Category Archive for: Miscellaneous [Return to Main]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Proclamation

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Not sure how much blogging I'll get done today:

Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.
To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gone Fishin'

Trout fishing in America today (near French Pete). Back later.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All

Perenoel1875-1

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas The Night Before Christmas:

G1

G2G3

L2_1 was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

G26 G4

L3 he children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

G5

L4 hen out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

G6

L5 he moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

G7 G8   G9

L6 ith a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

G10 G11

L7 ow, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

G12

 

G13

 

G14   G15

L8 s dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

G16   G17

L9 nd then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

L10 e was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

G18

L11 is eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

G19

L12 he stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

G20

L13 e was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

G21

L14 e spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

G22

L15 e sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

G23 G24
G25

Thursday, October 25, 2012

DeLong: Our Debt to Stalingrad

Travel day for me today -- one more quick post before heading to the airport:

Our Debt to Stalingrad, by Brad DeLong, Commentary, Project Syndicate: We are not newly created, innocent, rational, and reasonable beings. We are not created fresh in an unmarked Eden under a new sun. We are, instead, the products of hundreds of millions of years of myopic evolution, and thousands of years of unwritten and then recorded history. Our past has built up layer upon layer of instincts, propensities, habits of thought, patterns of interaction, and material resources.
On top of this historical foundation, we build our civilization. Were it not for our history, our labor would not just be in vain; it would be impossible.
And there are the crimes of human history. The horrible crimes. The unbelievable crimes. Our history grips us like a nightmare, for the crimes of the past scar the present and induce yet more crimes in the future.
And there are also the efforts to stop and undo the effects of past crimes.
So it is appropriate this month to write not about economics, but about something else. Seventy-nine years ago, Germany went mad. ...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rolled in Fill Too!

The "sheered beef" and "chicken refried" were hard to resist, but it was the promise of a "bed of letters" that finally sold me on the taquitos:

Bed-of-letters

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or, For Some, Just Plain Old Have a Nice Day

I hope everyone has a great day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas the Night Before Christmas

This is a repeat from previous years, something my grandfather read to us each Christmas Eve, Twas The Night Before Christmas (other repeats: What Happens at the North Pole Stays at the North Pole... and "Sinte Klaas"):

G1

Continue reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" »

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Miscellaneous

Larry Summers :

To end slump, United States must spend, MIT News: ... Summers also weighed in on economists’ performance in light of the largely unanticipated economic crisis. For the most part, Summers defended economists, arguing that the profession has made world leaders better informed in recent decades.

“I’ve had meetings with vice premiers, number-two people in China, who have asked me questions about NBER [National Bureau of Economic Research] working papers in macroeconomics,” Summers said. “That says the work has an enormously positive and important impact.”

However, Summers asserted, the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models used by many economists, which often assume the economy will naturally return to a basic equilibrium with full employment, have been of little value in these complex times.

“In four years of reflection and rather intense involvement with this financial crisis, not a single aspect of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium has seemed worth even a passing thought,” Summers said, adding: “I think the profession is not entirely innocent.”

Still, Summers said, the complaint that economists should have seen the crisis coming represents “a confusion” on the part of critics. Identifying financial bubbles and knowing when they will burst, he claimed, “is to ask more of the profession than it can reasonably expect to discover.”

David Autor:

The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market, by David Autor: ... Conclusion Although the U.S. labor market will almost surely rebound from the Great Recession, this article presents a somewhat disheartening picture of its longer-term evolution. Rising demand for highly educated workers, combined with lagging supply, is contributing to higher levels of earnings inequality. Demand for middle-skill jobs is declining, and consequently, workers that do not obtain postsecondary education face a contracting set of job opportunities.
Perhaps most alarmingly, males as a group have adapted comparatively poorly to the changing labor market. Male educational attainment has slowed and male labor force 16 Community Investments, Fall 2011 – Volume 23, Issue 2 participation has declined. For males without a four-year college degree, wages have stagnated or fallen over three decades. And as these males have moved out of middleskill blue-collar jobs, they have generally moved downward in the occupational skill and earnings distribution.
The obvious question, as Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is: “[A]nswer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?” Is the labor market history of the last three decades inevitably our destiny—or is it just that it could end up being our destiny if we do not implement forward-looking policy responses?
While this article is intended as a spur to policy discussion rather than a source of policy recommendations, I will note a few policy responses that seem especially worthy of discussion.
First, encouraging more young adults to obtain higher education would have multiple benefits. Many jobs are being created that demand college-educated workers, so this will boost incomes. Additionally, an increased supply of college graduates should eventually help to drive down the college wage premium and limit the rise in inequality.
Second, the United States should foster improvements in K-12 education so that more people will be prepared to go on to higher education. Indeed, one potential explanation for the lagging college attainment of males is that K-12 education is not adequately preparing enough men to see that as a realistic option.
Third, educators and policymakers should consider training programs to boost skill levels and earnings opportunities in historically low-skilled service jobs—and more broadly, to offer programs for supporting continual learning, retraining, and mobility for all workers.
Finally, another potential policy response is to consider R&D and infrastructure investments that will have broadly distributed benefits across the economy. Examples might include expanding job opportunities in energy, the environment, and health care. The return of the classic manufacturing job as a path to a middle-class life is unlikely. But it may be that various service jobs grow into attractive job opportunities, with the appropriate complementary investments in training, technology, and physical capital. Perhaps these could be the shadows of what is yet to come.

Dan Little:

Beijing Forum 2011, by Dan Little: I'm attending the Beijing Forum 2011 this week, and it's a superb international conference. Much of the conference took place at Peking University. ... The focus is on academic perspectives and dialogues around the overarching theme of "The Harmony of Civilizations and Prosperity for All." This year's organizing theme is "Tradition and Modernity, Transition and Transformation." ...
My paper, "Justice Matters in Global Economic Development," was included in the Economic Growth theme. I argued five basic points: We generally agree about the basics of a just society. The current state of the world badly contradicts those values (poverty, inequality, abuse and coercion). Amartya Sen's writings provide a powerful basis for those commonsense ideas about justice. The greatest impediment to improving justice is the untrammeled power private and state interests have vis-a-vis the poor. And injustice matters because it causes serious social problems. So states need to strive to reduce injustice.
I didn't really have a good sense of how the argument was received by the participants, but there was a fairly clear split between "laissez-faire" growth advocates and economists who took inequalities of income and health very seriously. I assume the latter group was more receptive than the former.
The academic question I received during the formal discussion period came from an American economist. He pointed out that China's 10% annual growth since the 1990s has greatly improved the standard of living for a hundred million people in coastal China, and created job opportunities for tens of millions of migrant workers. He wanted to know if I was seriously advocating a slower rate of growth as the price of greater justice. The question reflects the assumptions of many of the economists in the session: state policies aimed at enhancing equality are highly destructive to economic growth. So, by inference, preferring economic justice is harmful for a society.
My response, in a nutshell, was "yes". Economic development involves choices. And it is possible that a strategy with a lower growth rate would do a better job of bringing all of China up together, rather than creating a broadening gap between rural poor and affluent urban people. I am indeed arguing that it would be best to choose the second strategy. (This might take the form of investing a larger percentage of China's formidable savings and reserves in substantially enhanced public goods for the rural poor -- education, healthcare, and retirement.)
What is equally important, is that the power differential between poor people and propertied interests in China today almost guarantees that the poor will lose out. Property confiscations by businesses and municipal development authorities are a good example. (Coincidentally, the Thai urban planning expert I talked with said this is precisely the case in and around Bangkok, and the Angola urban planner made similar comments about Angolan farmers and the residual white settlers.) So injustice is as much about power as it is about exploitation. And this means that legal and institutional reforms are needed if China's inequalities are to be reduced.
It was striking to me that the thrust of my talk seemed to be most resonant with the Peking University students in the room. A cluster of them came over to talk about the implications of these ideas for China during the break. These young people seemed genuinely concerned about how China might address some of the large issues of social inequality that have arisen since the economic reforms began in the 1980s. (In fact, even some officials I've talked with here in China believe that more serious attention to justice issues is needed in China's future -- for example, with regard to China's rural poor and to migrant workers and their families.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Here's a repeat from previous years, something my grandfather read to us each Christmas Eve, the Twas The Night Before Christmas (other repeats, some of which didn't go over so well with everyone: What Happens at the North Pole Stays at the North Pole..., Is There a Santa Clause?, and "Sinte Klaas"):

G1

G2G3

L2_1 was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

G26 G4

L3 he children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

G5

L4 hen out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

G6

L5 he moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

G7 G8   G9

L6 ith a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

G10 G11

L7 ow, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

G12

 

G13

 

G14   G15

L8 s dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

G16   G17

L9 nd then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

L10 e was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

G18

L11 is eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;


G19

L12 he stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

G20

L13 e was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

G21

L14 e spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

G22

L15 e sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

G23 G24
G25

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Egg Hunt

I talked to my parents tonight, and they followed the family tradition of having an Easter picnic in the Sutter Buttes. It's aunt's, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc., and there has always been an Easter egg hunt for the kids. But now that the kids are all older, they decided to change the hunt a little bit. Each kid got one dozen eggs and a shotgun. The decorated eggs were launched -- as in a trap shoot -- and the kid who shot the most eggs out of the air was the winner of the "hunt."

