Monday, March 31, 2014

Obama and Putin

Obama seems to think it important that Putin be cast as a 19th or 20th Century man. By default, I suppose, Obama becomes a modern, 21st Century man. It is reminiscent of those angry college arguments where the guy who thinks he's an intellectual is dismissive of the athlete, as he treads dangerously on the athlete's physical territory, having brought a book on Keats to a fistfight. But the athlete usually always restrains himself and the intellectual gets to leave the scene with his arrogance intact.
Obama, of course, is wrong on almost all counts. Putin is not a 19th Century man, he is a killer for all seasons. He is limited not by his outlook but rather by his armaments. He is not lacking in modern philosophy, he is lacking in modern weapons. He sees himself a representative of a great nation slighted by the history his philosophers told him was its friend. But he is intent on being the point of that nation's recovery as it reclaims its destiny.
Poor Obama has none of that barbaric burden. Or its mission. Or its reason for being.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Sermon 3/30/14

Today's gospel is dense with metaphor, symbolism and a touch of revolution. Light and dark, physical and immaterial, visible and invisible. In it, Christ encounters and heals a blind man--on the sabbath. First He dismisses the old notion that the man's infirmities are the result of his or his parents' sin. Then the man presents himself to the priests who are torn, one group with amazement, the other with indignation over the cure being performed on the sabbath. Finally, Christ turns the lesson on its head and says that sin is a sort of blindness of the soul that impairs the spirit. Throughout this lies the revolutionary notion of the freedom and responsibility of man and the potential danger of ironclad social construct, this two thousand years ago.

Going Blind   by Rainer Maria Rilke

She sat just like the others at the table.
But on second glance, she seemed to hold her cup
a little differently as she picked it up.
She smiled once. It was almost painful.

And when they finished and it was time to stand
and slowly, as chance selected them, they left
and moved through many rooms (they talked and laughed),
I saw her. She was moving far behind

the others, absorbed, like someone who will soon
have to sing before a large assembly;
upon her eyes, which were radiant with joy,
light played as on the surface of a pool.

She followed slowly, taking a long time,
as though there were some obstacle in the way;
and yet: as though, once it was overcome,
she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.



On His Blindness
   by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cab Thoughts 3/29/14

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

At least nine randomized controlled studies have shown that mammography screening reduces breast cancer mortality by 30 to 40 percent. The innovation of 3D digital mammography improves detection rates over traditional mammography. The Canadian National Breast Screening Study recently published in the British Medical Journal found that annual mammography was no better than annual exams by a nurse and led to unnecessary biopsy. (This was a 25 year study.) The 32% of cancers diagnosed during the study was strangely low (the U.S. rate is 60%) and has been attributed to the study's use of generations old, i.e. ancient, technology. But a 25 year study is going to have some consistency and update problems.

There are 2200 U.S. military amputees who have returned from the Middle East.

Mat Drudge, the despised owner of the despised Drudge Report, was ridiculed after he announced he had paid his ACA "tax penalty" for not signing up for the ACA medical insurance. The tax, his critics laughed, does not start until 2015 so he must be stupid or insincere. But all small businesses pay taxes forward, every quarter, so those 2015 taxes must be filled each of the four preceding quarters. I.E. now. The H&R Block Tax Institute in an interview with The Wire said that Drudge is likely overpaying his tax debt now and that the overpayment will be deducted once the health insurance penalty is assessed early next year. However, H&R Block also said there is no formal payment calculation yet in place by the IRS for the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision. More, when individuals make estimated tax payments, they cannot specify which government program their payments are going to. Do all these political pundits and experts not know these basic things? Maybe they are just grateful for the attention.

Obama's Saturday radio address centered upon unequal pay between men and women in the United States, this despite the fact that unequal pay is illegal and any discrepancies have been shown over and over to be a function of personal choices, usually family or obstetrical, that interfere with seniority or career development. Why would he present any discrepancy as discriminatory or malicious?

Who was...Georgi Markov?

Genetic diversity, that is "error," is sometimes good for the individual, sometimes bad. Diversity in genetics is only an opportunity.

There has been a rise of start-up companies seeking financing and the available money has not increased much. Therefore the pre-money valuation of these companies has dropped, usually about 30% below its estimated value.

Most of the stars visible with the naked eye are within 250 light years of earth.

Not one single prediction sheet escaped the 64 team bracket in the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. These predictions were made by an estimated 9 million, some whimsically, some with great expertise. Not one of the millions of predictions were correct after two days. It should be remembered when anyone tries to predict human behavior and results.

Golden Oldie:

In an interview recently, Bill Gates said, "All people have equal value." Now what could Gates mean by that?

The West African country of Guinea said on Sunday that 59 people have died during an outbreak of Ebola. The AP reports this is the first time an outbreak of the virus has been detected among humans in the country. An episode has appeared in Canada. The Canadians have said there is no risk to the general public. After all we have seen by governments from the Affordable Care Act to the Malaysian flight, are you reassured?

Catholic school students score significantly higher than public school students on national standardized tests in math and reading. It is interesting that explanations of these discrepancies tend to dismiss them.

A "Plutocracy" is the government by the rich. It comes from "Pluto," god of the underworld, who was surrounded by the minerals--and wealth--of the world.

So there are large petroleum pools on Saturn's moon, Titan. Does that mean there are dinosaurs too?

