brought in by new McDonald's company owner Ray Kroc. Kroc made a deal with Groen: they would sell two non-meat sandwiches on a Friday, Kroc's own Hula Burger (grilled pineapple with cheese on a cold bun) and the Filet-O-Fish, and whichever sold the most would be added to the permanent menu. The Filet-O-Fish "won hands down" and was added to menus throughout 1963 until reaching nationwide status in 1965. 

Quite possibly the most perfect Filet-O-Fish bun ever made

In Martell, CA. They should be proud. Zoom in to see the polished uniformity of the surface. Also, the placement of the square of fish in the exquisitely circular bun is worthy of Archimedes. As for the eating, the experience was little better or worse than a FOF anywhere else in the world, from Tokyo to Tempe. Which is to say, dang tasty.

Friday, July 6, 2018


Tim Taylor has a nice summary of a recent Bank for International Settlements report on cryptocurrencies. Not only are they unstable and completely ill-suited as a form of money...
On the issue of energy use, as the "miners" who update the system while solving computational problems burn energy to do so: "Individual facilities operated by miners can host computing power equivalent to that of millions of personal computers. At the time of writing, the total electricity use of bitcoin mining equalled that of mid-sized economies such as Switzerland, and other cryptocurrencies also use ample electricity. Put in the simplest terms, the quest for decentralised trust has quickly become an environmental disaster."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Modest Proposal for Democratic Platform

David Rothschild, a very smart fellow my department interviewed for a faculty position not long ago, suggests these planks. I would drop #5, which can and should be done, but there's no need to be loud about it and alienate confused and potentially swingy Trump voters. I would replace it with something from the Ocasio-Cortez playbook, such as guaranteed employment. Emphasize the positive!

Wisdom from Amy Finkelstein

There's more to it than you might think...
The overarching result, as the authors write in the paper, is simple: “Death is highly unpredictable.” 
Finkelstein adds: “The policy upshot is: It’s important we understand the things we’re talking about.” 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018

Early summer

Dry, dusty, and largely deserted today at Arastradero Preserve. But a tribe of gobbling and peeping turkeys is always a treat, as is a ring-necked snake, an impossibly small and beautiful thing. I hope by scaring it along I spared it from a cyclist's wheels on the popular de Anza Trail...

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

When names were bigger and better

Wikipedia points me to the entry on Happy Chandler. I knew the name, but the history was vague. Larger than life. Baseball and Kentucky politics provide a cornucopia of names right out of a picaresque novel. Don't forget Wikipedia in your annual giving.

Happy Chandler
Bert Combs
Keen Johnson
King Swope
Ruby Laffoon
Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Ford Frick
James Breathitt Jr.

Four or five times

Long before there was (were?) Migos, there was (were) McKinney's Cotton Pickers. I like 'em both just fine.
We like to play
We like to swing
We like to go
Ski-dat-a-dat doh
Four or five times
Four or five times!
Bip-bop one
Bip-bop two
Bip-bop three
Four or five times
Four or five times!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wall of Death

Richard Thompson can get a little precious for my taste, but back in the day, at his best... and this was his best...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I Love My '90s Hip-Hop

I do! ... even though I came along 20 years too old. The Spotify station of this name reminds you of the diversity, richness, and depth... Leading off: Tribe, The Roots, The Pharcyde, Black Star, Lauryn Hill, Pete Rock... you'll have to wait a while for Mos Def, OutKast, Wu-Tang, Nas, Biggy... the great music goes on and on. Phenomenal.

Headline to be proud of

"Drama Re-energizes Trump, While Tired Aides Eye the Exits"

It's a fine art, and clearly the NY Times still has some masters.

Friday, June 1, 2018

There's aliens in our midst

Fine song from Wussy... a cover! The original is not as good (how could it be?), but seems to have been ahead of its time... The Twinkeyz, out of Sacramento no less!

The Americans finale – no spoiler

I had been losing interest during the last season, as Elizabeth increasingly became a caricature – worse, a monster. And as the end approached, I worried that the show would cop out and try to redeem her.