Yep, that's my family.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Here's a repeat from previous years, the Gutenberg EBook: Twas The Night Before Christmas (other repeats, some of which didn't go over so well with everyone: What Happens at the North Pole Stays at the North Pole..., Is There a Santa Clause?, and "Sinte Klaas"):

G1

Continue reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" »

Sunday, January 04, 2009

"Ughhh..."

Tim Duy is looking forward to the start of winter quarter: "I don't think I want to return to work...which starts with advising Sunday afternoon."

207
[click for larger version]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Synanthropes

Don't be surprised if you start to see crows on corners begging for change, or rats along the sides of roads looking for aluminum cans:

Vending Machine for Crows, by Claire Trageser, NY Times: In June, Josh Klein revealed his master’s-thesis project to a flock of crows at the Binghamton Zoo in south-central New York State. The New York University graduate student offered the birds ... peanuts from a ... vending machine he’d created... The Binghamton crows quickly learned that dropping nickels and dimes into the slot produced peanuts, and the most resourceful members of the flock began looking for more coins. Within a month, Klein had a flock of crows scouring the ground for loose change. ...

Although his invention might conjure Hitchcock-worthy visions of crows stealing the loose change from pedestrians’ pockets and hands, Klein’s conception is more benign. To Klein, the machine demonstrates the value of cooperating with “synanthropes” — animals that have adapted seamlessly to human environments. ... Someday, he hopes, similar techniques may allow us to train rats to sort our garbage for us.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Other Side

I’ve talked on a couple of occasions about the good side of small towns and rural communities, but there’s another side too and I feel like I should talk about that too.

Continue reading "The Other Side" »

Friday, June 20, 2008

"How and When Did the Storybook Kingdom Become Canonical?"

Something a bit different. Anyone know the answer?:

Princes and princesses, kings and queens, by Andrew Gelman: Lots of stories for little kids have kings and queens, not many seem to have presidents, prime ministers, mayors, etc. I don't fully understand this. I mean, I see that these stories are traditional, or imitate traditional forms, and so it makes sense that you'd have a king or queen rather than a president. But there are lots of other traditional forms of government. You can see some examples in children's literature, but they're clearly exceptions. (For example, the wolves in The Jungle Book have a tribal council, and the animals in Winnie the Pooh don't have any government at all.) I guess what I'm asking is: How did the standard storybook world become codified, the world with a kingdom, a king and a queen living in a castle riding horses etc? Even in the late Middle Ages in Europe when, I suppose, such places really existed, there were lots of other, different, sorts of places nearby. How and when did the storybook kingdom become canonical? Maybe Jenny can answer this question--it seems to fall within her bailiwick.

Jenny replies:

I must get some proper work done this morning, so will NOT write a long answer! Some associative thoughts: literary fairy tale a product of later eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature, when kings and queens are already seeming under threat, so there is an inherent hint of Disneyan/Ruritanian nostagia in those princesses in their castles; stories in all cultures naturally cluster around characters distinguished by birth (with strength, talents, etc.) but also by high position in a hierarchical system of government (think of Greek myths re: heroes, gods); if you go to African folklore, say, you will find more of these other structure of government? NB: you do not need a PhD in literature to observe that little girls in particular want to hear stories about princesses in long flowing & preferably pink dresses & tiaras, it is one of the mysteries of life!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Miscellanea


Dani Rodrik on Bill Easterly:

As for Bill Easterly, I'm afraid Dingel put it best: "If you're overconfident about development, Bill Easterly pokes holes in your arguments. And if you're modest, he makes fun of you."


Sociologists on cities:

Is there anything negative about a global city?

Sassen: Global cities are two-edged swords. They bring economic dynamics - and that means jobs, life on the streets at night, vibrant restaurants, and so on.

But they do create 20 percent of the population which is extremely prosperous and a risk that they will take over key areas of the city with luxury office buildings, luxury housing and consumption spaces. This displaces smaller shopkeepers, the old modest middle classes. They lose.

My research suggests that ultimately cities are better off being dynamic (and hence global cities) but they do need political and civic leadership to balance out the extreme outcomes that markets left to themselves can produce.

European cities are much better than US cities. New York, the ultimate market town, has the highest share of very rich people and very powerful firms in the US and the highest share (over 20 percent) of officially counted poor ... and, according to the most recent count, over 100,000 homeless. That shows something about matters left to markets.


Peter Dorman has a challenge for fans of computable general equilibrium models:

I’m currently working with Sightline Institute in Seattle, monitoring the economic analysis phase of the Western Climate Initiative. WCI, which consists of seven US states and three Canadian provinces, is cooking up a common carbon emissions plan, and a consulting firm has been brought onboard to help clarify the economic implications of different policy alternatives. There are many issues specific to this project I may return to later, but for now I’d like to put the spotlight on the methodology WCI will be relying on, CGE modeling. I think these models are so dubious theoretically and unreliable in practice that there is no case for using them. In particular, I am issuing a challenge to their defenders: if no one can answer it, the case is closed. ...

Now for the challenge. As far as I know, there has never been a rigorous ex post evaluation of CGE models in practice, one that compares predicted to actual outcomes. ... My challenge is for those who think there is anything to CGE to come up with evidence that their forecasts add value—either careful retrospective analysis, market applications or both. ... [...more...]


From MarketPlace:

Play Budget Hero

I haven't played Budget Hero myself. Comments?


Missing salmon:

You could count on the fingers of both hands — no thumbs needed — the number of spring chinook salmon that swam through Willamette Falls Fish Passage on May 25.

There were eight of ’em. Just eight, bringing the total for the year to 4,794.

Read it and weep, if you fish for salmon — or care about a Northwest icon.

Eight salmon when the spring chinook run should be peaking. Eight lonely fish at a time springers normally are running so thick the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife falls far behind in posting daily counts.

“Please be patient,” says an ODFW notice usually posted in May. “Two thousand fish a day... can take two days to count” on videotape. ...

[T]he decline in the Willamette salmon run is stunning in its suddenness.

It was only four years ago, in the spring of 2004, that a record high — 95,968 spring chinook — was counted at the falls. On May 25 that year, 776 salmon passed the viewing window, bringing the cumulative total to 77,975.

Since then, the numbers have plummeted as follows (all counts as of May 28):

Year Adults Jacks
2004 80,510 513
2005 25,116 778
2006 25,002 130
2007 16,066 152
2008 5,120 52

What happened? Biologists are baffled.

“We’ve been scratching our heads and saying, ‘Man, that can’t be ... we must be missing ’em somehow,” district fish biologist Jeff Ziller said.

Theories range from disease to predation to ocean conditions. But hard evidence is lacking.

One inescapable fact is that hatchery-reared fish are returning at a much lower rate this spring than their naturally spawned cousins. ...

Ziller estimates the survival rate of the wild smolts returning as adults this year will wind up being five to 10 times higher than the hatchery smolts.

“You start looking at the mechanisms of loss and wondering about fitness, predation avoidance and disease resistance,” he said. ...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Real World

I think I need to pay more attention. This isn't the only recent incident along these lines, not at all, but it's representative. Earlier this week, when I got home, there was a big bundle of mail on my front porch. The mail carrier had left it there - I guess my section of the common neighborhood mailbox was full and wouldn't hold any more. Turns out I hadn't picked up my mail since right around April 1.

In the mail was a jury summons. I was supposed to be in court on May 2, i.e. Friday before last, and to have the paperwork in two weeks before that.

Oops - I blame blogging.

So I called and said here I am, come arrest me. The jury clerk told me not to worry, the case had been dismissed and they had excused everyone (you call the night before to see if you have to sit on the trial). No harm, no foul.

Actually, almost everything seems to work out anyway, so maybe I should just wait for the real world to find me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Guns

[I wrote this many days ago, but I’ve been afraid to post it. As the title says, it’s about guns.]


I can't remember the first time I went hunting with my dad. Hunting was just something my dad always did, just like his dad, and his dad before that, and he let me tag along as soon as I was able to keep up.

Hunting wasn’t all we did. On weekends in my family, you went hunting, you went fishing for salmon, steelhead, trout, bass, whatever you could catch, things like that. Sometimes, we'd camp way up in the mountains in the Sierras, you could only get there by four wheel drive, and we'd pan for gold on a claim we had. I think now of the environmental damage we must have done using a ventura to vacuum up the bottom of the stream, run it through rockers, then pan what was left - the stream would get muddy and cloudy as far as you could see downstream - though the trout fishing didn't seem to diminish much. We still have little bottles of gold and a few quartz nuggets from those days. My dad and brother also rode dirt bikes, as my do several cousins and uncles, and my brother was a ranked rider until he hit something in a race in the desert several years ago, punctured a lung, broke some bones, and he decided (was told by his wife) that was enough of that. It wasn’t his first accident. I rode bikes a few times, but never saw the attraction so I left that to others in the family. My brother was a defensive lineman at Oregon State University (about the time Marcus Allen played for USC, they played against each other), and seems to have a much greater tolerance for tearing himself up physically than I do, so that probably explains the difference in tastes. One of my uncles raced hydroplanes, but, like my brother his racing came to an end after he got married and had a family. He didn’t have an accident like my brother did, but my aunt saw one too many accidents with other boats, one deadly, and that was the end of that. So he bought a ski boat instead and that was another thing we did a lot.