There is a new catch-phrase making the rounds in Washington, "school-to-prison pipeline." This apparently refers to the imbalance of school discipline that has shown on studies to punish black males disproportionately higher, an imbalance that has shown up in pre-school. Males are also disciplined more than females but that has not qualified as "sexist" yet. (For completeness sake, whites are disciplined more than Asians.) Where this is going I have no clue but the giant-brained Eric Holder said he would "aggressively disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline," I suppose by cracking down on racist nursery schools.

"Russia's actions are a problem. They don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan." The President of the United States said that. He thinks that is a position.

Ibragim Todashev, a 27 year old connected to the Boston murderers, was killed by the FBI in an interview. An interview!

“Why do the members of the Politburo not go to meetings on Thursdays?” ran one Bulgarian joke in the late 1970s. “Because they listen to Georgi Markov on Radio Free Europe.”
Markov was dissident writer and radio journalist living in London whose weekly broadcast, In Absentia: Reports About Bulgaria, had gained a dedicated following in his native land. He was assassinated in broad daylight, shot in the thigh with a miniature poisonous pellet by an agent of the Bulgarian State Security Service. At the time, it was assumed that the murder weapon had been a modified umbrella gun, and the case became known worldwide as “the Bulgarian Umbrella.”
130 Russian journalists have been murdered in Russia since Putin has come to power. A tightly controlled state gives its rulers great freedom.

AAAAaaaaannnnnddddd..... a quote:
Twain on Criminal Class Rectangle Magnet

Friday, March 28, 2014

Superiority Is Its Own Reward

International relations are very complex and have huge risks if nations misunderstand their adversary--or their partner. The problem in the Crimea is more than just a symbol to the Russians, down on their luck. It is important to their military strategy; much of their navy is based there. They want a warm water port. And they are ambitious (or nostalgic), as personified by their leader.
But it is significant to the West too. Europe needs Russian gas. The takeover was remarkably Nazi-like; the ethnic Russians longing for safety within Mother Russia sounds like the Germans' rationalizing the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia. And aggression from weakness can be dangerously unpredictable and symbolic. (e.g. Carter's strange attack on Iran.)
The Left is befuddled, the Right angry over Obama's response. Everyone is crying out for action. But they should be careful. Clearly the Americans are being only shepherded, not led. Obama's peculiar statement, "Russia's actions are a problem. They don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan," seems to be aimed at putting all his problems in a diminished context, paling before some unknown Apocalypse. The velleity of policy might be economic sanctions but, in these hands, Lord knows what the fallout would be. Punishing tiny economies like North Korea or Cuba is easy but Russia is a different matter. The spider web of finance is fragile in the most gentle hands.
Remember what happened when they decided to tax the luxury yacht industry?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Good Old Days of Reliable Enemies Are Gone

Eighty-five people in the world have as much money as do the poorest 3.5 billion. The top 1% have almost half the liquid wealth that has been accumulated in the world. But the world is different from the 1800s and 1900s. Wealth is not generated by a few people exploiting the factory worker or the guy in the mine, wealth is generated by a few people with a new, good idea who then sell it to a huge number of people who pay very little for it. TVs, phones, apps--this is a new and different economic scenario. Google gives away a lot of their apps. The zero sum argument ending with blood all over the walls just does not have application now. The rich guy is the inventor, the innovator, and his products are cheap and everyone really, really wants them. Is anyone mad at Jan Koum, a refugee from Kiev who has been living on food stamps, who created tremendous wealth with a partner and less than 70 employees in just a few years on the strength of an idea and some venture capital?
These are hard times for community organizers, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cab Thoughts

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


Employment numbers are up--but time at work is down. Although the U.S. economy added about 900,000 jobs since September, the workweek dropped from 34.5 hours to 34.2,  equivalent to losing about one million jobs during this same period. The difference between the loss of the equivalent of one million jobs and the gain of 900,000 new jobs yields a net effect of the equivalent of 100,000 lost jobs. There are all sorts of explanations--cold winter, the Affordable Care Act--but the decline is undeniable.

Only 93 of the 3,200 children's books published in 2013 were about black people.

A Gallup poll shows that about a third of Americans (36%) believe global warming poses any threat to their way of life. The subset of Americans who believe global warming will never happen has doubled to 18% since 1997. Interestingly, the poll questions are written as if global warming is real or a given.

The wealthiest U.S. neighborhood is Greenwich, Conn., ZIP code 06830.

Who was...Galina Starovoitova?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a poet and the founder of San Francisco's City Lights bookstore, best known for his collection A Coney Island of the Mind. He was associated with the Beat movement in San Francisco and put on trial for obscenity after publishing Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem Howl. He was acquitted. Amazingly he is 94.

The Etruscans are generally believed to have spoken a non-Indo-European language.
The military has dropped rape charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair against a captain in intelligence after it has been revealed    the captain might have lied under oath at a pretrial hearing in January. The girl had been the general’s lover for three years. That relationships are becoming less and less formalized raises some serious problems in law.

Westboro Baptist Church founder and engine Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. has died. This is apparently a philosophical big deal as the church claims death is the result of specific sin so how do we view the good Reverend? In an interview, a son predicted that some in the church would find a "palatable justification" to continue on with Westboro Baptist. I would bet that is true. Golden Oldie: http://steeleydock.blogspot.com/2010/10/westboro-baptist-church-and-retirement.html

In a new two-year study published in the journal Plos One, University of Utah neuroscientists scanned the brains of more than 1,000 people, ages 7 to 29, while they were lying quietly or reading, measuring their functional lateralization – the specific mental processes taking place on each side of the brain. They broke the brain into 7,000 regions, and while they did uncover patterns for why a brain connection might be strongly left or right-lateralized, they found no evidence that the study participants had a stronger left or right-sided brain network.

