Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on February 28, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!



bad Jim 03.01.21 at 7:38 am

Perhaps because I have a bird bath
but mostly due to spring
I’m treated to a raucous caucus
of songbirds squabbling
Seasonal sorts of squeaks and squawks
Heard only at this time of year
Passerine passers-by
Migrants briefly visiting.

One trill triggers me
to recall an aria from Rusalka.

Perhaps the swallows will nest again
in beak-built seasonal
fortresses beneath my eaves
to sally forth in improbable numbers,
little round bodies soaring.


John Quiggin 03.02.21 at 8:44 am

CT could do with a poetry section!


bad Jim 03.02.21 at 10:39 am

Scientific American now includes an poem with every issue. CT has already encouraged my worst (versed?) impulses by introducing me to clerihews and tolerating my other nonsense. I thought the free form premise of Twigs & Branches at least permitted it.

I’ve indulged myself lately. A triolet? Eight rhymes for orange? Whenever I’ve done something like that, I check to see if someone wants me to stop, but never have heard a discouraging word.

I suppose I’ll continue to add condiments to comments as my muse moves me, but the tendency typically derives from the original post.


Alan White 03.02.21 at 3:46 pm

Hear hear to poetry at CT!


nastywoman 03.02.21 at 9:05 pm

”CT could do with a poetry section!”

I’m trying…


nastywoman 03.02.21 at 9:09 pm

even if more than 100 years ago somebody did it much… better:

”To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC
to fulminate against 1, 2, 3
to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big abcs, to sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence, to prove your non plus ultra and maintain that novelty resembles life just as the latest-appearance of some whore proves the essence of God. His existence was previously proved by the accordion, the landscape, the wheedling word. To impose your ABC is a natural thing— hence deplorable. Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system, pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m’enfoutisme, it is a transitory, positive sign without a cause.
But this need itself is obsolete. In documenting art on the basis of the supreme simplicity: novelty, we are human and true for the sake of amusement, impulsive, vibrant to crucify boredom. At the crossroads of the lights, alert, attentively awaiting the years, in the forest. I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet 1 say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestoes, as I am also against principles (half-pints to measure the moral value of every phrase too too convenient; approximation was invented by the impressionists). I write this manifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air; I am against action; for continuous contradiction, for affirmation too, I am neither for nor against and I do not explain because I hate common sense. […]”


de Pony Sum 03.02.21 at 10:29 pm

Been commenting on CT since the mid to late 2000’s, and now I have a Substack where I talk about left wing politics, political economy and philosophy. Anyway, it’s free, so it has that in its favor!

And while we’re posting poetry, I did a project a while back involving famous poets and machine learning generated poetry:

Finally, as a topic for discussion, it is my general impression that CT as a blog has moved left over time. Do others agree or disagree?


hix 03.02.21 at 10:32 pm

So how is everyone dealing with anti vaccination nuttery of various degrees, in particular when it is close to home? Priority group 2 vaccinations are starting here now, which means my father will get an appointment soon.

Only got him to fill out the application form and promise me to get vaccinated, no excuses any more, as soon as he gets an appointment, two weeks ago. That glimpse of sanity was mainly brought about by his friends telling him they cannot wait to get vaccinated.

Before that he was shifting between various declarations about how he does not want to be vaccinated at all, or not anytime soon for various ridiculous reasons. At one point he was even making up his doctor told him he should not get vaccinated. Now that things are getting real, he’s in ridiculous excuses why he should wait mode again. This time: “Its such a long drive to the vaccination centre I’ll rather wait until general practitioners can do the vaccinations.”

And he is not the only one, just the one that matters most to me. Of my other acquaintances in priority group two, only one definitely did all the paperwork already.* He got an appointment tomorrow. Most are in various stages of procrastination. One registered, filled out the online form halfway, saved it and then took a break. Three are finding only slightly less coherent excuses than my father why they should wait with the vaccination. One is an outright no vaxx. Granted this all came a bit fast, in particular for those who have conditions that were only recently upgraded in priority. The conditions (or the age) that make eligible for high priority are often not helpful for fast coherent decision-making. Still puzzling. Why are so many people in such a diffuse irrational scare of vaccinations. Don’t get it.

