Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cab Thoughts 5/31/14

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.--deTocqueville

An interesting new view of energy management has emerged in the last months, the idea of investing in power sources and managing them separately from the utilities. For example a condominium complex could add its own solar to its utility energy source separately, store it separately and use it as needed separately. The solar and the storage system could be managed as a partnership separate from the utility, like a REIT. It would be a stable return on income--and a real threat to the utility as it would be used most likely in peak, expensive hours.

OK: In the spring of 1839, the phrase 'OK' began to circulate in Boston as shorthand for 'oll korrect,' a slangy way of saying 'all right.' Early in 1840, Van Buren's supporters began to use the trendy expression as a way to identify their candidate, whom they labored to present as 'Old Kinderhook,' perhaps in imitation of Jackson's Old Hickory. Van Buren even wrote 'OK' next to his signature. It spread like wildfire, and to this day it is a universal symbol of something elemental in the American character -- informality, optimism, efficiency.
Who is....Madison Washington?

South Africa is both the murder and especially the rape capital of the world.  South Africa has more first degree murders per year (16,000) than the U.S. (14,000) which has six times its population. For all murders, South Africa is above India’s 43,000 homicides, despite India's 1 billion population. (South Africa numbers 50 million.). 8 percent of murder cases in South Africa result in a conviction.

Social engineers: After Spain defeated the Morisco rebellion of Alpujarras (1499-1501), Muslims and Jews fled eastward toward the Ottoman Empire. The Spanish monarchs feared that these religious outcasts would board ships in Seville and escape to the Americas. The last thing Ferdinand and Isabella wanted was for their centuries-old battle with Islam to continue in the New World so they took great measures to ban the importation of Muslims. Several church decrees, cedulas, were passed (in 1501, 1532, 1543, 1550, and 1577) to stop the flow of 'white slaves' (esclavos blancos), as Moors were called, and to deport those who had trickled into the New World. (The Spanish were apparently particularly concerned about the infection of Africans slaves with Islam.) They also were alarmed at the potential for unions between Spanish and indigenous American Indians so, while they banned Moorish men in the New World, they allowed for the importation of Moorish women and used these women as prostitutes in the New World. In 1526, Charles I authorized the establishment of a brothel of moriscas ('casa de prostitutas blancas') in San Juan, Puerto Rico,  to avoid mixing between Spaniards and indigenous women.
Golden oldie:

The very first flush toilet was built by John Harington, godson to Queen Elizabeth I. When Harington demonstrated his invention to her in 1597, she had it immediately installed in Richmond Palace. But it was a novelty well ahead of its time, and almost 200 years passed before Joseph Bramah, a cabinet maker and locksmith, patented the first modern flush toilet in 1778. The water trap improved it greatly as it prevented backflow odors. Thomas Crapper, a plumber, invented the modern toilet in the late 1800s.
James O'Keefe is pretty obnoxious but this stunt he pulled off is disturbing. O’Keefe trapped actor Ed Begley Jr., actress Mariel Hemingway, and director Josh Tickell, into agreeing to do an anti-fracking film funded by fraudulent Middle Eastern interests while promising to hide the source of the funds. The undercover activist tells the group that "if Washington, D.C., continues fracking, America will be energy-efficient, and then they won't need my oil anymore." In a phone call to Tickell, the "ad executive" states, "My client's interest is to end American energy independence; your interest is to end fracking. And you guys understand that?" Tickell's response: "Correct. Yes, super clear.”
Jane Fonda is writing a novel.
Some $2.5 trillion is on deposit in the banking system in “excess” reserves, that is, loanable funds available to individual or corporate borrowers through the nation’s banks. The Fed has created these reserves through unprecedented purchases of U.S. Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities, a strategy known as quantitative easing. These reserves are just sitting in the bank system, basically doing nothing, because demand for loans has been unusually weak amid an economic recovery that’s the slowest on record since the Great Depression. Philadelphia Fed president Charles Plosser fears if these funds work there way into the regular economy, inflation will result and the Fed will have to raise interest rates, killing the weak recovery. By the time the Fed ends it bond-buying campaign – mostly likely in the fall – the central bank’s total reserves could reach a record $4.5 trillion.
Finally! Asked on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday whether she’d ever considering running for office, Angelina Jolie replied, “You know, if I thought I’d be effective, I would.”
 Alan Pyke has an interesting article in ThinkProgress concerning the recent Credit Suisse bank case settled by the U.S.. His conclusions are that cooperation with law enforcement is rewarded with considerable leniency, that admission of guilt is generally painless regarding financial consequences and that these banks are indeed "too big to jail." On the last point he writes: "The tax evasion operation was well organized, according to Senate investigators, and Credit Suisse employees solicited Americans to participate in it “with the full knowledge of senior bank personnel.” The bank’s transgressions, which often involved Swiss bankers behaving like Hollywood spies, concealed at least $5 billion and probably more like $12 billion from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Yet despite the size and formality of the scheme, senior executives do not face criminal charges and will not even be forced out of their jobs under the settlement. A handful of junior bankers have been charged but that’s where the individual consequences end. Compare Credit Suisse’s experience with that of Wegelin & Co., a much smaller bank that was also Switzerland’s oldest. That firm pleaded guilty to American charges and then closed its doors forever."
A letter signed by 50 U.S. senators urging the league to change the Washington Redskins name was sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The relentless war on words continues.
The SEC must revisit the existing definition of an individual accredited investor shortly to determine whether it “should be adjusted or modified for the protection of investors, in the public interest, and in light of the economy.” Some organizations are pushing for an increase the financial thresholds in the name of investor protection – taking net worth requirements from $1 million to $2.5 million and annual income thresholds from $200,000 to about $450,000. The SEC estimates about 60 percent of households would no longer meet such higher requirements.
AAAAAAAaaaaaannnnnndddddd.........a graph on the adage "sell in May" which claims that the stock market only advances in winter:
Chart of the Day

Friday, May 30, 2014


Several leaders of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) were in town today for some meetings. I was unable to go but would loved to have asked this question:
Siga Corp. is a small pharmaceutical research and development company that has developed a new anti-viral drug, ST-246. This drug can treat people successfully if they have contracted Smallpox. There are some theoretical problems with ST-246, not the least of which it can not be tested on people because that would mean giving them Smallpox first. But there are significant lab studies, animal studies, and some real life instances where the drug has been shown to be effective and safe. The DARPA and the Defense Department have made commitments to buy and storehouse this drug.
Recently the drug has come under fire from two sources, politicians and newspapers. (Of note, Siga has long been a short target where people sell the stock and then harass it publicly to drive the stock price down.) The politicians, especially Claire McCaskill (D) and Darrell Issa (R), argue that the drug has been developed against a disease that has been eradicated and thus has no target. The newspaper attack came from the LA Times which wrote, "The government's pursuit of Siga's product raises the question: Should the U.S. buy an unproven drug for such a nebulous threat?" More ammo has arrived because of our anxiety over wealth and political convictions: Siga's controlling shareholder is billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, one of the world's richest men and a longtime Democratic Party donor.
Smallpox immunization has been remarkably successful, so much so that vaccinations are not done any more. But thinking its absence means it is no threat is naïve, especially when we know that Smallpox was the lead bioweapon developed by the Russian Biopreparate weapons lab and elaborated upon (they tried to link it to Ebola to increase its infectivity) until the Russian Communist political structure dissolved.
So my question is this: What do you think the motives of this campaign against such a reasonable and needed drug are? Is it a financial link to short-sellers, treasonous allegiance to some foreign entity or simple stupidity?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