But back to hunting. I can't think of a single male relative who doesn't hunt now, or who hasn't hunted in the past. They all had hunting dogs as well. My grandfather had a shepherd of some sort, gray and white, and you didn't dare use the word "chicken" in the dog's presence as he would go nuts thinking you were taking him pheasant hunting. But apparently he couldn't hold a candle to the dog before that, good old "Bo," who could literally herd pheasants your way as you hunted, fetched ducks, loved kids, etc. We had a pointer, a Brittany spaniel, and my dad and I spent many weekends taking her out when she was young, training her how to hunt (e.g. stopping her from bolting after the birds at first scent). People invested a lot in their dogs, and boasts of who had the best hunting dog were heard frequently, it was a point of pride. I’m still amazed at the way pointers work and they way they can hold a bird. I still like watching them work a field.

As we hunted, and at other times, my dad and my grandfather would tell me stories about how many ducks and geese there were in the good old days, before their numbers started to decline (the mascot at my dad's high school in Yuba City was a "honker," still is as far as I know). There’s a certain something in their voices as they talk about it, awe, a sense of loss, I don’t know what really, but they made it seem like something you wish you had seen. Two of my relatives are really into duck hunting. One's family has been in the area I grew up in since it was settled, or nearly so. He's a rice farmer mainly, though he grows lots of other things too, walnuts, Lima beans, wheat, and I don't know what else, whatever he thinks will be profitable, and he has always done quite well. He's a member of an exclusive duck club in the Butte basin adjoining his property; it’s a club where it's hard to get a membership except by heredity. The club only allows hunting twice a week - the rest of the time the ducks are left alone. When I lived there long ago, there were a few movie stars that were members, Robert Stack and George Kennedy come to mind, so it wasn’t impossible to get a membership as an outsider, but it wasn't easy (both had filmed movies there – the town is in California but looks very southern, particularly the courthouse, so the movie studios used the town to shoot movies with southern scenes and that's how both of them found it – they used to show up at the golf course where I worked picking up range balls so I could play for free and that was always kind of fun.).

My uncle and cousin had extensive knowledge of ducks, I was always surprised by how much they knew. They'd see a duck flying pretty far away and could tell you if it was a wood duck, pintail, teal, widgeon, etc. When they hunted, they were pretty picky and would only shoot certain types, letting the others go. If you ever get the chance, crawl up on ducks that are settling for the night, when there are thousands and thousands together and they roll like a wave. The sound is incredible, and if you can get close without them knowing, it's an opportunity you should take. It’s something to see (but please, for those of you who know what I'm talking about, leave the shoestrings in the truck...).

People I grew up with were just as crazy about hunting as people in my family. In high school, we'd party until early into the morning, then a lot of my classmates would get up before dawn, go to the blind, set out the decoys if they weren't out already, then sit there in the cold, rain, and fog waiting for ducks and geese to fly by so they could call them in with their duck calls (even I know some of the different calls you use to try to lure them in). I went to the parties, no doubt about that, but left the early morning duck hunting for others. They seemed to think it was great fun, but I could never ever see why. I went a few times with my dad or relatives when I was young, but declined invitations as soon as I was old enough to realize I could say no. People where I grew up were pretty crazy about ducks and talk of duck hunting dominated a lot of conversation, both within my family, and among my friends. Not all of them were into it, but enough, and everyone had some sort of acquaintance with it. A lot of them refilled shotgun shells as well, you don’t buy shells if you hunt as much as they do, you buy the powder, wadding, casings if needed, firing pins, etc. and assemble them yourself with the aid of a machine. Some people in my family had these setups, and though we didn’t have one. But I still know how to refill shells just from helping friends and I could always use their machines. One thing for sure, we were never short of gunpowder (and that wasn’t always a good thing, but that’s another story).

I followed the usual progression: Lots of exposure to guns, my own BB gun at age seven or eight, gun lessons and a shotgun by age 12. One thing, though, that I want to emphasize is how much respect for guns and gun safety was drilled into my head from day one. There were things you did, things you didn’t do, and it started from the very first time you tagged along just to watch. I won’t even try to detail all the rules, but anyone who knows them also knows that Vice-President Cheney did not have this kind of training (don’t know why I would expect someone with his background to have had it, he plays like he’s one of the hunting types, but wearing the costume doesn’t give the knowledge you get growing up in this environment). If he had the proper training and respect for guns, the accident would not have happened. When you are hunting, you don’t swing past the line. Never, ever, ever, ever. You don’t do it, and it’s not okay to do it just this once even if it’s the best opportunity you ever had in all your days hunting. You walk in a line, you stay in the line – it’s dangerous to fall behind or get out in front so you keep everyone in sight and make sure you are in formation – and you only shoot in front of the line. When a bird takes flight and crosses the line, you let it go. Period. There are rules, and you depend upon everyone following them to the letter.

One time I took my BB gun to my grandfather’s. I wasn’t allowed to shoot it in town where we lived, and never did, not even once, but my grandfather lived out in the country, there wasn’t another house for miles, so we were allowed to shoot there (but only BB guns, not 22s). During the visit, I was shooting cans or something with my older cousin, and we broke one of the rules. Somehow, my grandfather found out about it and my cousin and I were told we could not shoot our BB guns there anymore. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time and I was crushed to have disappointed my grandfather, absolutely crushed. I can still remember how bad I felt. I was eventually allowed to shoot there again, but not for quite awhile, and it made a huge impression on me. I don’t think I ever consciously broke a gun rule after that. In my family, and it was no different among the people I knew, if you broke the rules, even once, they never asked you to go hunting again. They might let someone like Cheney tag along, but he wouldn’t be allowed to bring a gun, not with his history. The rules covered all sorts of things. As an example, if anyone in my family ever saw me intentionally shoot something that I didn’t intend to take home, take the time to clean, and eat, they would never hunt with me again (I absolutely hated the cleaning part, that alone was enough to stop me from wanting to hunt as I got older, setting aside the entrails -please - ever try to pluck a snow goose?). If you shot a dove out of a tree instead of in flight, that was considered to be unfair and you’d be ostracized. As I said, there were rules, and you followed them.

I think I saw a handgun once or twice growing up, but rarely. On those few occasions, the person handling the gun didn’t seem very careful to me, and it made me nervous (you check to see if a gun is loaded every time you pick it up, no exceptions, even if you set it down fairly recently, and it started with failure to do that simple safety check). I just wanted it put away. Shotguns, 22s, rifles for deer or elk hunting, those were mostly what you saw (and rifles were rare too, it was mostly shotguns). We didn’t much worry about protecting ourselves, that’s not what the guns were for. We probably locked our doors, but we didn’t have to, it was pretty safe, everyone knew when there was a stranger in the neighborhood. And though the guns weren’t kept for that purpose, anyone contemplating breaking into a house knew, or should have known, that most people had a shotgun and their house and people who knew how to use it. And use it well. There was just no need for handguns.

I understand the problems handguns cause in big cities. Well, as much as I can understand from having lived in one for three and a half years. Other than that I’ve lived in mid-size cities or small towns in rural surroundings. I read somewhere recently that rural voters are one of the key elements in the race between Clinton and Obama. If so, and this isn’t news to anyone, they need to tread lightly on the gun issue. To people who grew up like I did, guns aren’t just something that are used for hunting, they’re a symbol of a way of life. Sadly, an uncle of mine passed away recently and not long after I was presented by my father, rather ceremoniously in its own way, with a gun that had belonged to my grandfather and had passed through my uncle’s hands. I took it – I still have the 20 gauge one I got when I was twelve years old, and another old 12 gauge Winchester (another of my grandfather’s guns I was given when he passed away). I had to take the guns, even if I wanted to get rid of them I couldn’t do it while my dad was still alive, and even then I’d give them to my brother or someone else in the family – there’s no shortage of options. I don’t even have 12-gauge shells any more I don’t think, but the guns themselves have a long family history and I will likely pass them along to my kids someday, or to their kids, who knows. I have another gun that belonged to my grandfather’s dad’s, a really old pump, my dad called it a riot gun, and for all I know it’s worth something. But I’ve never checked and don’t plan to. It too will stay within the family.

Maybe if I’d spent more time in a big city and observed first-hand the troubles that handguns can cause I’d feel different about the whole gun issue, but anything that might force me to have to register the guns I have, give them up, anything approximating that I would resist. I can remember seeing my grandfather wearing his vest and hat, carrying that Winchester hunting pheasants in sugar beet fields, the wheat and rice stubble, riding with him in his pickup as a kid on the way there with the dog hanging out the window itching to get started. Those are wonderful memories, and having the guns is somehow connected back to all of that, to my family history, to time as a kid with my dad, grandfather, uncles, and cousins. It recalls a way of life I no longer live, but it will always be with me. I can’t exactly explain how guns fit into all that, but I know that they do.

