Friday, January 31, 2014

American Hustle: A Review

"American Hustle" is an enjoyable, exciting, well acted film--sort of Ocean's Eleven meets the Coen Brothers.The story is not as tight as the Coens but there are plenty of other similarities: Main characters all seemingly played as if by character actors, convoluted plot, tension from all angles and music integral to the story. It is based on the FBI's ABSCAM operation against politicians in the 1970s and '80s. It is a roller-coaster ride of cons, false leads and betrayals. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are the leads with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner playing significant support.

Unfortunately there is less here than meets the eye. Much of this problem is in the plot. There is an undeniable tension in the story but this is always defused by leaps in narrative over holes in the plot--very unCoen-like. And there is some disturbing uneven character development; well into the movie Jennifer Lawrence emerges as a significant part of the story when she is earlier only a rumor. The audience is left cautious and suspicious of what is next. But there is an ambition here--one of a larger insight to America, of people remaking themselves (which, of course, is what con artist do)--that has been layered on to the story and serves only to weigh it down.

That said, there is a lot of sizzle. It is hard to believe that such a recent time could emerge as a period piece with music and style all its own. The women have received a lot of applause in the film and it is well deserved. Bale is very good, as well. Some characters are quite unexpected like Renner and Lawrence and these innovations contribute to the depth and the conflicts in the story. The tension as crisis after crisis emerge and recede is gripping as the stakes of the con are raised and raised. But somehow these moments never mature, are smudged or just written over and the potential of the story--like the promise of the title--falls short.
But, with lower expectations, it is a fun film.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Scurvy is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is necessary for the hydroxylation of proline and lysine and, without these, collagen can not form. Collagen is necessary for the body's micro structure, the tiny slats that support the foundations of organs and vessels, even the organs and vessels themselves. Collagen knits the body together. As scurvy advances the tissues weaken, teeth come loose from gums, joint pain and swelling starts, wounds do not heal and ancient wounds re-open and begin to bleed again.

In the eighteenth century, scurvy was responsible for more deaths in the British Navy than enemy action; in 1780 alone, scurvy killed 1,600 men in a fleet of 12,000, while enemy action killed only sixty. Scurvy progressed from a disease of the edge of exploration to a problem of mainstream empire. Astonishingly, this illness had been explained 30 years earlier by a man named James Lind.
James Lind, an assistant surgeon's mate who enlisted at the age of twenty-three without much formal medical training, became obsessed with scurvy and its effects. In 1747 he did an experiment. He gathered together twelve sailors with scurvy, which he ordered fed the same meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then he divided them into six groups, administering various known cures for scurvy to each group: hard cider, elixir vitriol, vinegar, sea water, oranges and lemon, and some concoction including garlic, radish root, gum myrrh, tamarind and tarter. In six days those on the citrus recovered.
But no one paid much attention to this achievement. Thirty years later the problem was virtually unchanged. In 1780, three-thousand cases of scurvy were reported in six months in the West Indies fleet, and Admiral George Brydges Rodney appointed his friend, Gilbert Blane, Physician to the Fleet, hoping for some kind of answer. Within a few months Blane came to the same conclusions as Lind had decades earlier: “scurvy, one of the principal diseases by which seamen are afflicted, may be infallibly prevented, or cured, by vegetables and fruits, particularly organs, lemons, or limes.”
Amazingly the intransigence of bureaucracy kept Blane’s recommendations from being widely implemented for another fifteen years, until 1795 when he was appointed to the Board of Sick and Wounded Sailors. Soon after, lemon juice was added as a staple to English ships, and incidences of scurvy plummeted.
Perhaps bureaucracies create emergent behavior: myopia, rigidity, passivity and obstinacy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cab Thoughts 1/29/14

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. -Voltaire, philosopher and writer (1694-1778)
The United States Army in 1936 ranked twenty-first in the world in size, right behind the armies of Argentina and Switzerland.
The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking -- jeopardizing Germany's touted energy revolution in the process.

Gates in an interview said that McCrystal was one of the best military leaders America has produced since the Second World War.
Vulcan was the Roman god of fire and forged the weapons and jewelry of the gods. In Greek  he was Hephaestus. He was an artisan--a working god. He had a limp--a wounded god--and married Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who always humiliated him--a vulnerable god. "Volcano" comes from his name as does Vulcanize (to treat rubber with hot sulfur in order to make it more elastic,) and "volcanism," the phenomenon of eruption of molten rock (magma) onto the surface of the Earth or a solid-surface planet or moon. The Vulcan Death Grip, I'm not so sure.
A Department of Treasury study using income tax data shows that people who were in the top 1% of income in 1996 had their incomes fall by 26% by 2005. This made their decline disproportionately high across incomes.  More, over half the people who were in the top 1% in 1996 were no longer there in 2005. Should the federal government help this group?

“Why did I have to listen in music humanities to this Mozart? My problem with the core is that it upholds the premises of white supremacy and racism. It’s a racist core. Who is this Mozart, this Haydn, these superior white men? There are no women, no people of color.” -- David Denby quoting a student in his book on Columbia’s core studies.

Rudyard Kipling had been sent by his family from their home in India to live with an unfamiliar family in England; he learned to live in  multiple worlds. These two themes, abandonment and boundary crossing, are prominent in his fiction.
Golden oldie:
During the brutal winter at Valley Forge, George Washington's troops were starving not because there was no local food available, but because the colonial farmers preferred to go to Philadelphia and sell their food to the British, who could pay more.

"Because it is not a moment, it is a sense, an instinct, a flicker of insight and nerve so sud­den that you have to act on it before it is a thought. What do you see? A subtle shift of weight, a lowering of the hands, a leaning forward, a glance, and that is enough to set off a chain of events. They are actions that stem from a thousand tiny in­stincts. But from where we are sitting above the court, we are unable to explain the game through these small moments, and instead talk about the Bulls' second chance scoring and the Rockets' bench production. I understand the need to do that, I have done some of that in this book, but I also know that we are simply describing a simulation of the game, rendering a three-dimensional activity in two dimensions." From Julius Irving's autobiography explaining when he decided not to broadcast basketball any more.