Next year the Commerce Department plans to give up next year its oversight of Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to the "global Internet community"  The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the telecom branch of the United Nations, has been demanding  rules governing the Internet be rewritten. It proposes inspection authority that would allow it to monitor and censor otherwise encrypted content on the Internet. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, released a report in May 2013 outlining groundwork for Internet governance and regulatory topics. The Americans want to expand control to "stakeholders," as in men holding sharp stakes.

"&" is the "ampersand." The shape of the character--&--emerged  in the first century. Roman scribes wrote in cursive, so when they wrote the Latin word et, which means “and,” they linked the e and t with the swirling "&." Over time the combined letters came to signify the word “and” in English as well. The word “ampersand” came many years later when “&” was actually part of the English alphabet. In the early 1800s, school children reciting their ABCs concluded the alphabet with the "&." It would have been confusing to say “X, Y, Z, and” so the students said, “and per se and,” “Per se” meaning “by itself.” Over time, “and per se and” was slurred together into the word we use today: "ampersand."  That makes "ampersand" another great word: a "mondegreen." 

A recent article in "The Economist" states there is a 2% annual earnings bonus if one learns a second language. Some languages are worth more than others.

The "Valley of Death"--into which rode the 600 whom Tennyson commemorated in his epic poem recounting the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade--was in the Crimea. The famous order, delivered to Field Marshall Lord Lucan read:  "Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front — follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns — Troop Horse Artillery may accompany — French cavalry is on your left. R Airey. Immediate" The vagueness of the order (which guns and where) was never challenged. Lucan ordered the Earl of Cardigan to lead the 600 men of the 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, the 11th Hussars,the 4th Light Dragoons, and the 8th Hussars into the teeth of the Russian battery two kilometers distant, with further guns flanking their advance on either side. They were, of course, cut to pieces:

The Charge of the Light Brigade

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

II
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.

IV
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.

V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.

VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!



AAAAaaaaannnnnndddd......a graph on the relative second language "bonus":


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Obama's Panama

Next year the U.S. Commerce Department plans to surrender its oversight of the non-profit Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to the "global Internet community." Who that will be is uncertain but the U.N. says it is available. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the telecom branch of the United Nations, has been demanding rules governing the Internet be rewritten. Among other things, it proposes inspection authority that would allow it to monitor and censor otherwise encrypted content on the Internet. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, released a report in May 2013 outlining groundwork for Internet governance and regulatory topics. The report calls for the creation of "global principles for the governance and use of the Internet" and proposes the resolution of issues pertaining to "use of Internet resources for purposes that are inconsistent with international peace, stability and security." One can only wonder whose security.
In 2008, the Internet trade journal Cnet reported the ITU was quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous. Regimes in places such as Russia and Iran also want an ITU rule letting them monitor traffic routed through or to their countries, allowing them to eavesdrop or block access.
 
The move to relinquish Internet oversight is the "multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance," according to Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information. "We look forward to  Icann convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan." As if the "global international community" were a bunch of guys in pajamas and some fragrance shops. In fairness, Mr. Strickling has said a main objective for the U.S. is to make sure that NTIA isn’t replaced by the U.N. or another governmental organization. But why do it at all?
 
It almost seems the aims of the First Amendment-free international community are more in line with our own government's thinking.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Janus? Jeckel and Hyde? What?

A study of the stock trading behavior of SEC employees finds them to be really good at this stock market stuff. Remember, these are the guys policing the behavior of the public markets, the heroes of the Madoff investigation. A snippet from the paper:
"These results suggest that SEC employees potentially trade profitably under the new rules, and that at least some of their profits potentially stem from trading ahead of costly SEC sanctions and on privileged non-public information," write Shivaram Rajgopal, a professor of accounting at Emory University, and Roger M. White, a doctoral student in accounting at Georgia State University. "In short, it appears that SEC employees continue to take advantage of non-public information to trade profitably in stocks under their regulatory purview."
This from a government that has the audacity to lecture us on "fairness."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Sermon 3/23/14

Today's gospel where Christ meets the Samaritan woman at the Jacob's Well is a virtual crash course on the New Testament. Christ is alone at the well when it is approached by a Samaritan woman looking to draw water. He engages her and violates all the social restrictions between Jew and Samaritans as well as the restrictions between men and women. The two then carry on a conversation that is very close to Abbot and Costello's "who's on first," she talking about H2O and He talking about spiritual nourishment. Christ never scolds or corrects her, nor does He lecture her when it is revealed she has had a number of lovers. He leads the conversation gently to the point of His being here at all: Who He is.

Christ is never impatient or bemused. Most importantly, He is never distracted by the physical world, by human error; the direction toward the spiritual world is what He cares about. He is not concerned with judgment as much as the truth of creation.

And even then, the Samaritan woman is only impressed and curious. Strangely she leaves the question of Christ's nature open for her community. As it evolves, their encounter is only the first step.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cab Thoughts 3/22/14

“Goethe says somewhere that there is no such thing as a liberal idea, that there are only liberal sentiments. This is true.”--Lionel Trilling

The world's first rose fossil was discovered in Florissant, Colorado, in the form of an imprint over a slate deposit. It is 35 million years old.