I don’t know if this helps any of you understand the gun issue better or not, I hope it does. It’s not just a bunch of bozos in funny hats drinking beer and shooting stuff just to kill it (beer is not allowed). I have let the tradition die, I didn’t teach my sons or daughter how to hunt, or even how to shoot guns. I can take a shotgun apart, every single piece, clean it, and put it back together, and could from a very young age, but my kids don’t know how to do that and probably never will. I feel kind of bad about that, about not passing certain traditions and knowledge along, and I wonder what the guns will mean to them when they get them. They probably won’t mean much, not in the way they have meaning to me, they don’t connect to memories of time with family and friends, or to a way of life. They’ll be something they remember from my house, if they even remember at all since they are hidden away out of sight. Maybe somebody will make a few bucks someday selling them once there’s little meaning left. I guess it’s okay that I didn’t pass the gun thing along, maybe losing cultural connections to a way of life that involves guns isn’t so bad, though I have to admit part of me wonders if I shouldn’t have done more. I guess I want them to have the same memories I have, the same connections to me that I have to my dad, and the outdoor-type image has some attractiveness I suppose. I don’t know. There’s something about getting up early, trudging in the cold through wet fields until you and the dogs are dead tired, often coming up empty-handed but somehow that didn’t matter, generations of family together sharing stories from the past, and creating new ones to be told in the future. Because of all this, I think, I resist restrictions on guns. I guess it’s my history but I can’t logically explain why I resist more control over guns other than what I’ve said above. I don’t have any problem with some restrictions, e.g. waiting periods, bans on certain types of guns, and I don’t have much use for handguns, so restrictions on those don’t bother me too much, but I would have trouble with an outright ban on all handguns. And, sorry, but I’m not giving up my shotguns. I’m not about to register them with anyone or tell the government that I have them, and the government is not welcome to come into my house and see if they are there (I guess they could read this). I know there are no plans to do this, that’s not a real worry, but there are surely limits on what I would be in favor of.

I have no emotional connection to the problems guns create in major cities. I see it on the news, read about it, but it’s not real. Where I live now, there’s not a single area of town I wouldn’t walk in, unarmed, alone, any time of the night or day, and this is an urban area of around 200,000 people. The small town I grew up in is even safer. The fear that I suppose exists for a lot of people about guns doesn’t affect me or the people around me. The gun issue is far from the most important thing for us to worry about, and there is very little for a politician to gain by taking on the gun issue if rural votes are important for winning. I don’t have any particular message to deliver, and I don’t mean to preach, I don’t even think I’m very logical on policy issues where guns are concerned so I won’t offer any. I just wanted to write down a few of my experiences, explain how guns are connected to my past, hoping it might help people see this issue through other eyes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mad Fold-Ins

For fun:

Fold-Ins, Past and Present: Al Jaffee's fold-ins for Mad magazine, from the 1960s to the present, in interactive form.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Are You Sure?

I wonder if the author is certain about this:

On Being Certain: Believing You are Right Even When You are Wrong: The day after the 1986 Challenger shuttle accident, psychologist Ulric Neisser asked 106 students to write down exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the explosion. When he interviewed the students two and a half years later, 25 percent of them gave strikingly different accounts. But when confronted with their original journal entries, many students defended their beliefs. One of them answered, “That’s my handwriting, but that’s not what happened.” ...

Robert A. Burton tries to get to the bottom of the curious sensation he calls the “feeling of knowing”—being certain of a fact despite having no (or even contrary) evidence. Throughout his book, Burton makes the compelling argument that certainty “is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process.” Instead, he says, that unmistakable sense of certainty “arises out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.”

Burton thinks that just as we perceive our external world through our physical senses, our internal world presents itself in the form of feelings, such as familiar or strange and correct or incorrect. And he shows that these inner perceptions are necessary for us to function properly in everyday life, because our thoughts are subject to constant self-questioning. For example, even though reason may tell us that running up a tree to escape a lion is an excellent strategy, experience shows that great strategies can fail and that there may be better options. Because alternative choices are present in any situation, logical thought alone would be doomed to a perpetual “yes, but” questioning routine. Burton reasons that it is the feeling of knowing that solves this dilemma of how to reach a conclusion. Without this “circuit breaker,” indecision and inaction would rule the day.

One of the startling implications of Burton’s thesis is that we ultimately cannot trust ourselves when we believe we know something to be true. “We can’t afford to continue with the outdated claims of a perfectly rational unconscious or knowing when we can trust gut feelings,” he writes. ...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Sinte Klaas"

The transformation of St. Nicholas:

St. Nick in the Big City, by John Anthony McGuckin, Commentary, NY Times: St. Nicholas was a super-saint with an immense cult for most of the Christian past. There may be more icons surviving for Nicholas alone than for all the other saints of Christendom put together. So what happened to him? Where’s the fourth-century Anatolian bishop who presided over gift-giving to poor children? And how did we get the new icon of mass consumerism in his place?

Well, it’s a New York story.

In all innocence, the morphing began with the Dutch Christians of New Amsterdam, who remembered St. Nicholas from the old country and called him Sinte Klaas. They had kept alive an old memory — that a kindly old cleric brought little gifts to the poor in the weeks leading up to the Feast of the Nativity. While the gifts were important, they were never meant to overshadow the message of Jesus’s humble birth.

But today’s chubby Santa is not about giving to the poor. He has had his saintly garb stripped away. The filling out of the figure, the loss of the vestments, and his transformation into a beery fellow smoking a pipe combined to form a caricature of Dutch peasant culture. Eventually this Magic Santa (a suitable patron saint if there ever was one for the burgeoning capitalist machinery of the city) was of course popularized by the Manhattanite Clement Clarke Moore published in “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” in The Troy (New York) Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823.

The newly created deity Santa soon attracted a school of iconographers: notable among them were Thomas Nast, whose 1863 image of a red-suited giant in Harper’s Weekly set the tone, and Haddon Sundblom, who drew up the archetypal image we know today on behalf of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s. This Santa was regularly accompanied by the flying reindeer: godlike in his majesty and presiding over the winter darkness like Odin the sky god returned.

The new Santa also acquired a host of Nordic elves to replace the small dark-skinned boy called Black Peter, who in Christian tradition so loved St. Nicholas that he traveled with him everywhere. But, some might say, wasn’t it better to lose this racially stereotyped relic? Actually, no, considering the real St. Nicholas first came into contact with Peter when he raided the slave market in his hometown and railed against the trade. The story tells us that when the slavers refused to take him seriously, he used the church’s funds to redeem Peter and gave the boy a job in the church.

And what of the throwing of the bags of gold down the chimney, where they landed in the stockings and little shoes that had been hung up to dry by the fireplace? Charming though it sounds, it reflected the deplorable custom, still prevalent in late Roman society when the Byzantine church was struggling to establish the supremacy of its values, of selling surplus daughters into bondage. This was a euphemism for sexual slavery — a trade that still blights our world.

As the tale goes, Nicholas had heard that a father in the town planned to sell his three daughters because his debts had been called in by pitiless creditors. As he did for Black Peter, Nicholas raided his church funds to secure the redemption of the girls. He dropped the gold down the chimney to save face for the impoverished father.

This tale was the origin of a whole subsequent series of efforts among the Christians who celebrated Nicholas to make some effort to redeem the lot of the poor — especially children, who always were, and still are, the world’s front-line victims. Such was the origin of Christmas almsgiving: gifts for the poor, not just gifts for our friends.

I like St. Nicholas. You can keep chubby Santa.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Dress Your Turkey with Tin Foil

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Trial and Error

I don't have any grand point to make here (though if you do, please make it), just thought you might find this interesting. It's on the relationship between mathematics and technology:

Even without math, ancients engineered sophisticated machines, EurekAlert: Move over, Archimedes. A researcher at Harvard University is finding that ancient Greek craftsmen were able to engineer sophisticated machines without necessarily understanding the mathematical theory behind their construction.

Recent analysis of technical treatises and literary sources dating back to the fifth century B.C. reveals that technology flourished among practitioners with limited theoretical knowledge.

“Craftsmen had their own kind of knowledge that didn’t have to be based on theory,” explains Mark Schiefsky, professor of the classics in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “They didn’t all go to Plato’s Academy to learn geometry, and yet they were able to construct precisely calibrated devices.”

The balance, used to measure weight throughout the ancient world, best illustrates Schiefsky’s findings on the distinction between theoretical and practitioner’s knowledge. Working with a group led by Jürgen Renn, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Schiefsky has found that the steelyard—a balance with unequal arms—was in use as early as the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., before Archimedes and other thinkers of the Hellenistic era gave a mathematical demonstration of its theoretical foundations.

“People assume that Archimedes was the first to use the steelyard because they suppose you can’t create one without knowing the law of the lever. In fact, you can—and people did. Craftsmen had their own set of rules for making the scale and calibrating the device,” says Schiefsky.

Practical needs, as well as trial-and-error, led to the development of technologies such as the steelyard.

“If someone brings a 100-pound slab of meat to the agora, how do you weigh it"” Schiefsky asks. “It would be nice to have a 10-pound counterweight instead of a 100-pound counterweight, but to do so you need to change the balance point and ostensibly understand the principle of proportionality between weight and distance from the fulcrum. Yet, these craftsmen were able to use and calibrate these devices without understanding the law of the lever.”

Craftsmen learned to improve these machines through productive use, over the course of their careers, Schiefsky says.

With the rise of mathematical knowledge in the Hellenistic era, theory came to exert a greater influence on the development of ancient technologies. The catapult, developed in the third century B.C., provides evidence of the ways in which engineering became systematized.

With the help of literary sources and data from archaeological excavations, “We can actually trace when the ancients started to use mathematical methods to construct the catapult,” notes Schiefsky. “The machines were built and calibrated precisely.”

Alexandrian kings developed and patronized an active research program to further refine the catapult. Through experimentation and the application of mathematical methods, such as those developed by Archimedes, craftsmen were able to construct highly powerful machines. Twisted animal sinews helped to increase the power of the launching arm, which could hurl stones weighing 50 pounds or more.

The catapult had a large impact on the politics of the ancient world.