In a way, it did, but in a manner absolutely true to the narrative arc. It was possibly the best series finale I have seen. The tone was pitch-perfect, the acting flawless, the mini-revelations providing a jolt or two. It reminded us how great the show has been in the little things, including the secondary characters: extra special kudos to Brandon J. Dirden (Dennis), and Boris Krutonog (Oleg's dad).

Like most great series, it is a love story. Sure, Philip and Elizabeth, but also Philip and Stan. Without providing a spoiler, McDonalds plays a major role: What could be more iconically American, and more ambiguous? People are talking about the train scene, but how about the parking garage scene: simple, elegant, devastating, final, even bleakly funny. It is unlikely to be surpassed.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Henry Threadgill

The Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga hosted the Threadgill-Iyer-Prieto Trio Tuesday night. This is pretty wild and wooly music for such a classy venue in a tony suburb, but the house was nearly full, and the audience was appreciative. Threadgill was one of the leaders of free jazz's turn toward more structured composition in the 1970s and remains a major figure. On alto sax he shares some of Ornette Coleman's simplicity and directness, but as a composer he brings a lot more complexity.

The evening's performance was broken primarily into two extended pieces (or suites), each played almost entirely without any breaks. The sonic landscape shifted between quiet, space-filled passages and rollicking percussive grooves, all with Threadill's distinctively quirky harmonies and modulations.

The rest of the Trio consists of two 40-something masters– Vijay Iyer on piano and Dafnis Prieto on drums. I'd heard Prieto in person before and found his formidable playing a little too drums-forward. Although there were also plenty of percussive fireworks Tuesday, Threadgill's penchant for quiet spaces is apparently a good influence on Prieto, who painted gentle textures with mallets and brushes. These were among the best moments of the night, along with some high-energy sequences in which Iyer blocked out peculiar rapid-fire chord sequences and filigrees, Prieto grinned at him over his cymbals as he kept the time in several meters, and Threadgill drifted along between them in his own sonic universe, breathing extended earthy tones on bass flute.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The pardon

Better than the average Trump decision!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Philip Roth, RIP

I've read a number of his novels. I don't need to pile on the praise, nor further highlight the limitations, such as the general absence of three-dimensional female characters. At his best, he was the best. My favorites are on many lists: The Ghost Writer, American Pastoral, The Human Stain. Among these, American Pastoral sticks with me most of all: Not so much the plot, the characters, the themes, or the prose – all brilliant to be sure – but the rage and the pain. It is a book that seethes like no other.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Dad's guns...

... Dad goes to jail. Not that I generally favor guilt by association, but...

Internet freedom = freedom

Cory has it right.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Equal concern

I recently had occasion to revisit Ronald Dworkin's Sovereign Virtue. The book's second paragraph poses a challenge that our political community rather evidently fails– and with respect not only to wealth, but to gender and race as well. The motivation of equality in terms of equal concern is simple and compelling. It is a proper foundation for political liberalism of the left persuasion. The remaining 500 pages of his book unpack the implications.
Can we turn our backs on equality? No government is legitimate that does not show equal concern for the fate of all those citizens over whom it claims dominion and from whom it claims allegiance. Equal concern is the sovereign virtue of political community—without it government is only tyranny—and when a nation's wealth is very unequally distributed, as the wealth of even very prosperous nations now is, then its equal concern is suspect. For the distribution of wealth is the product of a legal order: a citizen's wealth massively depends on which laws his community has enacted—not only its laws governing ownership, theft, contract, and tort, but its welfare law, tax law, labor law, civil rights law, environmental regulation law, and laws of practically everything else. When government enacts or sustains one set of such laws rather than another, it is not only predictable that some citizens' lives will be worsened by its choice but also, to a considerable degree, which citizens these will be. In the prosperous democracies it is predictable, whenever government curtails welfare programs or declines to expand them, that its decision will keep the lives of poor people bleak. We must be prepared to explain, to those who suffer in that way, why they have nevertheless been treated with the equal concern that is their right. (pp. 1-2)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Gertrude's ashes

"Gertrude's ashes rather weighed on my mind, lightly, but they weighed." So begins chapter 16 of Barbara Comyns's The Juniper Tree. Much has happened to get us to this point, and much more is to come. Just read it... We'll compare notes after. Exceptional.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Cecil Taylor, RIP

A giant, right up there with Coltrane and Coleman in leading the jazz avant-garde. I never heard him in person, but my jazz-loving father did once years ago, in Hartford. He was unfamiliar with the musician, but drove in with Mom, probably because it was part of the Hartford Jazz Festival. The solo performance was in a crowded church, and my parents had to sit up near the front. There was no escape, as this fellow assaulted a defenseless piano during a single piece that went on for a couple hours of aural agony... or at least that's how Dad recounted it. "Cecil something?" "You heard Cecil Taylor, Dad?!" Still fresh.

