Thursday, December 31, 2015

Some Views on The Big Short

The Big Short is Michael Lewis' book on the 2008 housing and collateral bond crisis. It is an astonishing story about the failure of regulations, common sense and good will to oversee a system befouled with political stupidity, staggering corruption and outright criminality. The movie of the same name is out. It seems like a hard assignment because part of Lewis' talent is making the arcane financial world clear and, despite the danger of the problem, there was little personal drama; much of the conflict was in huge corporate financial positions. But there were some minds at work, mostly on the side that did not believe in the economic model of the time. And much of the problem they encountered was internal; they were not sure that so many people could be so wrong or corrupt and they, alone, had discovered it. Lewis' story was like a mystery where several thoughtful and suspicious guys were examining and trying to diagnose a gigantic alien beast which might--or might not--be ill.
In essence the problem was that the entire financial community wanted to encourage mortgages (for numerous, often selfish reasons), those grading the quality of the mortgages were foolish, neglectful and sometimes compromised, the regulators did not regulate at all--as anyone knowing anything about Madoff can believe--, and the intermediaries gleefully cut the financial throats of everyone who would volunteer from the home buyers to the mortgage buyers to the underwriters. 
When there is a problem in the United States, there may be no effort to solve it but there usually is a tremendous effort to capitalize on it and to blame people. So it is with this near-death economic disaster that ruined so many people's lives. Little has changed. Banks were made whole but no defrauded investor has been rescued, no bright eyed hero has arrived to help protect us from future such disgraceful behavior, no dishonest or grossly unethical participant has been pilloried. But plenty of criticisms have washed up. Here are several summaries with worthwhile links:
From Krugman's NYT column:
While the movie gets the essentials of the financial crisis right, the true story of what happened is deeply inconvenient to some very rich and powerful people. They and their intellectual hired guns have therefore spent years disseminating an alternative view that the money manager and blogger Barry Ritholtz calls the Big Lie. It’s a view that places all the blame for the financial crisis on — you guessed it — too much government, especially government-sponsored agencies supposedly pushing too many loans on the poor. Never mind that the supposed evidence for this view has been thoroughly debunked, or that before the crisis some of these same hired guns attacked those agencies not for lending too much to the poor, but for not lending enough. If the historical record runs counter to what powerful interests want you to believe, well, history will just have to be rewritten. And constant repetition, especially in captive media, keeps this imaginary history in circulation no matter how often it is shown to be false.
Sure enough, “The Big Short” has already been the subject of vitriolic attacks in Murdoch-controlled newspapers; if the movie is a commercial success and/or wins awards, expect to see much more.
The thing to remember, when you see such attacks, is why they’re taking place. The truth is that the people who made “The Big Short” should consider the attacks a kind of compliment: The attackers obviously worry that the film is entertaining enough that it will expose a large audience to the truth. Let’s hope that their fears are justified.

And Epstein's letter to the editor in the NYT
To the Editor:
In his column on the film, “The Big Short” (“‘The Big Short,’ Housing Bubbles and Retold Lies,” Dec. 18), Paul Krugman declares that the housing bubble “was largely inflated via opaque financial schemes that in many cases amounted to outright fraud.”
This causal analysis is directly contradicted by an alternative view previously expressed in the New York Times: that the housing bubble was largely inflated by policies of the Federal Reserve.
“To fight this recession,” wrote a New York Times columnist on Aug. 2, 2002, “the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.”
In a blog on that column posted on June 17, 2009, this same
columnist observed: “What I said was that the only way the Fed could get traction would be if it could inflate a housing bubble. And that’s just what happened.”
The columnist who wrote those words: Paul Krugman
Gene Epstein
Economics and Books Editor
The battle will rage. And all the positions will be ossified and one-sided. But some things in the culture must be coming clear to people: In any national debate there is no altruism involved. Ever. In fact the pious are usually the worst. Any altruism that exists is only on the individual level, the person to person interface by the optimistic recruit. But that in no way reflects the infrastructure. Positions, movements, policies, theories, overviews by leaders, politicians, academics, ---any hierarchy---are self-serving, rapacious, grasping and as benevolent as a black hole.
In the now famous Rolling Stone magazine article in 2009 by Matt Taibbi, Goldman Sachs, the world’s most powerful investment bank, is referred to as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
It ain't just Goldman Sachs. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Tiger Burning Bright

In 1827 the great Romantic poet,William Blake, died at the age of sixty-nine.
The family paid nineteen shillings for an unmarked grave, the body was placed nine feet down, stacked on top of three others, and eventually followed by four more. It would have been no matter to Blake and his peculiar and personal Christianity. Death, he said, was "but a removing from one room to the other," and according to his wife, Catherine, Blake had made his choice of rooms early: "I have very little of Mr. Blake's company," she had told a friend. "He is always in Paradise."
Perhaps lost in "the Imagination which Liveth for Ever."
His is a remarkable story in so many ways. He was a disjointed artist passing through life.
He had come to see himself as an engraver and a painter more than a poet, and he had hopes that an 1808 exhibition of his work would not only make money but vindicate his original style and visionary themes. Few attended, no pictures were sold, and the only review of the Exhibition described Blake as an "unfortunate lunatic, whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement." The poetry fared about the same. Few saw or read any of his hand-illustrated and hand-printed work while he was alive; in 1811, two years away from his appointment as poet laureate, Robert Southey reported reading "a perfectly mad poem called Jerusalem."
He continued to sketch until the end, even taking his weeping wife as subject: "Stay, Kate! Keep just as you are -- I will draw your portrait -- for you have ever been an angel to me."
Catherine "saw Blake frequently after his decease: he used to come and sit with her two or three hours every day." This was partly companionship, partly business: "he advised with her as to the best mode of selling his engravings."
She eventually lost the engraving plates, and according to biographer G. E Bentley Jr. (The Stranger From Paradise, 2001)--from whom much of the above is taken--destroyed much else.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Cost of Effeciency

This is an interesting take of the economic debate: While capitalism has a visible cost – profit – that does not exist under socialism, socialism has an invisible cost – inefficiency – that gets weeded out by losses and bankruptcy under capitalism. The fact that most goods are more widely affordable in a capitalist economy implies that profit is less costly than inefficiency. Put differently, profit is a price paid for efficiency.--Sowell

There is a similar element in advertising. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn hated the commercial nature of the West. It seemed to be everywhere with ads and billboards and general commercial insincerity that seemed to him to compose the matrix of Western society. He hated the Russian state too but gave up the West partly because of its commercialism.
But advertising underwrites production from TV to hockey arenas to literary lectures. And, because it goes where the return is, it is exquisitely sensitive to demand, to what people want. It is NPR vs. the Kardashians. So, strangely, it is an agent of freedom, of choice.

