Saturday, April 29, 2017

Habituation in Everything

AP reports a study of interest in Trump's tweets:
"His "FAKE NEWS" tweets don't rocket like they once did. His exclamation points (!) don't excite quite the same old way.
Donald Trump's 140-character volleys helped define the first 100 days of his presidency. But the traction on his medium of choice has slipped a bit as his tone and button-pushing tendencies have cooled."
Psychologists have the concept of "habituation" , meaning our (i.e., animals) response to a repeated stimulus diminishes over time.  We get bored. We look for the next new thing.

Is it too much to hope that process is operating with Trump's tweets, and that declining responses will lead to fewer of them?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Saint Jimmy and Bad Barack

Barack Obama is taking some heat from the left for giving a speech for $400,000.  As usual I've mixed feelings:

On the one hand I wish the Obamas had followed the example of the Carters in sending their daughters to a public DC school.  They didn't.   I also wish the Obamas would follow the example of the Carters in "rarely" giving paid speeches.  They won't.

On the other hand where do you draw the line?  Is a $10,000 fee for a speech at an alumna mater okay while $400,000 would be wrong?  Or is the issue who the speech is to?  We don't want the Obamas talking to "bad" people but it's okay to talk to "good" people?  Won't "bad" people benefit more by listening to them?

On the third hand, I disdained Reagan's speeches in Japan.

My bottom line is while I wish we were a nation of saints, and I wish the president were the highest-paid, best compensated American executive, neither is true, so we live in the world we have.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dirty Jeans

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline repeats and expands on the Nordstrom dirty jeans (for $425), which Sen. Ben Sasse has called the end of the American experiment.
"Nordstrom advertises the jeans this way:
These heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.
Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted that selling dirty jeans signals the end of the American experiment. Mike Rowe describes the dirty jeans as “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic.”

Paul's not a whippersnapper, but Sasse is, so he doesn't know the true end of the American experiment was not selling dirty jeans, but pre-washing jeans, particularly stone-washing, where people paid a premium for jeans with an artificially shortened life. It's been down-hill ever since.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Influence of the Past

Social scientists, usually not historians, are investigating the influence of the past on the present.  More accurately, they're finding correlations between conditions in the past and current conditions.  A couple examples are the beer/wine division of Europe and the influence of past slavery on current political institutions (i.e. the US South).

Here's another in a tweet.--tracing the vote division in France to 12th century political divisions.

It's an interesting subject; I'd like to see something theorizing about the mechanics of such influences.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Learning Who You Are

I blew it.  Had a nice quote, I think from the novelist Zadie Smith, quoting something from I think Salmon Rushdie, to the effect that we learn who we are from our actions. But I lost the citation, by which we can conclude that my identity is partially that of a slapdash reader with poor note-taking skills and worse memory.

Still I'll riff a bit on the idea: 
  •  Identity comes after we act.
  • As I grow old, I discover more things about myself, as I reconsider my memories, including whether they can be trusted.
  • Or maybe it's not "identity" but constructing the narrative of your life, like a childhood puzzle with a bunch of numbered dots on the page, where if you drew lines linking them in order you'd see a picture.
  • Perhaps typically "American", focusing on action, the pragmatism of acting as if you believe, which creates belief.
[Updated: found it at the World Bank, of all places.  Here's the post.  The Bank is actually linking to a Financial Times report.  The text:

“There is a line of Salman Rushdie’s, I think it’s an essay, where he says: our lives teach us who we are.| And I think that’s the case. It’s not that you have a set identity, it’s that by your actions you find out what sort of person you are. And the news is not always…lovely.”  ]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nostalgia: Small Pot Farms, Lesbian Bars, and Segregated Schools

Nostalgia is a seductive emotion, often the result of remembering a past with more niches than today's society/economy, even when the niches result from social barriers, like discrimination and prohibition.  See:

lesbian bars
industrial pot
segregated schools

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rural Life: Improvements

The Rural Blog has a post on seven ways rural life has improved. The items:
  • water service
  • trash service
  • private phone lines
  • paved roads
  • satellite TV
  • Internet
  • Apple, Amazon, Netflix
I agree with the items, though they may not be present in all rural areas.  For example, some roads in the Mid West are reverting to gravel because there's not enough traffic and taxes to support asphalt. And I'm sure pumped wells are still common in many places.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Tale of Two Lakes

"Syracuse water comes in a gravity-fed line from Skaneateles Lake, a Finger Lake about 30 miles southwest of the city, and is considered by some to be one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S. Miner’s press secretary Alexander Marion notes that newcomers are offered a glass of “Skaneateles on the rocks”—tap water, in other words.
A quick reality check, though: Syracuse is also adjacent to Lake Onondaga, which the New York State Department of Energy and Conservation has named the “most polluted lake in America,” thanks to industrial waste related to the city’s salt-mining history and years of untreated sewage dumping."
From Politico

The article is about an effort in Syracuse to record data on underground utilities, water mains, etc. and use data analysis ("big data") to predict problems and improve the process of maintenance.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blast From Past: Tractor [Cades]

Interesting piece here from FiveThirtyEight, comparing the upcoming science march with other collective action protests, especially the "tractors on the mall" protests.  I remember them well.  This was the time period when I moved from directives to programs, specifically the "normal crop acreage" concept (i.e., a base for the whole farm rather than crop specific, intended to give more flexibility to farmers) and a disaster payments program which was, in effect, competing with crop insurance to see which approach would become the one for the future (crop insurance won over the next 15 years).

It's significant, I think, that the 538 post links to the American Agriculture Movement website; the AAM was the organization behind the tractor cades, but in fact the website is defunct, with nothing updated since 2015. While commodity prices are down and have been down for the last few years, the farmers who are left aren't in as bad shape as they were at the end of the 70's.

[Tweaked the title and fixed the link]

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Decompressing from Taxes: the Draft

Just finished doing taxes, so a few random thoughts:

There's a survey out showing that Americans have a sense of social cohesion from doing their taxes.
There's also a theory about the benefits of national service, including a thread today on Twitter.(I'm not  sufficiently up on it enough to include a url but this tweet from Lyman Stone may help:"@tylercowen @dylanmatt @hyperplanes 1. it's not inherited, 2. you get paid a market wage, 3. it's temporary, 4. you can't be sold, 5. you can't be bought, 6. working conditions") 

As someone who was drafted and didn't like it, I do recognize some benefits from it: in a sense it's creative destruction, disrupting established patterns and possibly promoting social mobility.  It also might promote social cohesion, giving people a shared experience. 

Unfortunately for its promoters a good bit of the possible benefits is bound up in the military aspect: the social cohesion bit derives from the pain the military inflicts, the basic training and the regimentation.  It's like a fraternity, conventional wisdom probably says that the greater the hazing, the greater fraternal feeling.