*Even this one had to be talked out of an AstraZeneca might be somehow bad, so maybe it would be better to wait to get a better one scare by his two M.D. sisters.


nastywoman 03.03.21 at 3:39 am

on the other hand – there is this… very… ”practical” poem of Paul Krugman at the NY Times –

”Too much choice is hurting America” –
and the response of:

Rockville, MD
March 2
Times Pick

”I am an American who has lived in Europe for the last 21 years. The main difference I’ve noted is that is America, what you need is expensive and hard to understand while what you crave is cheap and simple. In Western Europe, it’s the other way around. In America, we are promised the right to “pursue happiness.” In Western Europe, we say, “We actually know a lot of stuff that virtually everyone needs to be happy: housing, health, education, stability, leisure. Let’s try to make sure everyone has reliable access to those instead of pretending that choosing between, say, paying rent or going to the doctor, is some kind of ‘individual freedom’”.
1663 Recommend


mrfreeze6 commented March 2
Italy’s Green Heart
March 2
@JMJackson Great comment. I’ve lived in Italy for some years now and, despite all the political, social and economic chaos that exist here, life is far less complicated because the Italians have access to the very things you mention. Sure, there’s bureaucracy and taxes, but there’s also the realization that government (even the Italian government) helps protect the interests of its citizens.
127 Recommend

RBSullivan commented March 2
March 2
@JMJackson A very astute observation of a basic difference between largely democratic socialist Europe and the USA. Sadly, most Americans live in a bubble. They are constantly told that it is the best bubble in the world. When I lived in Europe I met many American expats who missed good peanut butter, but not expensive health care, traffic jams, and job insecurity.
143 Recommend

Isn’t that… worth to discuss?


bad Jim 03.03.21 at 9:32 am

If I’m not mistaken, I saw a few dozen swallows arriving this afternoon, resting in the neighboring sycamore. ‘Gulp’ may be the collective noun for their sort, but there were so many!

I had two nests last year, so at most there were two dozen hatchlings returning to their birthplace, but what do I know?

They can’t all be mine. Clearly my neighbors and I manage, somehow, to produce a large enough crop of insects to sustain not only flights of swallows but choruses of mockingbirds as well.

Half an inch of rain is forecast for tomorrow. Maybe there’ll be enough mud for them to rebuild their habitats.


MisterMr 03.03.21 at 2:47 pm

@nastiwoman 9
“largely democratic socialist Europe”

I didn’t know I lived in a democratic socialist country.

It seems to me that, since a lot of dudes in the right used the word “socialist” as a negative epithet against anything they didn’t like, that now even normal stuff like a NHS is considered “socialism”, at wich point everybody who is not very ideologically right wing will become pro socialist.


Omega Centauri 03.03.21 at 4:14 pm

Working on others vaccine hesitancy is going to be an ongoing civic duty for many of us in the coming months. My sister -who expects to be working at a 1000dose event Saturday sent me the following article:
No magic bullets. But not entirely hopeless either.


notGoodenough 03.03.21 at 10:54 pm

Submitted in all humility to CT’s poetry section, my own poor effort at topical rhyme…

I’ve been blessed with options and must lend my voice
to offering thanks for such bountiful choice;
I’ve so many options (they give my freedoms protection),
I must be favoured by fortune to have such selection!

In fact I’ve so many choices, sometimes ‘tis tricky to pick –
should I sell my car and my family, or merely die when I’m sick?
Do I sleep under a bridge, or on a park bench in old age?
Such conundrums would puzzle even the most learned sage.

I have boundless gratitude, I really must say,
for the choice of which organ to sell when there’s the next debt to pay.
And with no worker protection, there’s more choice to find –
should we wear out mind and body, or body and mind?

In a sea of possibilities, I’m in a lifeboat
(paddling desperately, barely afloat).
More luxurious choice – starvation or thirst?
Fire or Ice? Which do I think is worst?

Though one question remains, which I can’t help but wonder
(as I watch the world being looted by those seeking plunder
and to turn civilisation into a mad free-for-all),
when all options are dreadful, is there really much choice at all?



J-D 03.04.21 at 12:56 am

So far nobody I know personally has said anything to me about hesitancy over vaccination, but then I don’t think the subject has come up yet in any conversations I have had.


bad Jim 03.04.21 at 8:02 am

Let’s talk about maskholes.

The states of Texas and Mississippi have declared the day of jubilee, everything’s open! Nothing to see here! Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, was the darling of CPAC for proclaiming that freedom trumped (!) public health.

It might be interesting to discuss whether this is a question of values or an epistemological quibble, which are not necessarily distinct issues: while the impulse to dance at the edge of a cliff doesn’t imply a denial of gravity, the intricacies of biology are not widely understood (and their foundations often denied).

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think that someone bellying up to a bar tomorrow, or next week, has made a careful calculation of risks and benefits.


