Monday, June 30, 2014

What Is Going On?

The Supreme Court has ruled against President Obama's NLRB appointments done without Congressional consent. Presidential appointments are made with "advise and consent" of the Congress and the rules are constitutional, not traditional.There is some debate over how appointments may be made when Congress is not in session. Some think that appointments may be made if Congress is in recess for at least ten days; some say that such appointments may be made only when the vacancy occurs when the Congress is out of session. No one thinks that the President can make appointments by himself with the Congress in session and without their consent. The Court ruled 9-0 against him.
Few people knowledgeable about the matter were surprised and fewer lawyers. The real question is, why did Obama do it? He certainly knows the law--or should. He certainly got advice from his in-house people who must have advised that it was illegal. So why did he do something that violated constitutional law from almost any political viewpoint?
The fallout from this is considerable; it is not just procedural. These appointments are over two and a half years old and all their decisions are now invalid. Everyone who has had a negative decision from this board now has the right to sue and will expect to be vindicated. There are over 700 cases that this board has decided on since the challenged appointments. All of them are technically invalid. This will be chaos.
So why did Obama do this? Why did the President of the United States purposely violate a clear and well understood concept in the government structure? What could be his motive?
What is wrong here?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cab Thoughts 6/28/14

The rich tend to get richer not just because of higher returns to capital, as the French economist Thomas Piketty has argued, but because they have superior access to the political system and can use their connections to promote their interests.--Francis Fukuyama

More than one in five homes in China's urban areas is vacant, and a current housing-price correction is putting additional pressure on the owners of such empty properties, according to a nationwide survey.  

Bill Gross, the most important private bond investor in the country with the biggest bond fund, shrinking now over organizational changes and static returns, does not own a cell phone.

The real poor: Thousands of people enraged by power cuts during an extreme heat wave rioted across northern India, setting electricity substations on fire and taking power company officials hostage, officials said Saturday. The impoverished state of Uttar Pradesh has never had enough power for its 200 million people, and many receive only a few hours a day under normal conditions, while 63 percent of homes have no access to electricity at all. And, of course, the response is to hamstring yourself and the solution. An angry crowd set fire to an electricity substation in Gonda, 112 miles southeast of Lucknow. Another substation was set on fire in Gorakhpur, 200 miles southeast of Lucknow.

Who was....Timothy McVeigh?

For anyone who thought the U.N. would aim high:  U.N. peacekeepers are trying to bring peace to an eastern Congo town where a cattle-rustling dispute led to the deaths of 30 people. Cattle-rustling in the Congo.

Re: BBC"s "The Tudors:" Dr Starkey, a specialist in the Tudor period, says that it was a disgrace the BBC had "squandered" public money on a historical drama which he claimed had been deliberately "dubbed down'' to appeal to an American audience. We are backward in the colonies. And uncreative; no Yankee I know ever tried to substitute "dubbed down" for "dumbed down." 

Analysis by Robert Kocher and Nikhil Sahni published in 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a nearly 75% increase in practicing doctors employed by hospitals from 2000-2008, and more recent hospital announcements suggest this trend is accelerating. A study by Kessler found that increases in the market share of hospitals that own physicians lead to higher hospital prices and spending; there was no evidence that hospital "ownership" of physicians leads to higher rates of hospital use. The conclusion was the effect was an increase in pricing. Kessler suggests this is the effect of decreased choice, i.e. the monopoly effect, but federal regulations economically favor hospital based activity over private office activity.

The Brazilian wandering spider is the size of a dinner plate—it is also the most poisonous spider in the world. There is an antidote for wandering spider bites, so deaths are rare.

I do not know what about this story surprises me more. A Moscow court on Monday sentenced five men to prison for the 2006 killing of Russian journalist and fierce Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, including two to a life term. A jury found that Rustam Makhmudov shot Politkovskaya at her Moscow apartment building in October 2006, the state-owned legal news agency RAPSI said. He and Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, whom the jury found was a mastermind of the killing, were sentenced to life in prison, according to the court.
Authorities alleged that an unidentified man asked Gaitukayev to kill Politkovskaya in exchange for $150,000 because of her reports of human rights violations and other issues, the Moscow city court said.
A second convicted plotter, former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Two of the gunman's brothers, Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, were convicted as accomplices.

Golden oldie:

34% of the winners of India's recent elections have criminal indictments pending against them, according to India's Association for Democratic Reforms, including serious charges like murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just recorded the lowest percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds working or looking for work since it started counting such things in 1948. But look what else changed since the 1940s: The share of the population with less than a high school education fell from 76 percent to 12 percent, while the share of Americans with a bachelor's degree septupled to 32 percent. The BLS itself says that "the major factor producing this significant change in labor participation has been an increase in school attendance at all levels." So, perhaps, they are too busy at school to look for work?

Caveat: n:  A warning or caution; a qualification or explanation. Also can be a verb. In "caveat emptor," the axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying--or "buyer beware."

There has been considerable variation in recovery from the recession:
Chart of the Day

Andy Murray has hired Amélie Mauresmo, the former No. 1 player and winner of two Grand Slam singles titles, to be his new coach.

The Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations that the Department of Veterans Affairs retaliated against 37 whistleblowers. (Washington Post)

In the March 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, there was an article entitled “Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?”  Judged against the criteria of the SAT writing test introduced in 2005, failures would have included Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. Shakespeare would not test out of freshman English and Stein would have to take a remedial class.  But the Unabomber’s manifesto got a perfect 6.

Pro Football Focus rated each of the 32 NFL teams’ lineups from top to bottom and concluded the Steelers have the NFL’s sixth-worst roster. The only teams ranked below the Steelers at No. 27 are the Raiders, Vikings, Falcons, Rams and Jaguars.

AAAAaaaaannnnnnddddddd.........a graph:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Advice from Gerald Minack, from the Inside

Gerard Minack, the international analyst from  Morgan Stanley, retired last year. He was very cynical about the investment world and felt the professional investor was in business only because the amateur insisted on competing with him. His general advise was:
No amateur competes well with a professional, be it tennis, golf or investing.
That said, no professional will beat the market consistently.
That inconsistency plus costs results in the consistent observation that the vast majority of professionally managed funds under-perform the basic benchmarks of their class.
The  market can not be timed.
Individual stocks are not quantifiable and are terrible investment choices;
Funds investing in particular asset classes always underperform the general group and the exceptions that outperform do not do it consistently; 
The conclusion: Invest in broad market index funds with low cost. Only. Ever.

