Friday, February 28, 2014


There have long been suggestions of a global event in 1257. Medieval English records speak of 1258 AD as a year without summer, when crop harvests failed due to unseasonable floods and many died. There are accounts of advancing glaciers and paintings from the time showing people skating on frozen Dutch canals and London's River Thames. Medieval records point to a warm weather in the winter of A.D. 1257/1258 in western Europe. In Arras (northern France), for example, the winter was described as so mild “that frost barely lasted for more than two days." (Winter warming of continental regions of the northern hemisphere is recognized as a dynamic response of the atmosphere to high-sulfur eruptions in the tropics.) In the early 1980s a team of Danish researchers ice layers, the Danish researchers found a high amount of sulfuric acid in layers corresponding to the years 1258-1259. Archaeologists recently determined a date for a mass burial of thousands of medieval skeletons in London. It is A.D. 1258. All this is apparently the result of a huge global event, a gigantic volcano eruption that appears to have occurred in Indonesia.

The great volcanic events of the Holocene Period ((the past 12,000 years or so) include the seventh Millennium B.C. Kuril Lake (Kamchatka, Russia), the sixth Millennium B.C. Mount Mazama (Crater Lake, OR), the Minoan eruption of Santorini in the Mediterranean and the Tierra Blanca Joven eruption of Ilopango (El Salvador), possibly in the sixth century A.D.. The 1257 eruption was larger. Estimates of the 1258 stratospheric sulfate load are around eight- times greater than those of Krakatau in 1883 A.D. and twice that of Tambora in 1815 A.D.! The findings of 1258 would make it comparable to the eruption of Taupo in 180 A.D., considered the most intense of known historic eruption.

A paper by Franck Lavignea, Jean-Philippe Degeaia, et al published in The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America summarizes their research into the 1257 event and localizes the explosion in the Samalas volcano, Rinjani Volcanic Complex, Indonesia. They estimate the eruption plume reached between 34km and 52km above sea level with about 40.2 km3 of magma. A number of local human observations reveal the magnitude of the event. Local writings known as Babad Lombok, written on palm leaves in Old Javanese, describe a catastrophic caldera-forming eruption of Mount Samalas, a volcano adjacent to Mount Rinjani (Lombok Island).Mount Samalas is no more. Nor is the Indonesian country ruled by Pamatan. An interesting possibility is the creation of a local Pompeii. "Mount Rinjani avalanched and Mount Samalas collapsed," goes a poem which dates the events to before the end of the 13th century. "These flows destroyed (the seat of the kingdom) Pamatan."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Influencing a Child's Future

Illegitimacy rates in the U.S. are available from 2012. 72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock; 66.2 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives; 53.3 percent of Hispanics; 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 17.2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. That’s 40.7 percent overall.

The nation spends a fortune on hopeful programs in education, training  and diet in an effort to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet study after study shows that the single biggest obstacle to advancement in a child's life is being raised by a single parent. So what should be our response?

Sooner or later it will be to some politician's benefit, added and abetted by some media clique, to focus on these numbers as a problem. One can only imagine the direction. The religious right will demand everyone marry, the traditional right will find no Constitutional precedence for interference and will "abstain," while the left will want to outlaw marriage so parented kids do not have an advantage.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cab Thoughts 2/26/14

"Cosmically, I seem to be of two minds, the power of materialist science to explain everything—from the behavior of the galaxies to that of molecules, atoms, and their sub-microscopic components—seems to be inarguable and the principal glory of the modern mind. On the other hand, the reality of subjective sensations, desires, and—may we even say—illusions composes the basic substance of our existence, and religion alone, in its many forms, attempts to address, organize, and placate these. I believe, then, that religious faith will continue to be an essential part of being human, as it has been for me.” --John Updike

In 1952, 38,000 people contracted polio in America alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, there were fewer than 300 reported cases of polio in the entire world. From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade. During the 2000s, that fell to three per 100,000, according to The Economist.

The Voynich Manuscript (c.15th-16th centuries) have baffled and intrigued researchers for decades. It contains an indecipherable writing with mysterious illustrations. It has been bought and sold throughout Europe over the centuries. A new explanation of the manuscript has emerged from an unlikely source: Botanists. Arthur Tucker and Rexford Talbert studied the 302 plants depicted in the Voynich Manuscript and concluded that 37 of the plants were possibly of central American origin. And the text that has long mystified scholars may actually be an extinct dialect of Nahuatl from central Mexico, possibly Morelos or Puebla.

In 1900, African Americans had an illiteracy rate of nearly 45%, according to the Census Bureau. Today, it's statistically close to zero. In 1940, less than 5% of the adult population held a bachelor's degree or higher. By 2012, more than 30% did.

Chargers, most commonly cell-phone chargers, are hotels' most commonly left-behind items.

Golden Oldie:

Comte brought an aggressive form of “humanism” to nineteenth-century France, inclining toward a form of worship that replaced the God above with Good Men below. His kind of humanism created chapels (one still exists in Paris) filled with icons of the admirable: Héloïse, Abélard, Galileo. It’s still a cozy space. Instead of making us God-size, he made faith us-size. ( Adam Gopnik)

Is it true that the moment of voting in the British Parliament is called the "division?"

Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. His name is literally "desire." He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus. In Greek he is Eros. cupidity: noun eager or excessive desire. It does not have an erotic connotation but means a desire to possess something; greed; avarice. In the Slavic languages it has become "to boil."
The Argentine Central bank preliminary data has over-stated reserves by an average $257 million per day since the government began devaluing the peso Jan. 22, compared with an average $15 million in the previous month.
The central bank declined to comment on the discrepancy. They did, however, have a fire, a fire of unknown origin that destroyed an archive of bank documents in Argentina's capital on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.
The destroyed archives included documents stored for Argentina's banking industry, said Buenos Aires security minister Guillermo Montenegro.

Money in the 1700's was simply a tradeable IOU or debt which one signed and could be called; those that incurred too much debt entered prison--although that seems to be more a punishment than a solution. Two out of three people who left England for America were debtors; Virginia and North Carolina, hungry for settlers, promised five years' protection from Old World debts. When a man was arrested for debt, his wife and children often went to prison with him, having no place else to go. Debtors in New York City's prison -- where a man and his family might stay for years -- established their own constitutions and courts and elected their own sheriffs, to enforce the laws.

Two commissions of inquiry on Vatican finance are reporting their recommendations for reform and preparations get underway for a summit on family issues that will deal with the widespread rejection by Catholics of church teaching on contraception, divorce and gay unions. This could be momentous--but there is always a third act with Jesuits.

Who is....Sir John Franklin?

A federal jury has found Ray Nagin guilty of bribery, fraud and money-laundering during his two terms as mayor of New Orleans from 2002 to 2010. (A shopping spree in New York cost more than half a million dollars.) A confidential and independent report commissioned by the Defense Department found that "corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection." He was one of Bush's big critics after Katrina. No politician should raise questions of political competence as no airline should criticize another's safety record.