President Obama told NASA administrator Charles Bolden, in Bolden's words, that "perhaps (his) foremost" priority should be "to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering." Now a NASA-funded report says our civilization will collapse unless it deals with its inequality and natural resource exploitation. What are these people thinking?

John LeFevre, the ex-banker behind the @GSElevator twitter account, which purports to repeat conversations overheard in the Goldman Sachs elevator, has a new six-figure book deal after being dropped by Simon & Schuster earlier this month. The NYT revealed his identity and Schuster was apparently uncomfortable that he never worked for Goldman.

Who is....Lois Lerner?

Anyone puzzling over the filtration of information and news might look at this tidbit: Bloomberg, the financial data and news company, relies on sales of its terminals, which are ubiquitous on bankers’ desks around the world, for around 82 percent of its $8.5 billion in revenue. Sales of those terminals in China declined sharply after the company published an article in June 2012 on the family wealth of Xi Jinping, at that time the incoming Communist Party chief. Following its publication, officials ordered state enterprises not to subscribe to the service. Peter T. Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg L.P. said recently that the company should have reconsidered the articles.

James Madison on the Senate: ..[they are]...'first to protect the people against their rulers; secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.'

Panic: n: "to lose one's head," "mass terror." 1708, from earlier adjective (c.1600, modifying fear, terror, etc.), from French panique (15c.), from Greek panikon, literally "pertaining to Pan," the god of woods and fields, who was the source of mysterious sounds that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds and crowds, or in people in lonely spots.


The Ultrabattery adds carbon to the negative electrode. But the mixed lead-carbon electrode accepts and discharges sequentially, the lead first, the carbon second. In essence, the carbon remains a nonfactor.

Madoff actually said this in an interview with Politico: "My crime was a failing of the oversight of the industry, but I can’t really blame the SEC or regulators for that,” he said. “The government never gives them enough money to police the industry – whether it’s someone like me or insider trading.” He actually said this.

Golden Oldie:

L'Wren Scott was married to a big land developer in Texas and one member of that family said, " He showed up with her, this beautiful, exotic creature, and of course we were all so disappointed. Because she was lovely, of course, and very nice, but it was obvious there would be no more warm and cozy relationship with him, that just wasn't in the cards with her in the picture."

In ancient Rome, a debtor sometimes had only himself to offer as payment. This was a system of debt bondage, known as nexum-- literally an interlacing or binding together. In the presence of five witnesses, a lender weighed out the money or copper to be lent. The debtor could then settle what he owed. In return he handed himself over -- his person and his services (although he retained his civic rights). The lender recited a formula: 'For such and such a sum of money you are now nexus, my bondsman.' He then chained the debtor, to dramatize his side of the bargain.

Haiti was founded in 1804 in revolution and became the first black republic. The revolution disillusioned Emperor Napoleon about the New World so he sold his holdings in America to Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase. Haiti was the only country to aid Simon Bolivar in his struggle to liberate Latin America from European oppressors.

In the 1400s, the height of the Renaissance in Florence -- the time of Cosimo de' Medici, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci and countless other guiding lights -- prostitutes were required by law to wear high heels and bells on their heads.

Pittsburgh ranks 3rd in the number of venture deals per capita compared to similar regions and those that are more active technology hubs. In 2013, the Pittsburgh region attracted over $338 million from venture, angel, strategic partnership and other sources of capital, which was used to finance 148 deals.

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

TheTolerence of Abuse

Catherine Engelbrecht and her family run a small oil-field machinery business in Texas. She also works as a poll-watcher and, In 2009, after seeing numerous instances of what she thought was voter fraud, she founded two conservative political groups, the King Street Patriots and True the Vote. In 2010 she applied to the IRS for non-profit status for those groups. She appeared in front of the House Oversight Committee the first week of February 2014 and the following is her response to questions from Ohio Rube-publican James Jordan:

"Ms. Engelbrecht, in the first 20 years of business, did OSHA ever visit your place of business?”
“No sir.”
“Never once?”
“No sir.”
“After you filed the [tax-exempt application for King Street Patriots], OSHA visited then, right?”
“Yes sir.”
“In the first 20 years of business did the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] ever come to your business?”
“No sir.”
“And they came a couple times once you filed your application?”
“Yes sir.”
“And in your first 20 years of business, did the IRS ever audit you?”
“No sir.”
“But once you filed your application, they audited you?”
“Many times.”
“And in your first 20 years of business, did the FBI ever visit you?”
“No sir.”
“But once you filed your application, did they visit you?”
“Six times.”

What a coincidence. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Crimea

 
The Crimea is a landmass extending from the Ukraine into the Black Sea. Odessa, Sevastopol, Yalta are some of its famous cities. The entire coast of the Black Sea was settled over 500 B.C. by the ubiquitous Greek traders. The area is filled with the names of famous peoples: Scythians, Sarmatians, the Goths from the north, Huns, Khazars, Turkic nomads and the Mongol-Taters of the Golden Horde.
 
The Perokop Isthmus is Crimea's narrow connection to mainland Ukraine, which supplies the peninsula with most of its electricity and water, as well as 70% of its food. This is a very tenuous geographical connection.
But Crimea has stronger connections to Russia. It was first conquered by Russia in the 17th century. The embarrassing Crimea War where Britain, France, and Sardinia sided with the Ottoman Turks against Russia, was fought from 1853 to 1856.
 