Obama was the only editor of the Harvard Law Review to never publish an article
Who was....David Oliver Relin?
Obama was the only editor of the Harvard Law Review to never publish an article

Obama was the only editor of the Harvard Law Review never to publish an article.
“Lithium-ion, for example, cannot start a car,” said JCI vice president Brian Kesseler. The demands on the battery in a start/stop system are substantial, he said. And lithium-ion batteries, though lighter in weight and with higher energy density, don’t like temperature extremes. Lead-acid is a natural choice.
A Vatican monsignor already on trial for allegedly plotting to smuggle 20 million euros ($26 million) from Switzerland to Italy was arrested Tuesday in a separate case for allegedly using his Vatican bank accounts to launder money.
The 2014 Modern Language Association conference,  the annual gathering of America’s literature  faculty, will address “embodiment, poverty, climate, activism, reparation, and the condition of being unequally governed . . . to expose key sites of vulnerability and assess possibilities for change.”  But no Milton.
Obama focused on gender wage inequality in the State of the Union speech. The inequality chant of the wage inequity between men and women continue to be repeated, like a mindless prayer. But there are countless studies showing that  women and men in the same occupation, with the same skills, experience, education, hours of work and continuous years of full-time work earn exactly the same. Differences in earning is always related to differences in education, hours and continuity. For example, young male doctors earn much more than young female doctors. Yet young male doctors work over 500 hours a year more than young female doctors. But politicians would rather inflame resentment than encourage truth.
AAAAAAAAnnnnnnndddddd.........a graph:
 Chart of the Day

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teaching Reading: A Fable

A young teacher teaches a fourth grade class in an American service school in Korea, teaching the children of American soldiers and their non-military support staff. One day she comes across a number of old McGuffey Readers, primers used to teach reading to young grade school children in the 19th and early 20th Century. She uses them as the class readers. At the end of the year her class is tested with all the other classes in the school system and her class performs extraordinarily well in reading, much better than any other class. When questioned as to her teaching technique, she reveals her reliance on the McGuffey Reader. She is told never to use them again but to stick to the prescribed protocol.

Moral: Organizations are defined--and define themselves--through structure and processes; both are more important than the end-point or result.

Monday, January 27, 2014

First Things First

Gates had an interview done recently on C-Span and revealed a lot about government and the military. But one small and peripheral discussion was telling.
He had a number of talks with Harry Reid. The well known one is Reid's urging Gates to do research on irritable bowel disease. But another, less known, discussion involved Reid's improbable suggestion that Gates be a vice-presidential candidate with Obama. He then asked if Gates was a Republican and Gates said he was not. Reid's next question was: What was his opinion on abortion?
Now Reid has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I rarely have heard him insightful or profound. But he is the majority leader of the Senate; people see something in him. This sequence of questions implies some very strange priorities in the thinking of government leaders.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Sermon 1/26/14

In today's gospel, Christ starts to recruit His apostles.

Peasant revolts are rare in history; until recently, most change in history came from the top. Sometimes an uprising occurs successful enough to leave its poor upstart leader drawn and quartered in some anonymous public square but it is unusual. Intellectual revolutions are different--a breakthrough thought will take the world by storm because it cannot be denied--but it is usually agonizingly slow, demanding confirmation after confirmation until the thought is no longer revolutionary, it is inevitable. (An exception might be the astonishing Joan of Arc.)

Today's gospel is a strange amalgam of both: A man who says he is God tries to change the entire structure of the world from below. Christ does not recruit in the temples, does not go to the philosophers or the priests. Instead He goes to the docks in search of fishermen. Unless He is building His entire revolution around a great line, the "fisher of men" line, why would he seek His followers there?

There is a lot of angst of late over the nature of genetics and knowledge. Over "expertise." There is a famous discussion about the failure of Long Term Capital Management, an investment company run on principles devised by Nobel Prize winning economists, whose ideas failed and would never have passed an even casual assessment by five guys having a beer in a bar after work. Christ, here, seems to be turning to the average guy to see the value of His teachings. While He certainly is purposely "starting anew," it is as if Christ is appealing to a knowledge that He knows is already there.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cab Thoughts 1/25/14

Far more important than income inequality is productivity inequality.--Walter Williams

Quantitative easing is seen as the Fed making more money available to the economy. But isn't there another side of it? Can interest rates stay this low forever? Doesn't the Fed have to make money less available at some point and won't that create the obverse of what more available money creates?

British National Archives is digitizing the official diaries kept by army military units during World War I. There are about 1.5 million pages of diary entries.

Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the "10,000 -- hour" rule of thumb says that repetition is only part of the process. "You don't get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal." The secret of winning is 'deliberate practice,' where an expert coach takes you through well-designed training over months or years, and you give it your full concentration. Where amateurs and experts part ways is the amateur at some point slips into autopilot; he stops analyzing and evaluating his practice. The expert never floats. He is always self-critical. Hours and hours of practice are necessary for great performance, but not sufficient. It must be patrolled by concentration and feedback.

In the U.S. a Chinese rooftop solar system can be bought for $1700/Kw but the total cost of a fully installed systems is around $5,000/Kw. Australians are paying $1,700/Kw fully installed with a 1:1 exchange rate; it is similar in most of Europe. The biggest reason U.S. systems cost so much more is the permitting and certification requirements.

For every 1% increase in interest rates, expect the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond to lose 8.96% in price.
A recent scientific paper showed that all 150 drugs tested at the cost of billions of dollars in human trials of sepsis failed because the drugs had been developed using mice. Unfortunately, what looks like sepsis in mice turned out to be very different than what sepsis is in humans.

Senator Ted Kennedy's office released a paper claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was ninety-eight percent and that after it the figure never exceeded ninety-one percent, where it stood in 1990.

Income inequality will become a major topic in the next election year because it is superficially easily understood. But, regrettably, production is often connected to income so one might think of ways to promote production among those with less income than others. Walter Williams offers taxis as an example. One can be an owner-operator of a taxi by simply knowing the city and knowing how to drive. That sounds like a reasonable entry point for an ambitious, low-skilled guy. Except. ...Except a license (medallion) for a cab in New York costs $700,000. So.......

Who is....Mikhail Markhasev?

David Crane, an energy company exec., on 60 Minutes raised these two points: First, wind is now the lowest cost source of new electricity power in wholesale markets, second, rooftop solar is cheaper than retail grid power already in more than 20 states. This creates some significant problems in that the consumer is essentially competing with the central supplier for cheap production but defers to the supplier for expensive production and there is no easy storage system yet for the energy that is produced cheaply.

Gov. Christie has attended 127 Springsteen concerts.

Legal Marijuana sales are climbing to more than $2 billion this year. One analyst forecasts the legal Marijuana market will exceed $10 billion in 5 years.

Golden Oldie:

In a world similar to Earth, there are 12 bloodlines, or races. Each bloodline has a champion between the ages of 13 and 17 who is trained as a warrior. When they turn 18, the teen warrior behind them gets promoted. This has been the case for hundreds of years, but no one remembers why — they’re always ready for some sort of battle to take place, but it never does. But the tradition continues. And then one day they’re called to fight, and all the bloodlines but the winner's will be exterminated. They’re fighting to be the last race. This is the outline of "Endgame," a quasi-Hunger Games creation. Fox, Google HarperCollins are all involved in this project. So is over 2 million dollars. The author? James Frey, who wrote the "memoir" A Million Little Pieces, famous for its totally untrue content. How the righteous are rewarded.

In 1850 the State of Massachusetts created compulsory education. An estimated eighty percent of the Massachusetts population resisted--sometimes violently; the last resistance in Barnstable on Cape Cod surrendered in the 1880s, when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.

An interesting problem has occurred with the aims of having the home interact with the utility. The utilities do not want the homeowner to be banking the solar energy when the price is cheaper and then selling it back to the utility during peak pricing.