Report from the meadow, front yard edition

The nemophila are being displaced by poppies and Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla). Hoping that something yellow comes out soon. Over on the other side of the driveway, the grasses (Stipa and Festuca) are in ascendance...

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Legacy of Spies

If, like me, you count The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as two of your very favorite novels, well, run don't walk to your neighborhood library or book merchant and get yourself a copy of John Le Carré's latest. A retelling and a reckoning of the central plots and themes of those two earlier books, A Legacy of Spies is one-half epistolary novel built from notes and reports in the secret files of those operations and one-half first-person narrative of master spy Peter Guillam, flashing back and forth between the present day and the depths of the Cold War. The offspring of Guillam's–and George Smiley's–past sins (and triumphs) have quite literally come back to haunt them. All of it is woven together seamlessly: the story simply flies along– it's the Le Carré thriller we loved, missed, and craved.

Of course, it is Le Carré, so a dose of serious moral and political philosophy comes with the thrill. We'd have it no other way. "If I had a mission– if I was ever aware of one beyond our business with the enemy, it was to Europe. If I was heartless, I was heartless for Europe." I'm not sure the character who speaks these words near the novel's end would have uttered them in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. In the age of Brexit, Putin, and Trump, the character's literary creator is being sadly ironic, a tone consistent with the sadness and bitterness that pervade this late masterpiece by an old master.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Sundstrom meadows

Thanks to the folks at Larner seeds, you too can have some mighty attractive California native flowers blooming in your own personal springtime meadow. Instructions: Open package, mix with compost, scatter. Wait for rain.

The lupine in the first photo is accompanied by the charming (and tall!) purple tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia). The Nemophila (baby blue-eyes and five-spots) are easy and cheerful. The needle grass (Stipa) is already going to seed in its spectacular fashion.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 80

Só Danço Samba. A cliché, but no less perfect for that...

Francis Bator, RIP

His article “The Simple Analytics of Welfare Maximization” (1957) presents the graphical version of basic welfare economics that many of us have taught to our undergrad intermediate micro students pretty much ever since. I doubt that it's been improved upon.

Taking a quick look after many years, the following passage from Bator's discussion of the utility-possibility frontier (p. 28) jumped out at me:
To designate a single best configuration we must be given a Bergson-Samuelson social welfare function that denotes the ethic that is to "count" or whose implications we wish to study. Such a function– it could be yours, or mine, or Mossadegh's, though his is likely to be non-transitive– is intrinsically ascientific.
The only "Mossadegh" I know of is Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was the prime minister of the democratically-elected Iranian government that was overthrown in 1953 with the help of the CIA, to be succeeded by the Shah. Given that non-transitive amounts to irrational, is this a racist dig, or am I missing something?

Bator was very clear on the importance of distributional questions, as well as market failures due to externalities and non-convexities. Yet the beauty of the efficiency properties of markets under ideal conditions easily distracts our attention from these problems, as if they were second-order. For this reason, the very effectiveness of his masterly exposition may have contributed to the tendency of well-trained economists toward free-market ideology. We can give Bator himself the last word here: "The Pareto conditions are necessary, but never sufficient" (p. 58).

Trouble in Paradise

The title makes no sense at all, but this 1932 Ernst Lubitsch comedy is justifiably considered a great one. Pre-Code, it is full of good-natured sexual chemistry and innuendo. The cast is great, the dialogue witty, the scenes well-paced. We saw it last night at the Stanford Theatre, where it played in December 1932 along with a vaudeville program. That must have been a fun night out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

They Feed They Lion

Written 50 years ago.