An Eclipse on Earth

May 29, 1919.
The English astronomer Arthur Eddington set up telescopes and cameras on Príncipe, an island off western Africa and waited for the eclipse. Einstein's Theory of Relativity predicted that gravity should bend light. So light from distant stars should curve as it passed by the sun. If true, the stars’ positions in the sky should appear to shift compared with their true positions. The sun’s brightness made this shift impossible to observe, of course—except during an eclipse, when stars could peek out from behind its shadow. On May 29, 1919, with the world still smoldering from another homicidal period of parochial war, an Englishman set his telescope up to prove the thesis of a German, a thesis about the rules of the universe. It was cloudy and had rained earlier; Eddington was worried. But he got 16 pictures but only two of value. But it was enough.
Eddington later said it was the greatest day of his life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cab Thoughts 5/28/14

 "I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment, and yet -- I can't help it -- I enjoy every second of it." -- Winston Churchill,  First Lord of the Admiralty, writing to Prime Minister Asquith's wife about World War One

Farmers decrease fighting among roosters by putting rose-colored glasses on them. It cuts their aggression for some reason. Now a bureaucrat would generalize from that. So...this week's entrepreneurial idea: A non-profit for the mandatory wearing of rose colored glasses for anyone with an anger management problem.

You can't go home again--literally: Leila Hatami, the Iranian actress at the Cannes Film Festival, has been reported to the country’s courts by activists who are seeking a public flogging as punishment for violating Islamic laws. Hizbullah Students, a group of university students with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, filed a complaint with Iran’s judiciary for the prosecution of the film star who starred in the Oscar-winning, A Separation. Miss Hatami was condemned by Islamic Republic officials for kissing Gilles Jacob, the President of Cannes Festival, while attending the event as a member of the jury. Iranian conservative media have claimed the greeting “was an affront to the chastity of women in Iran”. Hossein Nushabadi, Iran’s deputy minister of culture, declared Hatami’s appearance in Cannes “in violation of religious beliefs”.

Who is .....Paul Ehrlich?
Wearing rose-colored glasses can also make you blind. 400 Billion dollars in gas trade between Russia and China gives the lie to any Western idea of "isolating" Russia. It gets worse. China proposed a brand-new continental security system to include Russia and Iran--Iran!--and exclude America. These ancient and regressive powers are reestablishing a bipolar world reminiscent of the old Cold War time. This is serious stuff and will be hard to overlook when Obama's presidency is finally reviewed. Obama is looking more and more like a guy by the side of the road watching the traffic.
Every once in a while.... Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne spoke recently about Fiat's electric car. Decrying the federal and state mandates that push manufacturers to build electric cars, Marchionne said he hoped to sell the minimum number of 500e cars possible. "I hope you don't buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000," he said to the audience at the Brookings Institution about the 500e. "I'm honest enough to tell you that."

Golden Oldie:  

A very interesting therapy is emerging in the field of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Plays and reading of ancient writings of the behavior are being performed, sometimes by the soldiers themselves.  This is the summary of the play "Ajax:" A soldier returns home from battle but has brought the war with him. He stares off into the distance (with a “thousand-yard stare”), is unable to take joy in his family or friends, and is still hyperalert to threats he no longer faces. Unable to heal his invisible wound, he takes his own life. The author of “Ajax,” Sophocles, was himself a warrior — an elected general who led men against Syracuse.
In a policy statement, the VA commissioner for Connecticut  said that applicants to her department are screened to ascertain “minimum qualifications.” “Applicants who meet the essential level of preparation,” writes the woman, “are not excluded. The Human Resources Administrator must work to bring as many protected members into the system.”  Minimum qualifications? Protected members?
Petulant: adjective: Bad-tempered; cranky. [From Latin petere (to seek, assail). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pet- (to rush or fly), which also gave us feather, petition, compete, perpetual. Earliest documented use: 1598.
World War I unleashed destruction that would kill 8.5 million and wound in excess of 20 million more, many times the casualties of all the Napoleonic wars combined. Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo with an army of sixty thousand men. In the first war, Russia put 4 million men in the field.
The third season of "Sherlock," the BBC produced modern Sherlock Holmes take, has become the UK's most watched drama series since 2001. In 2013, Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Holmes, was ranked in fifth place in the "Most Fascinating People in Britain" list of Tatler Magazine, higher than the Duchess of Cambridge and just below Queen Elizabeth II.
Sam Staples was the local tax collector and arrested Thoreau for not paying his poll tax. Interestingly, Staples offered Thoreau a neighborly loan just in case. Thoreau refused. The next morning, to Thoreau's regret, he heard that his tax had been anonymously paid for him.
AAAAaaaaaannnnnndddddd........a picture of a bombing raid in Russia, 1941:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Illusion of Knowledge

Twice a year, Standard & Poor's releases a “SPIVA Scorecard” -- a report comparing the performance of active managers versus three passive indexes. The S&P 500 large caps, S&PMidCap 400 and S&PSmallCap 600 are pitted against the median returns of active managers. The results have been consistent over the years but are remarkable, none-the-less. Active portfolio management consistently fails to do as well as passive index investing. This was true for 12 month, 36 month and 60 month periods.
It gets worse: Success can not be maintained. Only 7% of investment firms who earn in the top 5 percent of companies with similar investment aims repeat in the top 5 percent the following year. The same is true for three year periods.
Actively managed (and more expensive) funds underperform the benchmark performance for their group and, when outperforming them, can not maintain their success. What this means is that unpredictability in the market trumps analysis, even seemingly quality analysis. Investment returns in one firm or another are not reproducible. They are virtually random. Active, good-idea managers can not meet the performance of passive indexing. They are only an expense.
This should be remembered when anyone comes to the point of investing in the market with the illusion of assistance. Or without assistance.
The same caution might well be applied to any modeling.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Martin Amis, Ian Buruma and Memories of War

Martin Amis and Ian Buruma had a discussion on World War Two on C-Span. Here are some selections.

A lesson from the war was that a high education did not make for moral behavior.

Institutions were crucial for both sides, recalling Applebaum's description of the Nazi and the Russian attempt to destroy Eastern Europe's culture.

German troops killed women and children all day, every day in Eastern Europe. Transfers were available (without prejudice) but were rarely requested. In one instance, mental hospital patients in Prussia were machine gunned to free beds for soldiers from the east suffering battle fatigue.

"The Year Zero"--1945--refers to Buruma's belief that the enmities of the post-war period were created and fanned by the Nazi and Russian invaders prior to military invasion and the effects of that manipulation persisted after the war.

The war against Japan was a war against feudalism--versus the war against Germany which was seen as a war against criminals--and ended with an effort to reeducate the nation. Kabuki plays were outlawed, square dancing introduced and the forbidden "screen kiss" in movies introduced. The Japanese were expecting Nanking and thought this a bargain.

The atomic bomb gave reason to the diehards to surrender but the War Council was still not unanimous so, for only the second time, the Emperor intervened.

Japan wanted a pacifist constitution and it is still a problem in Japan between the left and the right.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Sermon 5/25/14

In today's gospel, Christ discusses His commandments, love and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
"I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him."

The risk of objectivity, the limits of materialism, the importance of spirituality--an undefinable, analyzable thing--Christ sees this spiritual essence as crucial for His followers after He is gone. This objectified spirituality is not His legacy, it is His means by which "the hammer of chaos is stilled."