“You could suddenly attack a city that had previously been impenetrable,” Schiefsky explains. “These machines changed the course of history.”

According to Schiefsky, the interplay between theoretical knowledge and practical know-how is crucial to the history of Western science.

“It’s important to explore what the craftsmen did and didn’t know,” Schiefsky says, “so that we can better understand how their work fits into the arc of scientific development.”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Inattentiveness

Apologies If I've been less attentive lately, and posts the last few days have been mostly just one or two sentences of introduction. Here's why. The pictures are a day behind since this part of Flagstaff is not on the Edge network, though hopefully they will post sometime today (yesterday was Arches National Park in Moab, Utah and I have to say it was pretty cool). So far, as national parks go, I've been to Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain, Arches, and I'm heading off to the Grand Canyon in about half an hour. I wish the iPhone camera was better, but it's all I have so it will have to do.  After today, who knows? I'm deciding where to go next somewhat spontaneously.

Mark

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spontaneous Vacation

iPhone Road Blogging.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The First Mach 3 Flight: The XB-70A

Seeing an uncle of mine this summer reminded me to make an image of this, which is getting very old and brittle. I don't mean to bore you with my scrapbook, this is just so I have a digital copy, but maybe someone will be interested. It's a postcard, and the test pilot signatures (Al White and Joe Cotton) from the first flight to break the Mach 3 barrier:

Continue reading "The First Mach 3 Flight: The XB-70A" »

Monday, July 23, 2007

Northern California before the Gold Rush

There were less posts than usual today. One reason is that I started reading this history of the town I grew up in, a small town in Northern California called Colusa, and it captured my attention. This probably interests me more than you since the places, names, etc. are all so familiar to me, but if you are interested, here's the chapter I just read.

If you know Northern California at all, Sutter's Mill where gold was discovered in 1848, Bodega, Sacramento, Yerba Buena, Chico, etc., this will be familiar to you too. It's an account by John Bidwell of his early experiences in California (this is in the 1840s just before the Gold Rush, he was one of the first to arrive in many areas of Northern California, there's a Bidwell Mansion in Chico adjacent to the CSU Chico campus). Toward the end, he describes an encounter with native Americans where he was the first white person they had ever seen, and his account also describes, among many other things, the harsh treatment the native Americans received from the new arrivals. The bear hunting lessons given in two places might be of interest, there's a woodsman who can't find his way home, and there's some economics here and there as well if you look for it:

Colusa County: Its History Traced from a State of nature through the Early Period of Settlement and Development to the Present Day with a Description of its Resources, Statistical Tables, etc., Biographical Sketches of Pioneers and Prominent Residents. Orland. 1891: Explorations of Colusa County, Chapter 3, Furnished by Gen. John Bidwell.

[General John Bidwell, of Chico, was one of the first to cross the plains from the Missouri River, making his journey to California between May 5 and November 5 1841. But as the first-known white explorer of Colusa County, his travels and experiences form necessarily an interesting chapter in the early periods of Colusa County. General Bidwell kindly consented to furnish us with his autobiography, of which we gladly availed ourselves, taking down his narrative as he dictated to us. As the autobiography is complete and somewhat lengthy, we are obliged to cull only those passages therefrom which pertain to Colusa County. The narrative as a whole is most interesting, in some places thrilling, and is told in such simplicity of style and attractiveness of manner that, feeling obliged to omit it, we do so with regret. Only a fear of marring the unities of our purpose to treat here solely of Colusa County caused us to forego the pleasure of giving his autobiography in its entirety.-Author.]

I may premise what I have to say further on concerning what is now Colusa County and as I saw it then in a state of nature, which no white man had ever entered except a few wandering trappers till I passed through it, by giving a brief outline of my earlier experiences in California. These may be necessary, in order not to lead up too abruptly to my little narrative concerning Colusa County.

After completing my journey across the plains, which occupied six months of the year 1841, I went to Sutter's ranch, near Sacramento, and entered the employ of Sutter, where I remained till the January following. There was at that time no fort yet built, only a station for a few ranchers, hunters, and fur traders. Sutter employed Indian hunters and trappers. They used carbines chiefly, though a few had rifles. The settlement, if it could then be so designated, was in an embryo state. No crops had been raised; grain had been sown, but, owing to an unprecedentedly dry season, it had failed to mature. There was no such thing as bread, so we had to eat beef, and occasionally game, such as elk. deer, antelope, wild geese, and ducks. Our Christmas dinner that year was entirely of ducks.

Continue reading "Northern California before the Gold Rush" »

Friday, June 08, 2007

Conservative Legal Scholar Smackdown

I don't think Scooter Libby trial Judge Reggie Walton appreciated the intervention of "12 fancy lawyers" into his case. From ThinkProgress:

Judge smacks ‘luminaries’ defending Libby, by Nico: A dozen mostly libertarian and conservative legal scholars, including rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, submitted an amicus brief to Scooter Libby trial Judge Reggie Walton today “arguing that that there are serious constitutional questions about the legal authority” of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Emptywheel highlights this bitingly sarcastic response from Judge Walton:

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics’ willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.

The original post at The Next Hurrah adds:

I'm reminded of Judge Walton's face when Ted Wells insisted on reading the letters from Wolfie et al before the sentencing. He was staring up at the ceiling with his lips pursed, a look of disgust that Team Libby insisted on carrying out their big show regardless of any effect it might have on Walton. Walton was just a prop, it seemed, in Ted Wells' circus. And from the look of things, Walton isn't any happier about this latest stunt...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Sutter Buttes

The subject of this story, the Sutter Buttes in California, is pretty familiar to me. I grew up a few miles from there and my relatives own some of the land that is the subject of this NY Times story. I'm at my parents right now and am not very far away from the Buttes as I write this. I was born in Yuba City and grew up in Colusa - it's too small to be shown on the map - but it's at the base of the A in the California label on the map at the bend in highway 20 due west of the Buttes. It's right on the Sacramento river. The story is about the state's attempts to establish a state park and open the Buttes to the public.

Buttes331707

In the video below, just after the opening, there is an orchard shown briefly, you may not notice. My aunt (my mom's sister) and uncle live on a farm/ranch just above there on one of the small hills at the base of the Buttes, and my uncle's brothers also live and own land in the Buttes. My uncles' family has lived in the Buttes for generations.

As the video goes on, it eventually talks about the native Americans who lived in the Buttes (the valley flooded in winter so the Buttes were a refuge, and it was cooler than the valley floor in summer) and it shows a rock with holes in it that were drilled over time from grinding acorns. If I remember right, the acorns have to be ground and boiled to be safely edible. Each year my family has an Easter picnic on that land - it's owned by a cousin of my mom's, and the kids are drawn to the rock and others like it. It's shown here, the flat rock at the bottom of the picture, though the video shows it much better:

Buttes131707

Though it's not mentioned in the story, my mom told me that her cousin and her husband are selling the land for the park to the state, part of it is shown in this picture. Anyway, for anyone who's interested, this is the video:

And this is the story (the video's better, though it doesn't mention one interesting feature of the Buttes, and another reason I thought access was limited in the 1960s, two huge underground missile silos left-over from the cold war -- you had to sneak in to see them):

A Chance to Hike California’s Hidden Buttes (Maybe), by Don Knapp, NY Times: To motorists traveling on Interstate 5 through the Sacramento Valley of Northern California, the distant Sutter Buttes resemble mountains one might see in a Disney animated movie — a compact cluster of twisted peaks and rounded knobs that rise abruptly above the pancake-flat valley floor.

Fewer travelers have seen the closer view from Yuba City on the eastern side of the valley. There, the Buttes rise just high enough behind the town to create a powerful background for a postcard. They’re so close, so low and so intriguing that they could be a Hollywood movie set — theatrical, cosmetic.

Continue reading "The Sutter Buttes" »

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Email Files

A few things I've received by email recently:

Continue reading "The Email Files" »

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Here's a repeat from last year, the Gutenberg EBook: Twas The Night Before Christmas:


G1

Continue reading "Twas The Night Before Christmas" »

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What Happens at the North Pole Stays at the North Pole...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Set to the Tune of...

Canada's true dough has a variation of an old favorite, American Pie:

American Pie, by true dough: CIBC's Avery Shenfield was feeling a little artsy when he published the bank's latest weekly forecast. Here's an excerpt from his rendition of 'American Pie':

A long, long time ago…
I can still remember,
how the data used to make us smile
And I knew that if they had the chance
That stores could make the shoppers dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But housing prices made them shiver
With no more tax cuts to deliver
Bad news on the wealth front
It couldn’t be much more blunt
I can’t remember if I tried
To have my VISA charred and fried
But something hit me deep inside
The day, the house boom died.

So buy, buy, the consumer won’t buy
Leaving Chevys at the levee
And Ford sales running dry
And Wall Street boys were drinking Perrier and rye

Singing this will be the day that I die
This will be the day that I die.

More of that here (pdf).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Heavens to Murgatroid!"

This seems harsh. I was just a kid, but I kinda liked some of these cartoons:

Barberanism in cartoon land, by Martin Rowson, The Guardian: I've long believed that the cartoon shorts produced in Hollywood in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, mostly outside the baleful Disney gulag, are among the greatest achievements of western art.

These five-minute long essays in mayhem, featuring Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck..., and directed by the likes of Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones are (albeit silly) symphonies of joy. Right up there at the top stand Tom and Jerry, created by William Hanna and Joe Barbera, who's just died aged 95.