One of the funniest poems I know of, but also wistful and sad and, in the era of Trump, depressing, because the simple wisdom of Levine's coming of age story is lost on the boy-men who never came of age and now run our country.
.... Ahead
lay our fifteenth birthdays,
acne, deodorants, crabs, salves,
butch haircuts, draft registration,
the military and political victories
of Dwight Eisenhower, who brought us
Richard Nixon with wife and dog.
Any wonder we tried gin.

The Poetry of Jazz

I heard a segment about this collaboration of the late poet Philip Levine and jazz musician-composer Benjamin Boone yesterday on NPR. I have been a fan of Levine's poems for a while... Boone's music was a revelation. I was able to listen to about half of the album on Spotify yesterday before heading out to dinner, and it had me in tears. Levine was in his mid-80s when he recorded it, and he sounds old, but not at all antiquated. There is very little artifice in his readings, but there is understated musicality and energy... the jazz of poetry is in the words on paper but also in his voice. The selection of poems is wonderful, ranging from Levine's gritty depictions of the working life from his days in Detroit, to celebrations of jazz, to his lyrical songs to the California Central Valley– in fact it was at Fresno State that he met Boone.

As for Boone's settings of the poems, they are, so far, perfection– this is not your father's beat poetry recited to a bongo and bass, but full-on modern jazz composition. Boone recruited some of the top musicians in jazz to take a solo– or should I say a stanza?– on several tracks: Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby, and Chris Potter among them.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Sierra Vista

My friends from Mountain View (get it?) suggested a Sunday hike at Sierra Vista, a preserve in the foothills east of East San Jose. I'd never been there. My first impression was... meh... exposed grassy hills with plenty of cow patties... commanding views of the Bay Area were a plus, but those can be had elsewhere as well.

Things improved decidedly when we set off down the Kestrel Trail on the ridge above Upper Penitencia Creek, a rugged canyon lined with classic California chaparral.  Highlights for me included my first (to my knowledge) sighting of Lindley's blazingstar (Mentzelia lindleyi), a spectacular wildflower growing in abundance in places along the steep slope; gooseberries in the shade of an old oak; rock outcroppings made of thick layers of fossilized mollusks; and– yeah, you know– some excellent lichens.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Testilying" in reality and fiction

This NY Times article about cops cutting corners or flat-out lying to get a conviction should offer no surprises to readers of crime fiction or students of human nature. I just finished reading Denise Mina's fine The Red Road, the plot of which turns on an egregious example of testilying. Mina is a great writer of crime novels for a number of reasons, including her command of the language, plotting and pacing, ability to get inside the heads of her characters, and sympathy for the bad guys as well as the good guys. Sympathy, that is, with one pretty consistent exception: She– like her detective hero Alex Morrow– has no sympathy for the testilying cop. In the interest of fictional even-handedness, perhaps she should. In the interest of justice, she cannot.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Save the akikiki?

As an atheist deep, deep-down in my bones, I harbor no illusion that a Creator intended for the akikiki bird to survive or even exist in the first place. It has no more cosmic claim than any bird, mammal, tree, virus, or stone for that matter. As an economist, I appreciate that constrained optimization is a tough taskmaster: We will have to make some hard hard choices about which endangered organisms we save, and which, ultimately, we let go. But I have tramped through a corner of this drab little critter's turf, the Alikai Swamp on Kauai. Humans, inadvertently for the most part, have reduced her odds of survival nearly to nil. Habitat destruction, rats, malaria. Her existence serves no more useful human or even global ecological purpose than the existence of, say, the Virgin of the Rocks. Which is to say, my godless heart thrills to the fact that a bunch of people are wasting precious time and money trying to protect the precious little akikiki from annihilation. Photo credit.


Yes, it is, very... also sad... at all hopeful?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Still Crazy After All These Years

Recognizable upon the first note or two for that classic Fender Rhodes sound, played in this case by Barry Beckett, one of the Muscle Shoals Swampers. The instrument has its own interesting story...
Like a piano, it generates sound using keys and hammers, but instead of strings, the hammers strike thin metal tines, which are then amplified via an electromagnetic pickup which is plugged into an external keyboard amplifier and speaker. 
The instrument evolved from Rhodes' attempt to manufacture pianos to teach recovering soldiers during World War II under a strict budget, and development continued throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Happy 242nd Birthday, WoN!