 Now falls the night of the world:   O Spirit moving upon the waters,
Your peace instill.
Bring peace to the famine of the heart and lips,
and to the long loneliness
of those who yearn to bring back sight to the blind.
You are the Night when the long hunt for nothing is at rest
and in the human breast the hammer of chaos is stilled.
Be then the sleep when Judas gives again the childish kiss
that once his mother knew –
and wash the stain
from the darkened hands of the universal Cain.  Amen.
--Dame Edith Sitwell

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cab Thoughts 5/24/14

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.' . . . Men had thought of wealth as a static quantity, to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created.
~Ayn Rand

Only 45,000 acres - or roughly 9 percent - of Napa County in planted with vines. While large in stature in the wine market, Napa Valley's wine production accounts for a mere 4 percent of California's total annual grape harvest.

A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that the livestock sector is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions". The report concludes, unless changes are made, the damage thought to be linked to livestock may more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases. (Wikipedia) So....meat production might be another target of the bluenose.

Expanding economies. Contracting them. These debates go on. The Depression political leaders had no enthusiasm for deficit spending; indeed, the thinking went the other way in an effort to control debt--as now in some quarters. In March, 1934, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur and Secretary of War George Dern engaged President Roosevelt in a very loud and dramatic argument over the proposed cuts in the military budget, cuts that totaled 51%. Both thought the changes would cripple the U.S. military at a time of growing European animosity. MacArthur was so upset he vomited after the meeting.

Enterprise value (EV) is share $ times # of shares issued. Even in pre-IPO stages, the increase in EV is the most watched metric. You see it used in early companies rather than the older and more established--and identical-- "market capitalization" or the total dollar market value of all of a company's outstanding shares, what it would cost to buy 100% of the company.

Consumption and its waste problems break down to a simple truth: One billion people want to keep consuming at current rates and six billion more want to increase their consumption. Constraining the haves ignores the basic problem of the expanding demands of the have-nots. The Americans seem to think that making their demands more efficient will somehow make up for the incredible demands of the emerging nations.

Who is...Chelsea Elizabeth Manning?

Tolerance:  n. willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own; the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant. In medicine it is used to describe the body's ability to adjust itself to something like a medication so its effects are experienced less strongly. From O.Fr. tolerance (14c.), from L. tolerantia "endurance," from tolerans, prp. of tolerare "to bear, endure, tolerate"  Of authorities, in the sense of "permissive," first recorded 1539. Recent writings by some gay academics, (see Suzanne Walters) object to "tolerance" as an goal in society, saying it suggests  a more negative "endurance" rather than a welcoming by the community. Thus they want approval, not mere acceptance; an interesting twist on civil rights.

According to research done by Dunn and Norton, the amount people need to be happy averages about $75,000 per year. That means that people who made $75,000 each year were, overall, happy and content, and also that anything more than that amount had no effect on people’s happiness or moods.
Now, what are the chances you could get a grant to confirm that belief in our equality-obsessed culture?

Golden oldie:

The interest in the Veterans Hospital is curious. Essentially the scandal is a function of bureaucratic inefficiency and financial constraints--the kind of problem that is usually resolved, superficially at least, with demagoguery and hand-wringing. The IRS scandal is much more important but there does not seem to be of much concern.

Speaking of bureaucracy, six months after the September 11 attacks, a Florida flight school belatedly received notification from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that two Osama bin Laden disciples, terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi--both of whom had enrolled in a professional flight program--had been approved for student visas.

The Milky Way has about 300 billion stars but those stars are dispersed across a chasm in space 100,000 light-years in diameter. That's roughly 6 trillion miles wide (the distance light travels in a year multiplied by 100,000).

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza pleaded guilty to a campaign finance law violation, avoiding a trial that had been expected to begin the same day in a Manhattan federal court. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged D'Souza with using "straw donors" to give funds in 2012 to Republican Wendy Long's U.S. Senate campaign in New York. D'Souza wrote the 2010 bestseller "The Roots of Obama's Rage" and co-directed a 2012 film, "2016: Obama's America." He is an astute guy and conservatives are crying that he was targeted because of his politics. While the government has shown the ability and willingness to do that in the past, he still broke the law.

AAAAaaaaannnnnnddddd........a poster from the First World War:
Propoganda poster

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fan Fiction

Geraldine Brooks’s March is a novel that retells Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women from the point of view of Alcott's protagonists' absent father. The novel won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," "Drood," "Grendel," franchise fiction--all of these are legitimate, creative efforts in the framework of previous works.
Fan fiction is very different.
The OED defines fan fiction as ‘fiction, usually fantasy or science fiction, written by a fan rather than a professional author, esp. that based on already existing characters from a television series, book, film etc.'  The genre boomed when better and cheaper printing made it possible for writers to distribute their work in small magazines that came to be known as fanzines.  While Sherlock Holmes fans started serious and high quality following, science fiction dominated.  Star Trek in the 1960s caused a noticeable increase. Now a fanfic version probably exists of any popular book or movie you can think of.
Fan fiction is huge. And concentrated on a few servers. FanFiction.Net, begun in 1998 by a programmer named Xing Li, is the most popular with more than three million users and an equal number of stories. Its biggest competition to comes from Archive of Our Own, which is more of a fan community. This is a complex database with a devout following. FFN Research noted that FanFiction.Net "is a site that challenges Facebook in the amount of time spent browsing within the domain." According to their research, the average user of FanFiction.Net in 2010 was a 15.8-year-old girl from the United States who didn’t write fan fiction herself. Much of the fiction is serial in type and usually fills a gap in the storyline. Some right the original story's perceived (by the fan writer) wrongs. Could Harry Potter have a better romantic match? (More than half a million stories are based on the Potter series.) A hole in a plot may need repaired. Was Neville Longbottom's metamorphosis the result of some earlier witchcraft?
Like so much in life, sincerity trumps quality. The main themes derive from Star Trek, Potter, Glee and the narrative of some songs. New terms have arisen: fan fic, fanfic, or simply fic. "Slash" refers to any kind of sex between two men or two woman (apparently from "Kirk/Spock") and has been refined with "femslash" and "het" meaning the obvious.
"Game of Thrones" will likely provide a broad foundation for future efforts.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Making Economics more Objective

Thomas Piketty is all the rage. The economist has written a best seller that has equations to show that the imbalence between earned income and passive income--income gained in excess of earned income (i.e. saved money)-- creates disparities in wealth.  r >g, where r stands for the average annual rate of return on capital (i.e. profits, dividends, interest, and rents) and g stands for the rate of economic growth. A tautology, you say? Get more respect for equations.
There are other, micro, factors we could consider. Older people have more money (O); so do college graduates (CG). Pregnant girls in high school (PGHS) have less money. Return of capital is worse when taxes (T) eat into capital.
So: PGHS (+/-  T) < CG
You can do this yourself at home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cab Thoughts 5/21/14

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Orcas, the "bringer of death" killer whales, live 50-60 years and swim 100 miles a day. In Sea World they die before 20. Orcas born in captivity usually die before age 5.

University presses are under terrific financial pressure. The advent of e-books, the changing reading habits of scholars (many of whom want access to a wide range of digital tools as well as the old-fashioned print monograph), Open Access-- all of this has put enormous strain on university presses. A further source of anxiety has been the steady decline in sales of new course books, as college students increasingly buy used books on the web.

Condos all have maintenance costs. If those costs are not paid by an owner, it must be made up by others. Some condos in Florida have 15% of their assessments unpaid. The other 85% must make up the difference.

In 1295, the Republic of Venice was more than eight centuries old, and the Council of Ten had over the years imposed very precise sumptuary laws prescribing for its citizens appropriate dress for different classes, commending modest attire, decreeing short hair and prohibiting extravagant or colourful clothes except on special occasions.

In a botched execution, wouldn't you expect the criminal to live?

The fossils of a huge dinosaur has been found in Argentina. At 77 tons, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tons heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus. 120 feet long and as tall as a 7 story building. Scientists believe it is a new species of titanosaur - an enormous herbivore dating from the Late Cretaceous period.

Who is... Thomas Andrews?

One of the components of the NYT getting rid of Abramson was she discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s defensive narrative that she was “pushy,” i.e. a bitch. Delicious.

In a large international survey, less than half of respondents (48 percent) under age 35 knew about the Holocaust.

China already emits almost twice the CO2 as either the United States or Europe although its economy is half the size of either. Every 18 months, its emissions grow enough to replace the emissions savings the U.S. will accomplish hitting the president's 15 year target.
Other countries, like India, are similarly adding to the problem; however, China accounts for about 85% of the annual rise in global CO2 emissions. Interestingly, carbon sanctions in the U.S. and Europe result in industrial displacement to China, which raises the CO2 production.

Golden Oldie:

If someone bought forty dollars of Coca-Cola when it went public in 1919, after dividends, stock splits, and patient reinvestment,  would now have more than $5 million.  

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the US was entirely reliant on Russian rockets – specifically Soyuz rockets, descendants of those used in the 1975 mission – to get its astronauts to and from the space station.Last week, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, said that Moscow was "very concerned about continuing to develop hi-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States", and declared that the country would reject US plans to use the ISS beyond the station's planned "retirement" in 2020. Ah, international cooperation.

At the beginning of WW1 the Empress Alexandra of Russia created a hospital for wounded officers. It had 50 beds. The first year Russian casualties were 4 million.

Sumptuary law: any law designed to restrict excessive personal expenditures in the interest of preventing extravagance and luxury. The term denotes regulations restricting extravagance in food, drink, dress, and household equipment, usually on religious or moral grounds. They pop up everywhere, Sparta, Ancient Rome, Japan. Islam has used such laws as dictated by the Quran. Sometimes they were used restrictively to define certain groups. Eventually this morphed into a type of branding. For example, in many Islamic states, Christians and Jews were required to wear special emblems on their clothes. The yellow badge was first introduced by a caliph in Baghdad in the 9th century and spread to the West in medieval times. In public baths, non-Muslims had to wear medallions suspended from cords around their necks, so no one would mistake them for Muslims. In 1005 the Jews of Fatimid Egypt were ordered to wear bells on their garments.In the early years of the 21st century the Taliban in Afghanistan required Afghan Hindus to wear yellow badges.

The 2009 Federal Business Investment Tax Credit Act has been extended to Dec. 31, 2016. This allows a business to receive a 30% tax credit for solar installations. The tax credit has no ceiling. illustrated picture of the former size champion, Argentinosaurus

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Data Mining

A funny article in the Atlantic.
One day a drug dealer bought a particular digital scale—the AWS-100— on Several others buy as well. Eventually a profile develops so, if someone orders that scale, an "others who bought this also bought..." reference is attached that includes baggies, encapsulating machine, a Dr. Pepper can safe, and gun cleaning equipment.
Here is the complete list of suggested items--with the author's helpful comments:
Many "spice" grinders
  • Pipe screens
  • A rolling paper and tray bundle
  • Bulk pure caffeine powder (perhaps to cut heroin?)
  • Baggies
  • More baggies
  • Skull baggies
  • Pot-leaf baggies
  • An encapsulation machine and gelatin capsules
  • A scientific spatula
  • A diamond tester (?!)
  • "Air Tight Odorless Medical Jar Herb Stash Medicine Container"
  • Digital caliper
  • Tweezer and snifter set for "miners and prospectors"
  • A tool for cleaning a gun part
  • A safe in the form of a Dr. Pepper can
  • Potassium Metabisulfite (for decontamination?)
  • A drug testing kit ("this kit contains the same reagent chemicals as found in Justice Department test kits")
  • A really powerful magnet
  • "TAP DAT ASH" ashtray
  • Beta alanine powder (maybe for bodybuilders?)
  • An actual drug called kratom (big in Thailand, apparently)

    Now Amazon is actually giving a shopping list for drug sellers and, presumably, would-be drug sellers.
    More, this is a pretty simple data mining project. Imagine what serious miners--like law enforcement--can do..
    So be careful what you put your name to. And don't buy a scale for a friend.

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    Geniuses of Avocation

    Sometimes it is uncertain which is more amazing, the problem, the solution or the investigator.
    Linear B is the oldest language so far found in Europe. It was discovered by Arthur Evans in 1900 as he excavated Knossos in Crete. An unknown writing of an unknown language, inscribed by stylus into clay, it was preserved in the clay by heat from a fire. (He also found an older language, Linear A, but there is not enough to decipher.) It is Bronze Age, from 3500 B.C. and was originally thought to be a variant of Sumerian or Etruscan.
    Beginning in the 1930s, Alice Kober privately studied Linear B,  keeping huge, crude statistics on 180,000 hand-cut cards like note cards and tabulations in forty notebooks. She used a hand punch to create a kind of "database, with the punched holes marking the parameters on the data could be sorted." Her knowledge of languages was astonishing. She knew ancient and modern languages including Hittite, Old Irish, Akkadian, Tocharian, Sumerian, Old Persian, Basque and Chinese. From 1942 to 1945, while teaching full-time in Brooklyn, she took classes in advanced Sanskrit. She also studied field archeology in New Mexico and Greece. In 1946, Kober finally and mercifully received a one-year Guggenheim Fellowship to study Linear B full-time.
    Her contribution was she found Linear B to be inflective, with changes in the endings of words to change meaning. (Latin, Spanish and German are highly inflective, English less so. Examples of inflection in English occur with number, cat-cats, and time, play-played.)
    After her death at 43--she was a chain smoker--the architect Michael Ventris, another philological amateur, built on Kober's work and, with some inspired guesses, deciphered the script in 1952, showing that it is syllabic--symbols meaning syllable sounds--and that it was brought to the Minoans from mainland Greece, Mycenae.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014

    Sunday Sermon 5/18/14

    In today's gospel Christ summarizes the Truth of the Universe for his fishermen followers. It is always interesting that He is sharing His wisdom with average people and not academics. Not that this is non-philosophical; speaking of His impending death He says, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." That is a very Platonic notion.
    Brave Thomas, the twin of skepticism and belief, disagrees. So does Philip. And Christ does not hedge, answering that He is the way, that He and the Father are one. When Philip wants to see the Father, Christ explains that the Father is there.
    There is a remarkable confidence in the average man here in distinction from the scribes. Faith emerges as an alternative to the material world and truth is encountered personally by every man, not academic musings or conferences.
    This gospel is the source of the mystic "Interior Castle," written by St. Theresa of Avilla especially for the women of the Carmelite Order.

    Saturday, May 17, 2014

    Cab Thought 5/17/14

    “There are only two ways of obtaining the means essential to the preservation, the adornment, and the improvement of life: production and plunder…. What keeps the social order from improving (at least to the extent to which it is capable of improving) is the constant endeavor of its members to live and to prosper at one another’s expense.”--French economist Frédéric Bastiat (writing about the redistribution of wealth – or “ plunder” – in 1850 in The Law)
    Over the weekend, scientists with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution confirmed that Nereus, one of only four submersibles to have reached the depths of the Mariana Trench, suffered a catastrophic implosion in the Kermadec Trench northeast of New Zealand. It dove to depths ranging from 6,000 to 11,000 meters deep. When it imploded, the vehicle was under pressure as great at 16,000 pounds per square inch. Strangely, University of Southhampton biologist Jonathan Copley wrote about Nereus on his blog, apparently without irony, that the loss of the vehicle was "utterly crushing."
    When does an ideal become weaponized? What is the step that arms an ideologue?

    Hillary Clinton had a fall in December of 2012 that hospitalized her for 3 days, not 30 days as Rove said. But the political narrative never has confines of truth. (see the Democrats on Romney.) Rove is simply raising a suspicion and hoping it sticks. Hopefully the audience is discerning but they were not in last election.
    20% of patients account for 80% of health costs, 5% of 50%.

    Martin Wolfe, Financial Times columnist writes: "Low interest rates are certainly unpopular, particularly with cautious rentiers. But cautious rentiers no longer serve a useful economic purpose. What is needed instead are genuinely risk-taking investors. In their absence, governments need to use their balance sheets to build productive assets. There is little sign that they will. If so, central banks will be driven towards cheap money. Get used to it: this will endure."
    Cautious interest oriented investors no longer serve a useful purpose! 
    A college student from New York was waiting for UPS to deliver some weightlifting equipment he had ordered. Instead he received a government drone.
    Golden oldie:

    The GPIF, Japan’s public pension fund, controls $1.25 trillion. It is the largest pool of government-controlled investment capital on the planet, bigger than the  Arab sovereign wealth funds. The GPIF is 70% invested in Japanese bonds but recently has been asked by Japan leadership to invest in higher risk/yield instruments to improve return as the population ages. Does that sound like the "cautious rentier" above? And what will happen when all that money moves out of bonds?

    The Catholic Church in England and Wales reports the upturn in the last decade's vocations continues. In 2013 nearly 100 men and women entered convents, seminaries and religious houses across the country.

    Who was.... Phineas Gage?
    A famous study with rats--eagerly anthropomorphized--showed that the more crowded the circumstances, the more savage the rats. This was not dependent upon the availability of food. It was assumed, logically, that crowding itself was dangerous and unleashed primitive and destructive potential. But what is the nature of "crowding." Is it the creating of arbitrary limits? Do we need space? Is it a rebellion against too much order?
    What if it is unpredictability and the threat of instability? That would make the study a lot more important than an indirect attack on apartment living.
    CVS is beefing up its Minute Clinics presence and jettisoning cigarette sales in an attempt to position itself as a legitimate medical alternative to those that cannot afford health insurance amid stagnant incomes.
    As the competition for our anxieties grows, one standout continues to flow below the radar: water. Perhaps it interferes with the warming narrative but sooner or later water shortages will appear. A good example is the Ogallala Aquifer under the Great Plains which is the source of about 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Depletion is accelerating, with 2% lost between 2001 and 2009. I predict a subtle campaign focusing on the nation's tendency to shower too much and encourage using open drains for urination (like shower stalls and bathtubs.) Might be a good nonprofit to start.
    Rentier: a person who lives on income from property or securities which can include income from patents, copyrights, brand loyalty, real estate (land), interest or profits. This is used disparagingly in Marxist thought to distinguish reinvested income in an economic system, which is less parasitic but no less evil. It would apply currently to an elderly couple living off bond income.
    The Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean is as deep as Everest is high.
    AAAAaaaaaannnnnnddddd.....a graph:


    Friday, May 16, 2014

    Incompleteness of The Big Bang

    Miracles should be managed with care and awe.
    There is cautious celebration over the new discovery of the gravitational waves, the presumed "aftershock of the Big Bang," by BICEP2. This moment in creation's history brought the great mysteries of science into being: Time, light, mass, energy, the strong and weak forces--all did not exist, then did. Thus began the complexities of our physical world. From the laws of physics to the building blocks of rock and stone and trees to us--everything that was or is was created then. Except one thing: information. It was not until the energy cascade created DNA that nature had a storage system for information, a system that could be handed on, that could outlast the individual who was a function of it. Information--and the potential for Knowledge.
    And then something completely new happened. People, one of the many creations of that DNA, created another miracle: They created their own information storage system completely outside the laws that created them. They created Language and Culture, two new additions to the universe of the Big Bang, two new ways of collecting Information. And Knowledge.
    After 13 Billion years, a way appeared for creation to understand itself.

    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    Wisdom of Crowds

    In 1906 the British statistician Francis Galton was at a fair where about 800 people tried to guess the weight of a dead ox. Galton collected all the guesses so he could figure out how far off the mark the average guess was. The guesses were wide ranging, most much too high or low, but the average of the guesses stunned him:  The dead ox weighed 1,198 pounds, the crowd's average, 1,197. Thus was born the concept of the "Wisdom of Crowds."
    The Good Judgment Project is a sort of variation of this notion. Under the guidance of three psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community, 3000 average people have been tasked with making probability estimates about areas of concern-- Venezuelan gas subsidies, North Korean politics, Middle East tendencies--and the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are said to be often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information.
    This has led to the creation of a special team of a super forecasters subset whose predictions are reportedly 30 percent better than the well informed intelligence officers. There are some very disturbing but obvious possibilities here. What kind of decisions are our elite making? Corruption and graft aside (see Turkey's recent false-flag operation) what kind of risk are our esteemed experts subjecting us to? More, what is the rationale for substituting another layer of experts for the group; isn't that directly opposed to the lesson of the study?
    But there is a bright side as well. If our education increases we all might start seeing some similarities in the weight of a dead ox and a presidential candidate; there is something reassuring about that.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2014

    Cab Thoughts 5/14/14

    If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers. -Thomas Pynchon, writer (b. 1937)

    Chinese police will help patrol tourist destinations in Paris this summer after a rise in muggings and attacks on Chinese tourists, a source in France's interior ministry said. You might want to read that again.

    Common Core is a concept ostensibly created to develop national education norms. One program in the Los Angeles-area Rialto Unified School District had 8th-graders write a paper on whether they believe the Holocaust was a "hoax" created by Jews to "influence public emotion and gain wealth." That sounds like a reasonable assignment, right? Bangladesh-born Mohammad Z. Islam happens to be Rialto's superintendent, and Pakistan-born Syeda Jafri serves as its director of communications.

    Question from the NYT to George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones:
    "Why have you included incidents of rape or sexual violence in your “Song of Ice and Fire” novels? What larger themes are you trying to bring out with these scenes?"
    His answer:
    "An artist has an obligation to tell the truth. My novels are epic fantasy, but they are inspired by and grounded in history. Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day. To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves. We are the monsters. (And the heroes too). Each of us has within himself the capacity for great good, and great evil."
    ---Is this the artistic equivalent of the naturalistic fallacy?

    In Barringer Crater, Arizona approximately 37 miles (60 km) east of Flagstaff, and 18 miles (29 km) west of Winslow in the northern Arizona desert. an asteroid roughly 130 feet wide hit in the desert 50,000 years ago and created a crater 570 feet deep and 4,100 feet (1.25 kilometers) across . Scientific calculations estimate the speed of the meteor in the moment of impact to be more than 27,000m/h, while the size of the explosion is believed to be 150 times larger than the one created by the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima, pulverizing the meteorite as a result. The surrounding landscape was filled with a mist of molten nickel and iron.

