Saturday, February 17, 2018


Alexander Pope thought things were bad in The Dunciad, a virtual cultural apocalypse. Here is some, in Book IV:

In vain, in vain, — the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow'r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primæval, and of Chaos old
Before her, Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th'ethereal plain;
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand opprest,
Clos'd one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.
See skulking Truth to her old Cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heap'd o'er her head!
Philosophy, that lean'd on Heav'n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor'd;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.


The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. -Daniel J. Boorstin, historian, professor, attorney, and writer (1914-2004)

If you're an American living and working abroad, you report your income in that country and pay taxes to that government. You must then pay U.S. taxes on the same income. Yes, there is an exclusion for foreign earnings of about $100,000. And yes, you get a tax credit for the foreign taxes paid. If you're lucky, filing the U.S. return is simply a time-consuming hassle. But depending on your income level and location, the tax credit may be too small to let you avoid paying extra taxes to the IRS. And if your assets are above $300,000, there are additional forms to file and taxes to pay.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which was enacted under Obama, deputizes overseas financial institutions to snoop on and collect taxes from Americans, making banks reluctant to take on U.S. clients.

FATCA is best described as the ugly love child of Uncle Sam and Big Brother. Passed in 2010, it requires law-abiding Americans with legitimate bank accounts outside the country and foreigners working in the United States to turn over information about overseas holdings above $50,000. The far-reaching law forces a variety of institutions to hand over private bank data about depositors, without a warrant and independent of any suspicion that a tax crime has been committed. (from de Rugy)

From an article on the disparity of handling religions in France, this line: "the tragic dead end of French fake "secularism": it allows public expressions of the Islamic religion in France, but prohibits the Christian ones."

A quote from Ron Paul: " one should be too surprised that those who spend their lives defending and expanding the welfare-warfare state engage in immoral personal conduct..."

What is.....the bathtub hoax?

The implications of Trump's election and presidency will be fodder for journalists and historians for years to come. But one parallel story is the unmasking of the federal agencies as the impartial "referees" in the government, the always hoped-for "grownups," free of politically charged hot blood. This appearance of connivance  and narrow-mindedness within the high bureaucracy will do more damage to the reputation of government than Hilary and Trump combined.

The Yankees' payroll is $178 million.


From an article from The Independent:
"... as many Americans dying last year of overdoses – around 64,000 – as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined. In contrast, Portugal may be winning the war on drugs – by enpding it. Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.
The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 per cent, before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe – one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark – and about one-fiftieth of the latest number in the US."

Repeat: as many Americans dying last year of overdoses – around 64,000 – as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.

In 2006, only the higher-end suites at the Four Seasons in Austin, TX (the city's most luxurious hotel) had flat-screen televisions.  The regular rooms still had the box-shaped version.  But by 2015 flat-screen TVs were standard not just in rooms at the Four Seasons, but also in most any Motel 6. Tammey in Forbes uses this argument to explain the advantages of ending "net neutrality." He writes,  "“Net neutrality” was all about giving everyone – large and small – equal access to the internet.  Ok, but that’s a violation of property rights.  Plain and simple.  End of discussion.  Those who own the “pipe” should be able to do whatever they want with it, including charging different prices for access to the pipe." To this conclusion: "Great wealth, the kind of wealth that causes inequality to soar, is frequently a function of entrepreneurs democratizing access to the goods and services formerly enjoyed by the rich alone."

Caplan has a new book on education (not flattering) and received a letter from Dennis Fried, a philosophy professor who left teaching because of the difficulties he had with students' preparatory backgrounds. This is from it:

"Appalled and shocked by the illiteracy displayed in my students' papers, I once began a class (comprised of freshmen through seniors) by writing on the board three words: cats, cat's, cats'. I then asked if anyone could explain the difference. About ten seconds elapsed before one (very brave) student raised her hand, began "I think ..." and then proceeded to explain the difference correctly. I said, "This is third grade stuff. Why do most of you not know it?"
Several said they were never taught it. I then asked, "Didn't your high school teachers correct this sort of thing on your papers?" to which several responded, "We never had to write any papers in high school."
"What did you do in English class?" I asked.  Answers: Listened to records, watched videos, talked about movies and current events."

Golden oldie:
Materialism is all the rage. The world is flooded with new takes on history and psychology interpreted through the materialistic filter. Th...

Is it possible to be a populist and to cut corporate taxes at the same time?

Bad news: Apparently Melania Trump has succeeded in her nefarious scheme to take over the United States National Arboretum and is having part of a tree on White House grounds removed. The overall objective of this coup is as yet unclear. There is ambiguity among the astute whistleblowers however as the tree was originally planted by Andrew Jackson, who is quite out of favor and some fear her shameless assumption of power might be excused by many as a "bad means to a good end." As Mussolini made the trains run on time, such an excuse might also be seen as alt-right. More to follow.