Jim Sweeney 03.04.21 at 9:37 am

I’m in about eight minds about reopening schools (a math degree confers a habit of multi-dimensional imagination). Estimable editorials declaim that Science says that doing so is safe. Kevin Drum notes that in his affluent city, which neighbors mine, the schools remained open with next to no effect.

Elsewhere, in Israel, I think, children have been very effective spreaders of infection.

There seems to be some sort of agreement (this is a subject far from consensus) that if there is little community spread, schools are safe, which is nearly tautological: if nobody’s infectious, no activity is risky.

There is a common belief, which I think is false, that children are not at risk, nor a risk to others. There have been numerous instances in which they infected each other and their elders. The consequences for them are nearly always mild, which is not necessarily the case for their families or caregivers.

I’ve continued to have Sunday dinners with my brother’s family. Lately they’ve been experimenting with Indian cuisine, working on the balance between cumin and cardamom in the curry. My nephew, 13, is scheduled to return to school in two weeks, and I’m in about four minds about this, half as uncertain as I am about the general case, but still uneasy.


SusanC 03.04.21 at 5:03 pm

I don’t know any anti-vaccets.

But a lot of people I know are showing signs of anxiety disorders, along the lines of being too afraid to leave the house.

This can possibly lead to people becoming too afraid to leave the house to go get a vaccination, even though the vaccination is the eventual way out of the original source of the fear.


I wouldn’t be surprised if in some people fear of covid19 had got displaced onto fear of the vaccine, in a very conterproductive way,


nastywoman 03.04.21 at 10:18 pm

”I didn’t know I lived in a democratic socialist country”.

You lucky that you reside in Italy – as when residing in Germany – that’s ”true Communism” -(in the minds of my Orange County Republican Relatives)

And perhaps we should discuss, why (some – or a lot?) – of US Republicans in CA Orange County believe – that I’m ”a Communists”?

Do you guys think that’s true?


nastywoman 03.04.21 at 10:41 pm

and I forgot the definition of ”Communism” as we don’t want to have all these comments again where commenters firstly try to define what ”communism”…
is – so let’s take the Wikipedias Poem as basis –

”Communism (from Latin communis, ‘common, universal’)[1][2] is a philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, namely a socioeconomic order structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money[3][4] and the state.[5][6]

Communism includes a variety of schools of thought which broadly include Marxism and anarcho-communism as well as the political ideologies grouped around both, all of which share the analysis that the current order of society stems from capitalism, its economic system and mode of production, namely that in this system there are two major social classes, conflict between these two classes is the root of all problems in society and this situation can only ultimately be resolved through a social revolution”.[7)”


William Berry 03.05.21 at 3:30 am


Yes, of course you are.

Best Bob Hope* side-mouth snarl: “you . . . you . . . nasty communist, you!

*Giving away my age here! (Of course, Hope himself was a hardcore cold warrior and commy-hating sunny beach.)


bad Jim 03.05.21 at 6:50 am

nastywoman, Democrats now have a slight edge in Orange County, CA, and they’ve long been in the ascendant in Laguna Beach, where I live.

I don’t doubt that some denizens might consider you communist. My family moved here in 1961 and were bemused to encounter outright anti-semitism. Our representatives back then were nearly delusional. A great many nutcases decamped to rural refuges as Asians and Latinos increased their numbers (and as the aerospace industry dwindled), but not all; rock-ribbed Republicans predominate in Newport Beach and loudly demonstrate in Huntington Beach.

It’s a pretty place, although someone accustomed to forests might not immediately appreciate the charm of chaparral. Coastal scrub, they call it. This is one of the best spots in the country for bird watching, or so it’s said.

The Mediterranean climate is easy to take, although the threat of drought is always looming. Last year’s rainfall measured 577 mm; the year before, 539; the year before that, 107. As of rainy yesterday, we’re up to 106.


reason 03.05.21 at 4:41 pm

nastywoman @18
I am someone who really dislikes a conversation based on labelling and bucketing of people. The only label I want to accept is “Egalitarian”. Reject all the others. The real fight is between egalitarians and hierarchists. Any other distinction is merely name calling.


nastywoman 03.06.21 at 7:18 am

”Democrats now have a slight edge in Orange County, CA, and they’ve long been in the ascendant in Laguna Beach, where I live”.

I know – and I suspected that you ”live” in my ”current US home town” too – but as I kind of grew up in Newport Beach -(at least 15 winters) – and we probably once met at the Shake Shack – Democrats – then – NEVER – had a slight edge in Orange County –
or as the life-long Republican the John Wayne Airport is named after – supposedly said:

”Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid”.

And that’s ”the thing” – it used to be… kind of ”stupid” to come out in Newport Beach with all my ”communistic” ideas – or as my (Republican) friends then used to say:

Oh – you – you ”Europeans”!


nastywoman 03.06.21 at 7:57 am

”I am someone who really dislikes a conversation based on labelling and bucketing of people”.

that’s why I never liked it when my Republican Relatives call me a ”Communist”
– because I always just suggest – that my homeland also gets:

Payable Universal Healthcare –
Secure Jobs – which pay well-living wages provide long vacations –
Affordable housing and rents –
FREE education
AND about:
”The real fight is between egalitarians and hierarchists” –

As in America the current real fight is between an unbelievable strong Reactionary Racist Right-Wing and EVERYBODY else –
who isn’t –
I just can’t stop calling… ”names” – ”names”…


Jim Sweeney 03.06.21 at 9:13 am

When I take my daily stroll I wear a blue cotton cap emblazoned with the logo of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and the not terribly effective polyester mask I carry in my pocket, similarly branded, turns my gray muzzle into that of a sea lion.

The mask I wear when I order takeout, a gift from my brother, gives me the face of some sort of cat, whiskers bristling. Best to be silly, I think.


Tm 03.06.21 at 12:21 pm

Curious how the anti-liberal class struggle brigade (see the last twigs and branches thread) are gonna explain that a conservative Democratic Senator from a conservative, „white working class“ (as some would say) state torpedoes pro-worker policies that liberal Democratic Senators (by definition elite types disengaged from working class concerns) from liberal states unanimously support. Not to mention all the „socialist“ „we are the party of the working class“ Republicans voting unanimously down anything that would benefit workers.


KT2 03.07.21 at 2:33 am

Crook-Ed Memories of Poetry.

I know of a place on the net 
Where poems again want to get
But the memories fade
So many topics to grade
So their history they seemed to forget

Haiku Economics

Invisible hand;
Mother of inflated hope,
Mistress of despair!

Stephen Ziliak (link at end)

CT poetry history:

Cut thru economics with cru-ditties. ymmv.

“The Ten Limerick Principles of Economics
“Says Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw (pictured): 
“Although the study of economics has many facets, the field is unified by several central ideas. The Ten Principles of Economics offer an overview of what economics is all about.”

“A generation of undergraduates has mastered the Ten Principles of Economics through the agency of Prof. Mankiw’s famous textbooksand courses. Now, in the interest of the general public, Dr. Goose shines a light on these Principles to reveal their provocative yet oddly rational sexual subtext.

“1. People Face Tradeoffs. 
“I find,” said a fellow named Grange,
“Our position exceedingly strange.”
“My dear,” said his Miss,
“If you hanker for this,
You must offer me that in exchange.”

“To get one thing, you have to give up something else. Making decisions requires trading off one goal against another.

“2. The Cost of Something is What You Give Up to Get It.”…

“9. Prices Rise When the Government Prints Too Much Money.

“To her daughter said Mrs. McNeilly,
With a look that was solemn and steely:
“Your currency, dear,
Will be cheapened, I fear,
If you fling it about very freely.”

“When a government creates large quantities of the nation’s money, the value of the money falls. As a result, prices increase, requiring more of the same money to buy goods and services.”

Haiku Economics

Money, metaphor, and the invisible hand.

. ..” I was teaching economics at the Georgia Institute of Technology when I made the haiku-economics connection. I needed to connect with 225 economics, science, and engineering majors—college kids who were being trained to believe that poetry and feelings are not important to, say, the World Bank. At the same time I was readingThe Essential Etheridge Knight and falling in love with haiku. I thought about the inability of standard economic models to explain bubbles, crashes, and global inequality—and how market fundamentalists refuse to discuss them. I saw the bridge I needed in this poem:

Invisible hand;
Mother of inflated hope,
Mistress of despair!


bad Jim 03.07.21 at 6:36 am

Email from Othena: we have a vaccine for you! Snagged an appointment for Monday, messaged my nagging family. Then mentioned that I’d mounted a toy dinosaur atop my mailbox, and they demanded pix.

The Rubbermaid mailbox is so wide that magazines fit flat, and sits atop a steel post driven deep into the sandstone substrate, no concrete required. The gray diplodocus nearly matches the fading black, perches precisely, and, even with its comically long neck and tail, looks like it should always have been there.

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