When you watch those Tom and Jerry cartoons, you don't just get all the victimless violence you could ever want, but also, frequently, a beauty which can rival anything in the movies. These little films won seven Oscars, and would often take up to a year to make. The technique was painstaking and very expensive (which was why in 1956 MGM closed its animation division where they made Tom and Jerry). The cartoons of that Golden Age should stand as a fitting and enduring monument to Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, and almost excuse their later crimes. But not quite. ...

Although everyone born in the last 60 years might imagine that they have happy childhood memories of The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound or, God help us, Scooby-Doo, the truth of the matter is that they're crap. Complete and utter crap. Worse, they're shoddily made crap, after Hanna-Barbera devised what they called "limited animation", more than halving the number of drawings from 26 per second to 3000 for five minutes... And thus they effectively destroyed animation for at least two generations, before it slowly began to claw its way back to respectability in the mid-90s.

Worse, this tat debauched not only its audience but also people within the profession. The great Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat and Porky Pig, ended his days voicing Barney Rubble. Friz Freleng, who directed some of the best Bugs Bunnies in the 40s, bent the knee to market forces and spent the 60s and 70s churning out The Pink Panther. Great theme, for sure, but those cartoons, too, were crap. ...

If you doubt me, just remember The Banana Splits. Or The Hair Bear Bunch. Or Shazam. I could go on, but I can't stand it. All I can suggest is that you get hold of Johann Mouse: in five sublime minutes it's worth more than everything Barbera knocked off in the next 40 years, and almost redeems his memory. But, as I said, not quite.

"Now hoooooold on thar, Baba Looey! I'll do the "thinnin'" around here, and doooon't you forget it!"

Okay, some of them weren't so great technically or artistically, but without cutting the frames per minute and other costs, cartoons may not have survived until the computer age brought cost-reducing technological change and turned things around. And, as the Simpson's makes clear, good writing is just as important as good animation. The best animation ever wouldn't have saved the Flintstones by the time The Great Gazoo showed up. "Touché and away!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Cosmopolitan Class

Economist Robert Shiller of Yale University says globalization is producing a growing divide between the "cosmopolitan" and "local" social classes:

A new cosmopolitan social class emerges, by Robert Shiller Project Syndicate: As globalization proceeds, with the help of ever-faster communications, faster travel and more powerful multinational corporations, a new cosmopolitan social class seems to be emerging. These citizens of the world are developing loyalties to each other that cross national boundaries.

I was at a dinner the other night with Yale World Fellows, a carefully selected group of professionals, representing every major country of the world... It was an unusual experience, because I began to feel that none of these people were really foreign to me. It seemed they were probably easier to talk to than the local Americans who were waiting on us and serving food.

Of course, a cosmopolitan class is hardly new. In fact, 50 years ago, in his classic book Social Theory and Social Structure, the late sociologist Robert Merton described the results of a case study of influential people in a typical US town, Rovere, New Jersey. ...

Merton discovered a strong pattern. Rovere's influential people seemed to be sharply divided into "cosmopolitan influentials," who habitually orient themselves with respect to the world at large, and "local influentials," who orient themselves with respect to their own town. As he and his assistants interviewed people, the division between the two groups became more intriguing, and significant, in his mind.

Merton did not say that the cosmopolitan influentials were influential outside Rovere -- apparently none of them was. What stood out instead was their habitual frame of reference, which was tied to their personal identities. When Merton engaged people in conversation, any topic would remind the cosmopolitan influentials of the world at large, while local influentials were reminded of things in their own town.

Cosmopolitan influentials, Merton said, tended to hang their success on their general knowledge, whereas locals relied on their friendships and connections. The cosmopolitan influentials were often uninterested in meeting new people in town -- the locals wanted to know everyone. ...

The local influentials, Merton discovered, spoke affectionately of their town, as if it were a unique place, and often said they would never leave. The cosmopolitans spoke as if they might leave any day.

What was true in Merton's day is becoming even more starkly true in today's globalized economy. What I find particularly striking is the sense of loyalty developing among cosmopolitans. ...

I  ... wonder ... why this is happening on such a scale now. Obviously, improved communications technology plays a role. But how much does that explain the impression that the division between cosmopolitans and locals is so much wider now?

One must realize that individuals ... make a conscious choice to become either cosmopolitans or locals, depending on their own personal talents and the perceived returns from making the choice.

In the twenty-first century, the new information age creates opportunities not just to be cosmopolitan in spirit and orientation, but to forge strong connections with other cosmopolitans. The cosmopolitans have shared experiences -- they are directly communicating with each other across the globe...

The cosmopolitans tend to be increasingly wealthy, and their wealth helps mark them as cosmopolitan. Thus, economic inequality is felt differently in today's world. Perhaps it is accepted resignedly, as the cosmopolitan class is too amorphous and ill-defined to be the target of any social movement. There is no spokesperson for the cosmopolitan class, no organization that could be blamed for what is happening.

I fear for the future. How will the cosmopolitan class behave as their role in the world economy continues to strengthen? How unfeeling will they come to be about the people who share their neighborhoods? Most importantly, if resentment by the locals emerges, what political consequences will result?

I'm not sure I could pick a friend at random and easily classify them according to the cosmopolitan/local distinction drawn above, though I suppose such a distinction might help to explain differences over policy issues such as trade and immigration (and I'm not sure the few I can classify easily had as much choice in the matter as Shiller implies). Locals would presumably prefer to protect a narrow set of interests while cosmopolitans take a broader view when assessing the costs and benefits of policy actions. Maybe I'm just blind to this distinction, or everyone I know is mostly one type. Does the cosmopolitan/local distinction ring true to you when you think about people you know? If so, are you as worried as Shiller is about cosmopolitans increasingly losing touch with or being at odds with the interests of the locals?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hard Time and Recidivism

Does harder prison time increase the likelihood of recidivism?:

Does Prison Harden Criminals? Yes., by Christopher Hayes: For a long time, those on the left who oppose the "tough on crime" policies of the last few decades have argued that the experience of incarceration itself makes those convicted of crime more disposed to future criminality. In prison, one learns from peers how to be a better criminal, makes criminal contacts and also acquires a permanent record that severely inhibits the possibility of future employment. The conservative argument is that the unpleasant experience of prison serves as a useful deterrent and discourages released prisoners from committing more crime. Both of these frameworks would predict that the effects of incarceration would be amplified by harsher, more restrictive prison conditions. ...

Remarkably, there's very little empirical evidence to suggest which of these two theories are correct. ...[T]here's been no empirical study of the effect of harsher prison conditions on recidivism rates.

Until now. Recently, economists Jesse Shapiro and Keith Chen posted a working paper titled Does prison harden inmates? A discontinuity-based approach. In it, the co-authors use an ingenious bit of statistical sleight of hand to lend empirical support evidence to those of us in the first camp: harsher prisons do make people more likely to commit crimes once they're released.

Here's how the methodology works. They took a data set of approximately 1,000 federal prisoners from the 1980s, whose re-arrest rates were tracked for three years. In the federal prison system, each new prisoner is assigned a score of 0-7 for a number of risk factors (prior record, the severity of the crime, etc...) and those points are totaled to compute a score of 0-36. Using that score, the prisoners are sorted into different security categories. For example, prisoners with scores of 0-6 get put into minimum security while those in 7-9 get put into low security, all the way up to high security for those with the highest scores. ...

Shapiro and Chen exploit the discontinuity between those prisoners with scores around the cut-offs, to show that the prison conditions themselves are likely contributing to more criminal activity after release. If each point on the scale means a criminal is marginally more likely to commit another crime, there's no reason there should be a bigger difference between those with a score of 5 and 6, and those with a score of 6 and 7. But it turns out there are differences, big ones. As you step up from prisoner with a score of 6, who gets placed in minimum security and a prisoner with a score of 7, who gets put in low security, you get a big increase in the recidivism rate. The same effect, though less pronounced happens between those in low security and those in high security.

In their conclusion, Shapiro and Chen write:

...Our findings suggest that harsher prison conditions cause higher rates of post-release criminal behavior, behavior which is also measurably more violent.

The criminal justice system is both the most dysfunctional aspect of American democracy and the most insulated from reform, thanks to a continuing legacy of the spike in crime in 1970s, and the political benefit of "get tough on crime measures" that exploit racial fears without ever giving them explicit mention.

At some point this has to change. It would be naive to think that facts alone are going to be the undoing of America's prison-industrial complex. But they certainly don't hurt.

Brad Plumer also covers this topic.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Looking Back to Today

Here's something Paul Krugman wrote in 1996. The instructions:

This was written for a special centennial issue of the NYT magazine. The instructions were to write it as if it were in an issue 100 years in the future, looking back at the past century.

So we're one tenth of the way to the future he is forecasting in this article. Would you have answered differently?:

White Collars Turn Blue, NY Times Magazine, September 1996: When looking backward, one must always be prepared to make allowances: it is unfair to blame late 20th-century observers for their failure to foresee everything about the century to come. Long-term social forecasting is an inexact science even now, and in 1996 the founders of modern nonlinear socioeconomics were still obscure graduate students. Still, even then many people understood that the major forces driving economic change would be the continuing advance of digital technology, on one side, and the spread of economic development to previously backward nations, on the other; in that sense there were no big surprises. The puzzle is why the pundits of the time completely misjudged the consequences of those changes.