Advertising, like profit, contains seeds of liberty. If you want to raise the bar for both profit and advertising, educate better.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Ass and the Horse

An Ass congratulated a Horse on being so ungrudgingly and carefully provided for, while he himself had scarcely enough to eat, nor even that without hard work. But when war broke out, the heavy armed soldier mounted the Horse, and rushed into the very midst of the enemy, and the Horse, being wounded, fell dead on the battle-field. Then the Ass, seeing all these things, changed his mind, and commiserated the Horse, saying: "How much more fortunate am I than a charger. I can remain at home in safety while he is exposed to all the perils of war."
Moral of Aesops Fable: Be not hasty to envy the condition of others.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday 12/27/15

Today's gospel is the astonishing story of Mary and Joseph losing the twelve year old Christ. It could record nothing less than a parental meltdown with terror and guilt. But it is not presented that way. They find Him among scholars, the parents are questioning, the lost child strangely unsympathetic. It is so peculiar some scholars do not believe it.

Jesus and His Mother by Tom Gunn

My only son, more God's than mine,
Stay in this garden ripe with pears.
The yielding of their substance wears
A modest and contented shine:
And when they weep in age, not brine
But lazy syrup are their tears.
"I am my own and not my own."
He seemed much like another man,
That silent foreigner who trod
Outside my door with lily rod:
How could I know what I began
Meeting the eyes more furious than
The eyes of Joseph, those of God?
I was my own and not my own.
And who are these twelve labouring men?
I do not understand your words:
I taught you speech, we named the birds,
You marked their big migrations then
Like any child. So turn again
To silence from the place of crowds.
"I am my own and not my own."
Why are you sullen when I speak?
Here are your tools, the saw and knife
And hammer on your bench. Your life
Is measured here in week and week
Planed as the furniture you make,
And I will teach you like a wife
To be my own and all my own.
Who like an arrogant wind blown
Where he pleases, does without content?
Yet I remember how you went
To speak with scholars in furred gown.
I hear an outcry in the town;
Who carries this dark instrument?
"One all his own and not his own."
Treading the green and nimble sward,
I stare at a strange shadow thrown.
Are you the boy I bore alone,
No doctor near to cut the cord?
I cannot reach to call you Lord,
Answer me as my only son.
"I am my own and not my own."

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Cab Thoughts 12/26/15

Republics are created by ideals and preserved by process.--Aleric Phlogiston

According to the latest data from the DEA, death from prescription drugs (7.2 per 100,000) is twice as common as gun homicides. So, before we ban guns, let's ban pharmaceuticals.

At the time of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, slaves were 40 percent of the population of southern colonies. Apportionment in the House of Representatives and the number of electoral votes each state would have in presidential elections would be based on population.  Southern colonies wanted slaves to be counted as one person. Northern delegates to the convention, and those opposed to slavery, wanted to count only free residents of each state for the purposes of apportionment in the House and the Electoral College. The compromise reached was that each slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person. If the convention delegates had not reached that compromise, the Constitution would have not been ratified and there would not have been a Union.--Walter Williams

Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette had surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas to stabilize ligament damage in his neck that he sustained during a collision in Sunday's game against the Cowboys. The hit looked legal and that is the real problem for football: The legal danger and violence is much of its appeal.

As reported in The Hill: Dave Walker, who headed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said when you add up all of the nation's unfunded liabilities, the national debt is more than three times the number generally advertised. "If you end up adding to that $18.5 trillion the unfunded civilian and military pensions and retiree healthcare, the additional underfunding for Social Security, the additional underfunding for Medicare, various commitments and contingencies that the federal government has, the real number is about $65 trillion rather than $18 trillion, and it's growing automatically absent reforms," Walker told host John Catsimatidis on "The Cats Roundtable" on New York's AM-970 in an interview airing Sunday. He said Americans have "lost touch with reality" when it comes to spending.

As Financial Times reports, "some of the European Central Bank's top decision-makers met banks and asset managers days before major policy decisions, and on one occasion just hours before, copies of their diaries reveal." Probably just talking soccer.

Who is...James Burnham?

News on Valeant: Warren Buffett's right hand man Charlie Munger in an interview with Bloomberg "tore anew into the besieged drug company, calling its practice of acquiring rights to treatments and boosting prices legal but "deeply immoral" and "similar to the worst abuses in for-profit education."  And to prove just how much clout Munger does indeed have, moments ago the most important Wall Street bank, Goldman Sachs, downgraded Valeant to Neutral from Buy, cutting its share price target from $180 to $122. They probably shorted it first.

Since the nuclear deal was signed in July, Iran has tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, freed high-ranking Al Qaeda prisoners (including the former interim head of the global terrorism network), arrested American-Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi, and convicted and sentenced the WashPo's Jason Rezaian in a secret court.

In what part of the world is the situation better for America than it was when Barack Obama became president and Hillary Clinton became secretary of state? If you want an easier question, in what part of the world is the situation worse?--Sowell

In 1859, the Pennsylvania-born Dr. James Curtis Hepburn went to Japan as a medical missionary. Hepburn had already spent five years as missionary in Singapore and China. He also tried a medical practice in New York City for several years, but ultimately lived in Japan for 25 years, where he established a clinic and a school in Yokohama. Aside from these achievements, Hepburn also created, in 1867, the first modern Japanese-English dictionary. The dictionary took him nearly eight years to complete, with the assistance of Japanese journalist and scholar Kishida Ginkō. It became the standard bilingual reference book, and Hepburn's name became attached to the system of romanization he pioneered in the dictionary. What linguists call the "Hepburn romanization" is still regarded as the best system for the transcription of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet.

Panglossian: adj: 1. characterized by or given to extreme optimism, especially in the face of unrelieved hardship or adversity. Panglossian is derived from the name of a character in Voltaire's Candide, Dr. Pangloss, who believes that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."
A newspaper recently wrote that 6 people a day were dying in Pennsylvania from drug overdose.

Over all, drug overdoses now cause more deaths than car crashes, with opioids like OxyContin and heroin killing 44 people a day nationally.

Golden oldie:

In his 1964 "Suicide of the West" James Burnham predicted that the magnanimity of liberals, who subordinate the interests of their own people and nations to utopian and altruistic impulses, would bring about an end to Western civilization. 

A mass extinction called the Hangenberg event, which took place some 359 million years ago, led to a reduction in vertebrate size for around 40 million years afterward. The research, published Thursday in Science, adds support to the so-called Lilliput Effect, which suggests that mass extinctions cause marked shrinkage in the animal population. Before the extinction, some fish had grown to be as big as school buses. But in the unstable ecosystem of a post-mass-extinction ocean, only small fish - ones that could reproduce quickly and survive on less food - could thrive.