You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic's 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it's $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America's poorest are some of the world's richest. So, where do we start to make things better?

Another number to add to the total of inexplicable and unexplained lists: Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 World Press Freedom Index purports to measure freedom of the press world-wide. The U.S. dropped to No. 46th. What this means, I have no idea.

"The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic ... and I'm not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. ... And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It's too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there's no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke." Isabel Allende said this in anticipation of the release of her new book, "Ripper". She is getting just lambasted by mystery writers and readers. Book stores are returning her book.

AAAAAaaaaaaannnnnnddddd.......tracks on Mars:
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Illegals and Second Sight

Good news! Jeh Johnson, the head of Homeland Security, said illegal immigrants have "earned the right to be citizens." This is a significant step forward in the nation. The goal of citizenship has other pathways unknown to the rest of us. Or unavailable, like HOV lanes. They have not been spelled out but some people, special and informed, know.

One hopes this breakthrough can be made elsewhere. Some might earn their accounting diploma in other, as yet unrevealed ways. Perhaps sitting in court can create lawyers. Perhaps vigilantes are really lawmen -in-training. This may explain how New York cabbies get their medallions.
Apparently 90% of life is showing up.

Monday, February 24, 2014

We Are the World

So the gentle wings of the hummingbird move great storms in distant oceans; everything is interconnected. This is the basis for a lot of current social anxiety in the United States as we debate the responsibilities we citizens have to one another.

So the reaction of the Indian economist and Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan to the Fed "tapering" is important to all of us. Mr. Rajan, speaking for the developing world, is alarmed at the economic policy of the Fed which amounts to tightening and decreasing the capital available to all the world. Initially, in response to the American domestic trouble, the Feds made more money available but kept rates low. As returns in the U.S. were suppressed, that newly available money migrated to developing countries where it earned more. Those economies expanded. Now the Fed plans to retrace its actions. Money will be less available and U.S. interest rates will rise. A decrease in the money supply will result in an emigration of money back to the U.S. with significant consequences to developing nations. Mr. Rajan expects some real trouble and significant risk of decline in the emerging economies as less money is available.

In our effort to right our economic ship we may swamp the developing nations. So, what is our responsibility? Our economic policy might cause considerable damage to the fragile economies of developing nations with significant impact on their poorer people.
What should Obama do?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Sermon 2/23/14

Today's reading is the "turn the other cheek" talk, the last of the Sermon on the Mount section. Nietzsche hated this idea in Christianity and thought it weak and victimizing.

It is a turning of the Old Testament's "eye for an eye." This old law was not a philosophy of retaliation, it was a plea for perspective. The idea was that interaction between people should be proportional; one should respond in kind, not more than the offense required. It seems that, in history, the commands of God were touched with an understanding of man's weaknesses, almost a compromise with man's lesser nature. Here things seem to have changed. Christ says that man should be perfect as God is perfect. This is a much harder demand than "turn the other cheek."

This has been a problem for more people than Nietzsche. Many have translated these passages as demands impossible to achieve and have concluded man is doomed. Luther rejected behavior completely and decided that man was entirely dependent upon God's mercy--a very common theme in Protestantism. In truth, it is a very hard passage. What is more basic in life than life itself and should it not be protected? Does this section of the bible encourage passivity in the slave? Submission to the Nazi?

None of the examples offered by Christ seem outside of a culture; none seem across borders. But this still does not eliminate the possibility that someone will fall victim to viciousness within the culture, savagery that unresisted might result in the death of a totally guiltless person. Should that person not resist?

Christ didn't.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cab Thoughts 2/22/14

"Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." -Frederic Bastiat, 1848

According to the FBI, America averaged 20,919 murders per year in the 1990s, and 16,211 per year in the 2000s; reported rape per 100,000 Americans dropped from 42.3 in 1991 to 27.5 in 2010. Robbery has dropped from 272 per 100,000 in 1991 to 119 in 2010. There were nearly 4 million fewer property crimes in 2010 than there were in 1991. The U.S. population grew by 60 million during that period. But I will bet the average age rose as well.

Liu Xia, poet and wife of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, has been hospitalized for heart problems in Beijing. Although she has not been charged with a crime, she has lived under house arrest since 2010. Just a little thing in China.

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital is suing the web site Seeking Alpha over information posted by one of its bloggers revealing a position Greenlight had Micron, a position they say could have been known only by an insider. This might be a very interesting freedom of the press question. Einhorn is famously tough and sticks to his guns.

Canadian ice dance silver medalists Tessa Virtue raises a difficult problem: Her last name might cause concern in the post-modern world. Many might find "virtue" judgmental. This might be worse than the Washington Redskins. Perhaps she should change it.

Who are...Layla and Majnun?

Dan Henninger has an interesting observation about modern politics: The demand for brand maintenance. Modern citizens are relentless for product reliability and will analyze and change with little loyalty. Blackberry, Sony, Lululemon have all experienced success with shocking reversals. The Democrats had several defeats recently in California within their own party with incumbents overturned because of their identification with unions, a former strong point. As government products are always hard to deliver well, identification with government products might create problems for the Democrats. He feels "out in the world beyond what Washington manufactures and spins, no one would get away with putting out a product as flawed as ObamaCare." A bit disturbing seeing the voter/citizen as consumer.

China and Japan sold a lot of American debt the last three months. The buyer was, surprisingly, Europe.

The Energy Department says wind and solar will supply only one-tenth of the nation's energy needs by 2040 - up only slightly from today's 7%. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station that covers a vast area of desert requires more than 5 square miles of mirrors to produce enough electricity to light 140,000 homes. It would take roughly 3,600 Ivanpahs to supply all the country's electricity needs. These solar plants generate a lot of heat and kill a lot of birds. Interestingly wind power farms have received a waver for killing protected eagles.
The Ivanpah solar thermal system in California's Mojave Desert:
The Ivanpah solar thermal system in California's Mojave Desert - a money-wasting, bird-killing boondoggle. BrightSource

Acedia: n: sloth. Late Latin, from Greek akēdeia, from a- + kēdos care, grief. One of the seven deadly sins in Christian theology. The others are pride, wrath, greed, lust, envy, and gluttony.

Tom Steyer, a hedge fund executive, plans to spend $100 million to help make climate change an issue in this year's elections.
He might be willing to lay out even more, and he's looking to spend it in states that are also important for 2016. This has become nuts. One guy? $100 million?

Novelist James Patterson, whose mysteries, thrillers, children's books and romances have sold hundreds of millions of copies, is donating $1 million of his personal fortune to independent bookstores across the country.

Golden Oldie:

So experts are not always experts to everyone. The Rube-publicans believe the CBO economic experts but not the global warming experts. The Democrats believe the global warming experts but not the CBO economic experts. Or maybe they have their own, special experts. Or maybe this stuff is so soft the numbers can be read any way.

AAAAAAaaaannnnnnnnddddd.......a graph of the movement of the large cap index fund from an article suggesting boom and bust is becoming a routine part of the economy:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Know Nothings

There is some anxious debate among Republicans over the consequences of the looser approach to immigration the Republican leadership is showing. For at least a century, there's never been a period when a majority of immigrants did not vote for Democrats.