AAAAnnnnnndddddd......a poem, "The Deluded," by Juan Gelman translated by Joan Lindgren:
hope fails us often
grief never.
that's why some think
that known grief is better
than unknown grief.
they believe that hope is an illusion.
they are deluded by grief.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book of Hours

The Rothschild Prayerbook is a Book of Hours commissioned by a member of Holland's imperial court circa 1505. The gorgeously detailed manuscript features 150 decorated pages with miniatures and borders painted by renowned artists including Gerard Horenbout, Simon Bening, Alexander Bening and Gerard David.
Fine Books reports that on January 29th, the Rothschild Prayerbook will be offered for auction by Christie's with an estimate at $15 -$18 million. The book already holds the world record for an illuminated manuscript, when it was sold by Christie's fifteen years ago for $13 million. They quote Dr. Sandra Hindman, expert on Medieval and Renaissance illustration and owner of Les Enluminures galleries in Chicago, New York, and Paris:
"Recent demand for Books of Hours has been fueled by increased scholarship over the last few years, which in turn has led to new discoveries and attributions. Moreover, Books of Hours remain such treasured objects because of the exceptional level of artistry exhibited by the distinctive craftsmanship of each work -- each illuminated initial, handset page, and gilt binding -- puts other rare books to shame. Also their condition makes them quite exceptional, as illuminated manuscripts cannot be restored."
And her advice to buyers:
"Look for richness of detailing on the border, and the quality of the marginal illustrations. Medieval clients paid by the page and painted scene, and even more for such expensive materials as gold leaf or lapis lazuli, and so should you. Often commissioned by royals and aristocrats, best examples among these "Medieval bestsellers" feature richly painted and layered visual illustrations, ornately decorated with gilding and inks made with pigments of ground precious stones. Avoid fading or flaking paint, retouched miniatures, excessive trimming due to rebinding, and paper backing as early fine manuscripts were mostly made from papyrus and animal skins."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Diplomatic Immunity and the Government Class

India is furious over the recent arrest and investigation of one of its diplomats. US authorities are upset over information regarding the salary to be paid to the domestic help. But there is a curiosity here about diplomatic immunity. The concept ensures that diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country's laws. It has been around for a long time. And it sounds reasonable except, as for example the Iran embassy takeover, it probably doesn't work. Irrational and hostile nations and groups should not be expected to follow reasonable and charitable guidelines. Perhaps it is just a social placebo.
But one wonders if it is just another guarantee of specialness that all government people demand, like American politician and their minions who demand exemption from health care or Social Security laws. They are just not like the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cab Thoughts 1/22/14

I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men's hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property.--deTocqueville

The 10-year Treasury bond yield went higher over the past 18 months. In fact, the 10-year yield has increased a very significant 140 basis points (i.e. 1.4%) since its resistance testing, July 2012 trough.

“I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.” This is Defense Secretary Gates on Hilary Clinton. But he is very critical of Obama. I dislike these guys who go into an administration and then, in the middle of it all, kiss-and-tell.

Four teenagers discovered France's Lascaux cave in 1940 with its ancient wall paintings; the paintings proved to be 17,000 years old. The cave's famous 'Dun Horse' is one of the world's best-known paintings. Other Paleolithic artworks from around the world: Egypt's cave of swimmers (from 10,000 years ago); the images of giraffes, men, and horses in the Acacus Mountains of the Sahara Desert (from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago); and the deer carved on deer antlers in the Turobong cave in South Korea (from 40,000 years ago).
Dun horses are both a color and a type. They have a sandy/yellow to reddish/brown coat. Their legs are usually darker than their body and sometimes have faint "zebra" stripes on them. Dun horses always have a "dorsal" stripe, which is a dark stripe down the middle of their back. Sometimes the dorsal stripe continues down the horse's dock and tail, and through the mane. Many dun colored horses also have face masking, which makes the horse's nose and sometimes the rest of the face a darker color than the horse's body.

Since Fukushima, oil as a percentage of Japan's energy consumption has doubled, consumption of LNG has almost doubled, and nuclear power has declined to essentially zero.
Bill Richardson was Secretary of Energy under Clinton and has referred to out energy grid as "Third World" for years. Here is a section of a recent article he wrote: " ...[ the grid] sustained by more than 9,000 generating plants and around 300,000 miles of transmission lines spread around the United States. If this continues unaddressed, it will eventually cause a substantial deterioration in our grid system’s security and reliability throughout the country. If the installed capacity continues to grow, with load-demand increases of around 3 to 4 percent, the current system might prove insufficient to support economic growth and revitalization of the country’s manufacturing industries." But he was Secretary of Energy, wasn't he? Why do these political guys talk about problems under their watch as if they were distant natural disasters?
What is.... phylloxera?
In American schools, black students without disabilities were more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended, according to government civil rights data collection from 2011-2012. Although black students made up 15 percent of students in the data collection, they made up more than a third of students suspended once, 44 percent of those suspended more than once and more than a third of students expelled. The DOJ views this as prima facie bigotry and is creating guidelines to reverse it.
Solar can reduce fuel use in power plants, but it can't reduce the overhead costs of building and maintaining those plants in the first place. Prime Time solar is about six hours out of phase with actual demand. The perverse outcome of widespread solar deployment is that huge capital investments in solar result in under-utilized conventional resources, which increases the unit cost of all conventional power.
Prima facie: (pry-mah fay-shah): n. at first appearance; at first view, before investigation. plain or clear; self-evident; obvious. 1425–75; late Middle English < Latin prīmā faciē ("first" and "face").
A British academic stumbled upon a trove of unpublished letters written by Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, who was the daughter of women's rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft and the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Nora Crook, emerita professor of English Literature at Anglia Ruskin University, said that she found the letters at the Essex Record Office. It is astonishing that this kind of discovery happens at all.

Iraqis voted in March 2010 to replace Maliki in favor of an alternative slate headed by Ayad Allawi, a pro-American former interim prime minister. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (bizarrely backed by the U.S.) ended up forming a new government. Vice President Joe Biden, the architect of U.S. "policy", proclaimed "politics has broken out in Iraq."
In California the CALPERS system, the largest state-run health insurance provider, has gone to reference pricing in some areas – CALPERS gives employees $30,000 for a total hip or total knee replacement and lists the hospitals that charge less than that.
The prose of sportswriter Grantland Rice: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out on the green plain below."

A tribute to models and forecasts: Larry Summers recounts an exercise conducted in the early days of the Clinton administration, when the president's economic advisers assembled a series of long-run economic forecasts. "Japan's real GDP today is about half what we believed it would be at the time," Mr. Summers said.

Golden Oldie:

Funds smuggled out of developing nations by tax evaders, corrupt officials and criminals was estimated at $946.7 billion in 2011, according to the latest estimates released today by
a team of economists at the non-profit Global Financial Integrity, an increase of more than 10% over the previous year. For comparison, total foreign aid to developing nations in 2011 was just $141 billion. 