That is, Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published on this day in 1776. I often tell my students that this was the most important event of that year.

Smith was undoubtedly a libertarian of a sort, but also a pragmatist with a definite progressive streak. His support of free markets depended on competition reining in the tendencies toward collusion, and nowhere was he more eloquent on the threat of collusion than in his excellent Chapter 8 (on wages). Monopsony (buyer-side market power) is, for Smith, the natural state of affairs in the labor market:
What are the common wages of labour, depends every where upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower the wages of labour. 
It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but the necessity is not so immediate. 
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things which nobody ever hears of. Masters too sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy, till the moment of execution, and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do, without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen; who sometimes too, without any provocation of this kind, combine of their own accord to raise the price of their labour. Their usual pretences are, sometimes the high price of provisions; sometimes the great profit which their masters make by their work. But whether their combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard of. In order to bring the point to a speedy decision, they have always recourse to the loudest clamour, and sometimes to the most shocking violence and outrage. They are desperate, and act with the folly and extravagance of desperate men, who must either starve, or frighten their masters into an immediate compliance with their demands. The masters upon these occasions are just as clamorous upon the other side, and never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combinations of servants, labourers, and journeymen. The workmen, accordingly, very seldom derive any advantage from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which, partly from the interposition of the civil magistrate, partly from the superior steadiness of the masters, partly from the necessity which the greater part of the workmen are under of submitting for the sake of present subsistence, generally end in nothing, but the punishment or ruin of the ringleaders.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Still, not the most lucrative line of work once you count the costs (source).
A researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says he's revising a study he co-authored after admitting that "criticism is valid" of initial findings that Uber and Lyft drivers are making a median pretax profit of $3.37 an hour and a vast majority are making less than minimum wage.
Uber said the working paper had "a major error in the authors' methodology."
Using one new method of calculating the median profit that incorporates Uber's criticism, the figure "rises to $8.55 / hour from the $3.37 initially reported," the lead author Stephen Zoepf wrote in a statement posted to Twitter on Monday. And using another alternate method, the median profit goes up to $10 an hour.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Trump Says He Would Have Rushed in Unarmed to Stop School Shooting

Haven't we all known a blowhard asshole like Trump? Didn't we all find his bullshit insufferable? What I still don't understand is why regular Americans who have had to deal with bullying bragging jerks like Trump, and who would do their best to raise their kids NOT to be like that, and who are smart enough to see him for what he is, still could have voted for him. And may yet again.

Yeah, too many years in the NorCal bubble, I guess...

Saturday, February 24, 2018

American prints

The San Jose Museum of Art has a nice collection of them, many from the 1930s– some by artists you know, and some by ones you don't. The best of the lot is by one you know: Grant Wood's "Tree Planting Group" (1937). Beautiful in its composition and pointillism, American Gothic in its tone...

Thomas Hart Benton's "Cradling Wheat" (1939) is also eye-catching... a touch of Hokusai?

New to me was Leon Gilmour, a Latvian immigrant who spent much of life out west. His prints of heroic, brawny workers are impressive, but smack of socialist realism... his flowers and trees share the same energy, with less polemic...

Friday, February 16, 2018

You know you are getting old when...

... curling and skiathlon are more interesting than men's figure skating...

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I know why Chipotle is doing poorly...

The food sucks! I have given them the benefit of the doubt so many times.  Something tells me the Taco Bell strategy will not help...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Iambic pentameter

Like the fugue, or like the 12-bar blues,
a form with endless possibilities.

A Cabbage White
Andrew Motion

Transported by a sudden gust of wind
not felt by anything except itself,
a butterfly, a Cabbage White, blows in
and dithers through my yard considering
is this the place to rest, or this, or this,
and in the process fastens with a thread
I cannot see the drowsy flower-heads
each to the other and in turn to me,
until a second gust of wind arrives
and lifts it through my fence and out of sight.
Which leaves the yard exactly as it was,
except that now a sense of emptiness
insists a moment of my life has passed
which otherwise I would not think to miss.

Words to live by...

It is easy for little monkeys to forget...