Perhaps the best way to describe the flawed vision of fin-de-siecle futurists is to say that, with few exceptions, they expected the coming of an "immaculate" economy -- an economy in which people would be largely emancipated from any grubby involvement with the physical world. The future, everyone insisted, would bring an "information economy", which would mainly produce intangibles; the good jobs would go to "symbolic analysts", who would push icons around on computer screens; and knowledge rather than traditionally important resources like oil or land would become the main source of wealth and power.

But even in 1996 it should have been obvious that this was silly. First, for all the talk of an information economy, ultimately an economy must serve consumers -- and consumers don't want information, they want tangible goods. In particular, the billions of Third World families who finally began to have some purchasing power as the 20th century ended did not want to watch pretty graphics on the Internet -- they wanted to live in nice houses, drive cars, and eat meat. Second, the Information Revolution of the late 20th century was -- as everyone should have realized -- a spectacular but only partial success. Simple information processing became faster and cheaper than anyone had imagined possible; but the once confident Artificial Intelligence movement went from defeat to defeat. As Marvin Minsky, one of the movement's founders, despairingly remarked, "What people vaguely call common sense is actually more intricate than most of the technical expertise we admire". And it takes common sense to deal with the physical world -- which is why, even at the end of the 21st century, there are still no robot plumbers.

Continue reading "Looking Back to Today" »

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's Not Addictive

I'm out of coffee this morning and very irritable because of it, so it's hard not to think of this study from AEI:

Is Caffeine Addictive? A Review of the Literature, by Sally Satel, M.D., AEI Economic Policy Studies: Abstract The common-sense use of the term addiction is that regular consumption is irresistible and that it creates problems. Caffeine use does not fit this profile. Its intake does no harm to the individual or to society, and its users are not compelled to consume it. Though cessation of regular use may result in symptoms such as headache and lethargy, these are easily and reliably reversed by ingestion of caffeine. Some have argued that continued caffeine use is an attempt to suppress low grade withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness and lethargy. In some moderate users, this is possible; however, in experimental contexts, the phenomenon is too inconsistent to constitute a reliably valid syndrome.

I might not be compelled to consume it, but I'm throwing on some clothes, putting on a hat to hide bed hair, and heading to the nearest coffee dealer.

Uh-oh. I just realized blogging came before coffee. Good thing that's not addictive either.

Back soon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

That Settles It

I need to send this to my first ex-wife:

Game theory and toilet seats, by Chris Dillow: With this being Pre-Budget day [in the UK], you're probably expecting serious economic analysis. So here's a paper: "The social norm of leaving the toilet seat down: a game theoretic analysis." The gist:

We show conclusively that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down after use decreases welfare ... social norms are not always welfare-enhancing.

There's probably more proper economic analysis in this paper than we'll get from Brown today.

I don't care if it's been over twenty years, I win. However, Chris left something out. From the abstract of the paper:

We model the toilet seat problem as a 2 player non-cooperative game. We find that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, to the dismay of “mankind”, we also find that the social norm of leaving the seat down after use is a trembling-hand perfect equilibrium. Hence, sadly, this norm is not likely to go away.

Here's a bit more from the introduction:

Continue reading "That Settles It" »

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Robot-Human Sociology

Have you hugged your sociable robot today?:

Robotic pets may be bad medicine for melancholy, by Stephanie Schorow, MIT News Office: In the face of techno-doomsday punditry, Sherry Turkle has long been a proponent of the positive. In her books ... Turkle has explored the relationship between human and machine and found much to ponder and even praise.

But now the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self has a confession: "I have finally met technology that upsets and concerns me."

Turkle ... outlined her concerns about the implications of increasingly personal interactions between robots and humans during a ... lecture... Turkle, a clinical psychologist, spoke earnestly and openly about her fears, acknowledging that some parts of her research "gave me the chills" on a very personal level and that she is "struggling to find an open voice."

A pioneer of the now accepted notion that "technologies are never just tools," Turkle set the stage with a discussion of her work on machines as "evocative objects" and "relational artifacts." ... From Furbies to robotic dogs like Aibo to pocket "pets" like Tamagotchis to Paro, a robotic baby seal that responds to touch, children and even adults are forming bonds with machines, showing that the killer app may be "nurturing." That is, rather than the computer taking care of us, we take care of the computer, Turkle said.

Increasingly sophisticated robots--with big eyes that follow our faces or which respond to human voice and touch--trigger "Darwinian" responses in us; we are "wired" to react to objects that track our movement, Turkle said. "This is not about building AI with a lot of smarts," she said. The impact is "not on what it has but how it makes people feel."

One of Turkle's concerns was triggered by the effect of a sophisticated interactive doll, Hasbro's "My Real Baby," and of the Paro seals on the elderly. She left a few "My Real Baby" dolls (which were not a big retail hit with children) in a local nursing home, and when she returned later, she found that the staff had bought 25 of them because of the soothing effect on the residents.

"The only one who's not happy here is the sociologist," said Turkle, raising her hand. That soothing response was based on a sham, she believes. "What can something that does not have a life cycle know about your death, or about your pain?"

She cited the case of a 72-year-old woman who, because she is sad, says she sees that her robotic toy is also sad. "What are we to make of this relationship when it happened between a depressed woman and a robot?" Turkle asked.

The Q&A period triggered a lively debate over whether such bonding is necessarily bad. A questioner brought up the issue of how the elderly bond to pets. "A dog doesn't talk. A dog doesn't say, 'I love you,' '' Turkle said, although at least one listener insisted his dog does talk, in a fashion.

Turkle isn't sure what a dog can sense. "What I do know is Paro knows nothing. That sense of self soothing was with an object that knows nothing," she stated. Ultimately, human-like robots will be "test objects by which we are finding out new stuff about ourselves," Turkle said.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Higher Powered Economics

Stephen Gordon at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative offers an explanation for why "explaining economics to non-economists is as difficult - and as frustrating - as explaining the theory of evolution to creationists":

The Intelligent Design theory of economics, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative: Mark Thoma at Economist's View has been wading through what non-economists think of economics, and he's finding the exercise somewhat frustrating. For someone who hasn't had formal training in the field, anti-economics is often more persuasive than the real thing. Paul Krugman ran into this particular brick wall a few years ago, and realised that the correct response to many criticisms of economics is "You just don't understand".

I used to think that the yawning gap between economists' understanding of economic issues and that of non-economists was primarily a problem of communication: we simply were not doing our job of explaining our ideas to the broader audience of non-specialists. But it sometimes seems as though explaining economics to non-economists is as difficult - and as frustrating - as explaining the theory of evolution to creationists.

Intelligent Design as applied to economics takes pretty much the same form as it does with biology: "What we observe couldn't have just happened; it's obviously the work of some Greater Power." When it comes to evolution, the Greater Power generally takes the form of an omnipotent diety. The counterpart in economics is the 'economic elite': the existence of inequality is interpreted as evidence that those who have done well did so by design.

Economists do of course try to explain that market outcomes are the result of decentralised interactions between self-interested agents - and that these interactions generally lead to socially desirable outcomes. (And even when those outcomes are not desirable, market-based solutions are generally better than those based on what a central planner could come up with.)  But once you've convinced yourself that elites are manipulating market outcomes, it's all-too-easy to persuade yourself that those who would argue otherwise must necessarily be bought-and-paid-for apologists for the omnipotent elites. And once you've persuaded yourself of that, it becomes pretty much impossible for anyone to say anything that will budge you from your position.

Stefan Geens at economonitor adds more:

Intelligent design vs. the invisible hand, by Stefan Geens: A truly wonderful post on Worthwhile Canadian Initiative posits that the reason many people have trouble understanding basic economic principles is the same reason many people have trouble accepting evolutionary theory: They instinctively prefer an intelligent designer...

The analogy even bears some straining: Economics and evolution are both driven by an "invisible hand" of decentralized interactions between selfish agents, and both sciences are susceptible to interpretations that fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy: If it happens in the market, then it is good. If it happens in nature, then it is good. Neither inference holds, of course, and so we remain free to make normative statements about how best to regulate markets or how to lead a moral life.

I can't say I fully understand the resistance to economics, so not sure I agree. I can say that one of the things I've been most surprised about since I started doing this is how little regard many people have for economists and their ideas. I guess we still have lots of work left to do.

While we're on the topic, there's also this from Brian Caplan at Econlog:

Difference in Deference, by Brian Caplan, Econlog: Over at Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson amusingly contrasts the abject deference the public gives to physicists with the stubborn defiance the public gives to economists:

Consider how differently the public treats physics and economics. Physicists can say that this week they think the universe has eleven dimensions, three of which are purple, and two of which are twisted clockwise, and reporters will quote them unskeptically, saying "Isn't that cool!" ... I see the same pattern with my students - they'll easily believe physics claims, but are very reluctant to entertain standard economics claims. ... As Caplan emphasizes, the publics' problem with economics is not the things they don't know, it is the things they know that ain't so...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Externalities

I have an uncle who lives in the Sutter Buttes in California. He is a farmer and Thanksgiving at their house always means fresh turkey, as fresh as they come.

But he didn't raise turkeys for food, that was a positive externality. It turns out that turkeys are good for killing rattlesnakes, a big problem if you live in the Buttes, or at least that's what I was always told. Peacocks too, apparently, but they were too messy so after trying them for awhile, they go rid of them.