The Black Sea Fleet out of Crimea, founded in 1783 by Prince Potemkin, has enormous historical and political importance to Russia and was a European focus during the Crimea War.
The crew of the battleship Potemkin revolted off the Ukrainian coast in 1905 soon after the Navy's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and that revolt has been accepted as being the catalyst for the Russian Revolution, even by Lenin himself.
Opposition to the Germans and their Romanian allies along the Black Sea harbors was ferocious in the second war and the Russian population suffered fearfully.
 
The towns on the Black Sea have been vacation areas for wealthy Russians and the Romanov family had a villa there in Yalta, where the Big Three met at the end of WWII to carve up Europe. Its ports are bases for the Russian Navy. The Ukraine is the largest country in Europe with a lot of divided loyalties. Russian heritage and language dominates the Crimea especially. Stalin brought an anti-Tater and anti-Greek "cleansing" to the entire Ukraine during his rule.Crimea later became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, an ethnic Ukrainian, transferred it from Russia. 
In 1991, The Ukraine separated from Russia as Russia fell apart. But the Russians never gave up hope, especially Putin. They have always had a hand, a heavy hand, in local politics since. Viktor Yuschenko, the pro-Ukraine and anti-Russian leader has made a complete recovery from the unexplained "accidental" dioxin poisoning which occurred in late 2004 during a bitterly fought election campaign in which he defeated the pro-Russian Yanukovych, but they tried quite fearlessly.
The Crimea has some historic, military and emotional attachments to Russia, certainly, but it is vulnerable without the Ukraine which is its supply source.

However many think this map explains most of the Russian interest in Ukraine: (from Zerohedge)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cab Thoughts 3/19/14

“As the saying goes, if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Community organizers like Huerta don’t teach anyone how to fish: they teach activists how to steal their neighbors’ fish. This is what Huerta and her ilk call social justice.” --Matthew Vadum
In 2013, the value of the average American 401K was $101,000, up 16% from 2012.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has a new 67 page paper that evaluated the problems of the world. One would think it would be longer. Fortunately they have found a common thread that is a factor in most problems: The newly discovered inequality problem. (Fairness is not mentioned.) Regrettably for Americans, the inequality is rather slanted. Americans have more of everything and the IMF wants them to give their wealth--not to the poor, oh, no!--but to the IMF.

Of the people making minimum wage, 2/3rds will be making more than minimum wage in 12 months.

Henry Paulson says that during the 2008 crisis, the Russians approached the Chinese about selling all their U.S. mortgage bonds to accelerate the damage being experienced by the American economy. The Chinese were appropriately horrified and refused. This would be a kind of economic warfare. Is it much different from economic sanctions?

I really liked "True Detective," especially the two leads. I was OK with the ending; I was just happy the story line did not degenerate into some cliche religious bashing. Unlike many, the lack of resolution of the group crime did not bother me nor did the out-of-body character development. As time has gone by, however, I am less content.

Some think the "Between the Ferns" discussion with Obama was an interview and not an ad.

Chicago has a 19 billion(!) dollar municipal pension debt with a one billion dollar balloon payment due soon. Their teachers pension debt is separate.

In 2010, 15% of people who went to their physician for a headache got a CT scan or an MRI. From 2007 to 2010, people visited the doctor 51 million times for headache-related problems, according to a national database of outpatient visits. And 12 percent of the time, the doctors sent their patients for a brain scan. That's about 1 Billion dollars a year to investigate one of the commonest complaints patients have but one that has a very low significant cause rate. Anyone who is uncertain about how medical costs will be managed need go no further than this: Someone other than the physician will make the decision to investigate or not.

Who is...tonton macoute?

We are straining our water resources. The world has progressed in water management in stages: aqueducts transport to treatment of existing water sources to reverse osmosis of waste water (cheaper than desalinization.) But Perth, Australia has a desalinization plant that is powered by wind and solar that provides 50% of the city's drinking water.

Ford has been turned around by a new president from Boeing--without federal help. He has a list of five rules that must be followed at all business meetings. He took them from a list of rules on the blackboard of his second grade daughter's classroom.

58.5 Billion dollars will be spent this year by Americans on pets.

Good news! There is a guy selling investment advice based on biblical writings. Vonnegut had a character who did that based on letters of Genesis being DOW stock symbols.

"Human": "Pertaining to man." It was first used in the 12th century in English. Samuel Johnson is listed by the OED as the earliest usage of the word "being" in relation to "human beings." From M.Fr. humain "of or belonging to man," from L. humanus, probably related to homo (gen. hominis) "man," and to humus "earth," on notion of "earthly beings," as opposed to the gods. Interestingly the Heb. "adam" is "man," from "adamah," "ground").

Some research recently has shown that it is more advantageous to put money into politicians than into R&D.

In an article on memorization, CNN writer Elizabeth Landau writes: "When I was a teenager I saw a website suggesting pi could be a song, with one as middle C, two as D, three as E, etc. This helped me get up to 178 digits in college, winning me a T-shirt."

Golden Oldie:
http://steeleydock.blogspot.com/2012/07/violence-and-immitative-magic.html



Ryan Sandberg left baseball in 1994. He wrote this in his book 20 years ago: “I was caught between two generations, the one I came up with, which still cared about the game, and the one I left behind, which hardly cared at all. In the ‘90s, I saw too many guys having fun after losses because they got a few hits or did something good for themselves. That didn’t appeal to me at all. There’s a lack of respect today for the game and for each other.”


The dowdy Irish Dowd has a negative article on Obama but makes a good point: "...governing through executive order isn’t a sign of strength. It’s a sign of weakness."

AAAAaaaannnnndddddd.....a picture from WWII: (guess)
This is Queen Elizabeth during her WWII service.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quiet: A Review

"Quiet" is a book by Susan Cain whose full title tells the story: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." It is an interestingly structured book--one can almost see the note cards piling up and being ordered as the research proceeded--that traces the history of scientific thought about our introverted and extroverted personae, applies some of these observations to modern life and then theorizes about the future, hinting at value judgments.

She starts with Jung's binary--inner thoughts and feelings vs. people and activity-- then progresses to high reactive personality and low reactive personalities (where the inner, thoughtful individual is highly reactive, the low reactive extroverted) to sensitive vs. insensitive and ends with postmodern man where social life is a performance with masks. In all of these stations she tries to explain the concepts that distinguish the introvert and extrovert at the time.

She spends some time on three good modern examples of extroverts in business, religion and education. The business model is the Tony Robbins sales program which tries to teach confidence and interaction. The Saddleback Church emphasizes the active, non-contemplative life. In the final educational example, Harvard Business School gives her a chance to mix education with business. Here she spends some time with the program's approach that is guided by the current understanding of the predictors of success: Sociability and verbal fluency.

In the final section she comes to some soft conclusions about business, government and education. She claims ­extroverts helped bring us the bank meltdown of 2008 as well as disasters like Enron. Cain writes we must create “a greater balance of power” between those who rush to speak and do and those who sit back and think. Introverts she says reassuringly are “relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame” — and all of us must learn to “embrace the power of quiet.” Education too.

Generally I avoid books that give me tests, sound like a Janice Ian song or  verge into self-help. This book started comparing the last centuries as the Age of Character and the modern age as the Age of Personality. This I thought might be interesting. Our emphasis on personal reward, immediate gratification, our apparent superficial thinking and especially our seeing reward in celebrity could serve as an interesting counterpoint to the Age of Character. Unfortunately it was not to be. The tiny stream of introvert gradually took on more and more characteristics until it became a river of broad qualities, spilling into generalities and flooding everywhere like an astrology chart. It became a compilation of things everyone will recognize but really doesn't mean much.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wallace's Childhood Poem

David Foster Wallace was a writer of gigantic interest, energy and appetite in the manner of Pynchon. His best known work was the 1996 novel, “Infinite Jest.” He was a brilliant, sad man. He wrote this poem about Vikings when he was six or seven:

Vikings oh! They were so strong
Though there warriors won’t live so long.
For a long time they rode the stormy seas.
Whether there was a great big storm or a little breeze.
There ships were made of real strong wood
As every good ship really should.
If you were to see a Viking today
It’s best you go some other way.
Because they’d kill you very well
And all your gold they’ll certainly sell
For all these reasons stay away
From a Viking every day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Sermon 3/16/14

Today's gospel is Matthew's version of The Transfiguration. Christ and His visitors become dazzling with an inner, radiating light. There is a revelation aspect here where Christ's human quality falls away and the divine "shines through."
We have always had great respect for light. In Genesis, right after the creation of the formless heaven and earth, light displaces the dark. Even Lucifer (appearing only once in the Old Testament) means "the morning star" or "light-bringer."
The architect Wren, on deciding to avoid stained glass windows in his churches, said ""Nothing can add beauty to light." Edison's first commercial electric light system was installed on Pearl Street in the financial district of Lower Manhattan in 1882.
Before that, the world was lit only by fire.

The World 

by Henry Vaughan

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
       All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
       Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
       And all her train were hurl’d.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
       Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
       Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
       Yet his dear treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour
       Upon a flow’r.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
       He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
       Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
       Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,
       Work’d under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
       That policy;
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
       Were gnats and flies;
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he
       Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
       His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
       In fear of thieves;
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
       And hugg’d each one his pelf;
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,
       And scorn’d pretence,
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess,
       Said little less;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
       Who think them brave;
And poor despised Truth sate counting by
       Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring;
       But most would use no wing.
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
       Before true light,
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
       Because it shews the way,
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
       Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
       More bright than he.
But as I did their madness so discuss
       One whisper’d thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
       But for his bride.”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cab Thoughts 3/15/14

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.'--E. L. Doctorow 
 
 
Gallup in December had 72% of those polled saying big government is a bigger threat to the future than big business and big labor—a record high.
 
Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder, was testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight. He said, "There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth's atmosphere over the past 100 years." 
 
The United States has always been a republic. Federalism was the basic concept that drove the creation of the United States.The framers feared a true democracy as much as a royal tyranny; up until 1913 senators were elected indirectly, largely by state legislators, and the president, indirectly, by the electoral college. Direct democratic input--to balance the indirect Senate--was assigned to the House of Representatives.
 
Who is....Horatio Gates and the Conway Cabal? (hint: not a garage band)
 
On MOOCs: On Coursera, the average student retention rate is just four percent. No more than 51 percent of students passed Udacity’s online math program offered at San Jose State University. And according to a study released in May 2013, the average MOOC completion rate was just 6.8 percent, and the six most-completed courses relied on automatic testing, not peer review grading.
 