Humorism, or humoralism, is a now discredited (but historically important) theory of the makeup and workings of the human body, adopted by Ancient Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person directly influences their temperament and health. From Hippocrates onward, the humoral theory was adopted by Greek, Roman and Islamic physicians, and became the most commonly held view of the human body among European physicians until the advent of modern medical research in the nineteenth century.

The four humors of Hippocratic medicine are black bile (Gk. melan chole), yellow bile (Gk. chole), phlegm (Gk. phlegma), and blood (Gk. haima), and each corresponds to one of the traditional four temperaments.

Hillary Clinton  first made the claim in 1994, that she once tried to join the Marines in 1975. Then-reporter Maureen Dowd, was highly skeptical and wrote this account:

  • "At the time, Hillary Rodham was an up-and-coming legal star involved with an up-and-coming political star."
  • "She had made a celebrated appearance in Life magazine as an anti-establishment commencement speaker at Wellesley College, where, as president of the student government, she had organized teach-ins on her opposition to the Vietnam War."
  • "She was a Yale law school graduate who had worked on the anti-war Presidential campaigns of Eugene J. McCarthy and George McGovern."
  • "Mrs. Clinton told friends that she had moved to Arkansas for only one reason: to be with Bill Clinton."
  • The Clintons married on Oct. 11, 1975, in Fayetteville.
  • If words continued with their original meanings, doctors would only teach (from Latin docere: to teach), auditors would only hear (Latin audire: to hear), and janitors would only guard the entrances (Latin janus: doorway).

    A good line from Will: If you believe, as progressives do, that human nature is not fixed, and hence is not a basis for understanding natural rights. And if you believe, as progressives do, that human beings are soft wax who receive their shape from the society that government shapes. And if you believe, as progressives do, that people receive their rights from the shaping government. And if you believe, as progressives do, that people are the sum of the social promptings they experience. Then it will seem sensible for government, including a university's administration, to guarantee not freedom of speech but freedom from speech. From, that is, speech that might prompt its hearers to develop ideas inimical to progress, and that might violate the universal entitlement to perpetual serenity.

    AAAAAaaaaaaannnnnnddddddddd.......... a chart of the four humors, their corresponding elements, seasons, sites of formation, and resulting temperaments alongside their modern equivalents:
    HumourSeasonElementOrganQualitiesAncient nameModernMBTIAncient characteristics
    Bloodspringairliverwarm & moistsanguineartisanSPcourageous, hopeful, amorous
    Yellow bilesummerfirespleenwarm & drycholericidealistNFeasily angered, bad tempered
    Black bileautumnearthgall bladdercold & drymelancholicguardianSJdespondent, sleepless, irritable
    Phlegmwinterwaterbrain/lungscold & moistphlegmaticrationalNTcalm, unemotional

    Friday, December 25, 2015

    Merry Christmas

    Today we celebrate God's stepping into Time. In this extraordinary integration, He enters a Middle Eastern family and places Himself in their care.

    Always responsible to Him, they became responsible for Him.

    The message of Christianity--that of forgiveness, love, family and community--so distilled down in the symbols of this holiday, is so optimistic and hopeful one is always struck by the homicidal, nihilistic, despairing and similarly faith-based philosophies that have risen as alternative explanations of man's condition.

    It is hard to believe an active evil force is not present to influence it.

    Merry Christmas.

    Thursday, December 24, 2015

    Virginia and Santa

    One of the most famous Letters to the Editor ever to appear in a newspaper was this query from an 8-year-old girl. It was first printed in the New York Sun in 1897, along with a response by editor Francis P. Church. It proved so popular that it was reprinted every year until the Sun went out of business in 1949. 
    The Question

    Dear Editor:

    I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
    Virginia O’Hanlon
    The Answer

    "Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

    "Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

    "You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

    "No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

    Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Christmas and Saturnalia

    Saturn is the Roman Chronos, an early Titan in the history of the evolution of the gods and man, the son of the Earth and Sky. He defeats his siblings and, in fear of a prophesy that he will be overthrown by a son, eats his children. One child, Zeus, is hidden by his mother and grows to rescue his siblings and overthrow his father.

    Saturn is the original fertility symbol in mythology, preceding Persephone in chronology and hierarchy. He does not quite fit the popular notion of a historical evolutionary progression away from female fertility goddesses to the more combative male deities. As the second layer of the gods, supplanted by Zeus and his siblings, he is much less active but had a significant old mythological following.

    Saturnalia originated as a farmer's festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season  (satus means sowing). It started as a two day celebration but grew longer and later; it was seven days around the winter solstice in the third century A.D., when numerous archaeological sites demonstrate that the cult of Saturn still survived. The poet Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180) has the god Cronos (Saturn) say in his poem, Saturnalia:

    "During my week the serious is barred: no business is allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, occasional dunking of corked faces in icy water--such are the functions over which I preside."

    A public holiday with gifts, masters and slaves swapping clothes, the strange election of a temporary house "monarch." A time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees.

    By that time, with Christianity well established, it is difficult to determine which gave and took. 

    Tuesday, December 22, 2015

    The Great Leap Model

    Between 1958 and 1962 Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up with and overtake Britain in less than fifteen years. Focusing upon China's greatest asset, a labor force that was counted in the hundreds of millions, Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors. He turned his back on the Russian plan of industrialization, preferring agriculture he thought more in synch with the huge labor force and the nation's technological position.
    At least 45 million people died unnecessarily between 1958 and 1962. The term 'famine', or even 'Great Famine', is often used to describe these four to five years of the Maoist era, but the term fails to capture the many ways in which people died under radical collectivization.
    One thing about great bureaucracies is they keep great records. Using them it appears that 6 to 8 per cent of the victims were tortured to death or summarily killed -- amounting to at least 2.5 million people. Other victims were deliberately deprived of food and starved to death. Many more vanished because they were too old, weak or sick to work -- and hence unable to earn their keep. People were killed selectively because they were rich, because they dragged their feet, because they spoke out or simply because they were not liked, for whatever reason, by the man who controlled the distribution of the scarce food. Countless people were killed indirectly through neglect, as local cadres were under pressure to focus on figures rather than on people, making sure they fulfilled the targets they were handed by the top planners.
    Similar damage was seen in agriculture, trade, industry and transportation. And the inefficiencies fed on themselves. Transportation declined so produce could not be shipped and thus rotted. Animals did not get fed and herds declined. Any metal, regardless of its importance, was melted down to provide stock for some new inefficient project.
    Coercion, terror and systematic violence were the agents of the Great Leap Forward. Distortion, destruction and death were the products. Even with great central power, a bad idea can not produce good results. And a top-down force, as any victorious army will admit, will win the day but may not win the future.