A few months ago Mike Pence was mocked for his practice of never meeting or dining alone with a woman who is not his wife. Now such practice may be mandatory for public figures.

Investors who loaded up on U.S. and Asian stock index funds might be surprised to learn just what they own now: technology stocks—a lot of them. (wsj)

On Mencken's bathtub hoax.
"In the omniscient tone of newspaper editorials, Mencken lamented and reprimanded that such an august cultural moment as the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bathtub should arrive and "Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day." This was worse than unhygienic; it was unpatriotic. A thankless, forgetful nation had forgotten that the first bathtubs -- these, of course, appeared in Cincinnati -- had been met with contempt by the social watchdogs, who thought them "an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic," and by the medical profession, who thought them likely to induce "phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases."

From there, according to Mencken's exhaustive research, the Great Bathtub Debate had snowballed:" (king)
    The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

It is doubtful in today's world of fake news, such a satire on American gullibility would gain much traction. Indeed, eight years after the original article Mencken attempted to pull the plug by publishing various confessions, but many regarded the confession as the hoax, and his bogus bathtub anniversary continued to be commemorated in many quarters.

Official data released earlier this week showed the Saudi economy contracted last for the first time in eight years. It’s estimated to have shrunk by 4% as thousands of state-subsidized jobs have disappeared. There is a rumor--we can all hope is untrue--that members of the royal family are being tortured for information on their hidden money.

"This is why populism and nationalism, taken to their natural conclusions, always lead to statism. The state is the only expression of the national or popular will that encompasses everybody. So, the more you talk about how the fundamental unit of society is a mythologized collective called “The People” or the nation, the more you are rhetorically empowering the state."--Goldberg

Wisdom -- the ability to take the perspectives of others into account and aim for compromise --comes more naturally to those who grow up in poor or working class,   according to a new study by social psychologist Igor Grossman at the University of Waterloo in Canada and his colleagues, Science Magazine reports.

Haley is threatening the U.N.: "When we make a generous contributions to the UN, we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognized and respected,” Haley said, adding that the vote will be “remembered” by the US and “make a difference on how the Americans look at the UN."

According to data released by LedgerX, one anonymous trader bought $1 million in options that will only pay off if the price of a single bitcoin surges above $50,000 next year.

The real nature of camo: The British Army was accused of donning “blackface” after they posted a picture of a soldier wearing dark face paint and holding a rifle.

Expecting students to show up on time to class might be insensitive to “cultural differences,” Clemson University  said in a diversity training program


Uh oh. According to a study by the University of Toronto, babies show preference to adults of their own race. I suppose we could just slap it out of the little devils.

AAAAAAnnnnnddddddd.......a summary:

Friday, February 16, 2018


[ a protectionist]… believes that a voluntary exchange between Katarina in Bratislava and Lukas in Prague on December 31, 1992, was perfectly acceptable and harmful in no meaningful way to anyone, but that the same exchange between Katarina and Lukas on January 1, 1993, inflicted unwarranted damage on some innocent victims who deserve from the state protection from Katarina’s and Lukas’s peaceful, voluntary trade.
(Note: On December 31, 1992, Katarina and Lukas were citizens of the same country: Czechoslovakia.  A day later, they were citizens of different countries.)

From Manuel Ayau

Thursday, February 15, 2018

EU Energy

Russia is not a country, it is a heavily armed gas station.
Collectively, the European Union imports 53% of the energy it consumes. This includes 90% of its crude oil and 66% of its natural gas—a higher percentage than most other regions of the world, including North America, East Asia (but not Japan), and South Asia. All told, energy accounts for 20% of all EU imports.

Most European countries import more than 30% of the energy they consume. Norway provides roughly 35% of these imports, while Russia provides roughly 40%. Germany, which boasts the largest economy in the EU, imports more than 60% of the energy it consumes, and France, which boasts the third-largest economy, imports about 45%.
Some Eastern European countries are even more dependent on foreign energy. Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia import approximately 60–65% of their energy needs. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Romania, however, import less (37%, 32%, and 17%, respectively). In the Baltics, Lithuania imports roughly 75% of the energy it consumes. Latvia imports 45%, and Estonia imports 9%.
Russia provides more than 70% of the oil and natural gas used in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Finland. It provides 62% of the natural gas and 56% of the oil used in the Czech Republic, and 53% of the natural gas and 90% of the oil used in Poland.

Most of France's oil and natural gas comes from Algeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Libya—not Russia. France can therefore afford to be more aggressive and supportive of sanctions against Russia. But Germany  receives 57% of its natural gas and 35% of its crude oil from Russia.  Berlin must therefore tread lightly between its primary security benefactor, the US, and its primary source of energy, Russia.

This is one reason Germany has been such an outspoken critic of the recent US sanctions, which penalize businesses in any country that collaborate or participate in joint ventures with Russian energy firms. Most of those firms are building pipelines--pipelines--to circumvent the Ukraine so the Russians can punish the Ukraine without punishing Germany.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day

Young girls in the U.S. and the U.K. once believed they could tell what type of man they would marry by the type of bird they saw first on Valentine’s Day. If they saw a blackbird, they would marry a clergyman, a robin indicated a sailor, and a goldfinch indicated a rich man. A sparrow meant they would marry a farmer, a blue bird indicated a happy man, and a crossbill meant an argumentative man. If they saw a dove, they would marry a good man, but seeing a woodpecker meant they would not marry at all.

Monday, February 12, 2018


I'm sure there is something I am missing but I am struggling to see the cause of all the furor over the new tax bill. There will be some loss of deductions and some fine-tuning of retirement plans but generally most people will see their taxes go down. Those who will not are the very wealthy and those in very high city and state tax areas, areas that essentially are subsidized by low tax states.

New Liberals and those opposed to all things Trump are talking about making their city and states "voluntary" in an effort to get them deductible. These are the same guys as the sanctuary city people, reverting to the "states rights" motto of the old "separate but equal" crowd as they attempt to avoid national law.

The new tax brackets are 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%, which are slight decreases from previous categories. However, many workers will move into lower tax brackets under the new law. A couple making $76,000, for example, would pay 12% in income taxes as opposed to 25%.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


As full of fun as a pair of glazed tap shoes”, was how the Australian poet Les Murray described the poems of John Whitworth (b. 1945). A committed formalist, Whitworth’s work is firmly in a tradition that runs from G. K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling and W. S. Gilbert to John Betjeman, Gavin Ewart and Kit Wright (whom Whitworth describes as “a small genius”). But Whitworth sees light-hearted verse not so much as a genre in itself as a stylistic choice sometimes made by more serious poets (Philip Larkin and W. H. Auden, for example) keen to exploit its insistent music and often heavy rhymes for ironic effect. And what may look light – or even nonsensical – is often just the result of letting the language have its head. “Rhyme and metre have the function of getting you to work on the form and letting the content creep up on you unawares”, Whitworth says. “Poems are made up of words, not ideas.”
“The Examiners”, which won second prize in the 2007 TLS Poetry Competition and appears in Whitworth’s most recent collection Girlie Gangs (2012), is about the various enemies of energy and imagination which, if you let them, “will desiccate your passion, then eviscerate your soul”. Hardly the stuff of light verse, you might say. But the rhythmic bounce and sheer glee of the poem lift the reader far above all that is, in the end, no match for this delirious, bravura display of the seriously silly. (tls)

The Examiners

Where the house is cold and empty and the garden’s overgrown,  
They are there.
Where the letters lie unopened by a disconnected phone, 
They are there.
Where your footsteps echo strangely on each moonlit cobblestone,
Where a shadow streams behind you but the shadow’s not your own,
You may think the world’s your oyster but it’s bone, bone, bone: 
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They can parse a Latin sentence; they’re as learned as Plotinus, 
They are there.
They’re as sharp as Ockham’s razor, they’re as subtle as Aquinas, 
They are there.
They define us and refine us with their beta-query-minus,
They’re the wall-constructing emperors of undiscovered Chinas,
They confine us, then malign us, in the end they undermine us, 
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They assume it as an impost or they take it as a toll,  
They are there.
The contractors grant them all that they incontinently stole, 
They are there.
They will shrivel your ambition with their quality control,
They will desiccate your passion, then eviscerate your soul,
Wring your life out like a sponge and stuff your body down a hole, 
They are there, they are there, they are there.

In the desert of your dreaming they are humped behind the dunes, 
They are there.
On the undiscovered planet with its seven circling moons, 
They are there.
They are ticking all the boxes, making sure you eat your prunes,
They are sending secret messages by helium balloons,
They are humming Bach cantatas, they are playing looney tunes, 
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They are there, they are there, like a whisper on the air, 
They are there.
They are slippery and soapy with our hope and our despair, 
They are there.
So it’s idle if we bridle or pretend we never care,
If the questions are superfluous and the marking isn’t fair,
For we know they’re going to get us, we just don’t know when or where, 
They are there, they are there, they are there.