According to a Harris poll, 81% of native-born citizens think the schools should teach students to be proud of being American. Only 50% of naturalized U.S. citizens do. While 67% of native-born Americans believe the Constitution is a higher legal authority than international law, only 37% of naturalized citizens agree. The two largest immigrant groups, Hispanics and Asians, have little in common economically, culturally or historically. But they both overwhelmingly support big government, ObamaCare, affirmative action and gun control.

Could a prominent political party simply melt away?

Lincoln, a Republican, initially ran locally as a Whig. The other main party was the Democrats. The Republican Party was rising and initially tried unsuccessfully to recruit Lincoln. The Whigs and Republicans were similar--internal improvements by government spending, high tariffs to protect American business--but the Republicans had a strong anti-slavery position. Conflict among the Whigs, North and South, damaged the party as did the rise of the Know Nothing Party that was nativist, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic. By the late 1850s the Whigs had all but vanished.

Know Nothings was not a pejorative epithet, it was an expression of the group's secrecy. A man named William Barker organized the party from a small group of disaffected bigots to an huge group of somewhere between eight hundred thousand and 1.5 million men, most of them skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled laborers or lower-middle-class white-collar clerks. They were sworn to secrecy and "Know Nothing" came from their denying knowledge of the organization. They started by endorsing candidates but eventually became strong enough to run their own candidates, some whom others did not even know were running.
Now, of course, both the Whigs and the Know Nothings are gone.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

N Word Hysteria

Change is always easier with an opponent. The more radical the change, the more radical the opponent needed. So the French Royalty, as bad as they were, did not approach the depictions of their angry enemies. Lord knows what Bosnians think of each other.
Enter the dreaded "1%." There has been a firestorm recently over a short letter to the editor comparing the creating of a small target group, the dreaded 1%, to similar such targeting in the past and the "n" word ("Nazi") was mentioned. The sensitive opponents of the dreaded 1% went nuts.

Yet there is some significance to the isolation and vilification of small groups, like it or not, and the raising of power against them must be done with care. It is the essence of this nation that minorities do not get voted down easily--despite the majority's grand and moral visions. The lessons of the recent past, lessons that should change the world and every thinking individual's relations with power, should be in front of everyone's eyes.
Even more prominent than the banners.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cab Thoughts 2/19/14

The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. -Daniel J. Boorstin, historian, professor, attorney, and writer (1914-2004)
Is there a reason why all the pop-up ads are promising to reveal a hitherto hidden "trick?" And why is it usually "weird?"

Presidents' Day is a bad idea. It drags all the individuals in and celebrates none. It submerges each individual with his special abilities into a meaningless composite. In a world of Armstrong, Bonds and Grass we should elevate heroes and men of integrity, not mix them in a stew. This new world of equality-through-sameness may not tolerate such distinctions, though. We have not had a real hero since Pat Tillman and he, symbolically, was killed by friendly fire.
The Russians developed the Spartakiad workers' games early in the Soviet/communist state. The Russians were banned from international sport--a Western boycott--but they really had no infrastructure to develop athletes; the worker was a worker. And there was a serious ideological problem: How, in a world of equality, could there be individual champions? (Sometimes history more than rhymes.) The first Spartakiad Games were held in 1928 and was a mixture of parades, artistic gymnastics, sport, music and dance. These were all non-competitive. They joined the Olympics in 1952.
I heard a very interesting discussion between entrepreneurs over the distinction between the word "entrepreneur" and "businessman." The one man thought they were the same but "entrepreneur" gave a businessman cover, in case he should fail. In essence it gave him an excuse to fail. 
I suppose the distinction is that an entrepreneur is an innovator trying to change a business landscape and becomes a businessman only after the dust has settled and his business stable and successful. But "the excuse to fail" idea was interesting.
Golden oldie:
Sulfites  in wine prevent bacterial growth and further fermentation. While sulfites are a by product of fermentation they are also added.  To say on the label that the wine "contains sulfites" is mandatory only if a certain level is attained. Wines which claim to be "100% Organic" are not permitted to use sulfites in the production process but may still contain trace and/or undetectable amounts, which on a practical level means they are sulfite-free. The absence of added sulfites, or an extremely low level, implies that the wine  may well be more sensitive to changes in temperature and light during shipping and storage. Since bacteria and yeasts may remain, there is a greater risk of spoilage once the wine leaves the protected environment of the winery.
$10,000 invested in the S&P 500 only during Republican administrations since 1929  would have grown to only about $12,000 — versus about $572,000 under Democrat administrations.
jovial:    adjective. 1. endowed with or characterized by a hearty, joyous humor or a spirit of good-fellowship: a wonderfully jovial host.
Of (the planet) Jupiter, considered by astrologers to foster good humour. The planet is named for the father of the gods, Latin Jov-, stem of Old Latin Jovis, who was replaced later by Jupiter, the Roman Zeus.
In 1967  Paul Engle, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Engle had been evangelical about the rising ambitions of the Russians in cultural expansion through their new Moscow University and his concerns were heeded.
The first demonstration of a public radio broadcast was in Australia in 1920. The first radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, was aired in 1923.
Big vote against immigration in Switzerland. 70,000 immigrants a year in a country of 8 million. Almost a quarter of the population already holds a foreign passport. Somehow this vote has been translated as an anti-free trade vote. This will impact some EU rules but only indirectly. Leadership always seems to prefer the worst about their citizens.
A notion being kicked around by our betters. Instead of banks, mostly low-income individuals use check-cashing stores, pawnshops, payday lenders, and other unscrupulous financial services providers who gouged their customers to the tune of $89 billion in interest and fees in 2012, according to the IG report. Post offices could deliver the same services at a 90 percent discount, saving the average under served household over $2,000 a year and still providing the USPS with $8.9 billion in new annual profits. The question of why these cutthroat places exist was not asked.
Jesus Chavez Castillo, a killer for the Juarez drug cartel, testified he stopped counting the number of people he killed at 800, and said he often beheaded and dismembered victims to impress his boss. A good employer-employee relationship. It is charged that the cartel had a daily murder quota calibrated to instill fear in police and the public. They took a contract out on the entire city. At least Genghis Khan gave a town the chance to surrender.
America has more than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines and about 175,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines. Would the proposed Keystone line make that much of a difference?
"In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books. And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore -- it is also too unjust to tolerate,” AG Holder told a criminal justice forum at Georgetown University Law Center. Our dragons to slay are getting smaller and smaller.
Who was...Lady Jane Grey?