    Monday, December 21, 2015

    Advice to Women

    The Moral Encyclopaedia is a set of self-teaching books published in 1830  by a writer identified as "Charles Varle, Esq. of Baltimore." He writes he got the idea of writing an instructional book from Thomas Jefferson. At a meeting in Philadelphia, Varle writes, Jefferson – then vice-president — suggested that someone should compile a book of English translation of some European words and phrases often found in American newspapers. Varle was at the gathering and he not only took Jefferson's challenge to heart, he turned the idea into a more comprehensive self-help guide — as the book's subtitle purports.
    The 301-page eclectic collection contains snippets of contemporary speeches; colloquial maxims; quotes from Shakespeare, the Bible and ancient philosophers and dozens of translations of internationalisms.
    Generally sounds like a good idea.
    Here, in abecedary form and with original spelling, is a collection of his advice to contemporary young women noted in a recent NPR titled:
    "Rules of behavior for Young Ladies, partly extracted from this work and the most celebrated books on Ladies education."
    • Avoid every thing masculine.
    • Be not too often seen in public.
    • Consult only your own relations.
    • Don't even hear a double entendre.
    • Endeavor to write and speak grammatically.
    • Fondness for finery shows as bad a taste, as neatness and simplicity imply a good one.
    • Form no friendship with men.
    • Give your hand, when necessary, modestly.
    • If you talk in society, talk only about those things which you understand.
    • Know that a man of good sense will never marry but the pious, industrious and frugal.
    • Let not love begin on your part.
    • Make no great intimacies with any body.
    • Never be afraid of blushing.
    • Pride yourself in modesty.
    • Read no novels, but let your study be History, Geography, Biography and other instructive books.
    • Sympathise with the unfortunate
    • Trust no female acquaintance, i.e. make no confidant of any one.
    • You cannot be too circumspect in matters of love and marriage; and remember that whereas the character of a young lady is considered angelic, any blemish in it, would withdraw the respect men have for you.

    Sunday, December 20, 2015

    Sunday 12/20/15

    Today's is an unusual gospel as only women are described and followed. One, the virgin mother-to-be, the other the barren mother-to-be. Imagine this meeting. Imagine these two sharing these two beyond Nature events. Imagine the two of them, wide-eyed, astonished, laughing. And filled with fear.

    The Mother Of God  
    by William Butler Yeats
    The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
    Through the hollow of an ear;
    Wings beating about the room;
    The terror of all terrors that I bore
    The Heavens in my womb.

    Had I not found content among the shows
    Every common woman knows,
    Chimney corner, garden walk,
    Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
    And gather all the talk?

    What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
    This fallen star my milk sustains,
    This love that makes my heart's blood stop
    Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
    And bids my hair stand up?

    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Cab Thought 12/19/15

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

    Pictures of the Titanic clearly show four cream and black funnels. While three of these released the steam from the boilers, the fourth was just for show. The designers thought the ship would look more impressive with four funnels rather than three.
    Renowned hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller  said the central bank has created a bubble of short-term investing through its near zero interest rates and quantitative easing. On the heels of the financial crisis, the Fed cut its target rate to near zero and conducted three rounds of money printing during which it expanded its balance sheet to $4.5 trillion.
    Druckenmiller said the first round of QE was necessary to stem the financial crisis, during which unemployment soared eventually to 10 percent and the economy entered its worst slump since the Great Depression. But he thinks the Fed took its cheap-money policies too far. "All you do when you're doing this is you're pulling demand forward to today," Druckenmiller said Tuesday at the annual DealBook conference. "This is not some permanent boost you get. You're borrowing from the future. I think there's been such a misallocation of resources that this has gone on so long and unnecessarily (and) the chickens will come home to roost."

    Puff piece articles can be confusing but may be so idiotic that they are dangerous to the reader. It reminds one of Orwell's concern for twisting language. Here's one from one that should know better,"The Economist:" The highest median earnings from a nonvocational college? Ten years after entering college, alumni from MIT brought home a median salary of $91,600 — about $20,000 less than pharmacy-school grads.

    Who is....Pahom?

    Egyptologists and followers of mysticism have been fascinated for centuries by the fact that the Great Pyramid at Giza seems to approximate pi. The vertical height of the pyramid has the same relationship to the perimeter of its base as the radius of a circle has to its circumference.

    Reuters reports that San Francisco Fed President John Williams said Friday that low neutral interest rates are a warning sign of possible changes in the U.S. economy that the central bank does not fully understand. With Japan having been there for decades, and the rest of the developed world there for 6 years, suddenly, just weeks away from what The Fed would like the market to believe is the first rate hike in almost a decade, Williams decides now it is the time to admit the central planners might be missing a factor. The San Francisco Fed President said that.

    Golden oldie:

    Most states — 44 out of 50 — hold some state and local elections off the federal cycle. Why? Political scientist Sarah Anzia, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, gives a compelling explanation in a book published last year.  When school boards and other municipal offices are up for election at odd times, few run-of-the-mill voters show up at the polls, but voters with a particular interest in these elections — like city workers themselves — show up in full force. The low-turnout election allows their policy goals to dominate. Anzia shows that off-cycle elections lead to higher salaries and better health and retirement benefits for teachers and public employees.

    Uniform regulation in the British Army between the years 1860 and 1916 stipulated that every soldier should have *a moustache*. Although the act of shaving one’s upper lip was trivial in itself, it was considered a breach of discipline. If a soldier were to do this, he faced disciplinary action by his commanding officer which could include imprisonment.

    Kentucky has made it illegal to violate national statute. (This is aimed at sanctuary cities.) So the state has made a law against violating federal law. If Hillary gets elected we can call her the Queen of Hearts.

    A day after Obama officially slammed the seal shut on Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline after a seven year "review" (and days after the company itself withdrew its application, something which the admin ignored just so it could have the final say on the mater), an oil tanker train derailed north of Alma, Wisconsin along the Mississippi River 80 miles south of Minneapolis, with at least 32 cars off the tracks.

    Q1 GDP rose at a disappointing 1.5%, rising to $16.394 trillion in chained dollars, an increase of $61 billion, and a modest annual increase of just 2% compared to Q3 2014, the lowest Y/Y increase since the 1.7% recorded in Q1 2014. The source of growth? Health care. So is Obamacare the only growth factor in the slow recovery? And wasn't that supposed to decrease costs and expenditures?

    Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story called "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" where a farmer, Pahom, is given the chance to gain ownership of land, as much land as he can walk around in a single day. He walks and his greed kills him. Linklater has a book called Owning the Earth that traces the history of ownership of property without masters, tribes or families. He says the dispersal of the monasteries by Henry VIII was a huge step in property ownership--eventually.

    In May, Police Chief Leonard Campanello of the Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Department announced that his department would adopt the new policy of treatment over arrest. Five months since the program launched, Campanello reports positive results: over 260 addicts have been placed in treatment. This summer, shoplifting, breaking and entering, and larceny dropped 23% from the same period last year. “We are seeing real people get the lives back,” he said. “And if we see a reduction in crime and cost savings that is a great bonus.”
    The recent job report:
    - Workers aged 55 and over: +378,000
    - Workers aged 25-54: -35,000

    Andrew Napolitano, the news commentator, is taking the Clinton deceptions much more seriously than anyone else and feels she is in trouble. (He is a former judge.) On the arms to Libya: "Clinton, however, decided that she could accelerate the departure of the Libyan strongman, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, by arming some of the Libyan rebel groups that were attempting to oppose him and thus helping them to shoot at government forces. So, in violation of federal law and the U.N. arms embargo on Libya she authorized the shipment of American arms to Qatar, knowing they’d be passed off to Libyan rebels, some of whom were al-Qaida, a few of whom killed Ambassador Stevens using American-made weapons. When asked about this, she said she knew nothing of it. The emails underlying this are in the public domain. Clinton not only knew of the arms-to-Libyan-rebels deal, she authored and authorized it. She lied about this under oath......

    It is difficult to believe that the federal prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Clinton will not recommend that she be indicted. Inexplicably, she seems to have forgotten that they were monitoring what she said under oath to the Benghazi committee. By lying under oath, and by misleading Congress, she gave that team additional areas to investigate and on which to recommend indictments.
    " This, of course, implies an integrity in government that, to many, is absent.

    AAAAAaaaaannnnnnnddddd.....a picture, famous actually, of the Titanic and her four funnels:
    Actually the fourth funnel did not have any function at all. It even exposed the steamer additional air resistance.

    Friday, December 18, 2015

    The ACA Reconsidered‏

    The estimated "tax penalty" for not having insurance under the ACA in 2016 will be $1450.

    Several articles have been discussing the status of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
    The fact is that Obamacare has fallen apart without Republicans’ dismantling it. Almost all of its basic promises have failed, it is an economic shambles, and it is a political mess.
    The ACA combines compulsory coverage of pre-existing conditions with a weak mandate that healthier people subsidize those conditions. But that mandate is self-defeating, guaranteeing coverage whenever the patient is afflicted. So not signing up has no risk.
    As James Freeman reports in the Wall Street Journal, the ACA’s plethora of exemptions — there are at least 30 of them — ensure that a great many people — 12 million last year — will simply opt out. “It is easy to avoid or limit exposure to the penalty with some simple tax planning,” he writes. In 2016, there were supposed to be 21 million people enrolled in ACA programs; the Obama administration currently predicts that the actual number will be somewhat less than half of that.
    Co-ops were created to avoid those insurers afflicted with the dreaded profit motive. Half of the co-ops have gone belly-up already, including large, prominent, splendidly subsidized ones in Kentucky, New York, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of customers have lost their coverage as a result. Hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money has been poured into these enterprises, to no avail.
    Kevin D. Williamson writes, "markets work for most people, and of course there are exceptions to that. For 93 percent of the population, the solution to health-care reform is: Let markets do their thing. The only real argument is how big a check to write to those looking after the other 7 percent, and how to structure the payments."

    Thursday, December 17, 2015

    Is There Anyone Less Like the Average Person Than a Fashon Model?

    For some reason we are enamored with "models" as a new "conceptual framework." The prominent model is the Climate Change Model where numbers are collected and put into a software program which extrapolates temperatures into the future. Brave stuff, picking a few decades of arbitrary measurements in a history of billions of years and concluding that we must deconstruct all the successful economies and stunt the growing ones to Lord-knows-what deprivation.
    It must be the software; the software must give people confidence. After all we have had a zillion models in the past: Heliocentric Universe Models, Ptolemaic Models, Divine Right of Rule Models, Imitative Magic Models, Newtonian Gravitational Model, Alchemy Models, Recapitulation (Biogenetic Law) Model, Lamarckian Model, Phlogiston Model, the Miasma Model, Dalton's Atomic Model, Preformation Models, the Classical Elements Model, Geocentric Universe Model, Steady State Model, the Freudian Model, Phrenology Models, Flat Earth Model, Dialectic Materialism Models, QE/Inflation model, Expanding Earth Model......
    It must be the software.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2015

    Cab Thoughts 12/16/15

    The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. -Daniel J. Boorstin, historian, professor, attorney, and writer (1914-2004)

    Pfizer, one of America's largest pharmaceutical companies, is in talks to acquire Ireland's Allergan and cease being a U.S.-based company. According to the Wall Street Journal, Pfizer CEO Ian Read was "unapologetic about his desire to reduce Pfizer's tax rate, saying Thursday that U.S. corporate tax rates have put the company at a disadvantage with its foreign rivals."
    Our 35% corporate rate (39.1% including state taxes) is the highest of any industrialized nation and third highest in the world.
    Only Chad and the United Arab Emirates levy higher tax rates on corporations. 
    Is there anybody who does not think such a situation will cause a reaction in those affected.
    A book called "Mudslingers" by Kevin Swint reports that, something like 65 years ago, a politician attacked his campaign opponent as an "extrovert" with a "homo sapiens" brother and a "thespian" sister. The point seems to have been to appeal to ugly prejudices of voters who were sufficiently uneducated to know what the words meant. And apparently some voters didn't.

    Who is....Norman Borlaug?
    Mt Everest:  29,029 feet. More than 5,000 people have climbed Everest and 219 have died trying. About 77 percent of those ascents have been accomplished since 2000. In 2007, a record number of 633 ascents were recorded.  Mount Everest has two main climbing routes, the southeast ridge from Nepal and the north ridge from Tibet. Today, the southeast ridge route, which is technically easier, is more frequently used.
    The northern approach was discovered in 1921 by George Mallory during the British Reconnaissance Expedition, which was an exploratory expedition, not intended to attempt the summit. Mallory was famously, perhaps apocryphally, quoted as answering the question "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?" with the reply "Because it's there."
    Mariana Trench is the deepest point on earth's surface, this trench lies in Pacific Ocean, at Challenger Deep. Located at a depth of about 10.91 km or 11,033 meter below sea level, deeper than Everest is high.

    Minimum wage legislation has a twisted history. For example, there is debate over the effect of such laws on low wage earners. Yet it is generally agreed upon that the Davis-Bacon Act-the first federal minimum-wage law-was passed in part to prevent southern black workers from taking construction jobs from unionized white workers up north, that is to limit employment opportunities by lower wage competitors.
    Desultory: adj:1. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark. 2. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation. ety: Desultory finds its roots in the Latin word dēsultor, a term referring to a circus rider who jumps from one horse to another. It entered English in the mid-1500s.
    Here's a creepy sign. Pension advances are complex products that offer retirees a lump-sum cash advance in exchange for all, or part, of their future pension payments. Consumer groups say they are pitched disproportionately to retired military members and federal retirees. Future Income Payments is just one of the companies that offer such products. In a 2014 report, the Government Accountability Office identified 38 companies that had recently offered pension advances. At least 30 of the 38 companies were affiliated with one another in some way, sharing a parent company, a broker or another business relationship. One company offers you an advance on your pension then charges you over 500% interest on the advance.
    Good news. The world is falling apart but the two democrat candidates for president have declared their opposition to high ATM fees. The Rube-publicans probably have a plan they will probably discuss later, maybe.
    The Antikythera mechanism  is not an isolated miracle. One of the most prolific inventors of Hellenistic times was Ctesibius of Alexandria who lived during the 3rd century BC. He worked on pneumatics and hydraulics. The 'Ctesibius pump' is a hand-operated pressure pump that used air pressure to raise water within a system of two cylinders, then forcing it out. The pump worked with levers moved from the outside: the levers were connected with non-return valves (pistons) that sealed perfectly at the inside of each cylinder. On the upstroke, vacuum and suction of the water were produced; on the downstroke, water was sent up through the second pipe, causing its continuous outflow with force.This was, exactly, the principle on which 18th-century double water pumps were based. These principles led to a hydraulic pipe-organ and "Hero's engine," an actual steam engine that was used in Alexandria--I believe it could open and close doors.

    Golden oldie:
    The general lesson is that if some part of government fails in its function, it will most likely be given greater funding and power.  Of course, the purpose of this is not to reward failure; the thinking would be that more money and power will enable the agency to solve the problem.  But the effect is that government grows when social problems grow, and thus it is not in the government's interests to solve society's problems.--Michael Huemer
    Sunday evening on October 30, 1938 was prime-time in the golden age of radio, and millions of Americans had their radios turned on. But most of these Americans were listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy "Charlie McCarthy" on NBC and only turned to CBS at 8:12 p.m. after the comedy sketch ended and a little-known singer went on. So they missed the introduction to the CBS program that started at 8. It went:  "The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in 'War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells." The story of the invasion from Mars started as interruptions in a regular sounding evening music show. Perhaps as many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders. People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn't see their lights.
    Changes in the tax laws have encouraged people to report income as personal rather than corporate income.  Their incomes haven't really changed; it just looks to policymakers like they have.
    In 1325, Ibn Battuta embarked on an extraordinary 75,000-mile (120,675-km) journey via Mecca to Egypt, East Africa, India, and China. He set out at age 21 and returned home some 30 years later. No other medieval traveler is known to have journeyed so extensively. The details of his travels are recorded in a narrative titled The Adventures of Ibn Battuta. His inventions and academic work are also renowned. His writings, translated of course, are a bit mundane bit this is what he wrote of the Plague of 1348 (he was in Damascus during a fast proclaimed to protect the city from the plague): "They then returned to the city and held the Friday service, and God lightened their affliction; for the number of deaths in a single day at Damascus did not attain two thousand, while in Cairo and Old Cairo it reached the figure of twenty-four thousand a day."
    Norman Borlaug - a man whose name is barely known - used genetic engineering to help make wheat sturdier and more resistant to disease, thereby affording far more to eat and counteracting famine in developing countries. It is said he saved as many as a billion lives.

    According to the study, by University of Chicago researchers Bruce Meyer and Nikolas Mittag, survey respondents in deep poverty reported only 52 percent of government resources they received. Considering all people in poverty, survey data captured only 46 percent of government assistance. The implication was that poverty researchers - who often recalculate the poverty rate to include income from programs that the official metric ignores - have been reporting bad numbers.
    Affect and effect: Most of the time, you'll want affect as a verb meaning to influence something and effect for the something that was influenced.  A trick is to remember that affect comes first alphabetically, and an action (to affect) has to occur before you can have a result (an effect).
    AAaaaaaannnnnddddd.... a picture of the crowd climbing Everest in 2013:

    Mount Everest climbers

    Tuesday, December 15, 2015

    Henhouse Foxes‏

    Reuters has an article on the difficulty in regulating anything. The concern over the chickens' safety always seems to attract thoughtful, ideological foxes who are eager to staff the ad hoc committees. Here is a segment:

    This spring, traders and analysts working deep in the global swaps markets began picking up peculiar readings: Hundreds of billions of dollars of trades by U.S. banks had seemingly vanished.

    The vanishing of the trades was little noted outside a circle of specialists. But the implications were big. The missing transactions reflected an effort by some of the largest U.S. banks — including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley — to get around new regulations on derivatives enacted in the wake of the financial crisis, say current and former financial regulators.

    The trades hadn’t really disappeared. Instead, the major banks had tweaked a few key words in swaps contracts and shifted some other  trades to affiliates in London, where regulations are far more lenient. Those affiliates remain largely outside the jurisdiction of U.S. regulators, thanks to a loophole in swaps rules that banks successfully won from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in 2013.

    Many of the CFTC employees who were lobbied in these meetings went on to work for banks. Between 2010 and 2013, there were 50 CFTC staffers who met with the top five U.S. banks 10 or more times. Of those 50 staffers, at least 25 now work for the big five or other top swaps-dealing banks, or for law firms and lobbyists representing these banks.

    The lobbying blitz helped win a ruling from the CFTC that left U.S. banks’ overseas operations largely outside the jurisdiction of U.S. regulators. After that rule passed, U.S. banks simply shipped more trades overseas. By December of 2014, certain U.S. swaps markets had seen 95 percent of their trading volume disappear in less than two years.

    After the crisis, Congress and regulators sought to rein in this risk, and the banks fought back. From 2010 to 2013, when the CFTC was drafting new rules, representatives of the five largest U.S. banks met with the regulator more than 300 times, according to CFTC records. Goldman Sachs attended at least 160 of those meetings.

    Many of the CFTC employees who were lobbied in these meetings went on to work for banks. Between 2010 and 2013, there were 50 CFTC staffers who met with the top five U.S. banks 10 or more times. Of those 50 staffers, at least 25 now work for the big five or other top swaps-dealing banks, or for law firms and lobbyists representing these banks.


    The U.S. derivatives market has shrunk but remains large, with outstanding contracts worth $220 trillion at face value. And the top five top banks account for 92 percent of that.

    In 2009, President Barack Obama tapped Gary Gensler, then 51 years old, to chair the CFTC. Liberals grumbled about Gensler’s résumé. The son of a cigarette and pinball-machine salesman in working class Baltimore, Gensler, at 30, had become the youngest banker ever to make partner at Goldman Sachs.

    Among other jobs, he oversaw the bank’s derivatives trading in Asia. Later, as an undersecretary of the Treasury, Gensler helped push through the 2000 law that had banned regulation of derivatives markets.

