Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions 12/31/13

Some New Year's Resolutions:

Be on time

Always have an agenda for a meeting

Have your teeth cleaned every six months.

Make a budget. The discipline alone is helpful.

Set aside a percentage for two groups of savings. Use one account to go to when necessary for a big purchase or a surprise problem. Use the other one for retirement. Never touch the second one.

People tend to like what they do when they are good at it. So, be good at your job and your diversions.

Always get the cost of goods or services up front. This is especially true of lawyers.

When traveling:
Never travel without a phone that works
Never travel alone to an area where you do not know the language or the alphabet
Avoid areas where you might depend upon the good-will of people with old political grudges towards some group you remotely resemble.
Always, always get the harbor-master's number when you leave a ship.

Buy one tailor-made piece of clothing so you can see the difference from retail.

Always travel with enough money.

Annotate your spending. This is great for taxes but also is educational and makes you aware of the value of money.


"To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying, and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown - the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none." (Friedrich Nietzsche) 
Remember this when attacking another's beliefs. You are attacking more than his intellectual position, you are attacking his area of comfort and command.

If you want to get ahead at work, dress like the boss.

Save 10% of your income for retirement.

Have an Internet site that discusses personal finance and stop by regularly. My current preference:

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gay Olympians Under the Sword of the Ammonites

For the first time since 2000 the U.S. will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Olympic Games. They will, however, send two openly gay athletes to represent the United States. Billie Jean King will be one of two gay athletes in the U.S. delegation for both the opening and closing ceremonies. Hockey player Caitlin Cahow, the other gay representative to the delegation, will attend the closing ceremony.
Obama has had plenty of chances to confront Putin. Instead he has chosen symbolism. Symbolism resonates well with abstract followers and is a hell of a lot safer--for Obama. He gets to take a position and get to pontificate or shrug if something goes wrong. The gay athlete, however, does not get that protection. She walks, like Uriah, to the forefront of the battle for reasons unconnected to her leader's.
William of Cumberland, a younger son of George II of Great Britain, was the general in charge of the war against the rebel Jacobins in Scotland, the last war on British soil. He incorporated the Scottish Campbells into his army, symbolic of the unity between the Scots and the English. (The lowland Protestant Campbells hated the Catholic Jacobin highlanders.) The Campbells led the charges in the conflicts and were quite brave. They suffered terrific causalities and most of the British Army casualties at the decisive Culloden.
But at least they were not real British troops. And Cumberland did not like them much anyway.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Sermon 12/29/13

Ross Douthat has a nice summary of the religious problems facing the world as he contemplates a creche in a NYT editorial this week.

He describes the manger scene as "intimate, miniature and comprehensive" with both a vertical and horizontal import. "...[there is]...the vertical link between God and man — the angels, the star, the creator stooping to enter his creation. But it’s also about the horizontal relationships of society, because it locates transcendence in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low."

This was--and is--revolutionary, a spiritual revolution from the everyday life of common people, something the great critic Erich Auerbach wrote, “neither the poets nor the historians of antiquity ever set out to portray.”

Douthat then breaks the contemporary views down to three visions: the Biblical, the spiritual and secular. The Biblical accepts the manger scene literally, the spiritual vision keeps the theological outlines of an active divinity and personal spirituality that includes "red staters" Joel Osteen and "blue staters" Oprah and a vague "Christian-ish" civic religion.

The secular picture, he says is rare among the general public but dominant among intellectuals. "...[this]...worldview keeps the horizontal message of the Christmas story but eliminates the vertical entirely. The stars and angels disappear: There is no God, no miracles, no incarnation. But the egalitarian message — the common person as the center of creation’s drama — remains intact, and with it the doctrines of liberty, fraternity and human rights."

All of these views involve a faith of one sort or another. Interestingly, he describes the attack on the Biblical view as practical: The pressures of commercial and sexually liberated society are wearing it down. The spiritual view might be less satisfying but has more flexibility; when challenged, it can morph into something looser. More, it ignores evil and carries no real guilt.

His view of the secular picture is revealing. "...[it]... seems to have the rigor of the scientific method behind it. But it actually suffers from a deeper intellectual incoherence than either of its rivals, because its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture. In essence, it proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory. And yet it then continues to insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th-century New England preacher."

All three of these views have significant flaws, the Biblical practical, the spiritual unrewarding, and the secular logical. Any number of evolutions are possible here. But one wonders if an illogical argument can stand for long. And, if it erodes, what, if anything, will replace it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cab Thoughts 12/28/13

What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness. -Leo Tolstoy, novelist and philosopher (1828-1910)
According to an Information Handling Services, Cambridge Energy Research Associates (IHS CERA) report, the energy storage business could grow from $200 million in 2012 to a $19 billion industry by 2017. Read that again.
The parents of Trayvon Martin are talking to publishers about a possible book, according to The New York Times' Julie Bosman.
A Christmas story about a Christmas icon:
For its December 1963 issue, Esquire Magazine's managing editor Harold Hayes let his cover designer George Lois pick the cover. The cover became a close-up of boxer Sonny Liston in a Santa Claus hat. Esquire's advertising director would eventually estimate that the magazine lost $750,000 due to the cover. According to Vanity Fair, "Hayes lit the fuse, and Sonny Liston exploded a ragged hole in the country's Norman Rockwell preconceptions of Christmas." An art-history professor at Hunter College proclaimed the cover "one of the greatest social statements of the plastic arts since Picasso's Guernica." For Hayes, Liston-as-Santa was "the perfect magazine cover," he wrote in a 1981 article in Adweek magazine, "a single, textless image that measured our lives and the time we lived them in quite precisely to the moment." Published in a national climate "thick with racial fear," he explained, "Lois' angry icon insisted on several things: the split in our culture was showing; the notion of racial equality was a bad joke; the felicitations of this season—goodwill to all men, etc.—carried irony more than sentiment."
"Norman Rockwell preconceptions?" "one of the greatest social statements..?" ".. image that measured our lives..?"
Wait a minute here. Race trumps everything in this culture but.....Liston was a criminal and was mob connected. He knocked out the extremely popular Floyd Patterson in 1962, a fight that was opposed by the NAACP because of damage they thought the fight would do to the Civil Rights Movement. And Liston threw a championship fight against Ali. Liston told a sports writer later, “That guy [Ali] was crazy. I didn’t want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn’t hit.”
Liston was terribly unpopular for a lot of good reasons.
Can this race monster ever get sedated? And is it possible these media types might be taking themselves a little too seriously?
Golden oldie:
The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change deserves to go to prison for at least 30 months for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job, or so say federal prosecutors. High quality, well balanced guys running our world. Probably will give seminars with the IMF rapist.
What was..... Picasso's Guernica?
A barrel of Bakken oil will travel to the Gulf in roughly 8 days, the East coast about 5 days and to the West coast about 10 days faster by rail than by pipeline.
Between 1980 and 2010, the hourly wages of young men with advanced degrees went up by 32%. For college graduates, wages went up by 20%. High school graduates saw their wages decline by 8%. And high school dropouts? The wages of high school dropouts went down by 14%.
misoneism \mis-oh-NEE-iz-uhm, mahy-soh-\, noun: hatred or dislike of what is new or represents change. Misoneism comes from the Greek miso- + neos meaning "hatred" and "new."
The carbon activists are upset over a recent EPA study which predicts coal will lose just 5 percentage points of market share from 2013 to 2035, and renewable energy will gain just 2 percentage points of market share from 2014 to 2040.
Costs of instillation are dropping, it is true. But continuity of energy depends on storage and that just does not exist yet in any reliable, economic way.
Ford has announced that it plans to have Start-Stop technology integrated into 70 percent of its North American vehicle fleet by 2017.
AAAAAAaaaaaaaaannnnnnndddddd.....a painting, Picasso's "Guernica":

Friday, December 27, 2013

Dog Shopping: A Fable

A man wants to buy a dog and answers an ad to see one.

"He's mostly a lab," the owner says.  "He's in the back yard."

The man goes out the back door and finds a well groomed black lab sitting expectantly.

"Hi there, fella," the man says as he reaches down to pat the dog. "You're a good looking guy."

"Thanks," the dog replies.

"You can talk?" he asks, astonished.

"Oh, yes. Ever since I was a pup. It's been a great advantage for me. And it's given me a lot of opportunities. I've been used by the CIA to overhear conversations when surveillance was difficult. I could move anywhere without suspicion. As I've gotten older I've been used in more stationary jobs like TSA work."

The man returns to the house very impressed.

"I like the dog," he says to the owner.. "What are you asking for him?"

"Ten bucks," the owner replies.

"Only ten for a dog like that?" the man asks.

The owner waves his hand dismissively. "The dog is a goddamn liar. He's never been out of the back yard."

Moral: Everyone has a lens though which he peers with a burning focus. And that lens is often exclusive.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Saturnalia and Christmas

Saturn is the Roman Chronos, an early Titan in the history of the evolution of the gods and man, the son of the Earth and Sky. He defeats his siblings and, in fear of a prophesy that he will be overthrown by a son, eats his children. One child, Zeus, is hidden by his mother and grows to rescue his siblings and overthrow his father.

Saturn is the original fertility symbol in mythology, preceding Persephone in chronology and hierarchy. He does not quite fit the popular notion of a historical evolutionary progression away from female fertility goddesses to the more combative male deities. As the second layer of the gods, supplanted by Zeus and his siblings, he is much less active but had a significant old mythological following.

Saturnalia originated as a farmer's festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season  (satus means sowing). It started as a two day celebration but grew longer and later; it was seven days around the winter solstice in the third century A.D., when numerous archaeological sites demonstrate that the cult of Saturn still survived. The poet Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180) has the god Cronos (Saturn) say in his poem, Saturnalia:

"During my week the serious is barred: no business is allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping...an occasional dunking of corked faces in icy water--such are the functions over which I preside."

A public holiday with gifts, masters and slaves swapping clothes, the strange election of a temporary house "monarch." A time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees.
By that time, with Christianity well established, it is difficult to determine which gave and took.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Today we celebrate God's stepping into Time. In this extraordinary integration, He enters a Middle Eastern family and places Himself in their care.

Always responsible to Him, they became responsible for Him.

The message of Christianity--that of forgiveness, love, family and community--so distilled down in the symbols of this holiday, is so optimistic and hopeful one is always struck by the homicidal, nihilistic, despairing and similarly faith-based philosophies that have risen to compete with it as an explanation of man's condition.

It is hard to believe an active evil force is not present to influence it.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


There has been some interest in the origin of Santa recently, some stimulated by the "White Santa-Black Santa" controversy. This shows only that the Americans can make anything racial; they are simply race obsessed. It is now officially a pathology. But there are some interesting things about Santa. (Lisa Hicks has a nice article on the evolution of Santa, possibly from the early days of the provocative Odin, in Collectors Weekly.)

Nicholas of Myra is usually identified as "St Nick," a fourth-century Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia.  His bones were disinterred for examination. In 2004, a three-dimensional digital reconstruction of his face was made. His modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of "Saint Nikolaos":

His identification was confirmed by his broken nose, the result of an injury he received in a legendary altercation between St. Nicholas and Arius, an infa­mous heretic, at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

His reconstruction:

A portrait of the chilling Odin:
A_OdinSwedish painter Georg von Rosen depicted "Odin the Wanderer," the ancient Pagan winter gift-giver, in 1886. (Via WikiCommons)

And my personal favorite:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Liston, Christmas and the Media

A Christmas story about a Christmas icon:
For its December 1963 issue, Esquire Magazine's managing editor Harold Hayes let his cover designer George Lois pick the cover. The cover became a close-up of boxer Sonny Liston in a Santa Claus hat. Esquire's advertising director would eventually estimate that the magazine lost $750,000 due to the cover. According to Vanity Fair, "Hayes lit the fuse, and Sonny Liston exploded a ragged hole in the country's Norman Rockwell preconceptions of Christmas." An art-history professor at Hunter College proclaimed the cover "one of the greatest social statements of the plastic arts since Picasso's Guernica." For Hayes, Liston-as-Santa was "the perfect magazine cover," he wrote in a 1981 article in Adweek magazine, "a single, textless image that measured our lives and the time we lived them in quite precisely to the moment." Published in a national climate "thick with racial fear," he explained, "Lois' angry icon insisted on several things: the split in our culture was showing; the notion of racial equality was a bad joke; the felicitations of this season—goodwill to all men, etc.—carried irony more than sentiment."
"Norman Rockwell preconceptions?" "one of the greatest social statements..?" ".. image that measured our lives..?"
Wait a minute here. Race trumps everything in this culture but.....Liston was a criminal and was mob connected. He knocked out the extremely popular Floyd Patterson in 1962, a fight that was opposed by the NAACP because of damage they thought the fight would do to the Civil Rights Movement. And Liston threw a championship fight against Ali. Liston told a sports writer later, “That guy [Ali] was crazy. I didn’t want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn’t hit.”
Liston was terribly unpopular for a lot of good reasons.
Can this race monster ever get sedated? And is it possible these media types might be taking themselves a little too seriously?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Sermon 12/22/13

In today's gospel, Joseph has a dream where he is told the child Mary is carrying is not the product of an illicit relationship, it is the Son of God. The entire New Testament hinges on this moment. The divine nature of Christ is brought to the outside world for the first time. The resurrection of  Christ is the edifice of Christianity, the nature of Christ's conception is its foundation. Enter Arius.

Arias, an early Christian bishop, argued that Christ had a beginning and therefore could not be God. He was declared a heretic, then absolved, then made a heretic again. But his distress is crucial as it was and is the world's distress. The Prophet Mohammad formed his opinion of Christianity through an Arian philosopher and, while he accepted the Jews as monotheists, he thought Christians polytheists.

Logic brought to bear on being that rises from the dead seems misapplied. If either part of the story is acceptable, then it is hard to limit the rest of the story with petty human concerns. But, strangely, human reaction is at the essence of the story. Christ comes to the world as a vulnerable infant, dependent upon human care. Christ's later claims will mean nothing to the world without the disciples' translation, acceptance and proselytizing. Humanity is the linchpin of the entire story.

Astonishing. And a hell of a dream.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cab Thoughts 13/21/13

The government is morally opposed to carbon production and in a world of absolutes, like a nun, a smaller sin is no improvement on a large sin.--Alaric Phlogiston

Why is it that income inequality is the only area of diversity we do not tolerate or encourage?

How much of the current "income inequality" rage is demographic? The nation is getting older, older people are more experienced, more established  and earn more as a result. Isn't that inevitable? Even desirable?
NASA satellite data revealed that Earth set a new record for coldest temperature recorded, in East Antarctica, 135.8 degrees Fahrenheit below zero; that's 93.2 degrees below zero Celsius. The freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) and the boiling point 212°F (at standard atmospheric pressure). This puts the boiling and freezing points of water exactly 180 degrees apart. Therefore, a degree on the Fahrenheit scale is 1/180 of the interval between the freezing point and the boiling point of water. Absolute zero is defined as -459.67°F.
The Yankees, missing the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years, spent $307 million to add Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson and to retain Hiroki Kuroda and Brendan Ryan. Robinson Cano left for a deal with Seattle said to be worth $240 million over 10 years.
Singapore has access to both the China and Indian water markets and are an interesting area of investment for those thinking that water may become a more valuable commodity. Since 2006, the number of companies in Singapore's water sector has doubled to about 100 and S$470 million ($371.2 million) has been committed to fund water research, government data shows. Over the same period, Singapore-based water companies secured more than 100 international projects worth close to S$9 billion.
The Solar Energy Industries Association reports: "Cumulative solar capacity has already surpassed the 10 GW mark, and by the end of the year more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the country." America will likely reach 1 million solar systems by 2017.
Who was....Arias?
The cost of electricity at data centers has increased so that it is now their largest cost. Chris Miller of the data centre design consultancy, Future-Tech, surmises: “Power is the major factor in determining people’s IT strategy now.” And the lack of it has become a huge business inhibitor. More, these centers expect government regulators to start intruding because they are using so much energy. Some centers have a "one in, one out" policy where a new server will not be add without the subtraction of another one. According to Sun Microsystems, the average data centre (with an appetite for 2 megawatts or power) burns its way through the equivalent of 80 barrels of oil or 2 tons of coal a day. At early-July oil prices, that equates to an electricity bill of $2.3 million a year.
Geophysicists estimate that just three volcanic eruptions, Indonesia (1883), Alaska (1912) and Iceland (1947), spewed more carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere than all of mankind's activities in our entire history.
Golden oldie:
The Senate Finance Committee is set to vote on permanent "doc-fix" legislation that grants the federal government broad new authority to determine "applicable appropriate use criteria" for the full range of outpatient medical services delivered to seniors. Doctors would have to consult a website with criteria for tests before they order a test, and get a printout that says whether their use of the medical service conforms to the "appropriate use criteria" determined by a government worker. Doctors must submit that printout with their insurance claim to Medicare.
But no one should worry about that, right?
A recent PEW study showed  90 percent of those Americans think "the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community" and 95 percent "agree that the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed." Only 54 percent said they have used a library in the past year.
circumspect: adjective 1. watchful and discreet; cautious; prudent: circumspect behavior.
2. well-considered: circumspect ambition.
Origin: 1375–1425; late Middle English < Latin circumspectus (past participle of circumspicere "to look around" )

By 2040, Exxon says, 65 percent of the world's recoverable crude oil will still be in the ground.
The problem for drillers, though, is that the new oil that is being unlocked is more and more expensive to produce. That puts enormous strain on the global energy industry as it works to develop new fields to meet rising demand as current, cheaper fields decline.
The Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the educational publisher, will pay $7.7 million to settle allegations that the charity was used to advance the for-profit parent company. New York State's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, said the charity paid for state education officials to attend Pearson conferences. Shocking. Shocking.
“We’ve got, for example, 16 different agencies that have some responsibility to help businesses, large and small, in all kinds of ways, whether it’s helping to finance them, helping them to export. . . .  So, we’ve proposed, let’s consolidate a bunch of that stuff." This profundity from Mr. Obama on his speech trying to improve our trust in government. Can you imagine the 16 cathouses! And can you imagine it under a Cathouse Czar!
AAAAAAaaaaannnnnnddddd.........a picture of the aurora in Alaska:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Inequality Unawareness Syndrome (IUS)

My neighbor's home is a microcosm of the nation, actually the world. He is a professional with a thirty year history of good work. His wife has a small business she works at several days a week. Their son lives at home. He has just finished law school and is unemployed. He does make some money buying and selling electronics equipment on EBay. They seem content enough but a real evil lurks there: Income inequality. The father makes much more than his wife and infinitely more than his son. And, disturbingly, the family does not seem to notice the immorality.

They all think the dad works too hard but believe he has studied enough, delayed his life enough and works hard enough to deserve what he earns. He appreciates that. The wife is doing what she wants. She has an interesting line of work, stimulating but not demanding, and it is paid commensurately. She has no problem with her return on her work and appreciates the support of her family where she assigns her main responsibility. The son is anxious to get to work, has a number of promising applications in and thinks he will be employed soon. When he is hired he expects to be very busy and to get a low salary initially. He knows he has to pay his dues. His parents are proud of his efforts so far and are hopeful he will be rewarded eventually.

The entire family is blind to the inequity that certainly exists here. More, the father remembers the time early in his career when he worked long hours and received little yet he does not seem to see that period of his life as one of abuse but rather learning. This family clearly in its present and its past is "inequality unaware."

Whether this disorder--or "slumber" if you prefer--is perceptive or cognitive is uncertain. One can only hope that one day all will be clear and they, individually, will awaken, rise up against each other and proclaim what is rightfully theirs.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Simon, Capitalism and Money

David Simon, the creator of The Wire, presented a criticism on capitalism at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at Sydney. In it he argues that America has become accidentally split in two, the part that is connected to America's economic life and economy and one part that is not, a part that benefits from economic growth and one that does not, a part that will participate in the future and one that will only exist in it. "That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress," he says. "And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we're going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years."

It is an interesting, if common, observation and much of the problem is contained within his very premise that "profit is the metric by which we're going to measure the health of our society." Virtually no one believes that--other than politicians running for reelection, wild-eyed revolutionaries and the occasional tenured economist. History is littered with the belief that material success equated to social harmony. But money can't buy you love. Nor can it buy a "social compact." Certainly more is at work in the human mind and heart. And soul.

Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" was and is a revolution in economic thinking that promised the improvement of general social and economic life through the unfettered individual pursuit of personal fulfillment and economic reward. And, regardless of the inequities in the West, it has been true. He did not think, however, that it was his best or most important work. That work was The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a book on his reflections on ethics and a social compact. Nothing worked for Adam Smith without ethics.

That is not the case in the modern world. Marx thought ethics charming but totally subservient to the forces of history. History was, itself, truth. And the postmodern world is worse; postmodernism allows for no standards. The Americans have put freer markets in the hands of nihilists; the Russians have put less controlled markets in the hands of autocratic nationalists. Smith would not recognize either system as anything other than nihilism and autocracy..

Simon believes that nothing creates wealth like capitalism. (Perhaps "free markets" would be better because he seems to merge free markets, wealth and capital.) His main concern is how to expand the success of an economy to its fringes, its outliers. No one will forget the pictures of those people sitting on rooftops during Katrina in New Orleans, people simply unable to take care of themselves. Simon writes, "Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection." But Capitalism is not a philosophy, it is a technique. "All men are created equal" is a philosophy," the dictatorship of the proletariat is a philosophy, albeit a homicidal one. But where do these ideas merge, become an "impure" amalgam? It seems that Simon wants to share the successes of "capitalism" with those marginalized. How is that "social compact" articulated? And he thinks that "capitalism" has moved into politics: "the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans."

There are a lot of ideas milling around here and some are kind and heartfelt. But this thinking always bypasses the basic and obvious problems. Capital, in itself, is nothing more than money. Unrestrained capital is money that might be used in any way, charity, bribery, construction, destruction, savings. Capital is present under any, any system. Aristocracies, kings, guerrilla bands, democracies, theocracies--all have capital. The point is always the underpinning of the culture. What motivates the culture? How is the "social compact" mediated? Acting as if capital and its behavior is "capitalistic" is like using a pirate community as an example of democracy. And trusting someone or some thing to reorder the successes of free markets is staggeringly naive. We are seeing that now in the U.S. and in Russia. Capitalism has created astonishing wealth in the West but that is all it can do.

In essence Simon is correct. There is a growing disparity in the nation, and in the world. Some are indeed becoming "unnecessary." This despite the poorest in America would likely be the envy of most men in history. But this separation points to many things, and capital is only one--probably minor--part. He writes, "Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way." That is the basic problem: No one thinks capitalism is a blueprint--or should. Individual worth, freedom, the value of the unfettered human spirit, the interconnectedness of all men---those are blueprints for society. The problem is not that we have a capitalistic blueprint, it is that we have no blueprint. Reading about the vultures feeding on the wounded during the sub-prime mortgage crisis will show you that some people, regardless of the economic system, will be grasping and ruthless.  And without pity; the astonishing thing was how they worked with such self-absorbed, wolfish isolation. They were no more or less capitalistic than Bonny and Clyde.

Spreading money around might make some averages look better but will only paper over fatal problems. The foundations of the culture are the essence here. And no extrinsic economic system, no isolated political philosophy asynchronous with the human mind and heart will work.
Nor will they order disordered thinking.

Simon's article:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cab Thoughts 12/18/13

“I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!”--Woodrow Wilson

Comet Lovejoy was discovered on November 27, 2011 by Terry Lovejoy of Thornlands, Queensland, during a comet survey. He is an amateur astronomer. It reached perihelion--its closest position to the sun-- on December 16, 2011, as it passed approximately 187,000 miles above the Sun's surface at a speed of 333 mi/s, or 0.18% the speed of light. It was not expected to survive the encounter due to extreme conditions in the sun's corona, with temperatures reaching more than one million kelvins (10,000K = 17540ºF) and the exposure time of nearly an hour. But it did survive although it lost a lot of its mass.

In Kyushu, Japan recently, which is about 300 miles due East of Shanghai, the pollution was so bad that authorities told everybody to stay in their homes for a couple of days. This from 300 miles away!
Reminds one of the Russians not telling the Swedes about Chernobyl.

Another side to the "dreaded 1%": There's increasing evidence that it takes a small number of high achievers to generate a great deal of economic vitality in a culture.
Scholars Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson have found that the performance of the top 5% (measured by IQ) in a country correlates strongly with economic growth. Duke University's Jonathan Wai argues that because of its size, America's top 1% have a huge impact on the country's trajectory. And, because of America's reward system, it attracts other countries' dreaded 1%.

Daily oil production has doubled in Texas in the last 3 years and stands at 2.7 million barrels per day. Its all-time peak production of 3.4 million barrels per day was in 1972.

Heather Havrilesky, in Bookforum, compares literary contemporaries Nora Ephron and Joan Didion: "When life gave Ephron lemons ... she made a giant vat of really good vodka-spiked lemonade and invited all of her friends and her friends' friends over to share it, and gossip, and play charades. Whereas when life gave Joan Didion lemons, she stared at them for several months, and then crafted a haunting bit of prose about the lemon and orange groves that were razed and paved over to make Hollywood, in all of its sooty wretchedness — which is precisely what this mixed-up world does to everything that's fresh and young and full of promise."

A Pentagon study was said to prove the need to buy Russian helicopters for Afghanistan's security forces. But the study actually recommended an American-made rotorcraft, according to unclassified excerpts obtained by The Associated Press. 63 Mi-17s are being acquired through the 2011 contract, not the American made Chinook, built by Boeing Co. in Pennsylvania. The Pentagon study showed that the Chinook was "the most cost-effective single platform type fleet for the Afghan Air Force over a 20-year" period. The MI-17 contract was awarded without competition to Russia's arms export agency, Rosoboronexport.
"We're not dealing with a corrupt system. Corruption is the system," said Stephen Blank, a Russia expert at the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington think tank.

Golden oldie:

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gap in math between Shanghai and Massachusetts (the top-performing U.S. state) translates into two years of schooling. But...BUT!... the school year is longer in Shanghai. How much longer? By the time the average Shanghai kid is 15 she has spent about two years more in school than the average 15-year-old American.

 Middle East rancor sometimes is revealing. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have reached agreement on a three-way water supply arrangement to slake rising cross-border demand, taking a rare step toward economic integration despite persistent political conflict holding up progress on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The water deal, which also aims to slow the steady drop in the Dead Sea water level through a channel from the Red Sea, is one of the few regional cooperation projects surviving from the heyday of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Water availability overcomes a lot. It might point to what will be increasingly important.

Who was....Alexander Litvinenko?

Seymour Hersh — best known for his exposés on the cover-ups of the My Lai Massacre and of Abu Ghraib as well as the horrifying "Dark Side of Camelot" – in a story published Sunday for the London Review of Books, accuses the American administration of dishonesty with the information over the gas attacks in Syria. Hersh said the U.S. administration "cherry-picked intelligence," citing conversations with intelligence and military officials. A former senior intelligence official said that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tomkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’ This is nonpartisan; all governments lie.

The wisdom of Charlie Munger: "I don't think it was good for Wall Street that they had this absolute torrent of really easy money when idiots and naives were making a fortune selling shoddy mortgages with ridiculous theories. It was very regrettable behavior. And it was the easy money that allowed it."

The largest floating vessel in the world has been launched in South Korea. At a length of 1,601 feet (488 m), the Prelude, which is owned by Royal Dutch Shell, is 150 feet longer than the Empire State Building is high. In operation, it would weigh more than 600,000 tonnes; more than five times the weight of the largest aircraft carrier. The Prelude is a floating liquefied natural gas facility which will allow Shell to produce natural gas at sea and then liquefy it by chilling it to -260 degrees F so it can be transported around the world.

Electricity transmission in Japan is unusual because the country is divided for historical reasons into two regions each running at a different mains frequency. Eastern Japan (including Tokyo, Kawasaki, Sapporo, Yokohama, and Sendai) runs at 50 Hz; Western Japan (including Okinawa, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nagoya, Hiroshima) runs at 60 Hz. This originates from the first purchases of generators from AEG for Tokyo in 1895 and from General Electric for Osaka in 1896.

AAAaaaaaaannnnnnddddddd........a picture of Comet Lovejoy through the Mörby Castle Ruins in Sweden:
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Confiscation 2

The confiscation of wealth by any entity always has a certain quality, something in common with its fellows: The one having their wealth confiscated is usually unarmed. One never hears "Let's confiscate the wealth created by those Chinese worker-abusers" because, as much as they deserve it, they would fight. One never hears, "Let's confiscate the money from that Arab monopoly that has us over their barrels" because the Arabs would retaliate by shutting the oil off. Instead, the moral reckoners attack the weak, the vulnerable. It is reminescent of the playbook of the African revolutionary: As soon as he gets an automatic weapon, he attacks a school and, with luck, a nunnery will be attached. So the indignant and moral powers-that-be follow the lead of that great leveler, Henry VIII, and go after churches, pensioners, cringing and desperate savers--anyone who can be looted with righteousness yet without the danger of resistance or retaliation.

They don't follow Willie Sutton. Sutton had some moxie.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Officials at the IMF are disturbed by inequity of income throughout the world. Wealth too. They have a number of well considered ideas about how to help. First, they suggest the tax rate in the United States be increased to 70%. They also suggest a "wealth tax" of 10% throughout the world to alleviate the world's unequal distribution of wealth. The IMF is an esteemed agency of the esteemed United Nations, has 188 member countries and states its function is to "foster global growth and economic stability." They suggest the "carrying off" of other's production and property presumably to foster growth and stability. The IMF has a storied history which includes a lot of "carrying off," or "rape," if you prefer.

Their motives are clearly so good, how could anyone object? Indeed, I have a suggestion that might help. In fact it might solve two problems in one stroke.

Everyone can agree that the greatest cause of conflict and war--aside from politics, nations and familial alliance--is religion. Even now Islam fights Christianity all over the globe and Judaism is in fierce opposition to Islam in the Middle East. And these religions are rich. The five richest religions in the world, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Church of England and Mormonism are worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Perhaps trillions. Why not confiscate their money and their properties? Not only money but art as well could be redistributed to the people.

No one would argue that religion has declined over the last years with an impact a function of their past, not the presence. Their money was collected in the past as well. And they have plenty of historical money that could help smooth out the present imbalances in the world. Nor is this without precedence. The first great Tudor king, himself the creator of a major religion, confiscated all the wealth of the Catholic Church in England and redistributed it, at a price of course, to many of the lords and gentry of England at the time.

In essence, it was the first, great Western redistribution. It was a moment to treasure.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Sermon 12/15/13

Today's reading are dominated by the "What did you go out to the desert to see" question. It is a harsh, realistic and desolate picture of a single intense man and his thoughts. But there is a significant contrasting image in the epistle sent by James focusing on a completely different aspect of man: the patience of the farmer. The farmer and planting is a recurring symbol in the gospels and is very significant. Certainly in the relatively nontechnical world of the time it is reasonable. But there is more, especially here, opposed to the world of the visionary John the Baptist. The rural world is more than familiar, it makes sense to humans. It is very like us.

In truth, John the Baptist is not like us. He is a firebrand, not a neighbor; he is an element, not a friend. But his community is a farming one. And that is what we make up; we are a communal beast. We benefit from work. We benefit from the comfort of our neighbors. As competitive as we are, the competitive and success motive has limits.

Christ is offering the universal to beings whose individual success depends upon local, controlled achievement. This dichotomy must be resolved by every individual at some point of their lives, religious or not.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cab Thoughts 12/14/13

"There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen....Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil."
- From an essay by Frédéric Bastiat in 1850, "That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen"
The Jodi Arias trial was the single most searched Internet topic in 2013.
Neuroscientists have determined that the same part of the brain that processes physical pain -- a cut or a punch -- also processes emotional pain such as exclusion, rejection or lost love. It is known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). A relationship or event can be painful.
Social scientists are very interested in the human shift from country to city, rural to urban. There are ninety cities in China alone that have a population of greater than one million. In 1950, there were two cities in the world with a population of more than ten million, by 1975, there were three. In 2007, there were nineteen, and by 2025, the United Nations estimates that there will be twenty-seven. This growth will not occur in North America. People seem frightened by this as we are being removed from basic needs the rural community produces. But we are not frightened by medical specialists, accountants, even shoemakers all who do things we cannot do for ourselves.
"Monster" has many meanings, an imaginary creature, a cruel or wicked person, of huge size, malformed thing. Interestingly the British use it as a verb, "to criticize," which hints at its origin. Its origin is from "warning" or "demonstrate" and some have theorized that "monsters" were symbolic of current problems or anxieties. It has the same root as "money."
A new book with interviews of Hannah Arendt on her writings is arriving. She remains a lightening rod for her “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a book fascinated with the nature of evil and how little it takes for evil to emerge and be victorious. She excoriates intellectuals for the creation of complex ideas that take on a malignant life of their own.
In one section the interviewer says:"Let’s return to your book, Frau Arendt. In it, you referred to the way that the Eichmann trial laid bare the total nature of the moral collapse at the heart of Europe, among the persecutors and the persecuted alike, in every country." A horrifying question. The moral collapse at the heart of Europe. And the perpetrators and victims on the same moral footing.
Who was....Iris Chang?
We humans share more than half our genomes with flatworms; about 60 per cent with fruit flies and chickens; 80 per cent with cows; and 99 per cent with chimps. This sounds like a cocktail party note but is actually quite important to current biology. The book of genetics is big with a lot of common script. What is crucial is how it is read.
When an organism dies, its DNA breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments, while also becoming contaminated with the DNA of other species like soil bacteria. This makes reconstruction particularly difficult.
The first fossils of the species H. erectus were found on Java, Indonesia, in 1892 by Eugène Dubois, called Java man. Nearly 30 years later, more H. erectus fossils were found thousands of miles away during excavations of the Zhoukoudian cave system just outside of Beijing. This was Peking man. These caves turned out to be "one of the most important Paleolithic sites in the world." After the first fossil was found, anthropologists eventually turned up skulls and bones representing at least 40 H. erectus individuals, other mammal fossils and tens of thousands of stone artifacts. Amazingly, no one knows what happened to the original Peking Man fossils. They disappeared during the Japanese invasion of 1941. Fortunately, the American Museum of Natural History holds an almost complete set of casts made from the originals before the war.
Zhoukoudian, with the cave sites to the left.
Rose Williams, Tennessee Williams' schizophrenic sister and the inspiration for The Glass Menagerie, underwent a frontal lobotomy for her illness, one of the first. Another reason to be careful about being too avant garde.
Golden oldie:
Federal, state and local governments hired a net additional 338,000 workers in November, equaling 41 percent of the total of 818,000 net additional jobs created in the United States during the month.
AAAAaaaannnnndddddd.....a drawing on a map of St. Brendan celebrating mass on a whale:

Friday, December 13, 2013

Childhood Experts: The Art of the Plausible

The world is awash with "Good Ideas." There are models for global warming and global cooling, growth stimulus with both raising and cutting taxes, the advantages and uselessness of pre-school.

Truth is hard to reach; what makes each of these disparate ideas appealing to its faithful is a coherent, consistent narrative. We are truly creatures of the campfire.

Education is a pretty soft area of investigation. What does the community hope to achieve anyway? And what works?
And how does one evaluate success? How does one separate out genetic influences, home and environmental factors, diet, distractions...the list could go on forever.
But ours is a time of unprovable notions mixed with indignation; education is a perfect area where provocative guesswork can be planted and grow to the sky. One is that every child, beginning grade one, be assigned a topic like oranges or Easter Island or bracelets that the student would gradually learn and expand upon until grade 12. This would develop in him an expertise (more than his schoolmates) and the confidence it brings. It would also develop a perspective about depth in a topic which he could compare to popular presentations in news and conversation.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Alcolytes of Uwe Reinhardt Before the Altar of Health Care

The majority of insurance plans being sold on the new health care exchanges in New York, Texas, and California, for example, will not offer patients’ access to Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan or MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, two top cancer centers, or Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, one of the top research and teaching hospitals in the country. This is being broadcast as a defect in the proposed health plan, perhaps Obama's omission or the ACA's fault when, in fact, there is much more--or maybe less--at work here. The effort to control medical care in this country is an effort at cost control, not the delivery of health care. This has been true in Europe, in the writings of Uwe  Reinhardt the early health care theoretician and architect, and in the original plans of Hilary's health care failure.

In the U.S. the decision is simple: Health care costs must come down and no group must suffer disproportionately when it does. The motive here is adherence to some economic model and the protection of certain economic groups at the expense of others.This is a matter of faith as deep--and perhaps as unprovable--as the Trinity. The specifics--you can keep your own doctor, you can continue your current insurance plan, you will have no increase in costs despite more people will be covered--are all meaningless. FOX News spends each day finding inconsistencies in the promise and the delivery, in the picture and the reality, of the ACA. All nonsense. The Western leaders have, gradually, all come to the same position on health care (and many other common notions are not far behind.) Health care costs too much. Period. An experiment based upon this theory will follow. Whatever can be done to cut the cost of health care will be done. Salaries of health care workers will drop. Use of health care technology will drop. Medication costs will drop. And when prices arbitrarily drop, providers of the things that have a lower return start making decisions because the costs do not drop. Doctors will become disenchanted with taking night call, nurses will debate swing shifts in favor of more family-friendly work, medications will be less available, technological research will move to areas other than health.

What is happening here is that lawmakers and think tanks, all well isolated from their decisions, have come to some philosophical positions and are going to act upon them. The citizens and their opinions are quite peripheral. Health care will be the lead dog in this country. Other "Good Ideas" will follow. But this first shot is gigantic. It will pull untold amount of information and influence under the government umbrella, profoundly influence the health of its citizens, dramatically curtail research and technology and most importantly place this power in the hands of naive, arrogant, migrant leaders who specifically exclude themselves from the experiment only to move on later to consultancies, professorships and hedge funds leaving the detritus of the experiment behind.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cab Thoughts 12/11/13

The contest for ages has been to rescue liberty from the grasp of executive power--Daniel Webster
In the 1960s, the U.S. federal government spent $3 on "investments" like infrastructure, schools and financial aid for education for every $1 on entitlements. Today, the ratio is flipped. In 10 years, we will spend $5 on the three major entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) for every $1 on public "investments."
Trying to explain the Greek monsters in mythology, John Boardman has argued in his book The Archaeology of Nostalgia (2002) that the Greeks were attempting to make sense of dinosaur bones they found in the landscape, and he convincingly compares the bone-white sea monster on a vase, lurking in a cave and ready to pounce on Hesione, with the fossil skull of a Samotherium, or Miocene giraffe, such as was found around Troy.
Betz law states only 59.3% of the energy in wind in the swept area can be extracted, regardless of technology.
The average price a residential customer paid for natural gas in 2012 was $10.68, while the average price of gas at the well was $2.66. The difference is in infrastructure costs and, remarkably, long term contracts where the company bet on rising prices. When they are wrong they never pay; we do.
Who is.....Hesione?
The IMF expects that in advanced economies the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product will reach a historic peak of 110% next year, 35 percentage points above its 2007 level. One of the bureaucratic solutions of the IMF, an organization with a lot of Old World Socialist baggage, is a wealth tax, a tax on what people have, not earn, after taxation. This incredible remnant of the old days of aristocracy and kings is not as far fetched as one might think. Remember Cyprus, an EU country? Holders of bank accounts larger than 100,000 euros had to incur losses of up to 100% on their savings above that threshold in order to "bail-in" the bankrupt Mediterranean state.
A 2012 study in the Southern Economic Journal concludes that "it is unusual to find any other occupation where cash wages have a stronger negative effect" on hiring than for tipped workers. Economist David Neumark, an expert on minimum-wage economic studies, says that an economic rule-of-thumb is that every 10% increase in the minimum wage reduces teen employment by about 1% to 3%. In October the U.S. teen jobless rate was 22.2% and for black teens it was 36%. The Obama minimum wage combined with the health mandate could mean up to a 10% reduction in jobs for the poor and young. But it will rally the Democrat base and thus will be a worthy sacrifice.
Obama devised a sequester--remember, the sequester was his gambit--that requires 50% of total cuts to come from national security that is 17% of the budget, but no cuts from income-transfer programs that account for well over half the budget. The Rube-publicans are considering a budget fight to increase defense spending, a notion certain to fracture their base. This proposed truce might by-pass it.
In an interview, the crime novelist Ian Rankin tells The Telegraph that it took "a good 12-14 years, and many books" before his writing began to pay.
University of Michigan data shows improvement in auto fuel efficiency, up from 20.4 mpg in November 2007 to 24.8 mpg in November 2013 or 23%. And it is still steadily rising.
Rube Goldberg: adjective: Absurdly complex or impractical. After cartoonist Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) who was known for his intricate drawings showing fantastically impractical contraptions to accomplish simple jobs. Earliest documented use: 1928.
In 2030, a typical couple reaching the eligibility age of 65 will have paid $180,000 in lifetime Medicare taxes but will get back $664,000 in benefits.
Golden oldie:
The Chinese restrict driving on days of bad pollution. In China, 8 is a lucky number, 4 is an unlucky number, so on days when air quality is particularly bad and cars with licence plates ending in 8 can’t drive, traffic is relatively light — because so many people prefer plates with that number — while on the days when the 4′s are sidelined, it’s heavy, because relatively few people accept a licence plate ending in 4.
AAAAaaaaannnnnndddddd......a graph:
Chart of the Day

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hit and Run: A Fable

A man coming home from the swing shift at work stops behind a car at a red light at about midnight. Suddenly, the reverse lights on the car in front of him go on and the car backs into him. The driver stumbles out, clearly drunk. She apologizes profusely and begs the man not to call the police. She has a violation already and if found drunk and in an accident, it will go hard for her. She asks the man to take her name and insurance and let her pay for the accident.
The man feels sorry for her and after inspecting the car damage and finding it manageable, agrees. He takes the woman's name and insurance numbers and continues home.

The next morning he is awakened by a state policeman who tells him the driver of the car has reported him as a hit-and-run and he is arrested and held responsible for the accident.

Moral: Kindness is golden, but never extend the hand of kindness to an unknown dog.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Limits of Racism and its Enemies

A hallmark of racism--and racism's opponents--is it is general and static in its thinking. Yet the objective results are anything but. Currently the school test scores of American children, black vs. white, shows significant disparities; blacks generally do poorly in comparison. Yet in the 1940s there was no such gap on test scores between black schools in Harlem and white, working-class schools on New York's lower east side (according to results reviewed in the fall 1981 issue of "Teachers College Record," a journal published by Columbia University.)

Not only do bad testing results not travel over time well, they don't cross borders. In his book "Life at the Bottom," British physician Theodore Dalrymple said that, among the patients he treated in a hospital near a low-income housing project, he could not recall any white 16-year-old who could multiply nine by seven. Some could not even do three times seven.

The Nov. 9-15 issue of the British magazine "The Economist" reports that, among children who are eligible for free meals in England's schools, black children of immigrants from Africa meet the standards of school academic tests nearly 60% of the time — as do immigrant children from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Black children of immigrants from the Caribbean meet the standards less than 50% of the time.
At the bottom, bottom, among those children who are all from families with low enough incomes to receive free meals at school, are white English children, who meet the standards 30% of the time.

This problem is a lot harder than any of the combatants think.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Sermon 12/8/13

This morning at about 1:30 I was awakened by a piercing, pulsing alarm. At first I thought it the house alarm but, through the sleepy haze, figured out it was my phone. I had never heard this sound before and quickly discovered it was an "Amber Alert." It was a signal. Somewhere a child was missing. The alert noted the area, gave a make  of a car that was suspected to be involved and its state license number. I had not signed up for any participation in the "Amber Alert" program; this program was simply assigned to all the community.

There are some interesting aspects here. Somehow, somewhere, someone or some group decided that everyone in the area should be awake, perhaps should look out the window or run out in the street to find this child. Somehow everyone within the phone's broadcast area should be responsible--regardless of where they are or what they are doing--and should mobilize for the betterment of this child, despite the accuracy of the report or the validity of the charge or the distance involved. It is reminiscent of the jackdaws' response to a hunter or the bees' response to the intruder or some sci-fi collectivist species.

Actually, it sounds a lot like John the Baptist today.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cab Thoughts 12/7/13

..[Some people]..have a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other; and I think that, if such a government were once established amongst such a people, it would not only oppress men, but would eventually strip each of them of several of the highest qualities of humanity. Despotism, therefore, appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic times.--deTocqueville

The recent Reuters Investment Outlook summit gave us lesser mortals a peek at the future of the West. "QE", low interest rates, low growth and low employment is locked in for the present and beyond. The debate is not over whether it is a good idea or not or whether it is sustainable or not. The debate is over the belief of some that the easy money distortion is making the wrong people successful. These people have figured out who the "right people" and the "wrong people" are. And they think that a few smart guys in a room with a computer can control the factors that influence the economy.
Think man on the back of a tiger.

Third World Vacation alert: Part of the stadium that will host the World Cup opener in Sao Paulo, Brazil next year has collapsed.

In the 1540s, the guinea fowl, a bird with some resemblance to the American Thanksgiving bird, was imported from Madagascar through Turkey by traders known as "turkey merchants." The guinea fowl was also nicknamed the turkey fowl. Then, the Spanish brought turkeys back from the Americas by way of North Africa and Turkey, where the bird was mistakenly called the same name. Europeans who encountered the bird in the Americas latched on to the "turkey fowl" name, and the term was condensed simply to "turkey." The Turkish name for the bird is hindi, which literally means "Indian." This name likely derived from the common misconception that India and the New World were one and the same.
A perfect circle of confusion.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the number and use in of light vehicles in the U.S. peaked in 2004.

The Montgolfier brothers sent up the first manned balloon in 1783. The French were very interested in balloons and Jefferson, when there, was captivated by their efforts.

A 1640 book of psalms translated from Hebrew sold for a record breaking $14.16 million at auction on Tuesday. Known as the Bay Psalm Book, it is the first book published in English in what is now the U.S. There are only 10 other known copies.

Who was....Albino Luciani?

Three weeks before Vladimir Nabokov's challenging and revolutionary "Lolita" arrived in bookstores in France (no one in the U.S. would publish it), where it first came out that September, Dorothy Parker published a story-in The New Yorker-titled "Lolita," that centered on an older man, a teen bride, and her jealous mother. Galya Diment has a nice story in New York Magazine about this astonishing "coincidence."
Never think great minds are above it all.

"Transliteration" is the conversion of a text from one script to another. It is not concerned with representing the sound of the original: it only strives to represent the characters accurately. Transcription specifically maps the sounds of one language to the best matching script of another language.

Greek wordTransliterationTranscriptionEnglish translation
Ευαγγέλιο       Euaggelio     Evangelio            Gospel

The wisdom of Charlie Munger: "easy money corrupts, and really easy money tends to corrupt absolutely."

Golden oldie:

The popularity of The Hunger Games series is fueling an interest in the sport of archery, particularly among girls. Some sporting equipment outfitters say they've seen a big boost in bow and arrow sales since the film series began in 2012. Archery ranges are busier too.

In "12 years a Slave" a free man is spirited off from the free North to the South as a slave. The story--a true story--was the result of The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the country's first nation law. Part of this law, crafted by Clay, states "In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence."

Good news: The City of Vancouver, British Columbia has outlawed doorknobs in new buildings. Every once in a while government finds appropriate levels of action. On the other hand, DeKalb County, Georgia has a juror form that has "slave" under "occupation" so maybe you can't trust government with anything.

Gerrymander is a coined word that is a blend of Elbridge Gerry and salamander. Massachusetts Governor Gerry's party rearranged the electoral district boundaries and someone fancied the newly redistricted Essex County resembled a salamander. A cartoon showing the district in the shape of a salamander appeared in March 1812 issue of the Federalist newspaper.

The poet, translator and Soviet dissident writer Natalya Gorbanevskaya has died at age 77. She was held in a psychiatric hospital from 1969 until 1972 as a result of her opposition to Soviet human rights abuses; what possible risk could there be from the state controlling health care? She was one of the founders of the underground magazine The Chronicle of Current Events.

From "Prisonocomics," a book about British prisons:
Among women in prison, 15 per cent of prisoners report that they are homeless before entering prison and 32 per cent of prisoners lose their homes while in prison, 5 per cent of their children are able to stay in their own home when their mother is in prison, and 3% of the women prisoners had no idea who was caring for their children with them gone.

AAAAAnnnnnddddd........the cartoon from the newspaper creating the "Gerrymander":

Friday, December 6, 2013


      If the whole is greater than any of its parts, is there a limit to anything?
      The nature of origins is as old as thinking. The cosmological argument--the so-called prime move argument--was first introduced by Aristotle in the West. In Arabic, the word Kalām means "words, discussion, discourse." The Kalām argument comes from the Kalām tradition of Islamic discursive philosophy through which it was first formulated. The Kalam cosmological argument states: everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence. This was also propounded by Averroes. His premise was that every motion must be caused by another motion, and the earlier motion must in turn be a result of another motion and so on. The basic premise of all of these is that something caused the Universe to exist, and this First Cause is what we call God.
      This is not new. And it appears it will never get old.

      But doesn't this just move the question back a square?  Does infinity have a start? And is infinity a reasonable concept in our real world anyway? (This, of course, ignores the question can "reasonable" and "real world" define the truth?) In an example that sounds eerily like the ancient question of a javelin thrower at the edge of the universe, the philosophical theologian William Lane Craig imagines a library containing infinitely many books, numbered from zero onwards. Infinity thought games create some serious problems. For example, one could add infinitely many books to such a library without increasing the number of books in the library. One could remove the first three books, and the library would not have any fewer books. One could even remove every other book, and it would not have any fewer books. Craig thinks it is obvious that such a library could not exist in reality. Even God could not create a library with infinite books.

      Some cosmologists and physicists argue that a challenge to the cosmological argument is the nature of time: "One finds that time just disappears from the Wheeler-DeWitt equation" says Carlo Rovelli. (You can look the Wheeler-DeWitt equation up but it made my teeth hurt.) The Big Bang theory states that it is the point in which all dimensions came into existence, the start of both space and time. Then, the question "What was there before the Universe?" makes no sense; the concept of "before" becomes meaningless when considering a situation without time. This has been put forward by J. Richard Gott III, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, and Beatrice Tinsley, who said that asking what occurred before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole.

      But Polaris is north of the North Pole. See, anybody can do this.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bond, Carol Bond.

There is a crazy case before the Supreme Court that looks like a tiny, technical legal point that has large implications for the average citizen. It is Bond v. U.S..

Carol Bond of Landsdale , Pa. admits that she spread a toxic chemical she had obtained from her employer on the car and mailbox of a friend who had an affair with her husband. She was unsuccessful in harming the woman despite clearly intending to do so. This sounds like a straightforward state criminal case, right? But no. The federal government intervened and charged her with waging chemical warfare. According to the Feds, Carol Bond had violated the chemical-weapons convention that the Senate ratified in 1997. And she was convicted.

Mrs. Bond was convicted of waging chemical warfare.

Mrs. Bond is challenging her conviction on the grounds that the chemical treaty in 1998 was aimed at national and international behavior, not individuals and states, and that treaties have no application on an individual or state level. In essence this is an argument between the reach of treaties vs. the sanctity of the state, internationalism versus federalism.

Think Brussels legislating fertilizer use in Great Britain, as occurs under the EU; people in foreign countries you never voted for--indeed never heard of--writing laws to affect your life. And the legal structure of the United States is very individual friendly. It is difficult for the federal busybody to legislate what they think is good for you against your will.

But it is a lot easier for the federal government to influence you if they make the law with a disinterested foreign power and then apply it to the hapless citizen as a treaty obligation. One would think that the Americans would rise up at this. But, with the apparent acquiescence of the citizen to accept federal control of his health, perhaps the nation is changing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cab Thought 12/04/13

'I have always felt a certain horror of political economists since I heard one of them say that he feared the famine of 1848 in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do much good."--Benjamin Jowett, the great Master of Balliol College, Oxford

An LED converts only about 25% of power consumed into light and 75% into heat.

Puzzle: I am able to measure any weight in 1lb increments from 1 to 40lb with only 4 weights. What are the 4 weights? Answer below

Three years of study in Patagonia have produced what researchers describe as most important paleontological findings in Chile in the last 10 years. The discovery of leaf and dinosaur fossils in South America has revealed the continent was connected to Antarctica 20 million years more recently than previously believed.
Around 600 million years ago, South America was joined to Antarctica, Australia, Africa and Asia in the supercontinent Gondwana. At that time, Antarctica was not the home of snow and ice which it is today. It was a fertile landmass which allowed the terrestrial migration of dinosaurs and plants to today’s continents.

The Mississippi and its tributaries drain 40 per cent of America, almost a million square miles spread across thirty-one states (and two Canadian provinces). In April, 1927, after a sudden rainfall of over a foot, the Mississippi swelled, broke through hastily made levees (killing the workmen) and, suddenly, an area almost the size of Scotland was under water -- and stayed for almost six months. The devastation lasted for years. By the first week of May, the flood stretched for 500 miles from southern Illinois to New Orleans, and was up to 150 miles wide in places. From the air, the Mississippi valley looked like a new Great Lake. The statistics of the Great Flood: 16,570,627 acres flooded; 203,504 buildings lost or ruined; 637,476 people made homeless. The quantities of livestock lost: 50,490 cattle, 25,325 horses and mules, 148,110 hogs, 1,276,570 chickens and other poultry.

From an obituary on Herbert Mitgang in the NYT: “Reading Mr. Mitgang,” Alfred Kazin wrote, “one remembers the forgotten pleasures of idealism.”

The Haredim is a community of ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel and is now 10 percent of its population. As orthodox men have a commitment to full-time Torah study and a fear of assimilation, only a little more than 4 in 10 of them work, less than half the rate of other Jewish men in Israel, and their average salaries are 57 percent of other Jewish men in the country. Their political clout resulted in exemption from military service (they serve through study) and subsidies for each child (they have a tremendous birthrate). As the men are philosophically inclined, the women work at the jobs they can, squeezed in with pregnancy and child rearing. It is estimated that their terrific birthrate will make them group 25% of the population in the next 30 years.

A word with an interesting background. Minacious(adjective) [mi-'ney-shês] definition: Menacing, threatening. The perfect synonym of minatory. The noun is "minacity". Ety: Latin minax, minacis "jutting out; threatening". Also minatorius "threatening" from which English borrowed "minatory". From Indo-European *men- which underlies Latin mentum "chin, beard" and English "mental", borrowed from it. The same root evolved into English "mountain" and "mouth" from Old Germanic *munthaz.

Who was...Meredith Hunter?

The wisdom of Charlie Munger: "You know what people did in the '30s? They moved into one another's houses. That's what families were for."

In November the Vatican unveiled newly restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla, known for housing the earliest known image of the Madonna with Child. The catacombs feature a tiny, delicate Madonna fresco dating from 230-240 AD, as well as scenes said by proponents of the women's ordination movement to be suggestive of women priests in the early church.

Puzzle answer: The 4 weights needed are 1lb, 3lb, 9lb, and 27lb.
To measure a 5lb object, for example, on one side you would have the object plus the 1lb and 3lb weight, and the other side the 9lb weight.

Golden oldie:

In 1900 there were 6,000 Amish in the US. In 2011 there were 250,000 with population doubling every decade since 1960. I have no idea what that means. There is also apparently no autism among the Amish. I don't know what that means either.

There is a lot of talk about the Affordable Care Act "bending the cost curve down" in health care. And the cost has slowed. But annual health-spending growth rates began to decline a decade ago. In 2002, health-care spending grew by nearly 10% in a single year. The growth rate dropped to 7.1% in 2004, 6.2% in 2007, and bottomed out at 3.9% in 2009—the worst year of the Great Recession, where it has stayed ever since. ObamaCare was enacted in 2010.

Aaaaannnnnndddd....a picture of Aurora Borealis, with great color detail:
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.