Fund Underperformance Across Asset Classes

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Aquion is a company founded in 2008 by Ted Wiley and Jay Whitacre. Whitacre is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The company currently has research and development offices in Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh, Pa. and is setting up manufacturing facilities at the old Sony plant in nearby East Huntingdon. The company was the corporate winner in the energy category at the 2011 World Technology Awards and has raised over 20 million dollars; investors include Bill Gates. They have a close relationship with Siemens.
In 2013, CEO Scott Pearson got national press coverage when he ate one of their batteries during a meeting.

Aquion is working on a battery with a sodium magnesium oxide chemistry. The chemistry is not new. Research into the sodium-ion battery started in the early 1970s but quickly diverted into lithium-ion when it  seemed more rewarding.
Compared to lithium, the sodium ions are larger and heavier by a factor of two--heavier and therefor slower--so a replacement for the commonly available graphite used as an electrode material in Li-Ion batteries must be found. Without a replacement, cycle life is very low, on the order of maybe 50 cycles. Some experiments report a maximum cycle life of less than ten cycles. Vanadium has been tested in the lab as an electrode material, which reportedly can boost the cycle life to over 500 cycles, but at a reduction in battery capacity to about 85 percent. Severe volume expansion of the electrodes--of over 5 times--during charge/discharge is another problem.

The lower energy density and operating voltage of the element sodium makes it unsuitable for consumer electronics and electric vehicles. It is seen as most suitable for larger scale grid storage. But battery life expectancy would have to allow cycling for at least ten years in the field.
Some research indicates that the sodium ions are best able to travel from electrode to electrode at temperatures greater than 266 degrees Fahrenheit but that would create considerable temperature engineering challenges.

In January, Aquion raised $55 million in new capital. Aquion has raised more than $100 million and may seek additional capital later this year or early next year.

Friday, June 20, 2014


At Meteora in the northwestern edge of the Thessaly in central Greece, six Eastern Orthodox monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars and tower over the land. The area was first inhabited by hermetic monks in the 9th Century who found crevices and fissures in the sheer walls to live in, some 1800 feet above the plain. Eventually the monasteries were painstakingly built.
Three miles south are the caves of Theopetra. These caves, close to a river, have sheltered countless people back through history and contain evidence of two great transitions in man's development, the replacement of Neanderthal by modern homo sapiens and the transition from hunter gathering to farming. It was used and inhabited continuously from the Palaeolithic period onwards (50,000 to 5,000 years ago.) The caves contain a wall, built 23,000 years ago at the height of the last Ice Age to protect the inhabitants from cold winds. It is the oldest man-made structure in Greece and perhaps the world.
The cave is a huge chamber at the foot of a limestone cliff, high up on the hill above the village Theopetra. The entrance portal is very big, 17m wide and three meters high, with a huge chamber behind, almost rectangular with a size of 500m². The cave is reached on a winding road from the village.

The Monasteries of Meteora:
The Caves of Theopetra:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cab Thought 6/19/14

"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

A nice summery of the battery problem: Venture capitalists are more comfortable with the expectations of Moore's Law, which states that the density of transistors on a computer chip doubles every other year. That is not how chemistry works. "It's a very, very tough economic problem," battery entrepreneur John Peterson said in an interview. "The reason it can't work is that the battery is a bottle for storing electricity. It is a $500 bottle that you're going to use to store a product that you want to buy for 25 cents. If you have that bottle that you spent $500 on, and you fill it once a day, you're going to get $7.50 a month of energy coming back out of that bottle. It's going to take you forever, at the rate of $7.50 a month, to recover your $500," he said.

A US Interstate road is recommended to have a concrete depth of 11 inches and rock underneath of 21 inches. However its often poured at 8 inches. The autobahn in Germany used to require 18-24 inch depth. 

Pont Neuf in Paris, the New Bridge, was Henri IV's idea. It was the first bridge to cross the Seine in a single span, it was made of stone--to last--, had no houses or businesses on it so the city could be viewed from it, and was the first landmark of urban usefulness rather than a statue or palace. Author Joan DeJean believes it stamped Paris as the first modern city.

"Fear of an animal may be experimentally set up by stimulating the infant with a loud sound just at the moment the animal is presented. Six combined stimulations produced the marked fear of the rat shown next." This is a quote from the renowned Dr. John Watson, the father of behaviorism, that appears on a film where he and his associates terrify a small child with animals and noises in an effort to demonstrate learned response. He eventually lost his position and reputation when it was revealed he was having an affair with Rosalie Rayner, a graduate student and co-author. "Affectionate Letters Said To Have Been Obtained By Wife," read one of the headlines.
Presumably his infidelity had been learned at a young age.

Who was.......Little Albert?

Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect, the "green flash," is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. The effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

At least 15% of American homeowners (or residents of 78 counties across the country) were living in housing markets where the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home requires more than 30% of the monthly median household income — long considered the maximum for rent/mortgage repayments.

3D printing can make very complex shapes in single unit volumes, it can only do this using microscopic particles, either resins or powders. The mechanical properties of these materials will almost always be very significantly less in strength, resiliency, smoothness, corrosion resistance, abrasion resistance, etc. The processes of forging, stamping, mechanically polishing, high-pressure extrusion or casting, spinning, and milling creates materials and surfaces cannot be reproduced.

Mad cow disease has caused a fourth death in the United States.

If we accept the idea that hierarchies are a reasonable way to look at income then someone will always have more money than everyone else and someone will always have less than everyone else. And you will always be able to divide that economic group into thirds, or quintiles or whatever. The question is, is that hierarchy unchanging. Are the lower quintile always the same people? It has never been so in the past.

A quick historical summary of the Sikh rebellion and Indira Gandhi:

  • 1982: Armed Sikh militants, led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, take up residence in the Golden Temple complex.
  • 3-8 June 1984: The Indian army attacks the Golden Temple, killing Bhindranwale, his supporters and a number of civilians. Codenamed Operation Blue Star the attack, according to the Sikhs, killed 1000.
  • 31 October 1984: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had given the go-ahead to Operation Blue Star, was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards
  • November 1984: More than 3,000 are killed in anti-Sikh riots across India

  • Ian Graham, a Cambridge graduate who holds a PhD in theoretical physics, between 2005 and 2012  was Decision Technology's head of football research developing "a set of statistical models for the prediction of football matches and the rating of players," according to the company's website for the Liverpool Football Club. He was developing a "sabremetrics" type of approach for football. He was recruited away to another English Premier League club, Tottenham Hotspur.

    There are an estimated 1.2 million homebrewers nationwide, two-thirds of whom began brewing since 2005, according to the American Homebrewers Association.

    The soon-to-be-incarcerated Dinesh D'Souza has an oblique view of America. He says the Left preaches that America has stolen its wealth. He asks, "Who stole it?" The American Indian was displaced by arriving immigrants, slavery benefitted anyone who bought cheap cotton, the Mexicans were fought and defeated by immigrants. The expanders of American wealth and territory were immigrants.

    Golden Oldie:

    Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury tried to encourage the manufacturing sector of the country. He encouraged the immigration of technical workers and actually built a city, Paterson, New Jersey, for the purpose of manufacturing. In 1719 Britain banned the emigration of skilled workers in industries including steel, iron, brass, watchmaking, and wool. The law punished suborning, or recruitment, of skilled workers for employment abroad with fines or imprisonment. Skilled immigrants who did not return to Britain within six months of being warned by a British official faced the confiscation of their goods and property and the withdrawal of their citizenship. Britain followed its ban on the emigration of skilled workers with a ban on the export of wool and silk technology in 1750. In 1781 and 1785, the act was enlarged into a comprehensive ban on machinery of all kinds.

    Quality Egg LLC and two top executives admitted to selling substandard eggs containing a “poisonous” substance, and bribing a federal inspector, in a food-safety scandal that sickened tens of thousands.

    Fletcherizing: Horace Fletcher popularized a fad for extremely thorough chewing in the early 20th Century. The idea was to liquefy solid foods. Eating became serious work. An onion would take about ten minutes to chew adequately. Henry James, Franz Kafka, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--all became Fletcherizing apostles. All sorts of benefits were promised: More nutrition per ounce, more economic use of food, less work for the intestine, and weight loss (which was his original stimulus.) In 1912, around the fad's peak, Oklahoma Senator Robert L. Owen penned a proclamation -- a draft of which resides among the Fletcher papers -- urging the formation of a National Department of Health based on the principles of the Fletcher system. Common sense. It became a virtual consensus.

    AAAAAAaaaaannnnnndddddd......a graph:

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Keeping A Peculiar Promise

    The Sunnis are advancing in Iraq, a large oil producer. Iran, a large oil producer, may become involved. The conflict might interfere with production and transportation of oil in other producing countries.
    The emerging markets are making more of a demand on world energy stores. According to The Global Warming Policy Foundation, Global demand for coal is expected to grow to 8.9 billion tons by 2016 from 7.9 billion tons this year. China is expected to add about 160 new coal-fired plants to the 620 operating now, within four years. 160! That's almost one a week. During that period, India will add more than 46 plants.
    On the other hand, America's contribution to CO2 production is declining. CO2 production in the U.S. has fallen 12% from 2005 to 2012 and is at its lowest level since 1994. Coincidentally, employment rates have followed a similar path.
    How could any reasonable person think of limiting energy sources in this country at a time like this?  Even if carbon were as toxic as arsenic, we would work around it. At any other time in history anyone campaigning to limit energy production would be suspected of  treason, bribery or blackmail.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    Vanadium--or Valyrian?--Steel

    Vanadium, an element with 5 electrons in its outer shell, was discovered first in 300BC by artisans in the Middle East who made steel with it called "Damascus Steel," a hard alloy that helped Middle East kingdoms and Muslim troops, then rediscovered by the Swedish chemist Nils Sefstrom, who named it after the Norse goddess of beauty, Vanadis.

    Adding as little as 0.15% vanadium creates an exceptionally strong steel alloy and allows the strength of steel to be increased with less steel. Henry Ford used it in 1908 to make the body of his Model T stronger and lighter. Vanadium steel retains its hardness at high temperatures, it is used in drill bits, circular saws, engine turbines and other moving parts that generate a lot of heat. So steel accounts for perhaps 90% of demand for the metal.

    But there is more: Sulfuric acid strips the 5 outer electrons away (oxidation) then zinc-mercury adds electrons back one at a time as the solution goes yellow to blue to green to violet. That loss and acceptance of electrons is the essence of a battery.
    Electrons being add, one by one:
    Vanadium - yellow, blue, green and violet

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Mary, Martha and Productivity

    There has been a debate recently over productivity; productive people have come up as less high-minded, a bit rustic beside the more thoughtful elite. The "Sons of Martha" by Kipling is a different, surprisingly American, take:
    The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
    But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and troubled heart.
    And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
    Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
    It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
    It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
    It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
    Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

    They say to mountains, ‘Be ye removed’. They say to the lesser floods, ‘Be dry’.
    Under their rods are the rocks reproved – they are not afraid of that which is high.
    Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
    That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

    They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
    He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
    Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
    And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

    To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
    They are concerned with matter hidden, under the earthline their altars are;
    The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
    And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city drouth.

    They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
    They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their work when they damn-well choose.
    As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand.
    Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

    Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat:
    Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that:
    Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
    But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

    And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed, they know the angels are on their side.
    They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
    They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise Runs:
    They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.

    Sunday, June 15, 2014

    Sunday Sermon 6/15/14

    Today's reading are upsetting.

    The Old Testament reading from seems unintentionally funny where, in Exodus, God appears as His own herald, announcing Himself and His accomplishments before Moses, the representative of the "stiff-necked people."

    Then there is the gospel, John 3;16, the banner of rainbow-haired sports fanatics and the bane of Mohammed. Christ speaks to the night visitor, Nicodemus, about Himself as the Son of God and the promise of eternal life through Him. It is a serious demand and entails a dichotomy between the Father and the Son that Mohammed could not understand. It is a bit sad in its way; this Trinity Sunday always burdens the priest to give some homily on the Trinity and I have never been convinced that any of them understood it either.

    But some minds will not accept a mystery.

    Saturday, June 14, 2014

    Cab Thoughts 6/14/14

    In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. --Michael Crichton

    Census Bureau data show that the typical illegal immigrant is 34 years old, has a 10th-grade education and an annual income of less than $25,000. The taxpayer cost of amnesty for the estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. would be $6.3 trillion, according to a 2013 Heritage Foundation study. The group's research shows that illegal immigrants are likely to receive three times more money in government benefits than they would pay in taxes. 

    Researchers wrote about "one of history's most famous spinal columns" in The Lancet Friday, saying their 3-D visualization "reveals how the king's spine had a curve to the right, but also a degree of twisting, resulting in a 'spiral' shape"They say Richard had a "well-balanced curve" that might not have been plainly visible. Remember that when Shakespeare wrote about the "poisonous bunch-backed toad," Richard was the last Plantagenet, overthrown by Henry, a Tudor, and Elizabeth, the Tudor heir, was on the throne.

    "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions." This is Obama at West Point explaining that American exceptionalism is being like everyone else. These are hard concepts, clear only to the proud, the few, the politicians.
    Who was...Jeffrey Hudson?

    FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. has an investigative report  obtained by The New York Times which raise serious questions about the vulnerability of the World Cup to match fixing. The tournament opens June 12 in Brazil. The report found that the match-rigging syndicate and its referees infiltrated the upper reaches of global soccer in order to fix exhibition matches and exploit them for betting purposes. It provides extensive details of the clever and brazen ways that fixers apparently manipulated “at least five matches and possibly more” in South Africa ahead of the last World Cup. As many as 15 matches were targets, including a game between the United States and Australia, according to interviews and emails printed in the FIFA report. 
    On a more structural level, a former top Qatari football official paid more than $5 million to get support for the emirate's controversial campaign to host the 2022 World Cup, the British Sunday Times alleged.
    Hackers believed to be connected to Iran’s government are posing as former U.S. ambassador John Bolton on social media platforms in a scheme to get human rights activists and national security wonks to hand over their passwords and usernames.
    The Houston Astros and minor leaguer Jon Singleton agreed on a historic contract Monday, guaranteeing the first baseman $10 million before he has played a single game in the major leagues, a source with knowledge of the deal told Yahoo Sports.
    The 22-year-old Singleton, who during spring training called himself a marijuana addict, can make up to $30 million over eight seasons, the first five of which are guaranteed and the final three of which the Astros control with club options. (He made two errors and homered in his first game.)

    Selling government uncollected debt periodically rises as a cost saving measure. It was experimented with in 2005 and the bureaucracy created for administrating the program cost more than the program gained.
    Feral: a. 1.wild or untamed; having reverted from a domesticated to a wild state; From Latin fera (wild animal), from ferus (wild) 2. deadly or related to the dead (from another line of words)

    There is an adage in the art world that the emergence of art investment funds signals that a boom is over. This was true in the late 1980s and again in 2006-08.  Strong prices, high-profile big spenders, and glittering openings make for exciting events. The media carries the message that 'art is hot' far outside the art world. In 1904 a young French financier, Andre Level, invited twelve friends to form an art investment fund he named, with intentional irony, La Peau de l'Ours, after a fable by La Fontaine in which hunters sell the skin of a great bear but were unable to catch it -- a warning about speculation. It did remarkably well. In the last twenty years most art funds have been left in bankruptcy and law suits.

    With the success of the Sunnis in Iraq, what will Shiite Iran do?
    Since 1983, tuition and fees at four-year public colleges have risen by 257 percent, while typical family incomes have advanced 16 percent. Today, only about 7 percent of recent college graduates come from the bottom-income quartile, compared with 12 percent in 1970, when federal aid was scarce.

    The first Nikon camera was a copy of a German camera called the Contax, the first Canon a copy of the Leica. What was crucial was what happen after.

    Speaking about California's efforts to move into the energy/battery space Tom Stepien, the CEO of Primus Power, said, "Hardware companies are not for sissies," said Stepien, who spent most of his career in the semiconductor industry. "This is not $10 million, find some guys, feed 'em energy bars and caffeinated soda and have them pound out code. This is five years of work and trying to make the laws of chemistry work for you. It takes some time to get it right."
    Even talented engineers usually arrive knowing little about batteries. At San Jose State University, what could be the country's first graduate engineering program specifically tailored to batteries starts this fall.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out a report Wednesday that says the EPA's coming proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants  will eventually kill 224,000 jobs and cause $50 billion in economic losses a year.
    On Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council will produce its own report taking the opposite view. It will say the administration's rule will create thousands of new green jobs, save consumers billions on utility bills and of course decrease pollution.
    The EPA has a third opinion. "The EPA projects that, in 2030, the significant reductions in the harmful carbon pollution and in other air pollution, to which this rule would lead, would result in net climate and health benefits of $48 billion to $82 billion,” the agency proposal says.
    Where any of these numbers come from--especially the health benefits translated into dollars--is not explained. But you can be assured that each of these totally disparate views were reached by consensus.

    Real Social Security return, when inflation and taxes are accounted for, has fallen 31% since 2001.
    In Vietnam, still run by the Communist Party, the very selective national university is offering free tuition to anyone who signs up for the university’s curriculum in Marxism. They’ve had to offer free tuition because no students have been signing up for these courses. Such courses have no problem filling in the U.S..
    AAAAAaaaaannnnnnnnddddddd........a graph.....or a model.....or a Ouija board:

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Who Are the Poor and Whose Money do They Want?

    A curiosity exists among the citizens of the West over their idea of the poor and the endpoint of the notion of inequality and redistribution. Most seem to believe there are poor people here in the United States and those people will be rewarded financially by forced expropriations from others. A glance at the two graphs below will show how parochial an idea that is. In fact the poor in this country are quite well off compared to most. The inequality fad sweeping the world and the great leveling that some demand would necessitate the average citizen of Appalachia donating to the world's poor. First we loot Luxembourg, then.....
    Do not ask for whom the redistribution bell tolls.

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Cab Thoughts 6/12/14

    Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.
          – Arthur Miller, “The Crucible”
    The abolitionist Theodore Parker used the phrase, "A democracy — of all the people, by all the people, for all the people" which later influenced the wording of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Another quote, lifted by Martin Luther King, was, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
    There is an interesting theory about the rise of Japan's hierarchical system being initiated by the success of Confucian concepts in the 5th and 6th Centuries with the emphasis on preserving the hierarchical order between the 'superior' and 'inferior' persons. This meant the maintenance of proper relationships to ensure social harmony  where the 'inferior' persons to behave in accordance with his or her station in the family and society. This came to be staunchly embedded in Japanese mores. This social imperative was reinforced by the emergence of the samurai in the 12th Century.
    The president convened a summit at the White House on concussions.  Apparently the National Potato Council was not involved. 
    A lot of surprising international energy decisions. Globally there are about 66 reactors under construction with 160 planned and 319 proposed. Japan is expected to bring over 30 reactors back online over the next three years. There are only about 434 reactors operating today. Germany was going to shut down its 20-some nuclear-electrical production sources within 10 years, and are now furiously building new coal plants.
    Who was...Cornelius Gurlitt?
    Marx’s  Labor Theory of Value disregards the infusion of seed capital necessary to launch and sustain an enterprise, privileging the role of labor in the production process. 
    Scott Brusaw, the developer of Solar Roadway which wants to replace all the roads with solar panels,  estimated a cost of $10,000 for a 12-foot-by-12-foot segment of Solar Roadway, or around $70 per square foot; asphalt, on the other hand, is somewhere around $3 to $15, depending on the quality and strength of the road. According to some math, the total cost to redo America’s roadways with Solar Roadways would be $56 trillion — or about four times the country’s national debt. These people have started a crowdfunding effort to build a prototype. They have got over 1 million dollars so far.
    The GDP contracted last quarter under an administration that has pledged itself to improving the economy as its main objective. Its main objective. How is such a thing possible? How could an administration's main objective not be reached, especially when it gets to do the grading? Or is it only more evidence of the difficulties of large organizations transforming its wishes into reality?  Would now would be a good time to attack cheap energy?
    Golden oldie:
    The Census Bureau survey, as reported in the LA Times that In 1992, found more was spent on legal fees in California [$16.3 billion] than on auto repairs, funerals, tanning salons, one-hour photo finishing, videotape rentals, detectives and armored car guards, bug exterminators, laundry, haircuts, day care, shoe repairs and septic tank cleaning combined.

    Izikhothane loosely translates to ‘brag it’. It is a South African subculture of young people who dress themselves in designer clothes they can barely afford. They arrive in minivans at public spots and participate in elaborate dance-offs against rival gangs. During these performances, they indulge in burning wads of cash, destroying their clothes and spilling expensive food and alcohol on the streets. 
    “To be Izikhothane, you have to be like us. Buy expensive clothes, booze, fame, girls, driving, spending. And when you are dressed in Italian clothing it shows that you’re smart,” said one gang member. Almost 50 percent of youths are unemployed in South Africa and most of the Izikhothane are funded by their working class parents with modest incomes.

    "Amnesty," the mainstreaming of immigrants who have entered the country illegally, would like have several effects: Bigger government, increased federal spending, a growing welfare state and an increase in the country's subset that has less respect for law and free markets. Yet one of amnesty's loudest supporters is the historically conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
    Why is that?

    Gary Burtless, an economist at Brookings, writes that government transfer payments made up 17 percent of personal income in 2010 versus less than 1 percent in 1929.
    An improvement on simple non-profit: A Cambodian woman who has been honored internationally for her work against sexual slavery has resigned from the New York-based foundation she helped found after reports alleged that she had distorted aspects of her personal history. Somaly Mam had received U.S. government funding for some of her early work and wrote a memoir, "The Road of Lost Innocence," which was a best-seller in France, with a tale of being abused and sold into prostitution as a child, one of several claims that have now been questioned.
    The Lincoln Monument was dedicated in 1922 in front of an audience of more than 50,000 people. Even though Lincoln was known as the Great Emancipator, the audience was segregated; keynote speaker Robert Moton, president of the Tuskegee Institute and an African-American, was not permitted to sit on the speakers’ platform.
    Government spending at the start of the 20th century was less than 7 percent of GDP. It went to almost 30 percent of GDP by the end of World War I, and then settled down to 10 percent of GDP in the 1920s. In the 1930s spending doubled to 20 percent of GDP. Defense spending in World War II drove overall government spending over 50 percent of GDP before declining to 22 percent of GDP in the late 1940s. The 1950s began a steady spending increase to about 36 percent of GDP by 1982. In the 1990s and 2000s government spending stayed about constant at 33-35 percent of GDP, but in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008 spending has increased to 40 percent of GDP.
    AAAAaaaaaannnnnnnndddddd............a graph:

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    Entrepreneurial Activity in the U.S.

    The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) attempts to evaluate and measure the "entrepreneurial data" from various countries and compares them, country to country, with the hopes of rating entrepreneurial activity in the US and 119 other countries across the world. This is admittedly very soft stuff and is the kind of analysis that gets imbued into studies and literature by repetition and tradition. The 2014  study was carried out by researchers from Imperial College Business School in association with the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Pécs and George Mason University.
    In the GEDI for 2014, USA came top, followed by Canada and Australia in second and third place, respectively.
    The paper declared, "While the United States has faltered on the Index of Economic freedom and some other measures it has continued to outperform all other countries on entrepreneurship. And the gulf between the United States and other countries is large and appears to be widening and not narrowing. What explains this is an eco system that is both deep and wide at the same time."

    The U.S. is high in access to venture capital and has high support for women entrepreneurs. In other areas, the US scores strongest, ranking first overall, for producing innovative products and services that are not currently offered by other businesses. This testifies of the potential of entrepreneurship to discover new sources of growth in the US economy.
    The US also ranked first for the quality of human resources flowing to entrepreneurship. Whereas in many countries, the brightest students choose safer employment, the best and brightest in the US are more likely to choose an entrepreneurial career.
    However, the US was weak in terms of networking, ranking fourteenth overall. Remarkably this seems to be due to expense of Internet access. The U.S. has relatively low Internet use when compared to Europe.

    An Ernst and Young Survey showed the U.S. first in most aspects of entrepreneurship with some startling exceptions, especially taxes, support and regulations, all very controllable:

    Ent. rankings

    One distressing article in the Atlantic showed the U.S. in decline. There are some serious problems with their economic generalities, particularly in definitions. For example, one popular approach used by economists to evaluate entrepreneurship is to count how many new businesses with paid employees start up each year, then divide them by the number of companies that are already up and running. But that favors countries with small business bases (Canada, Israel, England) and slights larger based economies like the U.S..
    And America has a large number of single person businesses, family businesses that manage small problems, are seasonal or employ family members. These types skewer results. For example, the statistics show that small businesses in the U.S. have a lower growth rate and employ fewer people. At the same time job growth is linked to small businesses almost exclusively; the small business that progresses to 20 employees. This disparity is likely the result of the single/family business owner who has little growth plan diluting the numbers.

    One other point: There are ages of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs come from younger age groups; most are from 20 to 45. That demographic is favored in the U.S. as the rest of the developed nations are aging and the U.S. is not.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    A Patient's Pain: A Fable

    A 94 year old man comes to his physician complaining of abdominal pain. A close exam reveals nothing. The physician is reassuring but explains he worries about the patient's age and suggests some x-rays.
    The patient thinks x-rays are too  much trouble. He says he will stop doing sit-ups for a while and see if that helps. When the physician asks how many sit-ups he does, the patient tells him he does two sets of two hundred every day.

    Moral: The context of a problem often explains a lot.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Losing the Luster on California Chrome

    California Chrome won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness stakes and hopes were high he might win the Belmont, the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. He finished fourth behind Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count.

    California Chrome is one of those wonderful stories that racing allows. His owners are Steve Coburn, a factory worker, and Perry Martin, a science guy who owns a testing lab in California. He is trained by 77 year old Art Sherman. They bought the mother for $8,500, bred her for $2,000 and the foal, California Chrome, has raced for millions.  The story is that they fell into this but Martin is an analytical man who has studied the breeding  techniques devised by Edward Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby, a prominent breeder in the first half of the 20th Century. He picked his horses carefully. And while Coburn loves the spotlight, Martin did not attend the Preakness because it was his wedding anniversary.

    After the loss, California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn, the seemingly affable Good Old Boy, lost his Good Old Mind. He spouted off bitterly to any microphone that would approach. His complaint is legitimate: horses in the Triple Crown races do not have to run in all of them. This allows a horse to wait in the weeds and come into the 1 1/2 mile Belmont fresh, certainly fresher than the hopeful Triple Crown pretender. Tonalist did not run the opening two races, nor did Commissioner. Medal Count skipped the Preakness. Indeed, only three horses in the 11-horse field ran the entire Triple Crown series.

    It is a tough series. Not many horses can do it. But the rules are known and most accept it for what it is. It is regrettable that such good fortune can not be accepted for what it is.

    1919Sir BartonJohn LoftusH.G. BedwellJ.K.L. Ross
    1930Gallant FoxEarl SandeJames FitzsimmonsBelair Stud
    1935OmahaWilliam SaundersJames FitzsimmonsBelair Stud
    1937War AdmiralCharley KurtsingerGeorge ConwaySamuel D. Riddle
    1941WhirlawayEddie ArcaroBen A. JonesCalumet Farm
    1943Count FleetJohn LongdenDon CameronMrs. J.D. Hertz
    1946AssaultWarren MehrtensMax HirschKing Ranch
    1948CitationEddie ArcaroBen A. JonesCalumet Farm
    1973SecretariatRon TurcotteLucien LaurinMeadow Stable
    1977Seattle SlewJohn CruguetWilliam Turner Jr.Karen L. Taylor
    1978AffirmedSteve CauthenLazaro S. BarreraHarbor View Farm

    Sunday, June 8, 2014

    Sunday Sermon 6/8/14

    I saw the different things you did,
    But always you yourself you hid.
    I felt you push, I heard you call,
    I could not see yourself at all--
    ---Robert Lewis Stevenson, "The Wind" from "Child's 
    Garden of Verses"
    Today is Pentecost. There are actually two such events
    recorded in the gospels where Christ breathes upon the 
    apostles and fills them with the Holy Spirit, in John on 
    Easter Sunday and today,in Lukes's Acts. The Holy Spirit 
    is a difficult concept but Christ persists in it imagery 
    throughout the Gospels and the Holy Spirit is the 
    intermediary in His baptism. The word "spirit" has the 
    same meaning in both Greek and Aramaic: Wind, or breath.
    This gospel has mind-bending density. The Holy Spirit 
    is again the agent of spirituality, a physical 
    manifestation of it. The disciples are ordained and the
    structure of the Church implied. Finally, Christ introduces 
    the concept of guiltand the importance of forgiveness--this 
    2000 years before Freud. 

    Saturday, June 7, 2014

    Cab Thoughts 6/7/14

    It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. -Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer (1737-1809)

    95% all of Napa Valley's wineries are family-owned. 75 percent of the area's wineries produce fewer than 10,000 cases annually.

    In a recent Journal op-ed, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein ticked off a series of errors in Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." Now the UK's Financial Times also sees "data problems and errors" in the popular theory that has been lauded by economists including Paul Krugman.
    After reviewing Mr. Piketty's work, the Financial Times finds "unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, cherry picking data sources and transcription errors. Taken together, these problems seem to undermine his conclusion that wealth inequality is rising in the US and in Europe."
    But apparently the numbers do work if the rich live forever.

    There is more oil and gas in North Dakota than in Saudi Arabia.

    A nationally known economist has created a model of the economy using spending on dining out, casino gambling, jewelry and watches, cosmetics and perfumes, and women’s dresses as a core proxy for the economy.

    In 1964, 76% of Americans trusted government to do the right thing "just about always or most of the time"; today, 19% do.

    Twenty-nine percent of Americans — about 47% of blacks and 48% of Hispanics — live in households receiving means-tested benefits.
    From 1959 to 1966 — before the War on Poverty was implemented — the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by one-third, from 22.4 to 14.7, slightly lower than in 2012. "By 2011 ... average per capita housing space for people in poverty was higher than the U.S. average for 1980. ... (Many) appliances were more common in officially impoverished homes in 2011 than in the typical American home of 1980. ... DVD players, personal computers and home Internet access are now typical in them — amenities not even the richest U.S. households could avail themselves of at the start of the War on Poverty."  Nicholas Eberstadt, in  "The Great Society at Fifty: The Triumph and the Tragedy" 

    Red Cross says that more than half of all Americans (54 percent), and two-thirds of African-Americans (67 percent), cannot meet a basic set of water safety standards.

    Who is....Olivia Langdon?

    "Prius was the first serious electric-gas hybrid, and it got its watts from batteries—the metal-hydride chemistry, at first, and now the more advanced lithium-ion kind.
    Last week, though, by letting its battery R&D alliance with Tesla Motors lapse, Toyota signaled that it is doubling down on the main alternative source of electric power. "The long-term play is going to be fuel cell," Jim Lentz, head of Toyota’s North American region, said at a Fortune magazine conference a few days ago.
    Some press reports have drawn a false distinction between fuel cells and electric vehicles, or EVs. A fuel-cell vehicle is fact an EV because, like a battery vehicle, it stores chemical energy that is later released in the form of electricity. It's just that fuel cells can be refilled—with hydrogen—whereas batteries must be recharged."--Spectrum
    Hydrogen Power!?

    "we have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one."--Obama channeling reality and battering a straw man.

    The decline in the unemployment rate reflects an unusually low participation rate. The number of discouraged workers is down by 40% from the peak. At the margin, people are choosing to stay out of the work force in response to government incentives to remain idle. Three-quarters of the reduction in the participation rate apparently is attributable to demographics, as the number of Baby Boomers reaching age 65 is rising dramatically. Another view is that the Affordable Care Act is encouraging employers to decrease employee hours so new jobs are being created for people who now have to hold multiple part-time jobs, but that does not constitute a genuine increase in employment or GNP.

    An analyst  expects Israel and the US to make a deal with Iran in the next twelve months – and if they do, Iran will bring 1.5 million additional barrels of oil to world markets. He states that shale oil and gas is a game changer for the US both politically and economically. The U.S. will gain considerably but he expects a rise in American isolationism as well.

    From 2000 to 2013, VA outlays nearly tripled while the population of veterans declined by 4.3 million. Medicaid-care spending, which consumes about 40% of the VA's budget, has climbed 193% over those years. The number of patients served by the VA each year went up only 68%.

    Golden oldie:

    Before the Elliot Rodger murders, California had the strictest gun control laws in the country and had received an A- grade in a state-by-state analysis by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

    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 got 16 pictures but only two of value. But it was enough.
    Eddington later said it was the greatest day of his life.

    A blog I follow had a note that included the phrase "come to Jesus moment." One responder was very upset, having never heard the phrase. Idioms are interesting and cultural ignorance of them can be dangerous. Jackie Robinson was once ribbed for gaining some weight and the guy said that Robinson had "a spare tire." Robinson, for some reason, thought this was a racial slur and went after the guy with a bat.

    Impecunious: adjective: Having little or no money. From Latin im- (not) + pecunia (money), from pecus (cattle). Ultimately from the Indo-European root peku- (wealth), which also gave us fee, fief, fellow, peculiar, impecunious, and pecuniary. Earliest documented use: 1596. Wealth equated with cattle.

    AAAAAAaaaaannnnnndddddd.............a chart:

    Friday, June 6, 2014

    Limits From Without and Within

    This is from Jim Leff's Blog, a very interesting observation on limits:

    "In the style of yoga I practice, doing a handstand without the support of a wall is considered very difficult. I've been practicing for 30 years, and only two of my toes actually touch the wall, but if I push off, I get very teetery and soon fall over.

    There's a different school of yoga where handstand without a wall is considered even beginners manage it with no problem!

    My style of yoga once taught that headstand (not handstand) without a wall was easy. And so I've always found it easy. In the past few years, however, they've started teaching that it's hard, so very few experienced students can do it. People marvel at my wall-less headstand ability!

    None of this makes sense to most people. It's incompatible with how we model human learning to work. But this is absolutely how it works.

    It all does make sense to me, however. This has become my model, and it feels natural to me. Yet, even so, I absolutely can't hold a handstand without a wall. Mentally understanding it all doesn't change anything."

    Thursday, June 5, 2014

    Money Can't Buy You Love, or Truth

    "Saturated fat does not cause heart disease"—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. All of the diets, the interviews, the studies, the proclamations, the government suggestions--all were wrong, despite the overwhelming consensus.

    The Samoans were just kidding Margaret Mead. The banning of DDT has made everyone outside the malaria areas feel better; it has been a malaria-preservation project otherwise. Supporting sub-prime mortgages actually will discourage home ownership. The Communist dictatorships actually can not manage economies. 

    Science is tougher than it looks. And it will always be imperfect because people are doing it. And when you add money, power and elitism it gets harder.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Cab Thoughts 6/4/14

    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.--de Tocqueville

    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

    In Turkmenistan a group exploring for oil opened a huge pocket of gas which promptly collapsed and created an open crater. Hoping to stop the escaping gas, they lit it--like a flare at a well-site--with the hopes of burning it off. Called the Darvasa gas crater, it has burned for forty years.

    The mammoth first appeared in Europe about three million years ago, having evolved from a common ancestor that it shared with the Asian elephant. They survived episodes of intense cooling even though most of Europe was covered with thick sheets of ice. Numbers would slowly recover as conditions improved. The exception was the last ice age, which began 100,000 years ago and ended about 12,000 years ago. Survivors were probably killed off by hunters.

    Who was....Ghulam Ahmad? Bonus...John Alexander Dowie?

    John Dowie from wiki.
    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

    drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas w

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas w

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    he Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals "The Door to Hell," or "The Gates of Hell," definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (

    Read more:
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

    Drugs, prostitution and smuggling will be part of Italy’s GDP as of 2014, and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the national statistics office, Istat, said. They have a national stats office! The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

    Re: the Rodger's murders in California: Before the murders, police interviewed Elliot Rodger and found him to be a “perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human.” Of note, the family said they were opposed to guns. 

    The American classics To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible have been dropped from the British required English reading list.

    Golden Oldie:

    After thousands of years of unwitting domestication, brewing yeasts — the microorganisms that ferment a brewer’s grain, water and hops into beer — are as diverse as the beer they make. Two research teams, from White Labs and a Belgian genetic laboratory, are mapping out their diverse genealogy, creating the first genetic family tree for brewing yeasts and the beers they make. The laboratories have sequenced the DNA of more than 240 strains of brewing yeasts from around the world.

    "Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew," Netanyahu told Pope Francis, at a public meeting in Jerusalem in which the Israeli leader cited a strong connection between Judaism and Christianity.
    "Aramaic," the pope interjected.
    "He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew," Netanyahu shot back.
    Blessed are the peacemakers.

    Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America” has been a canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text in South America. It has been taught all over the world, especially in the U.S.. It was the book Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s populist president,  put  in President Obama’s hands the first time they met, calling it “a monument in our Latin American history.”  But now Mr. Galeano, a 73-year-old Uruguayan writer, has disavowed the book, saying that he was not qualified to tackle the subject and that it was badly written. “Reality has changed a lot, and I have changed a lot,” Galeano said in Brazil, adding: “Reality is much more complex precisely because the human condition is diverse. Some political sectors close to me thought such diversity was a heresy. Even today, there are some survivors of this type who think that all diversity is a threat. Fortunately, it is not.”
    Oh, well.

    Chocolate maker Cadbury Malaysia, a part of Mondelez International Inc., on Monday recalled two chocolate products after they tested positive for traces of pork DNA, the Nikkei Asian Review website reported.

    Gordian Knot: Meaning: An extremely perplexing puzzle or problem. From a Greek myth where King Gordius of Phrygia tied an intricate knot; whomever could untie it would be the future lord of Asia. After many frustrating attempts to untie it, Alexander the Great finally sliced the knot with his sword. Thus, to cut the Gordian knot means to solve a puzzle in a powerful, decisive manner.

    Competition for influence in royal houses resulted in an interesting twist in the Kremlin. So fierce was the struggle for advancement among the aristocracy that Ivan the Terrible, looking for his third wife in the absence of a willing European princess, sent agents to the provinces to select a collection of healthy but obscure young women for the position. The girls were brought to the palace, where they were questioned, examined and then paraded before the tsar in a so-called "bride show."
    This allowed for a chance of a health heir away from the inbred families and guaranteed that no aristocratic family would gain disproportionately from the marriage. It developed into a common practice.

    AAAAaaaaaannnnnnndddddd....a picture of the Darvasa Gas Crater (aka "The Gates of Hell"):

    Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    Got Milk?

    From 5000 BC, early Polish farmers had used pottery with perforations as sieves to separate fatty milk solids (curd) from liquid (whey). (Curd is a dairy product obtained by curdling (coagulating) milk with rennet or an edible acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar and then draining off the liquid portion called whey.) That makes the Polish relics the oldest known evidence of cheese-making in the world.
    A project has emerged that probes the history of the development of milk use. The results are fascinating.

    Historically milk was tolerated only by children. Children almost universally produce lactase and can digest the lactose in their mother's milk. But as the child matures, he loses this ability and can not produce the lactase enzyme to break down lactose, milk's main sugar. Even now, only 35% of the human population beyond the age of about seven or eight can digest lactose. Historically no adults could.  
    But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East at the end of the Ice Age around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. The lactose--and the protein--is in the whey. But over the years a genetic mutation emerged in Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. It appears the mutation  emerged about 7,500 years ago in the broad, fertile plains of Hungary. And those with the mutation survived more easily--and reproduced more--because they had a larger, tolerable food source. In a 2004 study, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome”.

    But only if “the population has a supply of fresh milk and is dairying. It's gene–culture co-evolution. They feed off of each other,” says Mark Thomas, a population geneticist at University College London.

    This led to another question, the question about the change from hunter-gatherers to farmers. “It's been an enduring question in archaeology — whether we're descended from Middle Eastern farmers or indigenous hunter-gatherers,” says Thomas. Did the hunter-gatherers evolve or were they replaced? Did native populations of hunter-gatherers in Europe take up farming and herding? Or was there an influx of agricultural colonists who out-competed the locals, thanks to a combination of genes and technology?
    It was found doing genetic studies that domesticated cattle at Neolithic sites in Europe were most closely related to cows from the Middle East, rather than indigenous wild aurochs. This is a strong indication that incoming herders brought their cattle with them, rather than domesticating locally. A similar story is emerging from studies of ancient human DNA recovered at a few sites in central Europe, which suggest that Neolithic farmers were not descended from the hunter-gatherers who lived there before.

    So Mesolithic hunter-gatherers did not develop into Neolithic farmers, the farmers moved in and displaced them. But truthfully, doesn't the farmer-lactase gene partnership seem a little too neat?

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    Alverez vs. Stuart

    For years Dick Stuart was a Pirate symbol of erratic, frustrating hitting and fielding. He had tremendous power and it appeared just often enough to resuscitate interest. This is his card for his ten year career (not including Japan):

    He averaged per season:     582 AB, 74 R, 154 H, 33HR, 108 RBI, .264 BA, .316 OBP, .489 SLG, .806 OPS

    Now Pedro Alvarez:

    He is averaging per season: 576 AB, 67 R, 134 H, 30 HR, 92 RBI, .233 BA, .305 OBP, ,437 SLG, .742 OPS

    Read 'em and weep.

    Towering home runs are a wonderful element in baseball but with Stuart and Alvarez they are comets, brilliant and rare. The question is, can a team build around such erratic talent? More, what can a small market team afford? And Josh Harrison's career BA is .257, his OBP .290. his SLG .387 and his OPS .677--not much of a drop-off for a vastly cheaper replacement.
    Simply, the Pirates can not afford such a spotty hitter. In fact, few teams can and those that do all have two words in their names.

    Sunday, June 1, 2014

    Sunday Sermon 6/1/14

    The Ascension Of Christ is a curious event in the history of the Church. In Matthew it is the last event of his gospel. In Luke it is mentioned but is elaborated on later in the Acts of the Apostles. One would think that it would be emphasized; more than miraculous, it is a culmination, the culmination. But the management of the Ascension is strangely distant. Almost unsure. Indeed, the old Church celebrated the period from Easter to the Ascension as a single event, as a unit.
    It may be that the reporting of this period is a tribute to the humanity of the reporters. What were they to think? The complexity of Christ's message, His spiritual world was really poorly seen. Even in today's gospel, at the Ascension itself, Matthew says the apostles were doubting.
    The Ascension is described by men who seem stunned.