    Kenneth Raisler, a former Enron lobbyist representing JP Morgan, Citigroup, and Bank of America, argued in a letter that the CFTC should allow U.S. banks to do things overseas “even if those activities were not permissible for a U.S. bank domestically.”

    --From the Reuters article: "U.S. Banks Moved Billions of Dollars in Trades beyond Washington's Reach" 

    Monday, December 14, 2015

    Student Loans

    In 2010, Obama signed a law federalizing the student loan program, claiming that the banks were needless middlemen and that the government could just lend the money directly and save truckloads of money. Critics said that the Education Department is ill-equipped to identify risks when making loans. Easy terms and high default rates forced the Congressional Budget Office recently to increase the program's cost by 7 billion — a 30% jump. The New York Fed reports that 11.5% of student loan debt was more than three months past due in Q2 of this year, which was up from Q1. By comparison, the 90-day delinquency rate on credit card debt is just 8.4%. The Department of Education that 6.9 million people haven't made a student loan payment in more than 360 days, which is up 6% from the year before.
    Enrollment in income-based loan programs — which base monthly payments on current income and forgive any remaining debt after 20 years — exploded 56% in just the past year. The amount of direct federal student loan debt has climbed more than 600%. The Department of Education now manages a loan portfolio bigger than the entire loan business of JPMorgan Chase.

    Sunday, December 13, 2015

    Sunday 12/13/15

    Today's gospel is one of those rare events where Christ does not appear. Instead there are interchanges between the people and John the Baptist:

    The crowds asked John the Baptist,
    “What should we do?”
    He said to them in reply,
    “Whoever has two cloaks
    should share with the person who has none.
    And whoever has food should do likewise.”
    Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
    “Teacher, what should we do?”
    He answered them,
    “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
    Soldiers also asked him,
    “And what is it that we should do?”
    He told them,
    “Do not practice extortion,
    do not falsely accuse anyone,
    and be satisfied with your wages.”

    These simple admonitions were so revolutionary for the times the people thought that John might be God. 

    Saturday, December 12, 2015

    Cab Thoughts 12/12/15

    "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."- George Orwell, 1984

    The Island of Funen, which has fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, is dense with Renaissance castles and pastel-washed villages, briny little fishing ports and ripe meadows that roll out in long, green flanks to meet the northern sky. But a big part of Funen’s fairy-tale cred is the fact that the island was the boyhood home of Hans Christian Andersen, his first muse and enduring inspiration. Andersen’s mother was an alcoholic washerwoman; his father was a poor cobbler who died when Andersen was 11; his aunt ran a brothel in Copenhagen. Andersen himself, despite his fame, was isolated by his early traumas. The loneliness is captured in his fairy tales, which are considered adult fiction in Denmark. All of Andersen’s lost boys and girls—the abandoned Little Match girl; the Little Mermaid who sacrifices her tongue in the original version—stay fixed in the memory because they are the emblems of our own early sorrows. (This is from a travel article on Funen)

    The Church of England began in schism when Henry VIII broke with Rome after Pope Clement VII refused to approve his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. This new pope is discussing serious changes in Catholic thought. So, if the Church decides to accept divorce now, was the Church wrong then?

    Just because many successful people failed in early efforts, that does not necessarily mean that failure leads to success. And it certainly doesn't mean it is a prerequisite.

    Cruelty grows anywhere and is open-minded about its targets. Bloemfontein is popularly and poetically known as "the city of roses", owing to the abundance of these flowers and the annual rose festival held there. (The city's Sesotho name is Mangaung, meaning "place of cheetahs," perhaps a better name.) During the Boer War, British forces captured the city and built a concentration camp nearby to house Boer women and children. The National Women's Monument, on the outskirts of the city, pays homage to the 26,370 women and children as well as 1,421 old men. (Also 14,154 black people, though some sources feel that the records are unsatisfactory, and that this number could be as high as 20,000) who died in these camps in various parts of the country.

    I have been reading Furst's WWII spy stories. They are wonderful in their atmosphere, their reflection of that time of fear and hope before the war. And one strange element: There is little depth. It is unapologetic, too. This was a time--and a people--of circumstance. That terrible vulnerability gives each story its power.

    "None" is a pronoun most of the time. It means nothing, zero, no one, or not any part. Some believe it can only be singular in construction, but that is not true. Most seem to think that because none can mean ‘not one’ that it is always singular, but none can also mean ‘not any’. See the examples for uses in plural or singular. E.G.:
    "Perhaps none is more vulnerable than James, a soft-spoken 19-year-old who is quick to flash a smile that would melt ice."
    "Based on the forecasts that we have gotten so far this year, none of them were very close to what the game conditions were."

    Howard Hughes was a successful Hollywood movie producer when he founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932. He personally tested cutting-edge aircraft of his own design and in 1937 broke the transcontinental flight-time record. In 1938, he flew around the world in a record three days, 19 hours, and 14 minutes.

    Recapitulation, also known as the biogenetic law, states that the stages in an organism's embryonic development and differentiation (ontogeny) correspond to the stages of evolutionary development characteristic to its species (phylogeny). Ernst Haeckel, who proposed the theory in 1866, produced a number of controversial embryo drawings to support this premise. So the embryo stages are a reflection of the species historic phases. No one believes this anymore but it was very popular for a while.

    China's "population policy" was not the first effort by a state to manipulate population numbers. In the late 19th century the French saw a shift in the balance of power in Europe away from them and toward Germany. German population was growing with its industry. The French government wanted to do something to encourage more French babies so it came up with a series of modest financial bonuses for families who had children, along with a public relations campaign "talking up" the importance of the French family. As a policy it wasn't terribly effective but the broader ramifications were considerable as it marked the introduction of modern population policy.
    After WWII the emphasis shifted the other way--not to imply a faddish or superficial element in government thinking. In 1968, Stanford University professor Paul R. Ehrlich published the best-selling book The Population Bomb in which he warned that overpopulation would soon lead to mass starvation. Birth control became a cornerstone of U.S. foreign aid policy.
    In the late 1970s, Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India, introduced a program that involved the involuntary sterilization of many men and women.

    Terrorism is an old game.
    'My object was to terrorize so as to force society to look attentively at those who suffer.' Thus spake  Ravachol, a Frenchman born François Koeningstein (he took his mother's name, Ravachol, although it sounds like a corrosive) who so typified the crazed bomb-throwing anarchist that his name became a verb.
    In the late 1800s, the harsh oppression of factory workers and the new specter of unemployment and homelessness spawned in backlash, "anarchism." The Anarchists believed that with Property, the monarch of all evil, eliminated, no man could again live off the labour of another, and human nature would be released to seek its natural level of justice among men. The vision was of a stateless society, without government, without law, without ownership of property, in which, corrupt institutions having been swept away, man would be free to be good as God intended him. Six heads of state were assassinated for its sake in the twenty years before 1914. They were President Carnot of France in 1894, Premier Canovas of Spain in 1897, Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, President McKinley of the United States in 1901, and another Premier of Spain, Canalejas, in 1912. Not one could qualify as a tyrant.
    But random destruction is meaningful if one assumes an underlying nascent order of things.