Audi, Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW "have announced their decision to push for the rapid implementation of 48-volt systems".  Ford, Land Rover, Jaguar, are "exploring the technology". "A huge potential market is possible because of pending global CO2 emission targets that are all converging. Simply put, the auto industry has about a decade to achieve another 30% reduction by 2022."---From an Autoinformed article on the SAE World Congress in April in Detroit.
 
The Spanish bombings at the Atocha train station occurred ten years ago.
 
This Lois Lerner problem is bewildering. She is accused of some serious stuff and there seems to be a suffocating disinterest in resolving the questions. Here an important member of the IRS, a powerful organization, has taken the Fifth and refuses to talk about her involvement in targeting American citizens and nobody seems interested. Recently it has been shown that former acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel, in an investigation aimed at explaining the IRS' motives during this problem,  found no intentional wrongdoing and no political motivations behind the agency’s targeting efforts yet never interviewed Lerner during the review process.
 
At a Hong Kong auction by Christie’s International, a winning bid of $474,000 for a case of 1978 Romanee-Conti by a Chinese buyer set a new auction record, far surpassing the previous case record of $345,000.
 
Golden Oldie:
 
Records show that, when entertaining the queen in 1577, Lord North ordered 3,996 gallons of beer and 384 gallons of ale. The daily allowance for a man --servant or nobleman -- in many large houses at the time was a gallon of beer.
 
Kim has been reelected in North Korea. Unanimously. Ah, consensus.
 
 From MRI studies of 90 students University College London scientists were able to predict which of those individuals was more likely to be a liberal or a conservative. (Those designations were self-assigned.) The more conservative students had a larger right amygdala; greater liberalism, on the other hand, was associated with a larger anterior cingulate. We are dangerously close to becoming really crazy.
 
70% of all the money the federal government spends will be in the form of direct payments to individuals, an all-time high.

Music: n. The harmonious and rhythmic arraignments of sound. The word is derived from the Muses, goddesses of the arts and sciences.
 
In 1933 the Great Depression was in its fourth year. One in four working Americans -- ten million people -- had no job and no prospects of finding one, and only a quarter of them were receiving any kind of relief. Industrial production had fallen by half in those four years. At least one million, and perhaps as many as two million, were homeless.
 
The venous system communicates with the arterial system through the lung, where the blood is oxygenized. Any other communication mixes venous blood with arterial and is called a fistula. Several such communications occur as residuals of cardiac development, the commonest being patent foramen ovale and atrial septal defect. The former have been found on autopsy in up to 35% of the healthy population. This communication allows for a clot traveling in the venous system to cross into the arterial system and cause an infarct, a small area of tissue which has its blood supply cut off. Such embolisms are usually trapped in the lung. Because it is in the arterial system, such an embolism is called "paradoxical." Embolectomy and closure of an intracardiac communication (eg, a patent foramen ovale [PFO] or an atrial septal defect [ASD]) are the surgical treatments of choice. This is the likely problem with Chris Letang but, as the defect is so common, it will be presumptive, not certain. The next question is whether to repair his heart defect.
Another interesting question is, if this was a paradoxical embolism, how common is venous thrombosis (a clot in the vein which can move to become an embolism) in these men with violent sports.
 
We are terrified of the NSA, which ca n see everything. The satellites can read my license plate. But we do not have any idea where a plane half the size of a football field is? The Malaysian behavior has been particularly creepy. It is much more likely that these nations do not want to reveal the extent of their abilities.
 
In April, 1841, U.S. president William Henry Harrison died in office of pneumonia after serving only thirty-two days as President. The situation had never been faced before. How was the President to be replaced? The Constitution was vague: Was the Vice-President to be President or "Acting President?" The Vice-President, Henry Tyler, was not a particularly popular man--seen as a Virginia slaver by the North--but behaved more forthright than expected. He addressed Harrison's cabinet, announced himself as President and Webster suggested giving him the oath of office.
 
 
AAAAAAaaaaaaannnnnnnddddd.....a picture of North Korea at night. Look hard:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Making Chili: A Fable

A young woman wants to make chili for dinner. She follows a well regarded recipe and when she tastes it says she wishes there were jalapeƱos in it. When questioned as to why she did not add the jalapeƱos she replied the recipe did not allow for it.

Moral: The meal is made by the cook, not the recipe.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ducks and Fireflies

This is "The Duck Curve" showing demand made on the energy grid over the day extrapolated out over years. It is a great worry to managers, politicians and business people (but not voters yet) as it exposes the vulnerability of energy sources to asynchronous use.

There is a strong argument that can be made that energy storage is the bottleneck in our energy growth and that solving it will unleash a myriad of new energy sources. Wind and solar, for example, can be converted to energy but not reliably. Thus the search for storage alternatives. Firefly is a small company with an innovation in the lead-acid electrode; it attempts to improve function with an increase in its surface area. (While I am interested in batteries and invest in them, I have no interest in Firefly.) Kurtis Kelley of Firefly International Energy Co. wrote a white paper on the current direction and implications of federal funding of energy storage. It is, in many ways, typical of comments in the past written by observers watching the distortion of the research and market place caused by ignorant, biased and crony investing by government. This is an excerpt:



"Writing this paper has been particularly difficult. We really have two goals; first, to express concern
about the potential for one-sided efforts at the new Illinois Battery Research Center and, second, to
dispel some myths and show you why advanced lead-acid chemistry, often overlooked, is so much
better than believed. We, at Firefly in Illinois, are very concerned about what technologies will receive focus in the new facility at our back door; and if this is going to be just a repeat of the $2B federal investment in batteries from just a few years ago. We are concerned, for the sake of this country, that we will see more misguided focus on “flavor-of-the-day” technologies rather than taking an objective approach to solving our grid and energy issues. I don't believe we need to go over specific misjudgments involving that $2B investment, but we are wondering, are we doing it again with this new center?


Poor decisions in these government-funded ventures are more hurtful than you realize. We all recall
that $2B U.S. federal funding of several battery technologies, overwhelmingly of lithium. What is not known is some of the side effects of those technology decisions that were enormously harmful to this country's other evolving battery technologies. In the eyes of battery investors, the federal government had just “voted” on which technologies were good and which were bad, assuming that the decision makers in Washington were qualified to do so. Investors quickly drew back from some promising technologies and jumped to the federally funded technologies. Meanwhile the unsubsidized companies struggled to find even private funding. New lead-acid technologies were largely ignored and some small companies were accused of lying about test data. Venture investors reinvested in failing, “federally identified” technologies with no ROI. Firefly is a case in point, and the response letter that Firefly sent to the DOE, challenging each point for denial of funding in detail, went ignored.

Why was it ignored? Embarrassment? Were the companies being funded already chosen and excuses
manufactured to deny the others?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cab Thoughts 3/12/14

“You don't know how easy this game is until you get into that broadcasting booth.”--Mickey Mantle

Only one quarterback who has 2 Super Bowl rings is not in the Hall of Fame: Jim Plunket

Harold Macmillan, read classics at Oxford and received a first-class degree; in 1980, the holder of that office was Margaret Thatcher, who often said that she was less proud of being the first female prime minister than of being the first with a science degree. Harold Wilson was the most academically gifted of 20th-century British politicians, read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford and then became a lecturer in economic history there at the age of twenty-one. Quite different from our esteemed leaders in the last few years.

TESLA market cap is $40B, FORD market cap is $60B. Astonishing.

The Panic of 1893 was one of the greatest economic calamities in American History. It was initiated by a crop failure in Argentina where American investment was heavy, and then a domestic bubble from railroad overbuilding resulting in bank failures and commodity declines which hurt farmers. 500 banks were closed, 15,000 businesses failed, and countless farms ceased operation. More than 1,800 firms disappeared into consolidations. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania hit 25%, in New York 35%, and in Michigan 43%. Soup kitchens were opened. Facing starvation, people chopped wood, broke rocks, and sewed in exchange for food. It is said in some cases, women resorted to prostitution to feed their families.

Who is....Lois Lerner?

Princeton researcher Salvatore Torquato helped author a study published in Physical Review E (the broad scope of the journal includes quantum chaos, soft matter physics, classical chaos, biological physics and granular materials) and released this statement: "We’ve… discovered that such physical systems are endowed with exotic physical properties and therefore have novel capabilities. The more we learn about these special disordered systems, the more we find that they really should be considered a new distinguishable state of matter." "A new distinguishable state of matter!" The "system" he is talking about is in chicken eyes.

Rube-publicans lost the unmarried women vote in 2012 by 36 points.

Except for the brief first marriage, Borges lived with his mother until he was in his seventies; even after his mother's death, the housekeeper says, Borges maintained his habit of pausing each evening at her bedroom door to tell about his day.

Golden Oldie:

Narcissistic: adj. excessive self-admiration; narcissism: n. self-love. In Greek mythology, expanded by Ovid, Narcissus was the very handsome man who was loved by Echo, a mountain nymph who always answered his "Who's there?" with "Who's there?" He spurned her. She was heartbroken and wasted away in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this and lured Narcissus to a pool where he saw and fell in love with his own reflection. When he realised that his love could not be fulfilled, he died.

Dry ground with high nitrate concentration causes natural mummification by dehydration and anti-bacterial action.

Nixon was not impeached, he resigned. Clinton was impeached but was not convicted. Some of the Right are furious at Obama and would love to impeach him over his selective enforcement of laws and the IRS targeting but an impeachment is hard to generate.
The first was Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat, who was sworn in as president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. As a Democrat and a Southerner he was unloved by the Republican majority in Congress. In 1867, Congress passed a law of doubtful constitutionality barring Johnson from removing a Cabinet officer without Congress' permission. Johnson felt duty-bound to resist that encroachment and tried to remove his secretary of war. Congress responded with impeachment. In the Senate, the vote fell one short of the two-thirds majority needed to remove Johnson from office.

What does Riley Cooper's signing for $25 million mean? Does it mean anything?

Testosterone replacement in older men can maintain their youthful testosterone levels. Testosterone addition in young men replaces their own production and essentially creates infertility.

Saw the roadshow Porgy and Bess revival. It has received some praise, especially Audra McDonald’s Bess on Broadway. At 2 1/2 hours it is quite different from the original--the original was over 4 hours long. The story is goofy, the music terrific and the cast sang their brains out--everyone was really good--but it was disappointing. I have never heard a production of the music, only the songs sung individually by throaty blues and jazz singers, and the production was like Leontyne Price singing "Love is a Battlefield." This music walks both sides of the street and loses some heart when it become refined. The audience seemed to love it, though. They gasped at times, applauded at pivotal moments and seemed genuinely involved. It was fun but the music is better.
 
AAAAaaaaannnnnndddd.........a graph: