Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Counterfeit Wine

The issue of counterfeit wine is very much in the news these days, and it is certainly a real concern - especially for French brands - in China.
It actually has a long history. The currently esteemed Bordeaux reds were rather pale and delicate for a very long time compared to the modern versions and it was common and accepted practice in the 19th century to blend more powerful Northern Rhône wine into the comparatively lighter reds of Bordeaux to give them more color and strength.. The resulting blend was described as "hermitagé" in keeping with the origin of the Syrah-based addition. There is evidence that, for the same reason, more potent, darkly colored wines from southern France and Algeria were also used in Bordeaux and Burgundy. In some cases, the aim was simply to sell something ordinary under a famous name. Banning such practices and assuring true authenticity of origin were the main motivations behind the laws known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée introduced in the 1930s. Nonetheless, there are revelations periodically of a producer who sells wine of a lesser rank as a prestigious grand cru, or uses grapes which are not permitted by the appellation laws. There are recent examples from the mid-1990's involving a famous Margaux, and, in 2006, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, the prominent Beaujolais producer, was found to have improperly blended lesser grapes into its top wines.

Tuscan authorities accused well-known producers of violating laws that let them use the prestigious “Brunello di Montalcino” appellation, mainly by using unapproved, non- 100 percent sangiovese, grapes.
Interestingly, a high-status category already exists for wines made with unsanctioned grapes: Super Tuscan.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Student Loan Support

The “Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act” in Congress would drop the rate on existing college loans to the current rate on federal loans, roughly 4 percent — a large reduction for students who took out loans for around 7 percent before the 2008 recession.
“Homeowners and businesses are often able to refinance their debts. Students should be able to do the same,” according to Representative John Tierney, a sponsor of the House version of the bill. “It is outrageous that students can’t refinance at these historically low interest rates,” said Senator Barbara Boxer. “This legislation gives students the same fair shot as other borrowers have when interest rates decline.”
Except for one thing. Students can already refinance their loans. Most of the existing loans are federal-direct or federally guaranteed. Students can take them to any bank of their choosing and ask for a lower interest rate, just as homeowners and businesses can. Why don't they? No private-sector bank is willing to take full responsibility for those loans at a lower rate — or even at the existing rate. The loans are not profitable for private lenders without taxpayer money to support them. In other words, students are already getting a great deal on federal loans because, as a group, they are terrible risks and need taxpayers to subsidize them.
The current bill is just more of the subsidy. I.E. it's a sub-prime loan. Remember them?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Sermon 9/28/14

Today's gospel is of the two sons who are asked by their father to go into the fields to work. The one who agrees does not go, the one who declines, goes. Christ then tells the priests and the elders that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter heaven before them. He the scolds them for rejecting John the Baptist.
Sometimes these gospels are simple too much. They are too concentrated--tiny with so much mass--to be fairly analyzed.This gospel is from Holy Week. Christ is in Jerusalem speaking to the hierarchy and stimulating more and more animosity. In a week He will be dead.
In some respects, this is a wandering gospel. Christ is making a lot of points and they are not all the same. The two sons, so often used by Christ in His parables, are reversed; the older rebels, the younger acquiesces, albeit grudgingly. But Christ has made this debate with great understanding and sympathy to the participants. This is not a conflict between lord and subject, leader and follower. It is family with all the hopes, ambitions and complexities one could imagine. Yet, having set that tone, Christ is withering in His judgment. The heart will trump history and behavior and the hierarchy will trail behind prostitutes.
He then raises John as the tipping point. Everyone saw him. Everyone knew he was a good man. Yet only the dispossessed followed him. The hierarchy will pay for that.
The earlier question of how John got his power, from God or man, again goes unanswered.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/27/14

It seems to me that this failure of the economists to guide policy more successfully is closely connected with their propensity to imitate as closely as possible the procedures of the brilliantly successful physical sciences.--Friedrich Hayek, from the introduction to his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1974.

There's water on moons. The Galileo mission to Jupiter discovered Europa's global subsurface ocean of liquid water and indications of Ganymede's interior seas. At Saturn, the Cassini probe detected erupting fountains of water ice from Enceladus indicating warmer subsurface water on even that small moon, while finding surface lakes of frigid but still liquid hydrocarbons beneath the dense atmosphere of large moon Titan.

There is a Scotland-like independence movement in Catalonia against the greater Spain and a referendum is planned.
Unlike the UK, the Spanish government considers Catalonia's referendum illegal.

New home sales are 10% of all home sales.

There are no cases in modern history where an economy has managed to avoid an outright bust after experiencing rapid lending growth anywhere in the neighborhood of China’s ongoing credit boom. (MF economists Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, Deniz Igan, and Luc Laeven)

Who was....David John Moore Cornwall?

According a Politico article by  E. Dovere, the tension between Obama and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz got bad enough that his inner circle considered replacing her as head of the DNC. Dovere said this plan was abandoned because "there was nervousness about the optics of Obama dropping a woman from the party leadership." Those pesky optics again.

There is a new battle over the economy: What constitutes it? Adam Smith said production, Keynes said consumption, in defiance of Say's law that the failure of demand could not cause an economic slump. Now there is a lot of talk about "gross output" which includes investment. Although consumer spending accounts for about 70% of GDP, if you use gross output as a broader measure of total sales or spending, it represents less than 40% of the economy. The reality is that business outlays – adding capital investment and all business spending in intermediate stages of the supply chain – are substantially larger than consumer spending in the economy. They make up more than 50% of economic activity.

George Lauer invented the bar code. A Wrigley Gum pack was the first item ever scanned.

Throughout West Africa and in Guinea, specifically, some villagers have reacted negatively to health workers because they doubt Ebola is real. Some evidence of this might be that eight Ebola health officials in Guinea—five health workers and three journalists—were found dead recently in a village latrine.  Damantang Camara, a spokesman for Guinea's government, told Reuters, "Three of them had their throats slit." Helping people against their will is difficult and may be proof enough that it should not be done.

Golden oldie:

The wife of the late writer Tom Clancy is in a dispute with his children from a former marriage over who should pay taxes on his estate. The Wall Street Journal notes that his $83 million estate includes a 12 percent stake in the Baltimore Orioles and a World War II tank.

This is casually discussed but is quite shocking. MIT Professor Robert Solow's work on the US economy explains that innovation has accounted for more than 80% of the long-term growth in US per capita income, with capital investments accounting for only 20% of per capita income growth. In other words, the United States and the rest of the post-industrial, developed world owe their epic rise in living standards to the underlying “social capital” that properly incentivized innovation, entrepreneurship, and thus technological transformation over the last two centuries.
This idea is being used to analyze the China economy as a danger in the world economy, not a support. But it also means something in the "gross output" discussion mentioned above.

Nocebo (no-SEE-bo): noun: A substance producing harmful effects in someone because it is believed to be harmful, but which in reality is harmless.[From Latin nocebo (I will harm), from nocere (to harm).
Modeled after placebo (I will please).]

Mysterious “interceptor” cellphone towers that can listen in someone’s phone call despite not being part of any phone networks have turned up near the White House and Senate.
“It’s highly unlikely that federal law enforcement would be using mobile interceptors near the Senate,” ESD America CEO Les Goldsmith told the technology website Venture Beat on Thursday. “My suspicion is that it is a foreign entity,” he said. You would think this would be a bigger story.

There are 23.7 Trillion dollars in retirement plans.

The Swedish Armed Forces confirmed on Friday afternoon that two Russian SU24 fighter-bombers had been detected flying over the country. This is the kind of threatening, bullying behavior that presupposes civilized and measured behavior on the part of the victim. It is the classic behavior of bad guys. Nuclear chicken is the worst, though.

One of the arguments that QE has been a failure is the bond-buying strategy that was part of QE known as “Operation Twist.” The Fed traditionally expands the monetary base by buying short-term Treasuries from financial institutions.  Banks then turn around and make short-term loans to those businesses that are the economy’s main job creators. But QE’s Operation Twist focused on buying long-term Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. This meant that instead of going to the entrepreneurial job creators, loans went primarily to large corporations and to the government itself.

What lobby group has been the most tenacious opposition to lowering estate taxes? The insurance industry.

I wish I could understand what we are doing in the Middle East. ISIS is said to be made up of 30,000 or so people, a good baseball crowd. Their fight is primarily with their competitors in the wacko market. The beheading videos are gruesome and nuts but should they determine national policy? A few weeks before Obama took the position that ISIS was worth focusing on he called them "the JV." Now they are the main target. How is that?

AAAAAaaaannnnndddddd......heeeeerrreee's Gaia!
A Great White Shark is believed to have pulled the swimmer under

Friday, September 26, 2014

Obama at the U.N.

Obama made a speech to the U.N. about the problems in the world, especially those problems he sees as stimulating some international efforts to rectify.
He spoke about the Ebola epidemic, the situation in Ukraine, and terrorism in Iraq and Syria, and described “a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces.”
Then he said this:
"I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear."
Ebola. Ukraine. ISIS. Ferguson, Missouri. What are people to make of this guy?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tax Competitiveness

From the WSJ:
"Tax Foundation, which manages the widely followed State Business Tax Climate Index, will launch a new global benchmark, the International Tax Competitiveness Index. According to the foundation, the new index measures "the extent to which a country's tax system adheres to two important principles of tax policy: competitiveness and neutrality."
A competitive tax code is one that limits the taxation of businesses and investment. Since capital is mobile and businesses can choose where to invest, tax rates that are too high "drive investment elsewhere, leading to slower economic growth," as the Tax Foundation puts it.
By neutrality the foundation means "a tax code that seeks to raise the most revenue with the fewest economic distortions. This means that it doesn't favor consumption over saving, as happens with capital gains and dividends taxes, estate taxes, and high progressive income taxes. This also means no targeted tax breaks for businesses for specific business activities."
The index takes into account more than 40 tax policy variables. And the inaugural ranking puts the U.S. at 32nd out of 34 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)."
32nd out of 34!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/24/14

Some people have a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other; and I think that, if such a government were once established amongst such a people, it would not only oppress men, but would eventually strip each of them of several of the highest qualities of humanity. Despotism, therefore, appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic times.--deTocqueville
A recent book called "Soft Edge" investigates the less quantifiable elements of success, factors in success that are not "technique." Two suggestions are Purpose and Grit. The author calls our current economy "The Great Sorter" as it will separate people with good work habits from people with bad.  
Joan Rivers: A staff member at Manhattan's Yorkville Endoscopy clinic told investigators that the doctor, who has not been publicly identified, took a selfie photo in the procedure room while Rivers was under anesthesia. Never forget: The future is always watching.
A worrisome idea: "Obama’s fecklessness is so unique that our adversaries and enemies surely realize they will never face a weaker president. They must assume the next commander in chief will take a more muscular approach to America’s interests and be more determined to forge alliances than the estranged man who occupies the Oval Office now.
So Vladimir Putin, Iran, China, Islamic State, al Qaeda and any other number of despots and terrorists know they have two years to make their moves and advance their interests, and that resistance will be token, if there is any at all."--from a recent editorial in the Post by Michael Goodwin. 
Less than 15% of high school kids have ever had a job. Those who did do better after graduation. Other factors in success is math ability and working well with others.
An instructive problem. Here the Mets, a struggling team, have shepherded a number of talented young developing players but, because of the rules aimed at homogenizing baseball, they cannot keep them all. Sandy Alderson essentially said Monday that he cannot protect all of the prospects in December’s Rule 5 draft that he would like to shield because of a 40-man roster crunch.
The Department of Agriculture got 28 Billion dollars to increase their efficiency. 14% of it can not be found.

ersatz: adj. Being an imitation or a substitute, usually an inferior one; artificial: "ersatz coffee made mostly of chicory."  1875, from German Ersatz "units of the army reserve," literally "compensation, replacement, substitute," from ersetzen "to replace," from Old High German irsezzen, from ir-, unaccented variant of ur + setzen "to set". As a noun, from 1892.
40% of car loans are sub-prime.
Spacecraft Rosetta continues to approach, circle, and map Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The robot ship has crossed the inner Solar System for ten years to reach the vicinity of the comet last month. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko spans about four kilometers in length. In about two months, Rosetta is scheduled to release the first probe ever to attempt a controlled landing on a comet's nucleus. The project, led by the European Space Agency (ESA). The Europeans.
Who is....Sandy Berger?
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, one of four placed on administrative leave after Benghazi and then reinstated, told former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, now at the Daily Signal, of a weekend operation in a State Department basement office to filter out and hide any damaging documents from the Benghazi Accountability Review Board that might put the State Department and its top diplomat, Hillary Clinton, in a bad light.
Siga Technologies Inc., the biological warfare defense firm supplying the only smallpox drug for the U.S. strategic stockpile, filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying a court bond after losing a contract lawsuit and to preserve its ability to make the medicine. The filing allows Siga to challenge an expected damages award to competitor PharmAthene Inc. (PIP) of as much as $232 million without posting the bond, Siga said in a Chapter 11 petition.
The U.N. climate summit in New York is turning into less than successful for President Obama. Aussie PM Tony Abbott, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Angela Merkel have all declined. And the U.S. is not getting a lot of nations to join up with the military indignation aimed at ISIS. One would think a guy with a background in community organizing could get some participation going.
Golden oldie:
Chelsea Manning, nee Bradley Edward Manning, the U.S. soldier currently serving a 35-year prison sentence for leaking government documents to WikiLeaks, somehow got hired to do an article for The Guardian. It criticizing Obama's approach to ISIS. "Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq during the organization's relative infancy, ISIS cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets," she writes. Can we consider her opinion trustworthy?
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said authorities obtained intelligence about a "demonstration killing" -- a killing, Australian media reported, in which alleged assailants planned to kidnap a member of the public, behead the victim and then drape him or her in an ISIS flag. Civilized society has, historically, always been protected from lunatics because lunacy precludes groupings. Crazy people can not bond; the loss of empathy, inclusiveness, brotherhood has been a hallmark--a characteristic--of madness until now.
A new report has found nearly 1 in 10 Americans are showing up to work high on marijuana. Mashable.com conducted the survey in partnership with SurveyMonkey, and found 9.7 percent of Americans admitted to smoking cannabis before showing up to the office. According to separate data from Employers, a small-business insurance company, 10 percent of small businesses reported that employees showed up in 2013 under the influence of at least one controlled substance, with marijuana coming in at 5.1 percent. 

AAAAAaaaannnnddddd......the comet and Rosetta's proposed landing site:
After a 10-year chase taking it billions of miles across the solar system, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft became the first probe to orbit a comet after arriving at its destination on August 6. The spacecraft recently took this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In November, Rosetta will deploy a robotic lander to the comet's surface -- something that also has never been done before. The box on the right shows where the lander will touch down.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gold and Standards

Gold and the gold standard is peeking into the news again. Generally the gold standard is seen as a instrument that tethers currency to reality, avoiding shifts in value created by currency availability. But there are two sides to that concern.  In September 1857, the S.S. Central America sank during a hurricane off  Cape Hatteras, killing about 400 people and taking 30,000 pounds of gold to the bottom of the ocean.
The economy, already in recession, was reeling from bank and insurance company failures in August. Without the Central America's gold shipment, destined for the U.S. government and Eastern banks, people began to worry that their banks would be unable to exchange paper money for gold. A few weeks later, a prominent Philadelphia bank announced it had suspended payment in gold, sparking a nationwide run on the banks.
In addition, while most of the world has been searched for gold, a major strike would lead to inflation — as it did when the U.S. discovered gold in California and in Alaska.

Monday, September 22, 2014


A man is paralyzed by a bullet in a bad drug deal. He has lost movement below the waist, has no control over his bowel or bladder.
As the years have gone by, pressure wounds have developed in his feet, buttocks and thighs that are so deep they involve underlying bone. He is slowly, piece by piece, being eaten away.
He might be helped by a very aggressive, high quality rehabilitation nursing unit but it is hard for him to get into one.
"It's the bullet," he says. "These places don't want anyone with a bullet wound. You see, they think it brings violence with it."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/20/14

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

Amine El Khalifi was arrested wearing an explosive-packed suicide vest as he attempted to blow up the

U.S. Capitol. He had been in the country for 12 years on an overstayed visa. Homeland Security says at least 58,000 foreign students overstayed their visas in the past year, and it has lost track entirely of about 6,000 "overstayers." So all this surveillance does what exactly?

The cost built in to federal regulations is estimated at 2.3 trillion dollars annually. The cost of Obamacare is estimated at 900 dollars per employee.

Spending on tertiary education in the U.S. was $26,021 per student, by far the most in the world.  Korea and the Russian Federation both spent less than $10,000 on tertiary education per student in 2011, considerably lower than the OECD average. Yet, they still have among the most educated populations. More than half of Canadian adults had received tertiary qualification in 2012, the only country other than Russia where a majority of adults had some form of higher education. Canada's education expenditure of $23,226 per student in 2011 trailed only the United States' expenditure.
A number of Chinese officials have committed suicide in recent months, a trend some researchers suspect may be linked to Xi Jinping‘s anti-corruption campaign.

In September, 1952, At Forbes Field, the Pirates become the first team to use protective head gear, a precursor to the batting helmet that protects the players' temples. Branch Rickey's innovation, worn both at the plate and in the field in the Pirates' doubleheader split with Boston, is a plastic hat with a foam layer attached to the hat band.

Isabella was a slave girl born around 1798 and  lived  in Ulster County, New York. At 17 she was married to Thomas, an older man who belonged, as she did, to the Dumont family. Over the next eleven years Isabella bore Thomas five children, in between stints of strenuous labor in the fields. New York had recognized the legality of marriages between slaves in 1809, meaning that now the couple and their children could not be sold apart from each other. The state also started a program of gradual emancipation and eventually she was freed--but not before her five year old was taken from her and sold to Alabama. The woman sued and New York because the sale of her child violated state laws forbidding families from being sold apart and won! Upon being freed she divorced her husband and became an itinerant preacher, preaching under the name of Sojourner Truth. Apparently, though illiterate, she was a powerful speaker who spoke with a Dutch accent, the accent of her owners.

Who is..... Georgi Markov?

"Soldier of the Mist," a novel by the creative  Gene Wolfe, describes a cutting edge period in Greece where the old female goddess of family, fertility and agriculture are being replaced by the masculine gods of order, hierarchy and war. It is a hairraising story where the dark and ancient world literally struggles with the modern.

A recent article highlighted charities with expensive costs. Several police and sheriff organizations were in the top ten with Scottsdale League for the Arts which purports to benefit the arts in Arizona coming in the top place with an overhead of 98.5%.

“Tetrachromacy” is a variation in a gene that influences the development of their retinas which allows them to see colors invisible to most of us. A simple pebble pathway-dull grey to you or me- would shine like a jeweler display to them. This is an example where an artist with tetrachromacy has painted what she sees. To the right is what most people see.
 (Concetta Antico)
I understand the desire of all these sports reporters to become real reporters (they are talking about Goodall being "impeached") and how they need to fill the current Rice story with Nixon and coverup verbiage but.....what is the implication of getting and taking advantage of an illegally obtained and illegally viewed film stolen from police files?

There have been more than 4,300 cases and 2,300 deaths from Ebola over the past six months. Last week, the World Health Organization warned that, by early October, there may be thousands of new cases per week in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. The epidemiologists are worried about the growth of the epidemic (getting into a big city) and harbor fears of mutation of the virus. What happens if it gets airborne? There does not seem to be anybody taking charge of this problem and risk. Perhaps there is some safely in theory and models of the crisis once removed, like global warming.

Hours before Obama announced his planned offensive against the Islamic State, one of his top counter­terrorism officials testified to Congress that the al-Qaeda offshoot had an estimated 10,000 fighters.

Salmonella enteritidis can infect a chicken's ovaries and contaminate a yolk before the shell firms up around it. So the egg can be created infected. Cooking usually kills the bacteria before they can harm you; still, eggs contaminated with salmonella are responsible for about 142,000 illnesses a year in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration.
In some European countries, egg-laying hens are vaccinated against salmonella. In the U.S., vaccination is not required, but eggs must be washed and refrigerated from farm to store, and producers must follow a host of other safety measures.

The Breitbart IRS audit is pretty brash considering the IRS behavior and criticism over political activity.
A reporter got the following request from a PR firm:  "I would be asking you to include our clients in stories you're working on (assuming there's a natural fit) or pitch your editors on new stories that include discussion of our clients. We're not looking for you to promote or shill for anything. Just include discussion of our clients in a natural, organic way. What we're paying varies wildly depending on quality of the secured hit. We've paid up to a dollar per word for great placement. What payment structure would you be comfortable with?"

Only 13% of American households own individual stocks.

In one of his videotaped speeches to followers, Osama bin Laden said, "All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the farthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida in order to make (U.S.) generals race there."

AAAAAaaaaannnnnndddddd......a spiral galaxy, not a tetrachromacy:
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Herta Müller, Language and What Orwell Knew

Herta Müller is a German-Romanian novelist, poet, essayist and the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. She describes her life under communism in her Cristina and her Double: Selected Essays. There is a particularly strange revelation when she gets access to her secret police files: There is another, parallel, Herta  Müller, a ruthless party member, the obverse of the real one.

But ludicrous is always more destructive than crazy. When Herta Müller’s first book was published in Romania, the censors removed, among other things, the word “suitcase” whenever it occurred. Apparently it suggested travel or, worse, flight. Linguistic engineers renamed Christmas-tree angels “year-end winged creatures.” Similarly, the language and imagery of death were thought to undermine the sense of endless happiness that citizens no doubt experienced in the GDR. Something had to be done. Instead of “coffin,” officials proposed “earth furniture.” In the same manner, the office in charge of arranging celebrations and funerals for the Party’s bigwigs was renamed “The Department of Joy and Sorrow.”

Beneath the absurdity lies the essence of all totalitarianism: The belief that words can change reality. If religious terms are removed from language, people will stop having religious feelings; if the vocabulary of death is properly engineered, people will stop being afraid of dying.

Language is not simply a tool, it has its own essence. It is part of you.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another Undeclared War

I spoke to a farmer recently who told me this story.
A few years ago he was called by a local government official who asked him about his watering tubs for his cattle. He explained he had several large tubs he had placed strategically over his farmland to assure his cattle could water in all weather. The official said the government was concerned that a mouse might fall into the tubs and drown so they wanted the farmer to put a board in the tub from the water surface to the tub edge so, should a mouse fall into the water, he could escape safely. The farmer said he was willing to do that. The official said they would pay him $1000 a month.
The next year the official called him again. He explained the government was concerned that the farmer's tractor might accidentally trap and morcellate a rabbit in the field. He wanted the farmer to place a pipe with pieces of chain that fell like a necklace on the front of the tractor that would frighten rabbits away and save them from injury. The government would pay him $3000 a month. The farmer said he could do that.
This year the official called again. He explained that some forms had to be completed now that the farmer was receiving federal money. He could fill them out on line. The farmer said he did not use a computer although his wife did. We can send the forms to you, the official replied. A packet soon arrived. There were 77 pages. The farmer called the official and said he was too busy to fill the forms out. The official said he would send a woman to help him.
Several days later a young woman arrived to help him with the forms. They started as simple identification questions--name, address, phone number. They gradually became more complicated and strange. "Where did your parents first meet?" "Who was the first girl you ever kissed?" The farmer asked if these were security questions; the woman said they were not, they were information only. He said the questions bothered him and asked her to leave.
The following day the official called and said he had to fill out the forms or he would have to return the money from the last few years.
The farmer said he would send the money back.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/17/14

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

It has been felt that global warming would decrease ice cover of large bodies of water and encourage evaporation. Indeed, a decline in water levels in the Great Lakes last year was offered as proof of global warming. But current data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows that for the first time in 14 years, all five Great Lakes are at or above average water levels. Lake Michigan/Huron is up 18″ in the last year.

A first edition of The Federalist, from the library of Major Robert Alden (the man entrusted with the original Constitution) has come up for sale for $450,000.

Professor Robert Shiller's 'CAPE ratio' is among the most widely-used measures of whether markets are cheap or expensive, and he got the Nobel Prize for economics last year for his work on market volatility and asset prices. He says that his CAPE ratio for US stocks has reached its present level on only three times in the past 130-odd years, and that those previous occasions were 1929, 2000 and 2007, each followed by a crash.
Shiller has been outspoken in recent months about his view that US stocks, bonds and homes are all highly priced right now.

One of the tenets of the founders of the new America was that they should be involved in no foreign struggles. Isn't that what Obama's doing? 

desiderium: n. an ardent longing, as for something lost. Desiderium comes from the Latin verb dēsīderāre meaning "to long for; require." It entered English in the early 1700s.

Only 309 newsstands are left standing in New York City, down from more than 1,500 in the 1950s, according to a recent article. 

"Some of the more gullible observers think the issue is whether what some people are making now is "a living wage." This misconstrues the whole point of hiring someone to do work. Those who are being hired are paid for the value of the work they do.
If their work is really worth more than what their employer is paying them, all they have to do is quit and go work for some other employer, who will pay them what their work is really worth. If they can't find any other employer who will pay them more, then what makes them think their work is worth more?
As for a "living wage," the employer is not hiring people to acquire dependents and be their meal ticket. He's hiring them for what they produce."---From Thomas Sowell.
This idea that work is something other than directly related to production is an interesting development and is very hard to discuss with devotees.

A small radiologic company said they are under daily cyberattack by the Russians. No one knows what they are looking for.Clarence Madison Dally an employee of Thomas Edison at his West Orange research labs volunteered to work on the newly discovered x-rays. Using a fluoroscope, made of a fluoride gas filled light and two pieces of cardboard to focus the x-rays, Dally would expose himself to high concentrations of radiation eventually leading to radiation poisoning. After Dally’s death when Edison was asked about x-rays he would respond with “Don’t ask me about x-rays. I am afraid of them.”

It is curious that Simpson had defenders--and cheering crowds--to the end of his trial yet Rice has had only his wife, the victim, as support. Rice had more definitive evidence, but not much more.

Golden oldie:

Overall the renewable energy output from the three major nations that have committed to massive investments in Renewable Energy amounts to a nominal 31 Gigawatts out of a total installed generating capacity of 570 Gigawatts or only 5.5%, 7.9% of electrical generation in Great Britain, 15.8% of nominal electricity generation in Germany and 3.8% of electricity generation in the U.S.. One must remember that the availability of the power is variable, as the sources--sun and wind--are.

The Dutch translator Hans Bolland – who translated Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and others into Dutch — declined Russia's prestigious Pushkin medal because of his objections to President Vladimir Putin, whom he called "a big threat to freedom and peace on our planet."

Who were....The Abraham Lincoln Brigade? 

Uh Oh. The conversion of forests into cropland worldwide has triggered an atmospheric change that, while seldom considered in climate models, has had a net cooling effect on global temperatures, according to a new Yale study.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on genetically modified food: "The advocates keep saying ‘lets go back to nature’, but those cows don’t exist in nature, corn doesn’t exist, those red apples you love don’t exist, we genetically engineered all of that. Don’t pretend what is going on in the laboratory is fundamentally different than what is going on in agriculture." Then, in Salon:
“What most people don’t know, but they should, is that practically every food you buy in a store — for consumption by humans — is genetically modified food,” Tyson continues. ”There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows.”
“You list all the fruit, and all the vegetables, and ask yourself, is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is, it’s not as large, it’s not as sweet, it’s not as juicy and it has way more seeds in it. We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It’s called artificial selection. So now we can do it in a lab, and all of a sudden you’re gonna complain?”

Puerto Rico's economy is struggling.  It’s triply tax exempt (federal, state, and city) “general obligation bonds” are perceived as so risky that they yield about 9%.  And still that may be too low. They may default.

One of the ships of the Franklin Expedition has been found. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said"I am delighted to announce that this year's Victoria Strait Expedition has solved one of Canada's greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition lost in 1846," he said in a statement.
Whether the vessel is Her Majesty's Ship (HMS) Erebus or HMS Terror isn't yet clear, Harper said. "We do have enough information to confirm its authenticity."
Franklin left England with two ships in 1845 in an ill-fated attempt to sail the Northwest Passage. Stuck in the ice of the Canadian Arctic, all 129 crew members perished in 1846. Dan Simmons wrote a hair-raising fiction/fantasy book about it called "The Terror." It is in production for a series--like the "Walking Dead.".

AAAnnnnnndddddd....a chart suggesting the strange self-absorption of the West:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Declining Education Scores Among Politicians

In Allegheny County, the county in western Pennsylvania that includes Pittsburgh, a county councilwoman, Sue Means, moved to put the nation's motto, "In God We Trust," in the council's meeting room. County Executive, Richard Fitzgerald, emailed his intention to veto the motion and this was his stated reason:  ..[it].. "tells our residents and visitors that if they are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Muslim, Islamic or any other non-theist group, they are not welcome here. We are disrespecting other religions by promoting one above all others."
The arguments and hysteria about right-wing religious nuts, theocracy threats and ubiquitous Tea Party suicide bombers aside, how could an educated man say anything so stupid? Fitzgerald is a lawyer, a successful businessman. How could he call Jews, Muslims and Hindus "non-theist?" What could he be thinking? Was it a reflexive response to the fear of right-wing religious nuts, theocracy threats and ubiquitous Tea Party suicide bombers? Or is it simply that with a name like Fitzgerald he thinks Christians have cornered the theist market.

A look at the threatened disaster in Scotland should be sobering to everyone. Nations have choices on how to be built. They can come from a strong civic foundation (All men have inalienable rights), a strong ethnic foundation (deutschland uber alles) or total whimsy (all the South American countries and all the involuting countries based on goofy economic ideas.) These are very big, dangerous questions and most come with bad histories. They are not going to be answered well if Mr. Fitzgerald is an example of what passed for American political thought and leadership.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ebola and The Profit Motive

"Until this west African epidemic, Ebola was not a public health problem and (was) a really rare disease."
So says Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976. This fits hand-in-glove with the general belief that the profit motive is an inefficient and blind method for development. While this flies in the face of the growth of the West in the last centuries, it is a convenient saw for many politicized observers. But is it true? Two infected American missionaries were brought to the U.S. and cured in two weeks, cured of a disease these people are saying that no one has a motive to cure. (Only money has been the motive so far; race is probably next.)
Such a remarkable result simply does not fit with the criticism. Now there is another explanation, of course, scientific curiosity and intellectual challenge aside (factors notoriously omitted in analysis, by the way.) Ever since the early 1970s, the Russians, that symbol of international brotherhood and kindness, has been working on bio-weapons through their extremely well funded Biopreparate arm. Everyone knew this. Their favorite combination, their most fervent hope, was to link Ebola and Smallpox to give their idea of the best combination of infectivity and lethality.
Perhaps that was an adequate "non-financial" motive for support.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Sermon 9/14/14

Today is the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Cross, literally the "lifting of the cross" as was the custom in the early Church when the "True Cross"--or pieces of it--were raised for adoration by the public. It is also "Rood Day," "rood" meaning "cross."
The day, September 14th, was said to be the day that St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, found the "True Cross," the cross on which Christ died.
There was another day in May that the Church celebrated as the day the cross was rescued from the Persians but that day was eliminated by the modern Church. (Wonder why.)
The history of the cross is interesting. Constantine dreamed of a cross before his decisive battle of Milvian Bridge with his family rivals and put the cross on his army's banners. (Some say he used the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek, on their shields.) He attributed his victory to Christianity and made it the official religion. He then sent his mother, Helena, to Jerusalem to find the cross. There was an active reconstruction effort in Jerusalem directed by the newly Christianized Constantine and several pagan temples were being destroyed, one on Golgotha. Helena went to the hill and explored the ruins. There she found three crosses in a sepulcher and they were put to the test: The touch of one cured a dying woman.
As time went by, as the control of the area went back and forth between religions, the decision was made to guarantee preservation of the cross so it was broken up and dispersed, accidentally symbolically, throughout the world.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/13/14

"We are the friends of liberty everywhere but custodians only of our own."--John Adams

The Constellation Program was a human spaceflight program developed within NASA, the American space agency, from 2005 to 2009. The milestone goals of the program were "completion of the International Space Station" and a "return to the moon no later than 2020" with the planet Mars as the ultimate goal. It was cancelled on October 11, 2010 by President Obama.

Now I understand the desire of all these sports reporters to become real reporters (they are talking about Goodall being "impeached") and how they need to fill the current Rice story with Nixon and coverup verbiage but.....what is the implication of getting and taking advantage of an illegally obtained and illegally viewed film stolen from police files by reporters? By the NFL?

Japan, the world's third-largest economy, contracted at an annualized rate of 7.1 percent in the April-June quarter, according to updated government figures Monday.

A few years ago the study of English Literature was the single highest course choice in college. It is now not in the top 70.

Obama has ordered the investigation of the "militarization of the police" as shown in the Missouri. The source of the militarization is the Federal Government who has given the local police their military equipment. By the way, Obama campaigned on creating a national police force. Now he's investigating it. I expect a red line in the sand.

In a vaguely similar vein, Obama has called the bombing attacks by the Kurdish wells "humanitarian."

Golden oldie:

10% of Americans polled said they knew "something" about the Bitcoin. 18% of Hispanics said the knew "a lot" about it.

Obama has publicly regretted underestimating "the optics" of his playing golf immediately after his "heartfelt" sympathy to the family of the beheaded journalist. He also talked about his understanding of the "theater" of the office. He sounds like a rock star insisting he is deeply involved in the emotion of the song after singing it on stage 83 nights in a row.

Who was.... Adolfo Farsari?

Egyptian President General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has reportedly offered Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas a Palestinian State, in Egypt’s Sinai, which would be five times bigger than anything Israel could offer them in negotiations.
The reason for rejecting such an offer would be....?

A recent survey showed that while only 18.9 percent of the unemployed said they spent time during the previous day in job-search and interviewing activities on an average day, the survey shows that when someone was looking for a job they spent an average of only 2.48 hours of the day doing so. An unemployed person—on the average day—was more likely to spend time on shopping, sports and recreation, socializing and leisure, than they were searching for and interviewing for a new job, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“High-frequency traders are gaming the system, reaping billions in the process and undermining investor confidence in the fairness of the markets,”Charles Schwab, founder and chairman of the discount brokerage firm that bears his name, said, quoted in the WSJ.

Each culture, in its way, asks the same question, "Who are the Orcs?"

tenebrous \TEN-uh-bruhs\, adjective: Dark; gloomy. From Latin tenebrosus, from tenebrae, meaning, not surprisingly, "darkness."

The righteous again have created some collateral damage. Anonymous, the self-proclaimed bringer of truth, exposed the name of the cop who shot the guy in Missouri. Wrong cop. Oh, well. Their intentions were good.

A study by online automotive research company Edmunds.com suggests a stall in the market for electrically powered cars, led by a decline in hybrids. “This was a market that was supposed to grow, relatively rapidly, as people embraced these new technologies and more brands began selling these models,” said Edmunds senior analyst Jessica Caldwell. “That hasn’t happened.”

Caldwell’s research showed substantial gains in the pure EV and plug-in hybrid segments -- 35% and 44%, respectively.
But the study also showed a drop in traditional hybrids -- by far the largest segment in the electrified vehicle market -- that offset sales gains in pure EV and plug-in hybrids sales, which remain a tiny fraction of the market.

In 1966 it was estimated that around 44 percent of the world’s population was functionally illiterate. Today, the rate has fallen to around 16 percent.

"Should Scotland be an independent country?" is not a political question, it is a debating proposition for colleges. It is a position without a direction. The question is a starting point, not a solution, and attracts youth fervor, idealism, nationalism and heartfelt inaccuracy more than any other element. It is not a coincidence that sixteen-year-olds are allowed to vote on the question. Reminiscent of the new politics of the U.S. as embodied by Obama, it is, indeed, a question for our age.

Malpractice awards. Of the awarded money, the lawyer gets 40% plus costs. The client averages 37% of the verdict.

My daughter was at a wedding recently where five couples cancelled at the last moment. The bride immediately invited five other couples. Biblical.

AAAnnnnddddd....a photograph by Adolfo Farsari:

Friday, September 12, 2014


Yasser Seirawan, a four time U.S. champion has an article in the WSJ about the loss of Russian dominance in world chess.

One factor is democratization. ChessBase, one of the game's leading databases, was founded it in 1986. ChessBase gives its users access to thousands of games, historical and modern, enabling them to hone their skills and analyze opponents' tendencies. Magnus Carlsen, who was born in 1990, the year the Internet as we know it began to take shape, has been able to hone his skills at home by playing online against opponents all over the world. his chess score is now among the best ever. Ever.

Garry Kasparov, the former world champion and foe of Mr. Putin's authoritarianism, founded Kasparov Chess Foundation. It grooms tomorrow's champions by offering scholastic chess initiatives and handpicking the best and brightest pupils for personalized instruction

Susan Polgar, a member of the Hungarian family of famous chess stars, including sisters Judith and Sofia has jump-started the game at the collegiate level by building championship teams through generous scholarships she has persuaded universities to give to players from around the globe. Her success, first at Texas Tech University in Lubbock and now in St. Louis at Webster University, has stirred excitement about chess on campuses across the nation.

About a decade ago, a wealthy chess enthusiast, Rex Sinquefield, decided that he wanted to foster the game's growth in America, largely because he believed that it contributed strongly to the mental and character development of children.
So in 2007 Mr. Sinquefield and a group of other enthusiasts formed the nonprofit Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and established its headquarters in a building they renovated into the premier chess facility in the country. Mr. Sinquefield and his wife, Jeanne Sinquefield, provided most of the funding.
Within a few years, the Chess Club's work promoting chess inspired America's top player, three-time U.S. chess champion Hikaru Nakamura, to move to St. Louis from Seattle! The club also began the hard work of introducing chess to the area's K-12 schools. There are now 75 after-school programs across the metropolitan area and socio-economic spectrum.
The club recruited grandmasters to help plan, organize and execute top-level tournaments, quickly making St. Louis the go-to venue for championship competitions. And in June 2012, the Chess Club established a five-year grant program with the Kasparov Chess Foundation to identify and develop the top junior chess players in the U.S.

The Chess Club in St. Louis is now the largest in the country, with more than 1,000 members. In May it will host the U.S. Chess Championship for the sixth consecutive year, along with the U.S. Women's Championship, followed by the U.S. Junior Championship. In September, some of the best players on the global stage, most of whom would not have bothered to come to America in the past, will converge here to play for the Sinquefield Cup and the $100,000 for the winner. Magnus Carlsen may be among them. He came last year, and won.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Hot and Beating Heart of Terrorism

This is an e-mail that is apparently making the rounds. (I came upon it in another circumstance.) With it is the Snopes assessment. I took some subjective commentary out. It is important to note the writer grossly underestimates the woman's motive. I thought this would be a good day for it. So often the stupidity and aimlessness of terrorists is the emphasis of a story.
The success of a movement often depends not on its arms or its head but on its heart.

From: Dr. Arieh Eldad:
I was instrumental in establishing the Israeli National Skin Bank, which is the largest in the world. The National Skin Bank stores skin for every day needs as well as for war time or mass casualty situations.
This skin bank is hosted at the Hadassah Ein Kerem University hospital in Jerusalem where I was the Chairman of plastic surgery. This is how I was asked to supply skin for an Arab woman from Gaza, who was hospitalized in Soroka Hospital in Beersheva, after her family burned her. Usually, such atrocities happen among Arab families when the women are suspected of having an affair.
We supplied all the needed Homografts for her treatment. She was successfully treated by my friend and colleague, Prof. Lior Rosenberg and discharged to return to Gaza. She was invited for regular follow-up visits to the outpatient clinic in Beersheva.
One day she was caught at a border crossing wearing a suicide belt. She meant to explode herself in the outpatient clinic of the hospital where they saved her life. It seems that her family promised her that if she did that, they would forgive her.
This is only one example of the war between Jews and Muslims in the Land of Israel. It is not a territorial conflict. This is a civilizational conflict, or rather a war between civilization & barbarism.

From Snopes:
 Arieh Eldad is a medical doctor specializing in plastic surgery and a member of Israel's Knesset. He served as the Director of Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem's Department of Plastic Surgery from 2000 to 2003 and is the Founder and Chairman of the Israeli Burn Association. 
Everything up to and including "a war between civilization & barbarism" in the piece quoted 

above is a direct excerpt from an interview given by Dr. Eldad to New English Review in November 2008.
It is indeed an account of an actual incident, except for the small detail of how the aspiring terrorist came by her burns. (She was injured by a gas tank explosion rather than deliberately by her family in retaliation for a suspected affair.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/10/14

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

The Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany--one of the country's finest special collections--suffered a terrible fire in 2004. Fifty thousand books were lost to the flames, a full 25 percent of which were considered by the library to be irreplaceable. One of the lost titles was Copernicus's 1543 treatise, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI, an essential work in the history of science. Last month, ten years after the fire, the book was found among a group of damaged books awaiting restoration.

: Greek eu, meaning "good/well", and -genēs, meaning "born") is the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of a species. Also the study of human improvement by genetic means.
The word was coined by the polymath Francis Galton. Interestingly it was Galton who also, later in his life, showed "the wisdom of crowds" where large groups gave widely spread answers to questions but, collectively, the group generally was accurate, a philosophy that opposed the value of selection and narrowing the gene pool.The first thorough exposition of eugenics was made by Galton in Hereditary Genius (1869) where he proposed that a system of arranged marriages between men of distinction and women of wealth would eventually produce a gifted race. The American Eugenics Society, founded in 1926, supported Galton's theories. U.S. eugenicists also supported restriction on immigration from nations with "inferior" stock, such as Italy, Greece, and countries of eastern Europe, and argued for the sterilization of insane, retarded, and epileptic citizens. Sterilization laws were passed in more than half the states, and isolated instances of involuntary sterilization continued into the 1970s.

Golden oldie:

In various countries around the world, having to pay an official to access the public health system, police services or education can be a daily occurrence. More than one in four of the 114,000 people surveyed in the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer reported having to pay a bribe to access the most basic services.

In 1916, after reports of shark attacks off the coast of New Jersey--attacks that, incidentally, stimulated the writing of Jaws by Peter Benchley--, Dr. Frederic Lucas, the renowned and highly esteemed director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, calmly reassured the country that sharks were harmless. As far as Dr. Lucas's thirty years of personal scientific investigations could determine, an animal  capable of amputating a human limb or killing a man simply did not exist. Science.

Islamist militias in Libya took control of nearly a dozen commercial jetliners last month, and western intelligence agencies recently issued a warning that the jets could be used in terrorist attacks across North Africa.

What was...the Gleiwitz radio station episode?

Aside from James Madison, no American President can match the range of James Buchanan's public service and experience. The Pennsylvanian had served in his state legislature in his twenties, had gone on to the U.S. House and Senate in his middle years, and had interrupted his legislative career to serve in James Polk's cabinet as secretary of state from 1845 to 1849. Earlier Andrew Jackson had appointed him minister to Russia; Franklin Pierce had sent him to the Court of St. James in London as the American minister in the 1850s, and both Polk and his predecessor, John Tyler, had offered Buchanan a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet at the end of his presidency he had divided his party, thereby ensuring the election of the Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And that election led to the secession of South Carolina, followed by six other states in the lower South. A month before Buchanan left office, these seven southern states formed a separate nation, proclaiming themselves the Confederate States of America. Despite his history, accomplishments and efforts, Buchanan left office with the U.S. on the edge of destruction.

As angry as Islam is at Jews and Christians, they are still "people of the book." Their polytheism is at least debatable. But that can not be said of Hinduism. Hinduism is proudly and emphatically polytheistic. One would think Islam far more interested in India, where previous wrongs to be righted in the land of polytheism already exist.

The U.S. Dow was 11,722 in 2000 and was 12,418 in 2012. That's 5.6 % increased over 12 years. That's an annualized return of 0.47%. Every single investor who held long term investments for retirement was terribly damaged by that period.

In moving away from areas of high taxation to areas less taxed, companies are following logical, time-honored behavior. This is similar to withdrawing one's hand from heat or shielding one's eyes from the sun. It is a basic action-reaction phenomenon. While economic laws are written with less a firm hand, is the insistence that companies ignore this law any more reasonable than the belief in a 5000 year old earth?

In a study of the impact of corruption,  corruption is consistently correlated with lower growth rates and income per person, and less economic equality. Corruption also deters investment and puts off businesses: more than 35 per cent of companies surveyed in 2006 said they had opted out of an attractive investment due to corruption in the host country. Rather than helping grease the wheels, bribery undermines businesses' productivity more than bureaucracy.
They seemed surprised to find corruption exacerbates the gap between the rich and poor. It creates a political and social system that favors the wealthy and well-connected which, in turn, perpetuates inequality. 

The first 10 pages of an unpublished and untitled Tennessee Williams play about D. H. Lawrence; his wife, Frieda; Katherine Mansfield (spelled Katharine in the draft); and her husband, John Middleton Murr, were found in an archive by scholar Gerri Kimber. 

At Watt's Up With That?, Ed Hoskins spotlights the intractable problem with solar and wind power: much of the time, the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. This means that in practice, solar and wind facilities can produce only a small fraction of their nominal capacities.
AAAaaaaaannnnndddd .....a graph from Hoskins on the disparity of vision vs. achievement:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Jim Bauerle and the Railroad

Jim Bauerle, the banking expert in Keevican, Weiss, Bauerle, &  Hirsch, writes a periodical on the banking industry. A recent article on the Fed and QE included this assessment of the diverse impact of technology on varied recipients:

"I recently reread The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century. A mid-1970's study of technological transformation, this monograph by German scholar Wolfgang Schivelbusch not only chronicles the impact of emerging technologies like the railroad and telegraph, but contrasts Europeans' and Americans' experiences with them. In Europe, he says, railroads were a disruptive technology that forced people to reframe their experience of place and time. The experience of place was simultaneously expanded via greater accessibility and contracted via greater familiarity and economic and social integration. Think German unification under Bismark.  
          In the United States, railroads were a liberating technology that allowed a small population to conquer a new (to them) and large continent, radically increase their prosperity, and establish political and economic hegemony. In Europe, labor was plentiful but tangible assets like land were scarce. In the U.S., the opposite was true. In both locales, this influenced how and where railroads were constructed. Although Schivelbusch doesn't say it, capital too was plentiful in Europe but not in the U.S., necessitating Junius Morgan (father of J.P.) and other U.S. bankers' going to London and Berlin to fund U.S. railroad construction. Many parallels can be found to how computer technology is currently being integrated in developed and developing economies (e.g., Brazil, Russia, India and China)."

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Parcel of Rogues

There was an interesting party recently with a theme: The Separation Vote in Scotland.
There were two tasked, one to present each side. The Pro position was well-spoken with an interesting take. He said any revolution which resulted in the improvement of liberty was valid and just. For example he offered the American Revolution in 1776 as a good revolution, the Southern States revolution in the Civil War as bad. The freedom gained in the Scottish separation, he said, justified it.
The Nay position was presented by the host, a Scot, who argued that the Scots had virtual independence already with autonomous control of education, welfare, law and justice with Great Britain controlling only taxation and military. Thus the point is moot.
I offered nationalistic animosity as bait but no one took it. Indeed, the Pro said, the fact that so little animosity existed raised the level of debate to a purer sort.
This question is bigger than it looks. The Separation vote is quite vague. "Should Scotland be an independent country?" is almost adolescent in its simplicity. And the debate is youthful. There is a large Green contingent that wants nothing more than NATO's nuclear warships out of Scottish ports. A large segment fears that Scotland's predominate Social Democrat political feelings will be swamped by Great Britain's stable-looking Tory vote. These are small foundations on which to build a country. (One alarming observation showed that the vote for separation grew noticeably after Mel Gibson's fanciful "Braveheart.")
One opinion, from a young woman, was dismissive of the current Western structure, giving the back of her hand to the U.S. over what she said was America's poor "human rights" record, in support of the separation vote as sort-of morally deserved rebuke of the status quo.
While this argument is, I think, anti-historical and a bit askew it points to much of the problem here. "Should Scotland be an independent country?" is not a political question, it is a debating proposition for colleges. It is a position without a direction. The question is a starting point, not a solution, and attracts youth fervor, idealism, nationalism and heartfelt inaccuracy more than any other element. It is not a coincidence that sixteen-year-olds are allowed to vote on the question. But it is, indeed, a question for our age.
In truth, the separation of the two entities would have dramatic fallout, much unforeseen. What will be the currency? How will the debt be shared? What about the EU and NATO? Is the current momentum of paring political entities into smaller and smaller coherent shards a good idea? After separation, should the Shetlands go with the Danes and, if no, why not? The most important revolution in history, the American Revolution, took almost one hundred years to complete, and it is considered quite successful. Many of the objections to the current political status in Scotland would be solved by simply thinking out the government infrastructure. (For example, the problem of Scotland being submerged by its more populous opponents would be solved by an American-type regional based Senate.)
Countries as entities are under attack all over the world. The powers-that-be discourage nationalism which they think has led to much of the world's instability and conflict. But some countries are founded upon principle, not ethnicity, and those entities deserve respect. What is the positive motive for the separation? What are the new nation's energizing principles? More, those ethnic creations tend to be the real villains in nationalism.
The separation vote means much more than it asks but it is unlikely that a state initiated by the Greens, the Social Democrats and sixteen-year-olds will rise to the occasion. The lack of animosity adds little when the debate is over sentiment and not ideas. More, such a shallow notion should not be allowed the disruption it promises. 
Incidentally, the vote at the party went 9 to 8 against separation.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Sermon 9/8/14

Today's is the "Brotherly Correction" gospel where Christ explains how the disciples are to advise an errant member of the community. It is meticulous and contains a number of ancient Jewish customs of "due process." Originally it was called "Denunciation" and the offending member was "rebuked."So we soften with time.

The end contains the "..where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.” This probably sounds reassuring in a world of declining priests.

Here is a lovely poem by Kipling with a different take on the notion:

Eddi's Service(A.D. 687)

Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid
  In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
  For such as cared to attend.

But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
  And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service,
  Though Eddi rang the bell.

"'Wicked weather for walking,"
  Said Eddi of Manhood End.
"But I must go on with the service
  For such as care to attend."

The altar-lamps were lighted, --
  An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
  And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
  The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
  Pushed in through the open door.

"How do I know what is greatest,
  How do I know what is least?
That is My Father's business,"
  Said Eddi, Wilfrid's priest.

"But -- three are gathered together --
  Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!"
  Said Eddi of Manhood End.

And he told the Ox of a Manger
  And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
  That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
  They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
  Eddi preached them The World,

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
  And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
  Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
  Said Eddi of Manhood End,
"I dare not shut His chapel
  On such as care to attend."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cab Thoughts 9/6/14

Every debt is ultimately paid, if not by the debtor, then eventually by the creditor.~Jim Grant

Warren Buffet has been a genius in picking companies and industries that will grow an investment. He is 83 now and his huge estate, when he dies, will default into index funds. Not to a bright stock picker. Not to a successful fund. It will go to index funds. (He likes Vanguard and Blackrock.) "The goal of the non-professional should not be to pick winners – neither he nor his 'helpers' can do that – but should rather be to own a cross-section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well. A low-cost S&P 500 index fund will achieve this goal," he said in his letter to investors.

Rocky Marciano, born Rocco Francis Marchegiano, is the only champion to hold the heavyweight title and go untied and undefeated throughout his career. Marciano defended his title six times, against Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland LaStarza, Ezzard Charles (2x), Don Cockell and Archie Moore.

Who was.....Fanny Kaplan?

Chelsea Clinton says she's stepping away from her correspondent job at NBC. Clinton came to NBC with little journalism experience, and her reported $600,000 salary raised eyebrows in the industry. I wonder why NBC thought she was worth that much.

Causation vs. correlation: The growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. So does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle. So what's a radical to do?

There is anxiety over crossing natural lines with scientific advances. The great outrage is over genetically modified organisms. Yet surgeons routinely suture pig valves into the hearts of humans; the operation has kept tens of thousands of people alive. Synthetic insulin, the first genetically modified product, is consumed each day by millions of diabetics. To make the drug, scientists insert human proteins into a common bacteria, which is then grown in giant industrial vats. Protesters don’t march to oppose those advances. Wonder why?

According to a DOT study the average transit bus logs about 37,000 miles a year and gets about 5 mpg.

From the "Okay. That's Enough." Department: The Japanese have a 'try-before-you-die' festival where people can lie down in coffins, try out funeral garments and even get a morbid makeover. Called the Shukatsu Festa, the event has become very popular in recent years. Participants can choose their funeral outfit, put it on, slip into the flower-filled casket they like and have a picture taken. That way, they get to know exactly what they'll look like on the day of their funeral.

About half the flat road energy use in Class 8 trucks goes to overcoming aerodynamic drag; most trucks averaging between 5.5 and 6.5 mpg. Cummins and Peterbilt Motors Company, however, with advances in engines, aerodynamics and more, achieved 10.7 miles-per-gallon last month under real world driving conditions.

Portolan chart: from the Italian word portolano, meaning “a collection of sailing directions,” they were navigational maps based on compass directions and estimated distances observed by the pilots at sea. They were linked to national commerce success and often considered state secrets. The quality of some is astonishing.

The Capital Grille, the Darden Restaurants' high-end chain, is the top full-service steakhouse restaurant, according to the market researchers at Technomic. The Capital Grille's average check per person was approximately $69 to $76, perhaps explaining why they weren't perceived as a particular value and ranking low on the Market Force Information survey in that category, particularly when Texas Roadhouse reported its average check was $15.80 per guest. A few chains were left off the list, such as Morton's and Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Golden oldie:

‘The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff. It could be completely gone in summer in as little as seven years. Seven years from now.’ Those comments came in 2007 as Former Vice-President Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaigning on climate change. Contrary to these predictions, the Arctic ice cap has expanded for the second year in succession – with a surge, depending on how you measure it, of between 43 and 63 per cent since 2012. The ice cap in 2012 was 3.91 million square kilometers while in 2014 it is 5.62 million. What this means is not known, of course. Nor should Gore's overstatement be taken as definitive evidence that he is a fool. All of these observations, both for and against global warming, are using observations with small samples and short periods. No reasonable scientist would generalize on them--or on their failures.

Utilities have experienced flat demand in recent years as a result of energy efficiency and conservation efforts are viewing electric cars as an opportunity to boost demand.
They are pressuring government to have the average utility customer foot the bill to build out electrical supply in gas stations. That  would increase the average consumer electric bill by $.25 - $.50/month for ten years. Critics call it welfare for the rich and argue that shareholders, not customers, should pay for capital investment to launch new programs.
In moving away from areas of high taxation to areas less taxed, companies are following logical, time-honored behavior. This is similar to withdrawing one's hand from heat or shielding one's eyes from the sun. It is a basic action-reaction phenomenon. While economic laws are written with less a firm hand, is the insistence that companies ignore this law any more reasonable than the belief in a 5000 year old earth?

AAAAaaaaannnnnddddddd.......a 13th Century portolan chart. One of the most remarkable and mysterious technical advances in the history of the world written on the hide of a 13th-century calf. Inked into the vellum is a chart of the Mediterranean so accurate that ships today could navigate with it. Most earlier maps that included the region were not intended for navigation and were so imprecise that they are virtually unrecognizable to the modern eye: