One of the reasons that Texas was able to develop a big cattle industry is that there were so many feral cattle in it, more or less up for grabs. They were the descendants of the cattle that had been imported by the Spanish, and although many Hispanic Texans became vaqueros, Anglo settlers were slower to get into the business, partly because it was so hard to control a herd on the open range--to keep the cows in and the rustlers out.

This is one of the reasons that barbed wire was such an influential innovation in the settlement of the western United States. One of my colleagues at The Economist had a great Christmas special about this in 1998:

The mixture of beauty and horror is only the most obvious of barbed wire’s paradoxes. It was a piece of sheer inventive genius; yet it was also just a mechanical copy of something nature did. It was one of the most widely and easily imitated inventions of the century, but also one of the most ruthless monopolies, blatantly controlled for the profit of a handful of millionaires. The results it produced were paradoxical, too. Wire encouraged settlers to put down roots in the West, but also prodded stockmen to claim vast areas for their cattle, so that unmoving farmers and roving cattlemen eventually declared war on each other. Wire allowed property rights to be defended and the public range to be restricted; as a result, Americans became both freer, and less free. It connected one point with another all across the western landscape, and estranged people and animals from the land itself.


If you're ever in Oklahoma City, this is another reason to stop by the National Cowboy Museum--they have a whole room devoted to barbed wire (with big pull-out shelves displaying the different kinds).


 
 
Belatedly, a couple of new things: a post on the re-upping of Citizens United, and a story about biotech in Texas
 
 
A great one from the archives...In 1983, 20 years after the Kennedy assassination but just before the savings and loan crisis, Lawrence Wright, in Texas Monthly, asked "Why Do They Hate Us So Much?":

The hatred directed at our city was retaliation for many previous grievances. The East hated us because we were part of the usurping West, liberals hated us because we were conservative, labor because we were nonlabor, intellectuals because we were raw, minorities because we were predominantly and conspicuously white, atheists and agnostics because we were strident believers, the poor because we were rich, the old because we were new. Indeed there were few of the world’s constituencies that we had failed to offend before the president came to our city, and hadn’t we compounded the offense again and again by boasting of those very qualities? In that case we were well silenced now.

 
 
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You know what's not very nice is that on Sunday morning I realized that someone had broken into my car, tried to hotwire it, and having failed at that, made off with the GPS. 

In any case, when the car is back from the shop, I might invest in a new model. Gabriella Cook and Jeremy Richards, at McSweeney's:





"The destination is all that’s left. The destination is not your right. Notice how the desultory snake sprouts a head in the shape of a checkered flag. In the wind, here you witness your surrender interrupted by nothingness in even steps, white/black, white/black, the gaping mouth of a beggar, the blizzard consuming a night so dark and so close it convinces you that the sun is a fiction, a mistaken memory, nostalgia for the fire that set you running. You have arrived—not where you intended, but at a point where you agree to be still."


 
 
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I'm going to miss this guy when he moves to Shanghai.
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Happy belated birthday, O
 
 
An Orioles game, a hail storm, a car fire, and a bunch of people whacking at defenseless crabs with mallets...it was just like being in The Wire.
 
 
Beets are emerging as 2012's most controversial root vegetable. I am pro-beet, and would posit that they are the vegetable analogue to pork belly (which I am agin). Justin Wolfers, an Australian economist, points to this piece from his archives:

Why is it that American and Australian children have such different reactions to such a simple vegetable? The rest of our diets are pretty similar; our upbringing is similar, and so are the broader social and economic milieus which shape us. Yet the same food elicits starkly different reactions. Why?

And the Beet Paradox forces all of us economists to ask: Can we really treat preferences as exogenous and stable?


 
 
Jesse Bering, at Salon, on why you should trust, given a choice between a religious person and an atheist:

Unless you’re trying to make a point about how “atheists are good people too” or you happen to despise the Catholic Church, it’s really a no-brainer: Go with God. Why is this so obvious? As the political scientist Dominic Johnson has argued, “If supernatural punishment is held as a belief, then this threat becomes a deterrent in reality, so the mechanism can work regardless of whether the threat is genuine or not.” In other words, from a psychological perspective, the ontological question of God’s actual existence is completely irrelevant; all that really matters in the above case is that the taxi driver is fully convinced that God doesn’t like it when he cheats his passengers.

Research from the social psychologist Ara Norenzayan, Bering says, supports the supposition. In one study, people were asked to play a word game, and then "donate" money to charity. The people exposed to God-related words donated more money, whether or not they were religious themselves.

Interestingly, in a separate study from Norenzayan and a colleague, people had divergent responses when asked to assess themselves on measures that wouldn't be immediately obvious to a third party (as opposed to an omniscient God). In that case, the religious participants were more likely to agree with statements like “No matter who I’m talking to, I’m always a good listener." Bering: "This means that while nonbelievers might feel “exposed” in the wake of receiving implicit God primes, just like believers, this feeling doesn’t influence how atheists attempt to portray themselves socially."

If I'm understanding this correctly, Bering is saying that both atheists and believers are more likely to show "pro-social" behavior if primed to do so (by the God-related rhetoric), but atheists are less likely to think about themselves that way, or to brag about their ethics to other people. Other studies, however, have found a "Sunday effect" among believers: if you make a pitch for a charity on a Sunday, for example, a person who's just been to church is much more likely to respond than an atheist, whereas if you make the pitch on any other day, believers and nonbelievers have comparative responses.

The fact that the Sunday effect abates by Monday makes the religious motivation seem fairly flimsy, but as a practical matter, Bering concludes that all other things being equal, you should hope to run into a religious person rather than an atheist if you need help. This is a version of John Rawls' 'veil of ignorance' heuristic, and I tend to agree (so, for example, although I share some of Andrew Sullivan's questions about Mormons, if I was, say, marooned on a west Texas highway in the middle of the night, I would probably rather encounter a couple of missionaries than a roving band of atheists). I'm also wondering if you could run these experiments in the opposite direction--that is, figure out if someone is religious, regardless of how they describe themselves, by seeing how they respond to these kinds of cues.
 
 
Reihan Salam flags an article by Mick Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City, who credits the city's outstanding economic performance to their commitment to "investing in ourselves":

We knew we had great people. We had a low cost of living, good schools and were considered a great place to raise a family. But we lacked the quality-of-life amenities that separate good cities from great cities.


Oklahoma City decided to change that.

Cornett's point is to promote the city's Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) initiative, a capital-improvement program under which the city implemented a modest hike in the sales tax, and dedicated the proceeds to various projects, including an indoor sports arena that is now home to the OKC Thunder. The first MAPS proposal barely passed, he says, but in 2001 and 2009 voters, impressed by the changes, authorized new public commitments. He suggests that other cities do the same:

The bottom line is that we have entered an age when local communities need to invest in themselves. Federal and state dollars are becoming more and more scarce for American cities. Political and civic leaders in local communities need to make a compelling case for this investment.

Cornett even suggests that this is why Oklahoma City's unemployment rate is so low--4.5%, the best of all the cities with more than a million people. This is where a clarification is needed.

Oklahoma is a wonderful state, and Oklahoma City is more fun than you would think. I've been going there regularly, though not frequently, for years, and even to a casual observer, the difference is palpable, and appreciable.

However, I can guarantee you that no one is moving from Texas or California to Oklahoma City because they want to hang out at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill (which is, again, more fun than you would think, but still). The fundamental reason that Oklahoma City is booming, economically, is because Oklahoma is booming, and Oklahoma is booming because of energy, specifically natural gas. Oklahoma City also has a couple other things going for it. It is the capital of the state, home to Oklahoma State University, lots of land, and as Mr Cornett mentions, a low cost of living.

That doesn't mean that the MAPS initiative isn't worthwhile; it might be worthwhile precisely because the boom means that this is a moment at which the city can afford to make these investments, which improve the quality of life for the voters who authorize them. In the absence of a boom, however--energy or otherwise--the MAPS initiative would be a tougher sell, and a city that decided to pursue this kind of capital-improvement program would want to consider whether that money couldn't be better spent elsewhere. Having what we might call a good amenities infrastructure, that is, can be an important selling point for a city, but it's often the result of economic development, rather than an effect.