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch will release the first wave of 46,000-plus federal inmates, whose sentences were slashed, in the largest mass prison release ever. The mass release, which represents half the federal prison population of drug offenders, is part of President Obama's "criminal justice reform." Under new administration guidelines, criminal sentences were retroactively cut by an average 25 months as a way to make punishment for drug crimes "fair" to minorities, whom Obama says are disproportionately affected by mandatory-minimum sentences. Three-fourths of the parolees are minorities. So the judicial system is trumped by the executive?

    Who is....Henry the Navigator?

    Photography was a 'wet' art when George Eastman carried the large, heavy equipment necessary for photography on his vacation to Santo Domingo in1878. But Eastman  read about gelatin emulsions capable of remaining light-sensitive after drying. Working at night, in his mother's kitchen, he began to experiment with his own varieties. A natural-born tinkerer, Eastman took less than two years to invent both a dry plate formula and a machine that fabricated dry plates. The Eastman Dry Plate Company was born.  In 1884, Eastman invented roll film; four years later he came up with a camera capable of taking advantage of that roll. In 1888, that camera became commercially available.

    Golden oldie:

    Tribes in the central Sahara, lacking in gold, salt and other precious commodities, made the slave trade their principle source of wealth, trading over four million slaves from the seventh to the fifteenth centuries AD, sometimes in caravans of over 10,000 camels. In 1444, Europeans entered the business, beginning a lucrative practice that eventually sent millions of slaves to Europe and the Americas. Under Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal pioneered major advances in shipbuilding and navigation. The Portuguese fleet was equipped with newly designed caravels, which were highly maneuverable and ideally suited for reconnaissance along unknown coasts. In 1434, a Portuguese crew sailed around Cape Bojador and returned safely against the wind. By 1445, Portuguese mariners reached the mouth of the Senegal River which traditionally marked the boundary between the Berber and Arab tribes of the Sahara and 'the Land of the Blacks'. In 1444, a Portuguese official, Lancarote de Freitas, backed by a consortium of merchant-adventurers from the Algarve port of Lagos, mounted an expedition of six caravels to islands on the Arguin Bank with the express purpose of capturing slaves. Their arrival onshore on 8 August 1444 became a public spectacle, watched by crowds of Lagos residents. Prince Henry himself was on hand to supervise the proceedings, mounted on a horse. The captives were marched to an open space outside one of the town gates and divided into five groups. One group of forty-six of the best slaves was set aside for Henry for his share of the booty. The remainder were either retained by their new owners or put up for auction.

    Root beer is a dark brown sweet beverage traditionally made using the root or bark of the tree Sassafras albidum (sassafras) or the vine Smilax ornata (sarsaparilla) as the primary flavor. Root beer may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and may be carbonated or non-carbonated. Most root beer has a thick foamy head when poured. Modern, commercially produced *root beer* is generally sweet, foamy, carbonated, and non-alcoholic, and is flavored using artificial sassafras.

    In the newer culture of America few such signs [...of monopoly...] had been erected; from the sheer lack of organized monopolists, old monopolies could not be perpetuated. America broke down distinctions: where life was full of surprises, of unexplored wilderness, and of unpredictable problems, its tasks could not be neatly divided for legal distribution.  Any man who preferred the even tenor of his way, who wished to pursue his licensed without the competition of amateurs, intruders, or vagrants, or who was unwilling to do jobs for which he had not been legally certified was better off in England.--Daniel Boorstin

    By 1971, more than six hundred death courses were being offered across the United States, and five years later that number had nearly doubled. Now thousands of such classes can be found across disciplines from psychology to philosophy to medical science to sociology. Some colleges offer degree and certificate programs with death, dying, and bereavement concentrations, and increasingly, as at Kean University, undergraduates can take such classes as general electives. In 1985, two researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette embarked on what would become a twenty-year study to solve this question: what kind of students take death education courses in college, and why? Sarah Brabant and Deann Kalich surveyed more than nine hundred students enrolled in Brabant's Sociology of Death and Dying course and found that nearly 24 percent wanted to deal with their own grief issues; but, most startlingly, close to half of the students surveyed had 'seriously contemplated committing suicide at some time in their lives.' Even more distressing, 10 percent of the students said they had actually tried to kill themselves at one point.

    The first country to grant women the right to vote in the modern era was New Zealand in 1893.

    According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), "social expenditures" are expenditures that occur with the purpose of redistributing resources from one group to another, in order to benefit a lower-income or presumably disadvantaged population. These can be direct transfers or indirect. The U.S. has lower than most direct transfers but the indirect, through incentives, credits and private structures are high. Redistributive social spending in the US is indeed different from many other countries. But the overall magnitude is actually greater (both proportionally and in absolute terms) in the US than in almost all other countries measured. One can argue that the way that the wealth is redistributed through public policy in the US is "wrong" or "suboptimal." But, to argue that there is less redistribution as a result of public policy in the US than elsewhere is simply wrong.

    In Washington, D.C., there has been an increase in homicides of more than 20% in neighborhoods across the city. Baltimore, a city of 600,000, is averaging more than one homicide a day—a rate higher than that of New York City, which has 13 times the people. Milwaukee’s murder rate has nearly doubled over the past year.

    AAAAAnnnnnddddddd.....a portion of a report by a court Portuguese chronicler, Gomes Eanes de Zurara, in the Chronicle if Guinea on the arrival at the dock of Lagos of Lancarote de Freitas' first slaving voyage and the subsequent division of the slaves:  

    These people, assembled together on that open place, were an astonishing sight to behold ... Some held their heads low, their faces bathed in tears as they looked at each other; some groaned very piteously, looking towards the heavens fixedly and crying out aloud, as if they were calling on the father of the universe to help them; others struck their faces with their hands and threw themselves full length on the ground; yet others lamented in the form of a chant, according to the custom of their native land, and though the words of the language in which they sang could not be understood by our people, the chant revealed clearly enough the degree of their grief. To increase their anguish still more, those who had charge of the division then arrived and began to separate them one from another so that they formed five equal lots. This made it necessary to separate sons from their fathers and wives from their husbands and brother from brother. No account was taken of friendship or relationship, but each one ending up where chance placed him ... 

    "Dividing them up proved difficult:
    For as soon as the children who had been assigned to one group saw the parents in another they jumped up and ran towards them; mothers clasped their other children in their arms and lay face down on the ground, accepting wounds with contempt for the suffering of their flesh rather than let their children be torn from them ...