"To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." This was a motto of the Khmer Rouge, a communist outfit that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. They would probably quality as “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments” according to the logic of NBC. The revolutionary group was made up mostly of college educated Marxists and they aimed their dialectic fury at professionals, teachers, city dwellers and generally anyone suspicious. The mortality rate attributed to the dialectic cleansing was about 30% of the population. They preferred torturing people to death but, for time and economic reasons, had to scale back their means of murder, which is why the verb "to hoe" in Cambodia means "to kill."
Two activists were found guilty  of "deliberate destruction of property" for spray-painting the fence of what they said was a local governor's property. Pretty touchy about private property for a culture that so recently outlawed it.
AAAnnnndddd.....a picture of one of the displays by Al Taylor at the Zwirner Gallery in London:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Antebellum America

The battle over the Affordable Care Act will probably go on forever. It will undergo attacks by amendment and by lawyers. People will be outraged, constituencies created and defended as it progresses along to become a distorted legislative monolith, wounded but ennobled by its trials. Yet there is an element of the discussion that probably will get little attention but might be the law's most important revelation. We are changing as a culture in how we view work as is shown in a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment.

Most cultures, even revolutionary Marxism, have had regard for work. Indeed, Marx felt it was how man defined himself and one of his demands on modernity was that it bring man closer to his production. The Affordable Care Act creates some problems with work; first, it redefines what a real job is. The effect of the law can be muted under some circumstances; it is less burdensome if the business has less than 50 employees. And an employee is defined as someone who works for more than 30 hours. It is easy to see how companies would decrease the number of employees to 49 or effectively do that by decreasing employee working hours to less than 30. Either way the company ducks the ACA hammer.

This disincentive to full employment has become a talking point since the CBO's published estimates of job losses. But there is more here; one of the factors in the CBO's calculation was voluntary unemployment. Since the great objective of decoupling work from employment has been achieved, some are expected to take their insurance and tell the boss to 'take this job and shove it." Thus the government support of insurance--with other supports--makes working relatively unnecessary for some. Some have escaped the demands of a job.

This has been embraced by many. The peculiar Nancy Pelosi has gushed, "Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance." Jay Carney, when pressed on this topic, said that the Affordable Care Act gave people the "opportunity" that "allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, and if they will work."

So work is an option for these people. And there is the assumption that those others, those without the creative muse, should and will continue to get up every day, go to work and contribute their fair share--which in this instance is 100%--to the well-being of those who do not find the reward of work necessary.

This disrespect for work, this facile reading of the nature of man, this unsubstantiated rewriting of man's historical makeup is a revolution in what passes for thought. It will be interesting to read what the reflective and knowledgeable world has to add to the thoughts of the less than profound Pelosi.

More, if one group of people working to support the comfort of another does not strike a familiar memory cord, it should.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Markopolos and "Our System"

Starz has a story on Harry Markopolos, an accountant turned fraud investigator, who did years of research trying to expose Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. It is much too long with annoying diversions into Markopolos' growing--and seemingly merit-less--paranoia but it is unforgettable in several areas and is important in what it reveals about what we believe is "our system."

Markopolos started as an accountant working for Ramparts, an investment company in Boston. The company was trying to break into the options market and were stymied by Madoff's success. No one wanted to shift money from Madoff to Ramparts. Markopolos was assigned the task of evaluating Madoff's performance so Ramparts could compete with them. 

Marlopolos says that in five minutes he knew it was a fraud. Why? Because he never lost money. The hallmark of investing is that you can not plan on every contingency and sooner or later you will be wrong and will lose money. Madoff never did. So investing guarantees you will, at some point, lose money. There are no exceptions that are real.

With this insight, Markopolos moved deeper. Soon it became clear to him that Madoff was not investing anything, he was just pretending he was and recorded pretend profits. That lured more investors in and, with the new money from new investors, he paid the earlier investors. When Markopolos started looking at this, Madoff had a fund of 3 billion dollars. When Madoff was exposed the fund had a paper value of 50 billion.

More, it became apparent that Madoff was not alone. He required a complex of many "feeder funds" who had investment money to place and chose to place it with him. These funds received much more money for placing the money than the fees Madoff himself demanded in his scam. Indeed, Madoff's take was a relatively small percentage (but of a considerably larger pie.) Markopolos realized that most of the feeder funds were involved, at least passively, in the fraud. (It was similar to the Jasmine character in "Blue Jasmine.)

Markopolos went to the SEC. Every time he showed them his figures they said they were impressed. Every time they did nothing. It is important to note that Ponzi schemes are fragile. As they have no real investments, they are easy for a regulator to spot. All you have to do is say, "Who sold this IBM stock for you and who bought it?" Checkmate, because no stock was bought or sold. This simple check was never done. More, at some point in the middle of Markopolos' campaign, the SEC's  main overseer of this area married Madoff's niece. Married his niece!

Markopolos went to the press. Our guardians of last resort. A story was put together by Forbes. It was never run. He went to the WSJ, to their top investigative reporter, in 2006. He was impressed. The story never ran. Markopolos implies there were simply too many opposing forces at work, the elites too close, too many people with a lot to lose, for the press to reveal the scam.

In 2008, eight years after Markopolos started his campaign, the credit crunch began. Fearful people wanted to pull their money out of the exposure in markets and everyone began requesting their money. Madoff's client/victims too. But there was no money, only fraudulent paper transactions. So Madoff fell. It is important to realize there was not a single agency or news release that stimulated the failure; the failure was generated by market dynamics. Like the ill child of cultist parents, Madoff succumbed to natural forces.

Of the 300 firms, 300, implicated in the fraud, there have been less than a dozen individual arrests.

This is a grim story with grim lessons. First, the characteristic of a real investment is that it will lose money. That should never be forgotten. Two, the investment arena is huge and complex. But it is also motivated by greed and, if possible, corruption. No one's better nature will shield you. Nor is reputation much help. (Madoff was a past president of NASDAQ.) Three, success in this area occurs but it is similar to knocking down all three bottles with a ball at the county fair: The contest is designed to beat you. Four, the government oversight is a sham bigger than Madoff himself. What this means in other areas of the government I tremble to think. Five, the watchdog press has more interests and concerns than truth. When they are placed in an awkward position, they will sacrifice us.

God help us all.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Sermon 2/16/14

A friend of mine and his fiance called their local parish and asked the priest to explain the process of marriage in the parish. The priest was pleased and collected the demographics. When he realized the betrothed had the same mailing address he told them "We don't need your kind here" and hung up on them.

Today's readings are connected by the idea of the flow of religious history with great respect for the Old Testament prophets. But there are two significant additions. In the readings from St. Paul, he introduces the idea that Christ has revealed a wisdom to the world that was always present yet unknown. This spirit, this unseen thing, searches even the depth of God. The second reading is the "raca" reading where Christ says He is not here to overthrow the prophets but to fulfill them. He mentions the mysterious "Great King" of Jerusalem and then adds to the teachings of the prophets with rules about love and marriage. As pervasive, inclusive and forgiving the teachings of the New Testament are, Christ says that the acts of each man are important to the mind of God.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cab Thought 2/15/14

The road to success is always under construction.
~Winston Churchill

The Congressional Budget Office’s new economic report says the health care law will cause Americans to work fewer hours – enough to be the equivalent of 2 million fewer jobs in 2017. The Rube-publicans jumped on this as evidence that the ACA was a job killer. But the numbers might mean something else: The Democrats defend them on the basis that the ACA may free people from working to be insured. I remember Pelosi talking about how the ACA might free a worker up to be a painter, to follow his dream. I'm not sure which translation is worse. Is work really an enemy to be overcome? Can a society tolerate a population of dreamers?
Even the homicidal Marx thought man was defined by work.