    Golden oldie:

    According to the U.N. World Health Organization Fact Sheet No. 150 on child maltreatment, "approximately 20% of women and 5-10% of men report being sexually abused as children."

    David Remnick, an Obama biographer and the editor of the New Yorker, said this interesting thing about Obama: "...what's frustrating to me sometimes about Obama is that the world seems to disappoint him." He continued (to laughter from others on the TV set), "Republicans disappoint him, Bashar al-Assad disappoints him, Putin as well. And the fighting spirit sometimes is lacking in the performative aspects of the presidency."

    Our sun is just one of at least 100 billion stars in our galaxy and our galaxy is just one of 100 billion in the observable universe.

    The Brookings Institution--a pretty liberal group--found that for the first time on record U.S. businesses are being destroyed faster than they're being created. In fact, the American economy is less entrepreneurial now than at any point in the last three decades.
    20% of job creation comes from startups, soooooo.......

    Who was...Manfred von Richthofen?

    If you want to know how difficult the small market baseball road is, take a gander at this, a story about a guy in the Pirates' minors system, Gregory Polanco, who has never played in a major league game and recently turned down a contract offer. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports was the first to report Polanco rejected the offer, which was worth slightly less than $25 million. The deal was for seven years plus three club options that would have bought out Polanco's first three years of free agency. Jon Heyman of reported the deal's total value would have been between $50 million and $60 million if all the options were picked up. A guy who has never played a major league game turned that down.

    Some activists want to accuse the Catholic Church of violating the U.N. Convention Against Torture. The Center for Reproductive Rights has claimed that the Catholic beliefs regarding birth control and abortion are tantamount to psychological torture because they insidiously shape human behavior and bring feelings of shame to individuals who seek access to birth control or abortion services.

    If your modified adjusted gross income is $75,000 or more, you can't deduct any student loan interest.

    Judgment of Paris: means a difficult decision. Paris was a Trojan prince asked to decide which of the goddesses--Athena, Aphrodite, or Hera--was the most beautiful. All tried to bribe him and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, won. So Paris--and Troy--earned the enmity of the other two. ("The Judgment of Paris" was also the title of a book describing the competition in France between American and French wine which the Americans won.)

    The American Physical Society (APS) has signaled a dramatic turnabout in its position on "climate change" by appointing three notorious climate skeptics to its panel on public affairs: Professor Richard Lindzen, formerly Alfred P Sloan Professor of Meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who once categorized global warming on the Larry King Show as "just like little kids locking themselves in dark closets to see how much they can scare each other and themselves," John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who has written: "I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see," and Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, who testified to the US House Subcommittee on the Environment that the uncertainties in forecasting climate science are much greater than the alarmists will admit.

    AAAAAaaaaaaannnnnddddd...........a picture of Barringer Crater:
    Barringer Crater

    Tuesday, May 13, 2014

    The Shame of the Washington Redskin Question‏

    "Make war on their men! Make war on their women! Make war on their children! Make war on their dead!" --The Iroquois war chief, Tecumseh, speaking to rally the Creek to the Iroquois genocidal war against the white man at a Creek war council.

    Good news! The Congress wants to hold hearings on the name of the Washington Redskins. The representatives of the United States plan on holding hearings on a word.

    The American Indian was a neolithic culture invaded by Europeans who had built Chartres and the Sistine Chapel. Not surprisingly, this interaction did not go well. Initially most encounters were fatal for the Indian as he was not well armed but, more importantly, he had very naive immunology and suffered the European illnesses terribly. Generally they withdrew but eventually stood and fought, more for hunting privileges than anything. Starting with Jackson, their last stand over the 19th Century was absolutely savage on both sides. Eventually the American Indian was fought, starved, hunted, poisoned, infected, ambushed, his children murdered, his wives murdered, his food dispersed, his crops burned. The American Indian tried to do the same to his European enemy but was not successful. He barely survived these attempts at genocide.
    But we will not allow him to be verbally degraded.

    Many words might be suspect. The name "Blue Jackets" was chosen to celebrate "patriotism, pride, and the rich Civil War history in the state of Ohio and city of Columbus" and commemorates the blue jacketed regiments raised to fight the Confederacy. Is that offensive to the South? Too confrontational for an athletic team?
    What about the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks? Are the "Patriots" jingoist? Are the Giants offensive to little people? Are the Kings elitist? Do the Texans offend an Hispanic or two? What about the Devils, the Angels and the Saints--are atheists or evangelicals outraged? Are the Seahawks too angry and predatory? If so, what about the Predators? Do the Brewers suggest incontinence? Do Pirates glorify lawbreakers and social disorder?

    We have a lot of purifying to do and so little time. And the offenses are everywhere. And can be subtle. Oklahoma is a word that was made up by the missionary Allen Wright. He combined two Choctaw words, "ukla" meaning person and "humá" meaning red to form the word that first appears in a 1866 Choctaw treaty. Oklahoma means "red person."

    Monday, May 12, 2014

    Jesus' Wife Without DaVinci

    The objective of science is Truth. The objectives of people in science can be more complicated.

    The government is pressing the notion of global warming of late and its critics always raise the possibility that science and scientists can be undermined by financing, grants and the spotlight. This is the exact worry Eisenhower raised in his famous "military-industrial complex" speech but has been eclipsed. Science has always seemed pristine--calculations and truth seemed to be involved which surely raised the level. This confidence persists despite the trans fat fiasco, the DDT curse upon Africa, the Malthus model and other abuses of the scientific trust.

    On September 18, 2012, Karen L. King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School and a longtime publicizer of Gnosticism and other “alternative Christianities” of the ancient world, spoke at an academic Coptic conference in Rome and revealed a papyrus document that she said dated to the fourth century A.D.. The papyrus, actually a tiny 1.5-by-3-inch scrap, contained eight lines of the ancient Egyptian language Coptic on which was written “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’ ” King had dubbed the piece of papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus' Wife.” She declared confidently that the fragment had come from a larger fourth-century Coptic “codex”—an entire handwritten papyrus book. She also asserted that the “Gospel” of which the scrap was a part had consisted of a now-lost “dialogue between Jesus and his disciples” that had probably been composed, possibly in Greek, during the second century, 150 years or so after Jesus’ death.

    While there is no complete sentence in the fragment it contains, besides the “my wife” clause, such phrases as “my mother,” “the disciples said to Jesus,” “Mary is worthy of it,” “she will be able to be my disciple,” and “I dwell with her.” “The Gospel of Jesus' Wife makes it possible to speak with certainty of the existence of a tradition affirming that Jesus was married (probably to Mary Magdalene), and it is highly probable that this tradition dates to the second half of the second century,” King wrote. She argued that the “Jesus’ wife” text was part of an ongoing theological debate among Christian groups, starting in the second century, over proper attitudes toward marriage and sexual desire, with some Gnostics having a more pro-sex, pro-marriage stance than their orthodox opponents.

    The papyrus scrap had no provenance. It had belonged to a private collector who wished to remain anonymous, and it seemed to have surfaced only a few decades (if that) before the collector bought it in 1999 on the assurance of some earlier correspondence apparently involving two now-deceased professors at a German university. More, whole phrases in it were identical to phrases in the Gospel of Thomas, the best-known and most widely reprinted of the Nag Hammadi texts.

    The papyrus was retested by Harvard biologist Noreen Tuross in January and February 2014. Tuross found that the “Jesus’ wife” papyrus dated from between 681 A.D. and 877 A.D., with a median, or most probable, date of 741 A.D.. By the 700s, the official language of Egypt was Arabic, not Coptic or Greek.
    Charlotte Allen, the author of The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus, in an article in the Weekly Standard about the papyrus (where most of this is from), writes: "The most acrid denunciation came from Leo Depuydt, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University who wrote a 19-page article in the Harvard Theological Review, a kind of rejoinder to King’s article, in which he declared that he was “personally 100% convinced that the Wife of Jesus fragment is a forgery” cribbed from the Gospel of Thomas. Depuydt speculated that the alleged forger had been motivated by a desire to “make points of a theological kind” about Jesus’ celibacy and other traditional Christian beliefs about him. Unlike the careful-with-the-press Karen King, who did not respond to my emailed request for an interview, Depuydt neither hoards nor minces words. In an hour-long telephone conversation with me, he pronounced the choppy, seemingly non sequitur clauses of the fragment “mumbo-jumbo.” He explained: “I’m a grammarian—I’ve written a grammar of Middle Egyptian. I did my doctorate in Coptic manuscripts at Yale. This is unlike anything you see in a Coptic literary text. The people who wrote Coptic literary texts wrote fully grammatically. Reading one of those texts is like reading the New York Times.” Depuydt characterized King’s lengthy interpretive analysis of the context of the fragment and its supposed place in early Christian thought as “overkill.”

    In other words, no one connected to the “Jesus’ wife” fragment can account for the presence of fourth-century Gnostic or Gnostic-derived material on an eighth-century papyrus sheet manufactured long after much of Egypt had become Islamic—as even Karen King concedes in an afterword to her published article.
    “For my dissertation I catalogued all the Coptic manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library,” Leo Depuydt said in our phone conversation. “I’ve never seen a Gnostic text later than the fifth century. Gnosticism must have vanished after the fifth century. The fourth century was the great century of Christianization. In the year 300 in Egypt everyone lived side by side: pagans and Christians and Gnostics. By the end of the fourth century Christians were persecuting pagans and Manicheans and Gnostics. By 425, it was like medieval France, where everybody’s a Catholic. I’ve never seen any evidence of any Gnostic sects surviving past then.”"

    King's Smithsonian television documentary has been postponed.

    Sunday, May 11, 2014

    Sunday Sermon 5/11/14

    In North America, herds and flocks are driven; hence the "drover." In the world of the Old Testament, flocks were led. This was true even in the 1930s when H. V. Morton wrote of Middle Eastern shepherd who led his sheep up and down the hills with a sort of sing-song talk, "an animal sound," the flock specifically responded to and recognized.  

    This is the basis of Christ's shepherd imagery in the gospel today. It implies an internal recognition within man of Christ's voice, a Socratic-like innate knowledge of The Good. (New Testament towns held all sheep in a common pen at night and every morning each shepherd would come and call out his sheep. One wonders who the other shepherds--and their sheep--are.)

    The great "Good Shepherd" imagery of the New Testament appears frequently in Christ's teaching, but in the Old Testament as well. There is a famous discussion in Isaiah in the Old Testament and an earlier, less famous but pointed and cautionary prophesy in Ezekiel, 34, that might serve as warning for all self-appointed leaders:
    "The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
     “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them."

    Saturday, May 10, 2014

    Cab Thoughts 5/10/14

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

    Mother's Day was founded by a childless woman, Anna Jarvis, for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. It was a sentimental notion and went viral when approved as a national day of recognition by President Wilson in 1917. Jarvis fought the commercialization of it.

    Home ownership rate is at 19 year lows, while median asking rents just reached a new all time high.
    Walid Phares is an American citizen of Lebanese descent, an academic and scholar with a number of books and publications. He says that Middle Eastern petrodollars have been very active in influencing American foreign policy, as have many other foreign interests. Isn't that treason?

    There is a one year wait to get into the Marines.

    Nemesis: n: An opponent or enemy that is very difficult to defeat, often recurring. From Nemesis, a goddess who, originally, distributed fortune as deserved. As time went by she became more justice oriented and became the god who took revenge against those who showed arrogance (hubris) before the gods.
    While the City of New York is regulating soda sizes, Beijing's Public Security Bureau has been setting standards for dogs suitable as house pets. The maximum height has been decided upon and 41 breeds have been banned. Interestingly, the esteemed and now ignored Cultural Revolution leaders banned all dogs as "bourgeois affectations."

    Yasiel Puig was late for the Dodger opener with the Giants.

    Minimum wage: A bipartisan Congressional Budget office predicts that 16.5 million workers would benefit from the President’s proposal to raise the minimum wage and lift 900,000 out of poverty from the 45 million projected to be in it in 2016. Earnings of low-paid workers would rise $31 billion. Since low-income people tend to spend most of their paychecks, higher consumer outlays would result. But the CBO also predicts that the proposed rise in minimum wages would eliminate 500,000 jobs and because of their income losses, the overall effect on wages would be an increase of only $2 billion, not $31 billion.

    This Sterling thing is a mess. As bad as Sterling is, holding people legally responsible for what they say in their homes is worse. Should children report their parents? What is the point here, keeping people quiet? Homogenizing opinions? Or is it how people think that is important. Do we need to make the bell-curve a straight, thin vertical line. Finally a good use for waterboarding. We will find the miscreants then.

    When did strip joints become gentleman's clubs?

    Golden Oldie:

    Roughly one-third or 20,000 of purportedly hazardous bridges are located in six rural states: Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. These states account for only 5.9% of the nation’s population but have a total of 118,000 bridges, one bridge for every 160 citizens—men, women and children included. “The Most Traveled Structurally Deficient Bridges, 2013″ is a list made by Department of Transportation. Of the 100 most heavily traveled bridges in the US by rank order, and which are in need of serious repair, 80% of them are in California. Of the 30 billion dollars earmarked by Reagan to rebuild the infrastructure, only 30% went to road and bridge construction.

    Who is...Tenzing Norgay?

    Four-year high school graduation rates hit 80 percent, capping a decade of significant improvement and suggesting that US schools can hit even more ambitious goals by 2020.

    From an article on the possibility of freight trains running on electricity by Noel T. Braymer: Liquefying Natural Gas requires refrigerating it by hundreds of degrees below zero. This is not cheap and requires a great deal of energy to do. Also new facilities will needed to fuel trains with Liquid Natural Gas and a reliable way to carry it on trains will be needed. The plan is to build “tenders” to carry the Liquid Natural Gas for the locomotives on a freight trains. A recent news story run by Reuters reports that after a year of experimenting with running trucks with Liquid Natural Gas; the Canadian Trucking Company Bison Transport found the savings less and the problems more than expected."

    More than six hundred modern first editions, all inscribed to Nick Basbanes, are being offered en bloc by Lux Mentis Booksellers in Portland, Maine. The price is available upon request.

    The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports some remarkable figures on the percentage of older members of the workforce, 55 and older. The percentage of such workers has gone from 29.4% in 1993 to 40.3%b in 2013. For those ages 55–64, the upward trend was driven almost exclusively by the increased labor-force participation of women, whereas the male participation rate was flat to declining. However, among those ages 65 or older, the rate increased for both males and females over that period. This upward trend in labor-force participation by older workers is likely related to workers’ current need for continued access to employment-based health insurance and for more years of earnings to accumulate savings in defined contribution (401(k)-type) plans and/or to pay down debt. Those are astonishing numbers.

    AAAAAaaaaannnnnndddddd......a picture of Spica, Mars and the eclipsed moon:
    See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

      Friday, May 9, 2014

      A Utility Self Assessment

      Edison Electric Institute released a report last year that was remarkably honest in its assessment of the future of utilities. Utilities have a product; they sell electric power that they generate from expensive sources. (coal fire plants, turbines) They spread the cost of these expensive sources across the huge user base. Power demands vary over the day and week but power at the peak times of the day and week is the most expensive. Solar power is beginning to emerge as a real alternative and its use is highest during peak hours. This is cutting into the high billing period of utilities. As the cost and efficiencies of solar panels--and batteries--continue, more people are turning to them. This is decreasing the returns of the utilities which must, in turn, raise the cost of power to those remaining on their grid. This rise pushes more people away from their power as solar power becomes a more cost effective alternative. This creates a spiral of decreasing utility returns as they serve fewer people during peak hours and more during down hours. This makes them less rewarding and predictable an investment and requires them to raise the returns they can provide their investors, again raising their costs.
      Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers said, “If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup.” If a lot of customers start generating their own power and using the grid merely as backup, the EEI report warns of “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects” of utilities.
      Bloomberg Energy Finance forecasts 22 percent compound annual growth in all solar PV, which means that by 2020 distributed solar (which will account for about 15 percent of total PV) could reach up to 10 percent of load in certain areas. If that happens rates will increase 20%. ( PV is "photovoltaic," electrical energy from solar radiation.)   

      Thursday, May 8, 2014

      Impeachment: Learning that Guilt is not the Point

      There is always some impeachment talk from the fringe on both ends of the political curve. Recently the Right has been grousing about Obama's selective law enforcement and the IRS targeting scandal. The Left has been disappointed with what they see as his limited activism.  But, politically, impeachment has a history that should provoke political caution. With the unfortunate Lewinski in the news again, the Rube-publicans should remember Clinton.
      Congress actually voted to impeach President Bill Clinton. The House voted two articles of impeachment, one for perjury in a trial involving sexual harassment of Paula Jones, and another charge for evading the House Judiciary questions regarding his sexual liaison with White House aide, Monica Lewinsky. There was little question he was guilty of the charges--he was actually disbarred in Arkansas for the perjury; what was considerably less certain was how that guilt was viewed by the public.
      Two arguments tried to separate Clinton's guilt and consequences. Sen. Harkin said that the Senate should take into account not only the evidence but also the consequences of impeachment for the nation. So guilt and national consequence were distinct. Then the president's defense attorney told Senators they were free to "find his personal conduct distasteful," but their task was to decide whether the president's actions "so put at risk the government the framers created that there is only one solution." With Nixon as the modern standard in the background, the Senate decided Clinton's disgraceful behavior fell short.

      The Rube-publicans really misread this. House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted that on the eve of impeachment, Republicans would pick up 20 House seats in the November 1998 midterm elections. But the public agreed with the Senate. Instead they lost five.

      Wednesday, May 7, 2014

      Cab Thoughts 5/7/14

      "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say."--Emerson

      Notes, hand and computer: "Prior studies have primarily focused on students' capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers' tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning." Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University in "Psychological Science"

      In 1704, a minor playwright named John Dennis came up with a new sound-effect for his play, Liberty Asserted. At the Drury Lane Theatre that year a backstage helper rattled sheets of metal to generate the sound of thunder. The play failed and Macbeth was inserted into the schedule. They used Dennis' thunder technique in the Shakespeare play as well and Dennis complained. Thus was born the phrase "to steal my thunder."

      A number of sad stories are coming out of the sunken Korean ferry story but the important one is this: During the crisis the crew told the children to stay in their cabins. Most of those who obeyed died. Many of those who ignored or did not hear the instructions and went out on deck were rescued. As uncertain as our world is, the advice of experts often seems to make it only more so.

      Who was....Valerie Solanas?

      A British study, which looks at the ways "cultural engagement" affects overall wellbeing, concluded that a significant association was found between frequent library use and reported wellbeing. The same was true of dancing, swimming and going to plays.

      Some of the country’s biggest Democratic donors — including Tom Steyer and Jonathan Soros — are huddling behind closed doors in Chicago with union bigwigs and progressive superstars like Bill de Blasio to plan how to pull their party — and the country — to the left. Democracy Alliance partners, as the group calls its members, pay annual dues of $30,000 and are required to contribute a total of at least $200,000 a year to recommended groups. Since its inception in 2005, the DA has steered upward of $500 million to a range of groups, including pillars of the political left such as the conservative media watchdog Media Matters, the policy advocacy outfit Center for American Progress and the data firm Catalist — all of which are run by Clinton allies. Steyer, the San Francisco hedge fund billionaire trying to raise money for a planned $100-million midterm spending spree on behalf of environmentally minded candidates. (Politico)

      Stephen King threw away the manuscript of his first novel, Carrie. His wife retrieved it and it was later published.

      Weightlessness makes astronauts lose taste and smell in space. In the absence of gravity, molecules cannot be volatile, so few of them get into our noses deeply enough to register as odors. This is a problem for nutritionists designing space food. Much of the taste of food depends on its smell; some chemists have gone so far as to claim that wine is simply a tasteless liquid that is deeply fragrant. We taste only four flavors: sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. That means that everything else we call 'flavor' is really 'odor.' (Natural History of the Senses by Ackerman)
      The Business Times reports, sixty per cent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country's grave environmental problems.

      Golden oldie:
      We are, for some reason, morally opposed to voter ID. A February 2012 report by the Pew Research Center on the States, "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade," found that 1.8 million deceased registrants were listed as active voters, and that 2.75 million voters had active registrations in more than one state. Apparently we are, nonetheless, confident we have no electoral fraud--this according to incumbents. In his biography of Truman, Robert Ferrell has reported that a single house at 912 Tracy Street managed to produce 141 voters, and a vacant lot at 700 Main Street yielded 112 voters. The Second District, with a population of 18,478, brought in 19,202 votes for the Democrat ticket, 12 for the opposition. The total Kansas City vote had 200,000 more voters than its actual population. When Truman ran for the Senate, the Second District gave him 15,145 votes, to 24 for his oppo­nent.
      We are probably a lot different now.

      Trucking statistics show the industry burns 28 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year in the US alone. That works out to an average of over 10,000 gallons per truck per year. For the long-haul segment the fuel burn is 20,000 to 35,000 gallons per truck per year.

      After Fischer, the world chess domination returned to the Russians. Then the chess crown was won by an Indian, Viswanathan Anand. He held it for six years until he was unseated by Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Chess experts say the internationalization of chess is a function of the computer. ChessBase is one of the game's leading databases founded in 1986. ChessBase gives its users access to thousands of games, historical and modern, enabling them to hone their skills and analyze opponents' tendencies. Carlsen, who was born in 1990, has been able to hone his skills at home by playing online against opponents all over the world.

      Fury: n. Intense, uncontrollable anger. In Greek mythology the Furies were the avengers of crimes, particularly murder. They haunted, chased and tormented offenders and are a crucial element in the Orestes story where they hunt him after he avenges his father's murder by killing his mother, Clytemnestra. As time ahas passed, some believe the Furies represent one's own tormented conscious.

      AAAAAaaaannnndddd....a picture created by ZeroHedge depicting the volume of available water in the world relative to the world's surface area. It's a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, or roughly the distance from Salt Lake City to Topeka. The smaller sphere, over Kentucky, is the fresh water in the ground and in lakes, rivers, and swamps. The tiny dot over Georgia is the fresh water in lakes and rivers.