AAAAAaaaaaaannnnnndddd......the "dun horse" of the Lascaux Caves:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Medical Investigation: A Fable

An elderly woman is brought by her anxious family to see a doctor. She complains of feeling generally unwell but has no complaint more specific. She is fearful she is having a heart attack. The doctor is new in town and wants to be especially thorough. He does an extensive investigation and all the exams are normal. The doctor calls the family in with the patient to discuss her good results. During the discussion the patient suddenly dies.

Moral: We are very complicated and hard to predict. Some of our essence is beyond our grasp. Imagine hundreds or thousands or millions of such complicated being. Anyone who thinks they can analyze and influence large groups of these complicated beings should be viewed with suspicion.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King's Assassination

Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. King was struck by a single .30-06 bullet fired from a Remington 760 Gamemaster. The bullet entered through his right cheek and broke his jaw, neck and several vertebrae. The bullet severed the jugular vein and several major arteries then travelled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder.

Witnesses saw James Earl Ray fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel where he was renting a room. A package was dumped close to the site that included a rifle and binoculars with Ray's fingerprints on them. The rifle had been purchased by Ray under an alias six days before.

Ray was a criminal who had escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary the year before. He managed to get to Alabama where he bought a 1966 Ford Mustang and got an Alabama driver’s license. Then he went to Mexico where he tried to establish himself as a porn director. (He used the alias Eric Starvo Galt.) On November 19, 1967 he arrived in Los Angeles in where he attended a local bartending school and took dance lessons. He was very interested in the George Wallace presidential campaign there and spent much of his time as a Wallace volunteer. He disliked Blacks, liked Wallace's segregationist position and got interested in the apartheid government in Ian Smith's Rhodesia. (He actually wrote to the American-Southern Africa Council on December 28, 1967, stating, “My reason for writing is that I am considering immigrating to Rhodesia.”)

After shooting King, Ray got to Canada and flew to England where he was captured trying to get to Rhodesia with a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. On March 10, 1969, Ray entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. He escaped prison once again but was recaptured.

After his conviction, Ray hired Jack Kershaw as his attorney, who promoted Ray's claim that he was not responsible for the shooting. Ray said the shooting was the result of a conspiracy of an otherwise unidentified man named "Rauol". Kershaw and his client met with representatives of the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations and convinced the committee to run ballistics tests — which ultimately proved inconclusive — that they felt would show that Ray had not fired the fatal shot. Kershaw claimed that the prison escape was additional proof that Ray had been involved in a conspiracy that had provided him with the outside assistance he would have needed to break out of jail. Kershaw convinced Ray to take a polygraph test as part of an interview with Playboy. The magazine said that the test results showed "that Ray did, in fact, kill Martin Luther King Jr. and that he did so alone". Ray fired Kershaw after discovering that the attorney had been paid $11,000 by the magazine in exchange for the interview.

The King family sued several governmental agencies and the jury–six blacks and six whites—found that King had been the victim of assassination by a conspiracy involving the Memphis police as well as federal agencies.

Ray sold his version of King's assassination and his own flight to William Bradford Huie. Huie investigated this story and discovered Ray sometimes lied. Ray told Huie he purposefully left the rifle with his fingerprints on it in plain sight because he wanted to become a famous criminal. Ray was convinced he was so smart that he would not be caught. He believed Governor of Alabama George Wallace would soon be elected President, and Ray would only be confined for a short time.

He spent the remainder of his life unsuccessfully attempting to withdraw his guilty plea and secure a trial. He died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.

The FBI was responsible for the investigation and, as with the Kennedys, many documents pertaining to this investigation remain classified, and are slated to remain secret until 2027, thus keeping at least doubt alive.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Sermon 1/19/14

Today's readings are unusual, the epistle especially so. It is little more than a salutation of Paul to the Corinthians, a hello and a declaration of their unique responsibility in the world as a people believing in revelation as an explanation for the world.

Indeed our species seems to be special. SETI, the off-again-on-again search for extraterrestial intelligence that is"listening" for non-random patterns of electromagnetic emissions such as radio or television waves to establish the existence of other intelligent life, continues to hear nothing. There are a lot of reasons--narrow time constraints and staggering distances are two important factors--but still, nothing. The welkin is silent.

So far sentient man is the only way the universe has of understanding itself.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Cab Thoughts 1/18/14

“We are here on Earth to help others. What the others are here for, I’ve NO idea.”--W.H. Auden:

New shale oil discoveries “are threats to any oil-producing country in the world,” said Prince Alwaleed, a billionaire businessman and nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “It is a pivot moment for any oil-producing country that has not diversified. Ninety-two percent of Saudi Arabia’s annual budget comes from oil. Definitely it is a worry and a concern.” Now that is really interesting. And nice. And well deserved.
There are 47 million people without health insurance. Of those, 18 million come from households with incomes of over $50,000 annually (more than the medical resident who would see him), 10 million from households of over $75,000. 10 million are not American citizens. Another 10 million are eligible for Medicaid but have not applied. That's 38 million people of the 47 million.
According to a recent study, individuals were less likely to remember details of objects they saw if they took photographs of these items rather than if they simply observed them.
The Boston Bruins' hockey guide is the only one in the league that lists fighting penalty minutes.
"'Rudolph the Red-nosed Raindeer' song banned because of bullying references!" (Just kidding.)
The free election of Peron worried Luis Borges about democracy as it was evolving in South America. Consequently he began to believe that what Argentina needed was an enlightened dictatorship that would train its citizens in the ways of true democracy, and then oversee free elections. His public support for the violently repressive juntas of Generals Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, in the 1970s, has left a permanent stain on his reputation.
Who is...Lynne Stewart?
While both North Dakota and Pennsylvania have fracking booms, North Dakota was first in population growth in 2013 while Pennsylvania was 48th.
"Trickle Down Economics" is a thesis that promotes giving to the rich with hopes it will "trickle down" to the poor. It is constantly denounced by Progressive politicians yet not one individual has ever quoted anyone who has actually advocated it. J.A. Schumpeter's monumental "History of Economic Analysis," more than a thousand pages long and printed in very small type does not mention it. It is more than a straw man argument, it is an invisible straw man.