42 percent of the nation’s freight is moved by train. On average, a train can move a ton of freight 436 miles on a single gallon on fuel.

In the 1980s there was a movement in India for the creation of a Sikh state with armed militants launching attacks in India's Punjab. The hope was for the establishment of Khalistan, or "Land of the Pure" in the Punjabi language.
Documents recently released under the U.K. 30-year rule suggested that a British special operations officer secretly advised the Indians about how to deal with the Sikh dissidents who were occupying a holy site, the Golden Temple. The storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar was one of the most violent episodes in the Indian government's battle against Sikh separatists, with more than 1,000 people dying. The attack enraged Sikhs and led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi a few months later — an act that provoked anti-Sikh riots across much of northern India. The riots, in turn, further fueled the insurgency.
Before it was stamped out in the late 1980s, the rebellion eventually cost more than 18,000 lives — including 329 people killed in an Air India jetliner explosion over the Atlantic Ocean blamed on Canadian-based Sikhs.

Thirteen out of 13 major investment banks all think that interest rates for global fixed-income will rise this year. Ah, models. Ah, consensus.

Echo: n: The reflection of a sound wave. Also a repetition. Echo was a wood nymph whose voice was taken from her by Juno, and she was thereafter only capable of repeating others. Another story says her unrequited love for Narcissus caused her to pine away until nothing but her voice remained. Or she was killed by Aphrodite who kept her voice alive because it was so beautiful. In all cases, she was treated badly and in all cases Narcissus was mean.

For Coke's delivery fleet in Miami their conventional trucks spent 61% of the day idling and consumed an average of 427 gallons of fuel per truck-year ($1,700) going nowhere.

A section of a letter sent by George Washington to Jefferson July 6, 1796 that, amidst talk of farming and crops, mentions political parties:
 "...until within the last year or two ago, I had no conception that Parties would, or even could go, the length I have been witness to; nor did I believe until lately, that it was within the bonds ofprobability; hardly within those of possibility, that, while I was using my utmost exertions to establish a national character of our own, independent, as far as our obligations, and justice would permit, of every nation of theearth; and wished, by steering a steady course, to preserve this Country from the horrors of a desolating war, that I should be accused of being the enemy of one Nation, and subject to the influence of another; and to prove it, that every act of my administration would be tortured, and the grossest, and most insidious mis-representationsof them be made..."

President Obama in an interview recently referred to the terrorists at Benghazi as "folks." Folks.

The Makech is a large beetle, found only in the Yucatán peninsula, with broad shells that can be decorated with little gemstones. The beetles feed on tiny sporophores found in a wood, and can live up to eight months. Attached to a golden chain, they're worn as pendants by Maya women and kept as pets. Fashion.

Golden oldie:

Roman Catholic Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz is publishing a book of Pope John Paul II's private writings in defiance of the late pope's will, which asks that they be burned.

California state and local governments face an estimated $655 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities. Over 12,000 county workers took home $200,000 or more in salary in the same year and over 63,000 government employees collected six-figure total compensation packages. In 2012, 30,744 former California state and local government employees collected pensions of over $100,000, and 94 brought home a quarter-million dollars or more.One retired public defender collected a total pension payout of $527,255.

"And in making this judgment...[that societies are necessarily imperfect, and making them perfect is not an option for creatures such as humans]..., we need to remember the practice of freedom on which our wealth seems to have depended," Kenneth Minogue of the London School of Economics said. "Solutions that reduce our freedom put modernity itself at risk."

Just before 1 a.m. on April 16, 2013, someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables by the PG&E Corp.'s Metcalf transmission substation near San Jose, California. Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night. This scary event has received almost no publicity. No one has been arrested. The attack was "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" in the U.S., said Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time.

Who is....James Watt?

AAAAaaaaaannnnnnnddddd.....a creepy picture of the world's highest swimming pool, located in the skyscraper Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Models and Scientific Suppositions

Mathematical models are theoretical programs created by people based upon their observations of the past and present in order to estimate what will happen in the future. As such they are subject to all the human error that observations and data gathering can allow, including preconceptions and bias. "Mathematical" does not shield humans from mistakes.

Malthus' otherwise plausible conclusion was trumped by the Industrial Revolution, which hugely increased the productivity of agricultural labor and, through crop improvements, agricultural land. The Club of Rome in the '70s made a similar, unfulfilled, prediction. Stock market projections, business plans, the Department of Energy's deployment of fuel supplies are all mathematical models. Long Term Capital Management was a company with an investment model developed by two Nobel Prize winning economists and it went broke--twice!--and almost took Citibank with it.
Here is another mathematical model:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Putin 1

Vladimir Putin is the fourth and current President of Russia, incumbent since 7 May 2012. He previously served as the second President from 2000 to 2008, and as Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012. The Olympics, his success in the Middle East and his efforts to reestablish Russia have all raised his profile.

Like most of our esteemed world leaders, Putin is an academic. He earned a PhD through a dissertation in “strategic planning” at St. Petersburg’s Mining Institute. Regrettably, later, this document was proven to have been plagiarized from a KGB translation of work by U.S. professors published many years earlier, this according to Brookings researchers Gaddy and Danchenko. Large sections of the dissertation’s central argument were taken almost word-for-word from the 1978 management text “Strategic Planning and Policy,” by University of Pittsburgh professors William R. King and David I. Cleland.

But our leaders are accustomed to expropriating the work of others to distribute as they see fit.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cab Thoughts 2/12/14

“Among the public men of democracies, there are hardly any but men of great disinterestedness or extreme mediocrity who seek to oppose the centralization of government; the former are scarce, the latter powerless.”--Alexis de Tocqueville
El-Erian, who had been widely seen as the heir apparent to William Gross at PIMCO, will leave the investment firm in mid-March.
Some guy named Rhawm Joseph is suing NASA over the amount of investigating they are doing on Mars. He feels they are overlooking some things. "Popular Science" says he is "a selfdescribed scientist." "Selfdescribed" might be a moniker for many in the present and future.
The head of PNC finances, Stuart Hoffman, spoke recently and was very complimentary towards Bernacki and Yellen. He is also upbeat about the financial year and has optimism about how the debt would be handled.  
From the Mars One website: Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies. Mars One mission plan integrates components that are well tested and readily available from industry leaders worldwide. The first footprint on Mars and lives of the crew thereon will captivate and inspire generations; it is this public interest that will help finance this human mission to Mars.
The company is a curious one with venture capitalist, an angel from Golden Spike, a few guys with Masters in science. Selfdescribed spacemen.
Who is.....Raghuram Rajan?
Among the major carriers, United had the most involuntary denied boardings from July to September, the last months for which figures are available. It bumped 4,014 passengers, for 1.9 bumpings per 10,000 passengers. By contrast, JetBlue, with the fewest denied boardings, bumped just 10 passengers. This is covered by the Code of Federal Regulations under "involuntary denied boarding"  (14 CFR - 250.8). Generally, in planes with more than 60 seats, the bumped passenger is entitled to 400% of his ticket.
There is a severe drought in California right now.  According to tree rings, California has experienced "megadroughts" which can last for decades, even centuries. There was apparently a 240 year drought from 850-1090, and another 170 year drought after that.
According to the Society of Actuaries, the ACA's bailout of insurers was designed as incentive to insurers to set premiums too low and to make ObamaCare look affordable. That should help politicians tied to ObamaCare and protects insurers who want market share.