I always wondered if turkeys really do help to control rattlesnakes, but you don't argue with a farmer who has the accumulated knowledge of several generations living on and working the same land. He knew it worked and that was that, so I never questioned it much as a kid, I assumed it was true and repeated it often. But before repeating it here, I thought I should finally check to see if it really is true. A search with Google doesn't help much. Anecdotally:

I asked the owner if he had ever seen any rattlesnakes around.

"No," he said. "There used to be some around years ago, but since the turkeys became so abundant, I haven’t seen any. I guess the turkeys eat the babies."

I thought that sounded pretty logical.

And, from Wikipedia:

They also eat small vertebrates like snakes, frogs or salamanders.

But are turkeys up to the task? Are they brave like an eagle?:

The idea that Benjamin Franklin preferred the Turkey as the national bird comes from a letter he wrote to his daughter in 1784 criticizing the choice of the Eagle as the national bird and suggesting that a Turkey would have made a better alternative.

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

This letter to Franklin's daughter was written after congress spent six years choosing the eagle as the emblem of the newly formed country. While Franklin's disapproval with the choice of the Bald Eagle was evident, it is not apparent that he ever officially advocated for the turkey.

But for me, for today, just thanks.

I hope you all enjoy the day. I plan to.

[This is kind of a "turkey post," and not sure I should post it. Ah, what the heck, mostly just want to say thanks to all of you, it won't surprise anyone to learn I'm thankful for everyone who stops by here, even the cranky ones - you all make this work, I have little to do with it.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Unsupported Theories Dressed in Needlessly Complex Methods with a Side Order of Jargon"

I don't think Kim, a sociologist who contributes at Marginal Utility, is very impressed with this paper:

From the Files ..., by Kim: ... of "Unsupported Theories Dressed in Needlessly Complex Methods with a Side Order of Jargon," I present this article, from the most recent issue (71[5]) of American Sociological Review:*

The Institutionalization of Fame: Achievement, Recognition, and Cultural Consecration in Baseball, by Michael Allen and Nicholas Parsons**

"This article examines the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame as a cultural consecration project. It argues that the legitimacy of any consecration project depends on the cultural authority of the organization initiating the project, the rigorous selection procedures used by this organization, the relative selectivity of its outcomes, and the existence of objective differences in merit between the consecrated and the unconsecrated. However, prior research suggests that the relationship between merit and consecration is mediated by a series of social characteristics and contextual factors. This study proposes a theory of cumulative recognition, which asserts that the likelihood of consecration is affected by the cumulative effects of social characteristics and circumstances, prior social recognition, and media discourse, as well as by objective differences in achievement. The results of discrete-time event-history analyses of the outcomes of the Hall of Fame elections over the past four decades provide substantial confirmation of this theory. Overall, it is concluded that the procedural and substantive rationality exhibited by the Hall of Fame contributes greatly to its cultural legitimacy as a consecration project."

Translation of the results: When casting their Hall of Fame ballots, sportswriters are more likely to vote for players about whom sportswriters have written a lot of articles than to vote for equally productive players about whom sportswriters haven't written a lot of articles.

Yet simpler translation: Sportswriters vote for (i.e., they like) players who they write about (i.e., they like, usually).

Broader implication of results: Different measures of the same group's opinions are often correlated.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Now, about that support for the theory of legitimacy in cultural consecration projects...


* Lest you think I'm just picking on the abstract, the paper contains a series of dropped balls, strike outs, errors, and blown saves. If I had unlimited time, I'd write up a full critique (if only to get to use all these puns). But I don't.
** No, not THAT Parsons.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Cats Control Your Mind Blogging

I'll admit I haven't quite figured out what 'Friday cat blogging' is all about, but I'll try to play anyway. Via a link in the Flash section of the Discover Magazine web site, are cats contributing to mass personality changes?:

A University of California at Santa Barbara study finds countries with high rates of Toxoplasmosis are more neurotic and suggest the cat-borne parasite could be causing mass personality changes.

Here's the article from the Mind and Brain section of Seed Magazine:

Continue reading "Friday Cats Control Your Mind Blogging" »

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Leftovers

These are drafts of posts I collected this week, but didn't get to or didn't post for one reason or another. I thought I'd post them "as is" instead of deleting them. There are quite a few:

Continue reading "Leftovers" »

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Not Quite Ready for Prime-Time

These are things from the last few days I didn't post because I didnt' have time to get to them, they didn't quite fit, I wasn't sure they were interesting, the topic was interesting but my comments were lame and I wanted to think more, I forgot about them, they were too political, they involved the war or religion, they made for too many posts not directly related to economics that day, or there was some other reason. I usually end up deleting these drafts after a few days, but thought I'd try posting them here instead:

Continue reading "Not Quite Ready for Prime-Time" »

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And the Moral of the Story Is?

Something a bit different. This is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen written in 1855:

The Money-Box
by
Hans Christian Andersen
(1855)

Fairytale1N a nursery where a number of toys lay scattered about, a money-box stood on the top of a very high wardrobe. It was made of clay in the shape of a pig, and had been bought of the potter. In the back of the pig was a slit, and this slit had been enlarged with a knife, so that dollars, or crown pieces, might slip through; and, indeed there were two in the box, besides a number of pence. The money-pig was stuffed so full that it could no longer rattle, which is the highest state of perfection to which a money-pig can attain. There he stood upon the cupboard, high and lofty, looking down upon everything else in the room. He knew very well that he had enough inside him to buy up all the other toys, and this gave him a very good opinion of his own value. The rest thought of this fact also, although they did not express it, for there were so many other things to talk about. A large doll, still handsome, though rather old, for her neck had been mended, lay inside one of the drawers which was partly open. She called out to the others, “Let us have a game at being men and women, that is something worth playing at.”

Upon this there was a great uproar; even the engravings, which hung in frames on the wall, turned round in their excitement, and showed that they had a wrong side to them, although they had not the least intention to expose themselves in this way, or to object to the game. It was late at night, but as the moon shone through the windows, they had light at a cheap rate. And as the game was now to begin, all were invited to take part in it, even the children’s wagon, which certainly belonged to the coarser playthings. “Each has its own value,” said the wagon; “we cannot all be noblemen; there must be some to do the work.”

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Thirst for Power

1856:

October 1856 Thirst for Power, Scientific American: “Most of our manufacturing towns and villages are indebted for their rise to water power. They are built on rivers and creeks where there are falls of water for driving machinery. It has now become a serious question with many manufacturers, using water power, that their supply of water is becoming more unstable every year, as the forests are cleared off. Many streams once flowing with power for the miller are now only water-worn channels. But manufactures have not decreased in our country, thanks to the power of steam. With a plentiful supply of fuel (coal), steam forms a constant trusty power for driving machinery, and a steam factory can be erected independent of rare natural localities, like water-falls. Steam factories can be conducted in or near cities and commercial marts.”

1956:

October 1956 Wasted Radiation, Scientific American: “At present, nuclear power offers the most promising alternative to fossil fuels. However, progress in this field so far scarcely touches the heart of the problem. We speak of nuclear ‘power,’ but what we are really working on is nuclear heat. We are proposing to hook up the nuclear reactor to the steam turbine, an only modestly efficient invention of the 19th century, and to throw away three quarters of the energy of the nuclear reaction. It seems improvident to waste precious nuclear fuel in this fashion. Clearly the next step in power generation must be the elimination of the steam cycle and the direct conversion of radiation to electricity.”

2056:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Should You Wear a Bicycle Helmet?

Andrew at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science explains the best way to avoid getting hit by a car while riding a bicycle:

Should you wear a bicycle helmet?, by Andrew: Rebecca pointed me to this interesting article by Ben Hoyle in the London Times, "Helmeted cyclists in more peril on the road." Hoyle writes:

Cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to be knocked off their bicycles than those who do not, according to research. Motorists give helmeted cyclists less leeway than bare-headed riders because they assume that they are more proficient. They give a wider berth to those they think do not look like “proper” cyclists, including women, than to kitted-out “lycra-clad warriors”.

Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist, was hit by a bus and a truck while recording 2,500 overtaking manoeuvres. On both occasions he was wearing a helmet.

During his research he measured the exact distance of passing traffic using a computer and sensor fitted to his bicycle. Half the time Dr Walker, of the University of Bath, was bare-headed. For the other half he wore a helmet and has the bruises to prove it.

He even wore a wig on some of his trips to see if drivers gave him more room if they thought he was a woman. They did.

He was unsure whether the protection of a helmet justified the higher risk of having a collision. “We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so are definitely good for children.”

On average, drivers steered an extra 3.3 in away from those without helmets to those wearing the safety hats. Motorists were twice as likely to pass “very close” to the cyclist if he was wearing a helmet.

...I was aware of the "risk compensation" idea, that helmeted riders will ride less safely, thus increasing the risk of accident (although the accident itself may be less likely to cause serious injury), as has been claimed with seat belts, antilock brakes, and airbags for cars. (If it were up to me, I would make car bumpers illegal, since they certainly seem to introduce a "moral hazard" or incentive to drive less carefully.)

But I hadn't thought of the idea that the helmet could be providing a signal to the driver. From the article, it appears that the optimal solution might be a helmet, covered by a wig...

Also amusing, of course, is that his name is Walker.

If you wear a helmet, I don't think you should change your behavior based on this research, including the part about the wig, but that's up to you.

Update: Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution and Gabriel Milhache at Economic Investigations add more discussion on this article.