A library belonging to a Greek Orthodox priest was torched in Tripoli, Lebanon, last week, according to Agence France-Press. Around two-thirds of the 80,000 books reportedly were destroyed. An unnamed "security source" told the news agency that the fire was started the day after "a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books at the library that was insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammad."
The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying country, with about 20% of its area and 21% of its population located below sea level, and 50% of its land lying less than one meter above sea level.
Golden Oldie:
Researchers found that humans accounted for only 38.5 percent of the traffic on the Internet in 2013, with the remaining 61.5 percent of traffic being driven by bots, automated hacking programs, and various other computer scripts that emulate humans.
Paul Hellyer, former Canadian defense minister, went on television and declared that not only do aliens exist but that they walk among us and are responsible for some of our modern technology, like the microchip, LED light and Kevlar vest. Alien visitors come from near (one of the Saturn moons) and far (the Pleiades and Zeta Reticuli star systems). They get here via a portal in the Andes mountains in Peru. “[I’ve] been getting from various sources [that] there are about 80 different species and some of them look just like us and they could walk down the street and you wouldn’t know if you walked past one,” he said.
Sanguine: A word with an evolution. Originally meaning "bloody"--indeed "sanguinary" means "blood-thirsty" and the cool and calm man with "sang-froid" literally has "cold blood"--it has developed, as one of the four "humors" the Middle Ages thought controlled personality in various proportions-- blood, phlegm, choler, and black bile--to mean "ruddy" then "cheerful" then to its meaning today: "hopeful, optimistic." It is often use as a mood contrary to observation e.g. "He is quite sanguine despite the direction of the stock market."
AAAaaaaaannnnnddddd......a newspaper headline:

Friday, January 17, 2014


Towns are located where they are for countless reasons, water, confluence of rivers and roads, agriculture. Another is access to building material. Many towns were built on the quarries the stone came from. Sometimes after the first floor was built, the occupant built his second floor out of stone quarried from his basement.

Paris sits on top of a network of subterranean tunnels and caverns stretching more than 300 miles--1900 acres--and extending 120 feet deep. Mostly limestone and gypsum (the famous plaster of Paris), the Romans carved sculptures and buildings, the French built everything from Notre Dame cathedral and the Louvre Museum to houses, then placed sewers, water mains, and tunnels for Métro lines.
Churchs dug crypts. Shelters were built during World War II and, later, garages for underground parking. Parisians call the multi-level maze gruyère (Swiss cheese)
Louis XVI mapped them to reinforce them, then moved graveyards into them--6 million bodies.

180 miles of tunnels are maintained by the Inspection Generale des Carrieres (IGC) and only one mile -the catacombs- is open to the public. A group called "cataphiles" have arisen who explore and exploit the gruyere. And they do not stay within the prescribed areas. They live, hold parties, sleep, create art with huge murals or complex structures--a National Geographic article has pictures of a four-foot-high limestone castle complete with drawbridge, moat, towers, and a little LEGO soldier guarding the gate. These people dive in abandoned wells and water sources, map areas for subsequent exploration.

A map of the Paris underground:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Inequality GINI and Wishing

"....a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility" is "the defining challenge of our time." So said the President in a Dec. 4 speech at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. He also stressed that increasing inequality is a "decades-long trend"—

Robert Grady notes that here Obama had struck out on his own, breaking from every other president since the Second World War in placing inequality above economic growth as the "organizing principle of U.S. economic policy." And, as so much of the President's proclamations, none of this quite fits.

Grady is a managing director at the private-equity firm Cheyenne Capital Fund and he wrote an editorial in the WSJ recently on the topic stimulated by this December 4th speech. He is, perhaps significantly, the chief economic adviser to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and chairman of the New Jersey State Investment Council and certainly has his motives. Here is a summary of his presentation:

The Gini coefficient is the most commonly used measure of income inequality but its data ignore America's highly progressive income tax system, government benefits and transfer payments. Lee Ohanian and Kip Hagopian point out in their seminal paper, "The Mismeasure of Inequality" (Policy Review, 2011), that Gini uses a Census Bureau definition of "money income" that excludes taxes, transfer payments like Medicaid, Medicare, nutrition assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and even costly employee benefits such as health insurance. If those missing elements are included, they write, "inequality actually declined 1.8% during the 16-year period between 1993 and 2009, when the Gini coefficient dropped from .395 to .388." A recent study from economists at Columbia University  found that already enacted benefits and tax programs have reduced America's effective poverty rate by 40% since 1967—to 16% from 26%.

The Congressional Budget Office released a study that came to a similar conclusion in October 2011. The CBO study picked an artificial starting point of 1979, in a period of stagflation. Yet it still showed that family income, including benefits, on average experienced a 62% gain above inflation from 1979 to 2007. It also showed that all five quintiles of the income distribution spectrum experienced real gains in family income.

With respect to upward mobility, longitudinal studies conducted by the U.S. Treasury have found that there was "considerable income mobility" in the decades 1987-1996 and 1996-2005. For example, roughly half of those in the bottom income quintile in 1996 had moved to a higher quintile by 2005.
Grady's bottom line: "In periods of high economic growth, such as the 1980s and 1990s, the vast majority of Americans gain, and have the opportunity to gain. In periods of slow growth, such as the past four and a half years since the recession officially ended, poor people and the middle class are hurt the most, and opportunity is curbed."

This is borne out when looking at the various periods in the last decades. Median family income fell, in real terms, by 5.7% from 1974-1982, during slow growth and high inflation. Tellingly, in this period, real income fell for the bottom four quintiles, but held steady for the top 20%. But from 1983 to 2007 median family income grew substantially—by 21.6% above inflation—and real income grew for all five quintiles. Then, beginning in 2008, real income plunged again, both for the median family and for all quintiles.
Grady summarizes: "If the goal is to deliver higher incomes and a better standard of living for the majority of Americans, then generating economic growth—not income inequality or the redistribution of wealth—is the defining challenge of our time."

Mr. Obama continued in his speech to proclaim the need for government "investment" to encourage good jobs and infrastructure. Yet a recent analysis by BCA Research shows a sharp drop in real spending by the government on non-defense infrastructure since the president took office. When a Democratic Congress passed the president's massive $800 billion stimulus bill, seven-eighths of the total went to transfer payments like Medicaid, food stamps and sending a check to millions of Americans who do not pay income taxes. And ACA's employer mandate discourages full-time employment. For most of this year, the overwhelming majority of jobs added to the U.S. economy have been part-time, not full-time. Gallup's payroll-to-population ratio, the proportion of the American population working full time, has dropped almost two full percentage points in the last year, to 43.8%.

Like global warming, income inequality is a new scourge and it may take some time for the rest of us to get up to speed on its behavior and characteristics. But accuracy and specifics will help. Yet, as we have learned, ideology usually gets in the way of facts. And no politician will allow reality to impair his narrative, even if that narrative hopes for the worst.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cab Thoughts 1/15/14

"We have no morals, and we will attack you."--Ethan Krupp, the pajama-clad TV spokesman for ObamaCare.

Whoa! From Energy Manager: The Thermo Acoustic Power Stick (TAPS) announced by energy startup Nirvana Energy Systems Inc. (headquartered in Portola Valley, Calif.) is designed to convert a home’s natural gas supply into electricity, providing the home with its own mini power plant, or micro-grid. The device was initially developed with PARC, a Xerox company in Palo Alto, Calif. At the heart of the device is Glenn’s acoustic-based Stirling technology that was licensed to Nirvana earlier this year. The Stirling propulsion technology, developed for spaceflight missions, uses acoustic waves instead of mechanical parts to convert and transfer energy for electrical power generation. According to Nirvana, TAPS produces between 1kW to 4kW of electrical power and 15-30kW of thermal power with efficiency in excess of 905. Nirvana is designing TAPS to be a compact system that can easily be retrofitted into residential systems.

On the origin of the word "runes" from Luis Borges' lectures: "The word run in Saxon means “whisper,” or what is spoken in a low voice. And that means “mystery,” because what is spoken in a low voice is what one doesn’t want others to hear. So runes means “mysteries”; letters are mysteries."

Who was the man who designed the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most important artworks of the Middle Ages? Historian Howard B. Clarke believes that it was Scolland, the abbot of St.Augustine’s monastery in Canterbury, and that it was made around the year 1075.

Sixty percent of Americans say that "humans and other living things have evolved over time," a telephone survey by the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project showed. But 33 percent reject the idea of evolution, saying that "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," Pew said in a statement.

It takes about 21 days to build a habit--but only if it is easy. If it is hard--50 sit-ups, memorizing Russian--it takes longer, sometimes months. Across the board, with easy and difficult tasks, the largest data suggests it takes 66 days until a habit is formed. 

Is Blackberry the only smartphone that does not allow the NSA access to one's data?

From the age of three, Wolfgang Mozart had an entire family driving him to excel with a powerful blend of instruction, encouragement, and constant practice. He was expected to be the pride and financial engine of the family. But today many young children exposed to Suzuki and other rigorous musical programs play as well as the young Mozart did -- and some play even better. (Shenk in "The Genius in all of Us")


Who was... Luis Borges?

It is generally agreed that financial advisors and managers are randomly correct. That is, a financial manager will usually track the general financial averages and rarely exceed them. That given, why do we expect politicians to be more correct?

The Indian physicist Sugata Mitra--of "emergent learning" fame--conducted an experiment in the small village of Kalikkuppam in southern India. This time Mitra decided to see if a bunch of impoverished Tamil-speaking, twelve-year-olds could learn to use the Internet, which they'd never seen before; to teach themselves biotechnology, a subject they'd never heard of; in English, a language none of them spoke. When tested 2 months later the kids graded 30 percent on standardized high school exams. If a older supervisor was present (who knew no more than the kids but offered encouragement) the grades jumped to 50 per cent, the average grade in high school.

Two years after the Cuban missile crisis, only 38% of Americans knew the Soviet Union was not a member of NATO. In a 2006 Zogby poll, only 42% could name the three branches of the federal government. 20% think the sun revolves around the Earth. Ilya Somin of George Mason University Law School has a book out arguing that larger governments, more problems and more complexity of those problems make understanding of the government and its actions less achievable. Thus, he says, size and complexity of government are inherently undemocratic. He says it also argues for more stringent judicial review.

A low-end iPhone has 240,000 times the memory of the computers on Voyager 1, which is now nearly 12 billion miles from Earth (New York Times, Sept. 13).

Boxing Day: A holiday, the day after Christmas, commonly celebrated in England and the British Commonwealth. "Box" comes from the Germanic word boke, “a blow.” (i.e. "box" the ears, or fighting) Dating back to the Middle Ages, Boxing Day has been associated with the tradition of giving  gifts to employees or those in need. The origin of the name "Boxing Day" is obscure but a common explanation centers on the "Christmas box," a clay box that was once commonly found in artisan shops in England. Donations to workers would be placed inside. After Christmas, the box would be broken and the workers in the shop would divvy up the contents.

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox batted .688 in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

As a young man, in the 1920s, Borges prowled the obscure barrios of Buenos Aires, seeking the company of cuchilleros, knife fighters, who represented to him a form of authentic criollo nativism that he wished to know and absorb. These men show up in his fiction, an effort, it seems, to give a heroic depth to Argentina and its history.

AAAnnnnndddddd.....a section from the Bayeux Tapastry:
Journey To Normandy scene 1 - Bayeux Tapestry

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sprint, Radio Shack and the New Business

My phone began to require charging every eight hours then, finally, expired. I assumed I needed a new battery so I went back to Radio Shack where I had bought it. They said I needed a new phone and signed me up for an expensive one. Then, to everyone's shock, the transaction could not go through because Sprint, the carrier, insisted it be done at their own store. Since I spent an hour already and the Sprint store was across town, I decided on retrying another day.
The next day I drove across town and spent an hour finding the Sprint store. There a huge muscular guy told me the phone was fine but the battery was not. I needed a new battery--probably 50 bucks or more--but I could not get it there; I had to go across town to the Sprint specialty store.
I left there for the other Sprint store. It was rush hour and a tough drive. More, the Sprint store was cleverly hidden. After searching I found it and, as I walked in, a young woman exited with her young child, cursing viciously about how she had wasted all her time finding the store and nothing was achieved. The child was somehow responsible. Inside I was told by a nice, condescending lady that my battery was fine; my charger was broken. Since three separate chargers had failed to charge the battery, I replied, the charger was an unlikely culprit. She assumed full condescension mode and plugged the phone into her charger. Sure enough, the phone flickered.
"See?" she said in triumph.
Now in my fourth hour of phone diagnosis I felt at least as competent. "You are just waking the electrons up. The battery is dead," I replied.
She shrugged and gave me a new battery for free. Now the phone is fine.
Hours of searching, multiple errors in assessment, inconvenience on inconvenience culminating in a free product given to me to prove I'm wrong. Does this make any sense?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jones-Baraka and the Racial Niche

Amiri Baraka, the poet, playwright and co-founder of the Black Arts Movement, has died at age 79. He had a difficult, self absorbed life with contradictions and changes that occurred in fits and starts. His personal history is one of failure and defiance but he did find a sort of political-artistic identity for those so inclined. The changing moment in his life, he says, was the murder of Malcolm X that he attributes, somehow, to racism although the black nationalists responsible are well known, were captured and convicted. After a number of evolutions in name and philosophy he became a proponent of "political art." (For those old enough, this might remind you of the stage of feminist "gynecological poetry" that did not sweep the West in the '60's.) A good review of one of his many autobiographical works can be found here:

One poem:
"We want 'poems that kill,'
Assassin poems. Poems that shoot guns.
Poems that wrestle cops into alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead..."
He also wrote a poem implying that Israelis had advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: "Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers /To stay home that day/ Why did Sharon stay away?"

Always one gets the impression of an intensity that has outrun its supply-lines.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Sermon 1/12/14

Today's gospel is the Baptism of Christ. In the early Church it was part of the "three epiphanies" all celebrated at the same time: The Magi, The Baptism and The Marriage at Cana. All of these three involved an introduction of Christ into the world through a revelatory event.
As usual, there is a lot here. Christ come out of the crowd like any man to be baptized. He is a common, average guy. When Turgenev has his dream about Christ, this common-looking man, he asks, "What kind of Christ is this?"
Christ, of course, is exactly that, a unifying principle among men, solidifying them with the Divine.
Then things get even more complex and less literal. The Spirit of God "descended like a dove and hovered over Him." Dove do not hover. But hawks do. In fact a hovering hawk in Italian is said to be "doing as Holy Spirit."
But the key to the story is earlier when Christ is challenged by John who feels the order of things reversed, that Christ should be baptizing him. Christ says, "Allow it for now." Put the order of things on hold for the present. Do not be too rigid. There is a lot more revolution to come.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cab Thought 1/11/13

"We human beings always seek happiness. Now there are two ways. You can make yourself happy by making other people unhappy--I call that the logic of robbery. The other way, you make yourself happy by making other people happy--that's the logic of the market. Which way do you prefer?"-- Zhang Weiying

"The ironic thing is now that Christie is denying everything he sounds even more presidential, doesn't he?"--Jay Leno.
While we ponder the childish vindictiveness of the New Jersey administration, let us not forget other politician-defining characteristics that give us mere citizens insight to those high-minded leaders we adore: Nixon, and later, Obama using the IRS for leverage against opponents, JFK's unbridled sexual behavior in Hersh' book, and my personal favorite, Henry Paulson on his knee before Nancy Pelosi as he begged for her support for the Wall Street bailout in 2008.
While American rules and regulations are driving coal use down in the U.S., coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel, growing faster than oil or gas, according to the IEA.

Nabokov once wrote that, had he not left Russia, he might have spent his life entirely on lepidoptery, and not fiction. So, at heart, was Nabokov a scientist or an artist? Asked that question once, he expressed puzzlement: “There can be no science without fancy,” he replied “no art without facts.”

Tidal locking:  makes one side of an astronomical body always face another, like the Moon and the Earth; no matter where you are on the earth you always see the same face of the moon. A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner. In the case of the moon, this period is just over 4 weeks.
In October, there were almost 5.7 million "missing workers" — people who had dropped out of the labor force but, under trends prevailing before the Great Recession, would have had jobs or been looking for work. Counting them would have raised October's unemployment rate to about 10% instead of the reported 7% (the Economic Policy Institute).

Who is......Huma Abedin?
Baron Rothschild, an 18th century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family, is credited with saying that "The time to buy is when there's blood in the streets." He should know. Rothschild made a fortune buying in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon. But that's not the whole story. The original quote is believed to be "Buy when there's blood in the streets, even if the blood is your own."
Now that is contrarian investing at its heart.
Flaring of natural gas in North Dakota is essentially out of control, burning $100 million of product a month, and emitting 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Those are big numbers, and the economic loss has caused landowners to sue to recover lost royalty payments that have literally gone up in smoke. But what is most telling about the gas flaring in North Dakota is the attitude it demonstrates about environmentally responsible operations among those companies doing it and the regulators allowing it.
There is something in us that certain particularly brutal people can tap under the right circumstances. While most remember the Indian Wars as the French and Indian War or the Iroquois-Creek War fought by Jackson, there was a similarly vicious war in Minnesota fought between the Dakota Sioux and virtually every one else in 1862, during the Civil War. What the Sioux did during that short war would make al-Qaida avert their eyes. There are astonishing witness accounts of the savagery of the encounters--the Dakota were almost inhuman during parts of it--which ended in the defeat of the Dakotas and the execution of their leaders, Medicine Bottle and Little Crow.
Milksop: noun: One who is timid or indecisive. ety: A milksop is, literally, a piece of bread soaked in milk, a diet considered suitable for babies and the sick. A synonym of this term is milquetoast. Earliest documented use: 1390.
The power grid blew out in Buenos Aires,  price inflation rose 26% in December from a year earlier, the IMF criticized them for lying about its inflation data and Argentina still hasn't sorted out its $100 billion sovereign default with all its creditors dating back to 2001. So what did they do in December? Argentina's air force launched a research rocket connected to its space program.  Argentina's defense spending has risen 132% since 2003, according to the Swedish defense think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, while Jane's reports that that latest defense budget represents a 33.4% increase over 2012.
Golden Oldie:
From 2000-06, there was an average of 239 players on IR in the NFL. That average has jumped to about 314 over the past seven years.
Albert Einstein picked up cigarette butts off the street to get tobacco for his pipe; Howard Hughes spent entire days on a chair in the middle of the supposedly germ-free zone of his Beverly Hills Hotel suite; the composer Robert Schumann believed that his musical compositions were dictated to him by Beethoven and other deceased luminaries from their tombs; and Charles Dickens is said to have fended off imaginary urchins with his umbrella as he walked the streets of London. (From Shelley Carson's book on eccentrics.)
Steve Wilson, an Ohio psychologist and self-proclaimed 'joyologist,' launched the World Laughter organization in 1998 after meeting Indian gurus who were advocating laughter in hasya yoga clubs as a road toward health and peace. Apparently trainers are necessary.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of online Americans use social networking sites, up from 8% in 2005. There are few differences by educational attainment: 67% of high-school dropouts are users vs. 72% of college graduates (Pew Internet & American Life Project).

In an article subtitled "Goodbye, smart meters and distribution automation. Hello, energy storage and energy management," GreenTechGrid reviews current directions in grid investing. Greentech Media took a look at 2012 investment trends and observed two key emerging trends: VC
funding for companies reliant on big utility capital spending (smart metering, distribution automation, etc.) has gone away and  future smart grid investment will be focused on managing the emerging challenges on the grid. That includes software and data analytics to integrate smart grid systems at the utility level, as well as energy storage, efficiency, energy management, building automation and other technologies.
America's Marcellus region produced 13 billion cubic feet per day--18% of America's gas supply. And, while for 40 years, nuclear power production rose steadily and set new record production levels, this year it declined for the third straight year.
AAAAnnnnnndddd.........a picture of Little Crow:


Friday, January 10, 2014


Breanna Mitchell got a flat tire on a dark, narrow Tarrant County, Texas road. Hollie Boyles and her daughter Shelby walked over from their home to help. Youth pastor Brian Jennings was driving past the scene and he pulled over to help as well.
Then, according to the police, Ethan Couch's car, loaded with kids, slammed into everyone. Couch, 16, was drunk. 4 were killed and 8 were injured.
Lawyers for Couch argued that there the boy’s parents should share the blame for the crash, because they gave him everything he wanted. They pleaded for a sentence that involved therapy in California, at cost $450,000 a year, rather than years behind bars. Defense witness psychologist Gary Miller said the boy suffered from "affluenza." (A clever little term coined in a book to describe excessive consumerism.) Affluence, indulgent parents were extenuating circumstances. Here, in the United States, wealth and indulgent parents are burdens to overcome. Apparently young Mr. Couch was not up to the task.
Couch got probation. We got four funerals, eight hospitalizations and a living satire of justice, experts and responsibility.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Traffic Jams and the Essence of Politics

There is a new political flap, this about a traffic jam in New Jersey apparently caused by malicious politicians trying to punish a local mayor for not supporting Christie. (This is admittedly poetic and abstract as it seems to be a punishment of people near the mayor's town rather than the mayor himself.) This tells us a number of things. One, the Democrats and the media think that Christie is a formidable opponent and want to get out early to undermine him. (It is 3 years until the next election--but they were similarly out early against Romney.) Two, politicians are incredibly petty. They are often protected from themselves because no thinking person can believe them capable of what they are accused of. Third, and most important, the powers-that-be underestimate the public; there is no way of focusing this kind of behaviour against one politician. Like campaigning against the safety record of a competitive airline, everyone is tarred with the reality.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


This is the Sun on January 6, 2014 with a "small" area at about ten o'clock off center. That is a sunspot about the size of the earth. Sunspots were not discovered until the 1970s but this one is huge and can be seen by the naked eye.  A sunspot is a release of energy from the Sun, explosions called "coronal mass ejections," in gigantic proportion in the form of solar particles, the "solar wind." These energetic particles arrive at the Earth (or Moon) about an hour later. (The high energy particles arrive at earth in eight minutes.) The actual coronal mass ejection arrives at the Earth one to four days after the initial eruption, resulting in strong geomagnetic storms, aurorae and  electrical power blackouts. That would be tomorrow, January 9.

 See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Power of Garages

The Cadillac CTS has a TV commercial on what great things come out of garages. They focus on start-ups and innovators: The Wright Brothers, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Disney, Mattel, the Ramones--all started in a garage. I am not sure the Ramones had access to a garage but the ad then shifts to their new car as it comes out of a garage.
It is a clever little spot--but dangerous. If the Federal Government sees it, they might start subsidizing the building of garages to encourage small businesses.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sea Change

"Sea change" is a common phrase that usually implies a dramatic transformation, like a tidal shift. But its origin is poetic, from Ariel's song in The Tempest," and is a bit grim. Its basic meaning is that of a gradual, progressive change in substance while the form is preserved. But a great writer can make the worst "rich and strange."

Ariel tries to comfort Ferdinand after his father drowns:
"Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Sermon 1/5/14

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, a complex feast that brings non-Jews to the Nativity. It has an inclusive message but Paul's epistle is much more specific. He refers to the Gentiles as "co-heirs" of Christ and his message.
N.T. Wright is an Anglican bishop and a prolific writer. He presents an interesting thesis that the letters of Paul are crucial to the Christian Church and should be first in the readings of the Church as they preceded the Gospels in time but also in importance. He sees Paul as the true interface between Christ and man. And, if so, the inclusiveness of their message should be as prominent.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cab Thoughts 1/4/14

"Why does someone in Iowa have to subsidize a stranger's insurance on his second home on The Outer Banks?--James Meridith, CPA

The Prince of Wales noted recently that the land in which Christ and Christianity were born now has "the lowest concentration of Christians in the world — just 4% of the population." Curious. I wonder why.

The signing kerfuffle at the Mandela memorial is like something out of a novel, the ultimate insincerity of form over substance. The guy doing the signing of the speeches did not know how to do it; he signed randomly. The signing organization is offended. And the random signer would rather be thought of as psychotic than stupid.

Golden Oldie:

The Albion handpress, Albion No. 6551, on which William Morris printed his Kelmscott Press masterpiece, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, in 1896 was sold by Christies, New York. The iron press, manufactured by Hopkinson & Cope in 1891, sold for $233,000.

Ice Piller: In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up towards the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns.

The Age of Liberty being also the Age of Slavery: Of the known 10,148,288 Africans put on slave ships bound for the Americas from 1514 to 1866 (of a total historians estimate to be at least 12,500,000), more than half, 5,131,385, embarked after July 4, 1776.

solstice \SOL-stis, SOHL-\, noun:
1. Astronomy: either of the two times a year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator: about June 21, when the sun reaches its northernmost point on the celestial sphere, or about December 22, when it reaches its southernmost point. Compare summer solstice, winter solstice. b. either of the two points in the ecliptic farthest from the equator.
2. a furthest or culminating point; a turning point.
Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun's presence and direction, concepts of the birth or rebirth of have been common and, in cultures using winter solstice based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated or new beginnings such as Hogmanay's redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia's slave and master reversals (where a slave might rule the house for the day.)
ety: mid-13c., from Old French solstice (13c.), from Latin solstitium "point at which the sun seems to stand still," especially the summer solstice, from sol "sun" (see sol) + past participle stem of sistere "to come to a stop, make stand still" (see assist (v.)).

The National Climatic Data Center reports "The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for November 2013 was record highest for the 134-year period of record, at 0.78°C (1.40°F) above the 20th century average of 12.9°C (55.2°F)." Is 134 years an adequate time to come to some theories regarding a 5 billion year old entity?

The New York Yankees will pay MLB $28.1 million in luxury taxes on the team's payroll for the 2013 season.
The Yankees were one of two teams to pay luxury tax bills for 2013. The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay an $11 million bill. Both teams had payrolls of roughly $237 million, but because the Yankees are annual offenders, they must pay at a higher rate. The Boston Red Sox sneaked in just under the tax threshold, finishing the season with a payroll several hundred thousand dollars below the $178 million ceiling for 2013.

The $28 million hit will bring the total Yankee luxury tax payments to over $250 million since the inception of the luxury tax in 2003.

The Yankees are trying to get under the $189 million luxury tax limit for the 2014

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. But Obama plans to send two prominent gay athletes. Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the U.S. delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies. The other will be hockey player Caitlin Cahow. This is trumpeted as an act by a defiant President Obama, the nexus being Putins' opposition to gays and his diplomatic successes. But the powerful are not defiant, the weak are.

Who was....Charles Dawson?

Stieg Larsson, the author of the bestselling Millennium novels, (Dragon Tattoo) died almost a decade ago. Now his Swedish publisher has asked another writer to pick up where Larsson left off. Swedish author David Lagercrantz will write a fourth book in the Millennium series, to be published in August 2015. Larsson wrote three books out of a planned 10-book series. A partially finished fourth book was tied up in an estate fight.

Saturn's large moon Titan has stable liquid lakes and seas on its surface ... of methane and ethane, still liquid at frigid surface temperatures of -180 degrees C (-292 degrees F).

By the Department of Health and Human Services' own estimates, about 75 million Americans with employer-provided insurance will see their plans canceled.

There is a book out that purports that there are 22,000 homeless children in NYC.

Starting at a base of 105 billion Kwhs in 2007, electricity generation from non-hydro renewable energy resources skyrocketed 120% to 218 billion Kwhs or an increase of 113 billion Kwhs in just 5 years. In 2007, non-hydro renewable energy sources generated enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 10.5 million homes. But by 2013, they were producing power for nearly 22 million homes. Hydro itself produces enough power for typically between 24 million to more than 30 million homes each year.

Geofrey Hill, the British poet, quotes choreographer Mark Morris, a family friend who has worked with Hill's wife, who declared in a recent interview: “I’m not interested in self-expression but in expressiveness.” Hill says he “put perfectly what I’ve been trying to say gropingly and inadequately for years. The idea that you write to express yourself seems to me revolting. The idea that you write to glorify or to make glorious the art of expressiveness seems to me spot on.” Similarly, writing can not be easily taught. “If you’re giving people confidence in writing about what they know then whatever it is you’re doing it has nothing to do with poetry ... You’re providing a kind of therapy.”

AAAAAaaaaaaannnnndddddd......a picture of ice pillers in Finland:
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