Barack Obama has won two Grammy Awards.
A large study in Oregon compared insured and uninsured. The results, reported in the May 2013 New England Journal of Medicine, were that after two years there was no significant difference between insured and uninsured in blood-sugar level, blood pressure and cholesterol levels—although those with Medicaid saved money and were less likely to suffer depression. Strangely, those with Medicaid were 40% more likely to go to emergency rooms than those without insurance.
According to many, the single asset most sensitive to Fed tightening is emerging-market local debt. If that is true, what responsibility to emerging markets--and their citizens--do the Americans have when they proceed with the "tapering?"

An interesting little contradiction on the notion of "subsidiarity":  Pope John Paul II took the “social assistance state” to task in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus when he wrote that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity  by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility. (Subsidiarity is a notion that anything done socially should be done with the least complexity.) This “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” In spite of this clear warning, the United States Catholic Bishops have publicly criticized recent congressional efforts to reform the welfare system by decentralizing it and removing its perverse incentives.
Golden oldie:
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in late 2013 outstanding student loan debt topped $1 trillion. Additionally, over 11 percent of those loans are delinquent by 90 or more days.
Among PhDs., over 12 percent of individuals graduating from Ph.D. programs had student loan debt of $50,000 or more. Interestingly, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ph.D. programs have approximately a 50 percent attrition rate so the number of students in debt of this group might be much higher.
"Mercurial": subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind: e.g. "his mercurial temperament."
After Mercury, the Roman messenger of the gods; having the qualities associated with the god Mercury, such as a quick wit, eloquence, and changeability. Mercury, a liquid metal, was so named by alchemists who observed the element’s rapid, liquid flow, and likened it to the fastest moving planet, Mercury, named after the fast moving Roman messenger of the gods. Mercury is the Greek Hermes although Mercury himself seems to be of Etruscan origin.
The P/E ratio divides the price of a stock by the company's earnings. The Schiller CAPE P/E smooths out the earnings by averaging them for ten years. The CAPE shows--if correct--the U.S. market is the second most expensive in the world.
Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs has declared the renewable energy sector to be one of the most compelling and attractive markets – and is proceeding with $US40 billion ($A46 billion) of made and planned investments.
The Cape of Good Hope is where the warm Agulhas Current (also called the Mozambique Current), rushing down from the Indian Ocean, meets the cold Benguela Current, pushing up from Antarctica. The difference in water temperatures is a recipe for legendary storms. Bartholomew Dias, as part of the amazing Portuguese effort to sail and open the world, was the first European to have sailed around the Cape, in 1488. In 1497,  Vasco da Gama--another Portuguese--sailed the Cape to India and opened the trade routes. Dias had called the Cape the Cape of Storms but Portuguese King John II with da Gama changed the name to Cape of Good Hope to keep sailors' spirits up about the treacherous place.
AAAAAAaaaaaaannnnnnddddddd.......a graph:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Diplomacy by Other Means

In January of 1842 the British retreated from Kabul. 4,500 troops under the leadership of the lightly regarded General William Elphinstone, along with 12,000 women and children (and some merchants) left for Jalalabad, 90 miles away, after the murders of the British representatives in Kabul. The British representative, Macnaghten, had offered to make Akbar Khan Afghanistan's vizier in exchange for allowing the British to stay in Afghanistan, while simultaneously planning to have him assassinated, plans that Akbar Khan discovered. A meeting for direct negotiations between MacNaghten and Akbar was held on 23 December, but MacNaghten and the three officers accompanying him were murdered by Akbar Khan. Macnaghten's body was then dragged through the streets of Kabul and displayed in the bazaar. Elphinstone took this as a bad sign and the British negotiated safe passage, they thought, through the snowbound mountain passes to Jalalabad.

During the next seven days, with various insincere offers for peace and truce, the Afghans systematically cut the unit, women and children to pieces. The final British stand was at Gandamak. On January 13, one survivor arrived at Jalalabad: a Doctor Brydon, a military physician with a significant head wound.

The British have long regarded this event as evidence of Afghan untrustworthiness. (MacNaghten's treachery was apparently understandable.) But one does wonder how people recover from these disasters. How can the British just soldier on? How does an event like this not stain their psyche, interfering with every negotiation and international encounter? How do national blood feuds not develop? How can the Americans become trading partners with Japan after the Pacific war? How can the Vietnamese do the same with the Americans? Is it forgiveness? Or are these large and national events quite separate from us small individuals, like some sort of national epidemic that burns itself out like the flu or the Plague, and the individual does indeed soldier on, scars and all, grateful to have survived.
(a redo)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Burroughs and the Spirit of Ugly

At some point the available information should lead to a conclusion, like an equation. Sometimes this is difficult for open-minded or indecisive people but it must be done. This is especially hard in evaluating the artist whose creations are, to some extent, outside himself. But what you are, like a magnet, reorders the world around you. What you are cannot be escaped. What you are cannot be a footnote to your work. Mussolini did make the trains run on time. And Nero might have been a thespian but it will not--and should not--define him; any theatrical contribution he made should be screened out by his more essential qualities. Art, in a library or studio, might be beyond judgment but man, an essentially interactive being, is not.

When William Burroughs died at age 83 in 1997, his last words were: "Be back in no time." It might have been his finest moment.
Burroughs was born 100 years ago and that, presumably, has necessitated another biography of him, this time by Barry Miles in Call Me Burroughs: A Life.

Burroughs dragged himself through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix in the most miserable, sordid places he could find, all over the world. He started and stopped efforts, careers, educations, and jobs as he lived out his shiftless, pointless life through a family inheritance. He was addicted to heroin, alcohol, marijuana, Eukodol, and morphine; he was an outspoken homosexual and a junkie when neither was chic. He was a misogynist and loved guns. He once sawed off his own finger joint with poultry shears in some sort of romantic and symbolic act of love over a teenage prostitute. He reported to have accepted the news of the murder of his close friend, David Kammerer by Lucian Carr, with no emotion. He pursued peripheral beliefs like telepathy, alien abduction, scrying (like crystal balls), Orgone boxes (boxes said to accumulate positive anti-entropic energy), and dreamachines.

And, of course, Joan Vollmer. Vollmer was a Barnard student who was caught up in the Beat world in New York and became one of the group's female centers. She had psychiatric admissions for drug use, eventually married Burroughs and moved with him as he searched for cheap places to live that had cheap drugs. In Mexico while both were drunk, Burroughs tried to shoot a glass off her head a la William Tell. He killed her with a bullet in her forehead.

As a man in a consistent downhill slide virtually from birth, it is surprising to find that Burroughs thought this a pivotal event. "The death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit," he said. Whether this was a general Manichean element or a more person possession is not known.

Nor should anyone care.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Sermon 2/9/14

Today's gospel contains the "You are the salt of the are the light of the world" lines. The light of the world dispels the darkness, fair enough. But the salt?

Salt has always had value so in this sense the disciples were being complemented. And this is its traditional meaning. But salt is also a taste enhancer. Salt is an essence, an entity; there is nothing to be added to it. But when added to food it brings the flavor out, it reveals it. It reveals and develops something that is already there.

The disciples were to give light to the world but were also to reveal something in man. Something that was already there.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cab Thoughts 2/8/14

"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

Letang's diagnosis raises some serious questions. Do intensely trained athletes have thrombosis and embolism? (The Penguins have two. Two! And they were diagnosed only by a peculiarity.) Will Letange need his cardiac defect repaired? If so, can it be done through he vessels or will he need his chest opened?

80% of the people in the United States live within 500 miles of Cincinnati. I had no idea.

Years ago, a team of child abuse specialists from the Yale-New Haven Hospital, brought in to the case by prosecutors and police, concluded that Dylan Farrow had not been molested. So now what? Can anyone just say anything?

Labyrinth: a maze with many twists and passages or a tortuous procedure. It comes from the name of the maze Daedalus built for King Minos of Crete to hold the Minotaur, a monster part man and part bull, who was eventually killed by the great Greek hero, Theseus. Daedalus was an artisan, the word means "clever worker," who was the father of Icarus, whose wings brought him too close to the sun and melted. The best known story of Icarus is a late one, from the Roman writer Ovid., but there are ancient references to his flying.

The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake is the deadliest earthquake on record, killing approximately 830,000 people. It occurred on the morning of 23 January 1556 during the Ming Dynasty. More than 97 counties were affected. An 520 mi area was destroyed and in some counties 60% of the population was killed. Most of the population in the area at the time lived in yaodongs, artificial caves in cliffs, many of which collapsed with catastrophic loss of life.

A new report shows that 64 percent of Chinese millionaires have either emigrated or plan to emigrate—taking their spending and fortunes with them. The United States is their favorite destination. One third have already left.

A council of village elders in India ordered the gang rape of a 20-year-old woman after they found out she was in a relationship with a man from a different community, police reported. Police in a rural part of West Bengal arrested 13 people in connection with the alleged offense that left the woman in critical condition in the hospital. Such councils are not legally binding in India, but they are seen as the will of the local community. The councils decide on social norms in the village, and in some cases they dictate the way women can dress or who they can marry. Those who flout the councils risk being ostracized. Sometimes it is really reassuring that "all politics is local."

Golden Oldie:

Association vs. Causation: The rate of infection for gonorrhea declined every year from 1950 through 1959, and the rate of syphilis infection was, by 1960, less than half of what it had been in 1950. Both trends reversed and skyrocketed after "sex education" in public schools became pervasive.

Estate agents are reporting a big increase in investment buyers — some from as far away as China — trying to buy swaths of British farmland. The influx has sent the price of farmland to a record high of £6,882 an acre — an 11% jump on this time last year and a 210% increase over the past decade.

A Pew Research Center poll found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans had not read a single book or e-book in the past year, nearly tripling the figure from 1978, when only 8 percent of Americans hadn’t read a book during the preceding 12 months.

banal \buh-NAL, -NAHL, BEYN-l\, adjective: devoid of freshness or originality; hackneyed; trite: e.g. a banal and sophomoric treatment of courage on the frontier. Banal originally comes from the French word ban which referred to compulsory military service. Since this law applied to everyone, the word came to be associated with what was commonplace.

"I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now......The Obama administration has had seven criminal leak investigations. That is more than twice the number of any previous administration in our history. It's on a scale never seen before. This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with."--Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, speaking to Al Jazeera.

A local councilor in England recently has said Britain's recent storms were caused by the legalization of gay marriage. Hard to prove they aren't.

I do not know which part of this story is the most amazing: A recently deciphered 4,000-year-old clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia - modern-day Iraq - reveals striking new details about the roots of the Old Testament tale of Noah. It tells a similar story, complete with detailed instructions for building a giant round vessel known as a coracle - as well as the key instruction that animals should enter "two by two." Irving Finkel, the museum's assistant keeper of the Middle East and the man who translated the tablet got hold of it a few years ago, when a man brought in a damaged tablet his father had acquired in the Middle East after World War II.
The tablet went on display at the British Museum. This is pre-Gilgamesh.

In 19th Century navigation of the Mississippi, crewman would throw a long rope with a lead weight at the end as far in front of the boat as possible (and thus the crewman was called the leadman) to estimate the depth. The rope was usually twenty-five fathoms long and was marked at increments of two, three, five, seven, ten, fifteen, seventeen and twenty fathoms. A fathom was originally the distance between a man's outstretched hands, but since this could be quite imprecise, it evolved to be six feet. The leadman would call out the depth the rope implied, first with the attention-getting "Mark!" then the number of fathoms on the rope, one or two etc.. There was an old-fashioned lingo they used--"two," for example was said "twain." So, at a depth of two fathoms, one knot on the rope, the leadman would call out to the boat captain, "Mark Twain!"

Who is .....Gilgamesh?

The business secretary has told worried companies that there is a 5% chance Britain will leave the European Union. The chancellor, George Osborne, warned last week that Britain will quit if the EU does not reform.

A gold expert thinks there is a shortage of stored gold; that many of the contracts have been shorted or unfilled and that a lot of gold is missing. The World Gold Council estimates that 150 to 200 tons of smuggled gold will enter India in 2013, on top of the 900 tons of official demand. When it demanded its 300 tonnes of gold back in January, the Bundesbank was told it would have to wait seven years. No explanation was given and, apparently, none was demanded. If there is a lot of missing gold, it will be expensive to replace.
2014 Winter Games in Sochi is now estimated to have cost more than $50 billion, a price tag higher than the last 21 Winter Games combined and more expensive than any Summer Games ever held.

A funny graph recently showing the world's housing prices. So....the top three countries do not use the metric system, the bottom 22 have never been invaded by the British.

AAAAAAaaaaaannnnnnddddd.....a graph:
Chart of the Day

Friday, February 7, 2014

Assuming History

Obama, speaking on cutting taxes and regulation in 7/24/12: "But here’s the problem -- we tried that and it didn’t work."
Certainly he's not talking about G. Bush here--one would think, if serious, he would be more specific--but he probably is referencing an administration and a man who became president with the distinct policy of smaller government, lower taxes and less regulations.
So what is the economic information from that time?

From December 1982 to June 1990 over 21 million jobs were created—and another 26 million in the 1990s. The stock market rose relentlessly. From July 1982 through August 2000, the S and P 500 stock price index grew at an average annual real rate of over 12%. The unfunded liabilities of the Social Security system declined as a share of GDP, and the famed Carter "misery index" fell to under 10%.

Peter Ferrara, writing in Forbes says the economy “took off on a 25-year economic boom from 1982 to 2007,” citing National Bureau of Economic Research reports. “During the first seven years of that boom alone, the economy grew by almost one-third, the equivalent of adding the entire economy of West Germany, the third largest in the world at the time, to the U.S. economy.”
Arthur B. Laffer, a member of Reagan's Economic Policy Advisory Board (though hardly a disinterested observer), and Steven Moore, chief financial writer and senior economics contributor at The Wall Street Journal, summarized Reagan's economic record in their 2008 book, The End of Prosperity: “We call this period, 1982-2007, the 25-year boom — the greatest period of wealth creation in the history of the planet. In 1980, the net worth — assets minus liabilities — of all U.S. households and businesses ... was $25 trillion in today's dollars. By 2007 ... net worth was just shy of $57 trillion. Adjusting for inflation, more wealth was created in America in the 25-year boom than in the previous 200 years.”

$25 trillion. These are big numbers. Very big.

However, contrary to current thinking, cause and effect are very difficult to establish. Was this success from cutting taxes? Regulations? Both? Was the American economy just a coiled spring waiting to recover from the Carter years? What about the rise of the Internet; did that help? Did it help so much that nothing Reagan did was a major factor? What about the housing market? What about the Fed, did their behavior make a difference? 

This is hard stuff. But dismissive statements, wildly partisan cries and vague generalities do nothing but alienate thinking people. This is especially true in someone who presents himself as a thoughtful conciliator.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Fault, Dear Brutus...

Copernicus wrote his paper in 1543. Thomas Diggs was the first Englishman to proclaim the theories of the heliocentric system. His son was a friend of Shakespeare. There were two prominent supernovas during Shakespeare's life, one in 1604 called Kepler's Star and one earlier in 1572 called Tycho's Star after Tycho Bracha, the Danish astronomer.

Wait. Danes? Stars?

The efforts to understand Shakespeare continue with the finest lens. Recently a theory has arisen to see Hamlet as a battle between the two visions of the solar system, heliocentric and geocentric. The murderous uncle Claudius is.....Claudius Ptolemy! Then it gets really fun--if a bit inconsistant. Tycho Bracha, the heliocentric guy, had a coat-of-arms which contained his family names. Two were "Rosencrans" and "Guildensteren."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cab Thoughts 2/5/14

Unless you can watch your stock holding decline by 50% without becoming panic–stricken, you should not be in the stock market.” --Warren Buffett

Stephen Fincher, over the years, has received farm subsidies totaling $3,483,824. He has been the Representative for Tennessee's 8th congressional district since 2011. As a Rube-publican, he is probably opposed to "big government."

The Fed has facilitated another credit-fueled recovery, wherein the US consumer is, again, borrowing aggressively against a collateral base that is defined by paper wealth, rather than real income growth. The stock market has replaced the housing market as that collateral base against which the US consumer is now borrowing hand-over-fist. (from an economic letter arguing that the same problems that created the 2008 bubble is now at work again, caused by the very efforts used to blunt the 2008 bubble.)

Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, by which Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin agreed to divide up central Europe in 1939, was not repudiated by the Russian government until 1989. Such a renunciation, however, did not mean independence for the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which were invaded by Soviet troops in 1940 and still ruled from the Kremlin half a century later. Since then the Soviet Union has collapsed, and sovereign Baltic governments have joined NATO and the European Union. Mr. Putin recently defended the notorious bargain with Nazi Germany as a step by the Soviet Union to "ensure its interest and its security on its western borders." Breaking eggs --and heads--again for the bigger omelet picture.

Who is....Lenny Skutnik?

Ah, capitalism. In Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, journalist McKenzie Funk looks into how some entrepreneurs and even some nations stand to benefit from a changing climate. Topics range from investors buying water rights and farmland around the world, to private wildfire protection services for affluent homeowners, to gates preventing surging water threatening cities, to infrastructure companies supporting melting permafrost, to the nation of Greenland, which will be able to exploit new mineral deposits as its ice melts.

Woodrow Wilson broke a century-old presidential tradition of delivering the State of the Union message only in writing by making a speech of it.

Atlas: A book containing maps of various locations. Atlas was a titan condemned to hold up the sky on his shoulders after the titans were defeated by the Olympians. Often he is erroneously pictured as holding up the world. He is identified with the Atlas mountains in North Africa and also appears in the story of the labors of Hercules. He is associated with "enduring."

There are 10,750 hedge funds in the U.S. with 2.2 trillion dollars in assets. 1600 of those funds control 99% of the total assets and 350 of the funds control 60%

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the four-star general who was forced to resign from the military after his aides were quoted in a Rolling Stone article making disparaging remarks about members of the Obama administration, spent the bulk of his career in special operations, very elite units that carry out highly classified missions. In Iraq, he eventually became the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, tasked with hunting down and killing insurgents. In McChrystal's memoir, My Share of the Task, he describes a culture gap between the military and civilian worlds. The lack of understanding, he says, complicated the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and bred distrust between the White House and the Pentagon. Anyone reading about the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban Crisis will think that distrust is well earned.

Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" has some astonishing observations that have some gross experimental support. One is this: The impression a person makes is made 10$ with words, 30% with tone of voice and 60% nonverbal behavior. If true, this is really worth paying attention to.

Golden Oldie:

One of Bush's speechwriters has noted the similarity of Obama's State of the Union Speech this year and one of Bush's. Big surprise. In 2011, Alvin Felzenberg, presidential scholar and former spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, wrote an op-ed for U.S. News and World Report stating the Obama's speech "contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince." I'm sure this was unintentional. But when generalities and cliches are the backbone of your--and everyone's--speech, it is inevitable.

Oscar Pistorius' murder trial will have a dedicated 24-hour television channel in South Africa.

Theoretical high energy density available from a metal-air battery type has stimulated research into variants of these types. Regarding the lithium air battery:  The quality of the air has to be better than that of the ambient air; during the charge/discharge cycle, one unwanted side reaction is the production of oxygen gas inside the battery; various forms of lithium oxides are formed extraneous to the process and interfere with the electrodes like sulphation; it is not easily recharged over many times. interestingly, energy density is close to maximum for current metal batteries.

Rogue waves can be as high as 100 feet or more. In 1737 , a huge wave estimated to be 210 feet in height hit Cape Lopatka, Kamchatka (NE Russia). At the Eagle Island lighthouse (1861), water broke the glass of the structure's east tower and flooded it, implying a wave that surmounted the 130 ft. cliff and overwhelmed the 85 ft. tower.
AAAAnnnnnnddddd......a picture of a stallion fight in China: