Monday, August 31, 2015

Reich on the Current Mess

From a recent Robert Reich blog:
"The U.S. economy is picking up steam but most Americans aren’t feeling it. By contrast, most European economies are still in bad shape, but most Europeans are doing relatively well.
What’s behind this? Two big facts.
First, American corporations exert far more political influence in the United States than their counterparts exert in their own countries.
In fact, most Americans have no influence at all. That’s the conclusion of Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, who analyzed 1,799 policy issues — and found that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
Instead, American lawmakers respond to the demands of wealthy individuals (typically corporate executives and Wall Street moguls) and of big corporations – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.
The second fact is most big American corporations have no particular allegiance to America. They don’t want Americans to have better wages. Their only allegiance and responsibility to their shareholders — which often requires lower wages  to fuel larger profits and higher share prices.
When GM went public again in 2010, it boasted of making 43 percent of its cars in place where labor is less than $15 an hour, while in North America it could now pay “lower-tiered” wages and benefits for new employees.
American corporations shift their profits around the world wherever they pay the lowest taxes. Some are even morphing into foreign corporations.
The typical American worker puts in more hours than Canadians and Europeans, and gets little or no paid vacation or paid family leave. In Europe, the norm is five weeks paid vacation per year and more than three months paid family leave.
And because of the overwhelming clout of American firms on U.S. politics, Americans don’t get nearly as good a deal from their governments as do Canadians and Europeans.
Governments there impose higher taxes on the wealthy and redistribute more of it to middle and lower income households. Most of their citizens receive essentially free health care and more generous unemployment benefits than do Americans.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that even though U.S. economy is doing better, most Americans are not.
The U.S. middle class is no longer the world’s richest. After considering taxes and transfer payments, middle-class incomes in Canada and much of Western Europe are higher than in U.S. The poor in Western Europe earn more than do poor Americans."

Mr. Reich's conclusions are interesting. What seems obvious is the untrustworthiness of the government, its clear disinterest in the average guy, the inordinate impact of money on politicians and the short-sightedness of greed. All of these elements interestingly are imposed upon a time when nations and their individualities are being actively suppressed by those very political powers. Does he hope for a return of the principles within the foundation of America's national identity, the punishing of corruption, the reigniting of social responsibility inherent in liberty? No. His solution to this mess is UNIONS!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday: A Fable

A Fable from Quora:

Many hundreds of years ago in a small Italian town, a merchant had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the merchant’s beautiful daughter so he proposed a bargain. He said he would forgo the merchant’s debt if he could marry the daughter. Both the merchant and his daughter were horrified by the proposal.

The moneylender told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty bag. The girl would then have to pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would become the moneylender’s wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail.

They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the merchant’s garden. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick her pebble from the bag.

The girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.

“Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.” Since the remaining pebble is black, it  be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an advantageous one.

Most complex problems do have a solution, sometimes we have to think about them in a different way.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cab Thought 8/29/15

Sound economic reasoning teaches many things, but perhaps the most important lesson is about the importance of the instituitonal framework for marshalling the self-interest of individuals into publicly desirable outcomes by enabling the judicous negotiation of trade-offs so that the gains from trade and the gains from innovation are realized.--Peter Boettke

In 2009, retailers lost $2.7 billion due to return fraud during the holiday season. The most common form of return fraud is the return of stolen merchandise. It is also common for criminals to return merchandise that was bought with counterfeit receipts or currency. In the 2010 holiday season, return fraud was expected to cost retailers $3.7 billion.  
Ignoring her husband's final request that his play not be performed for 75 years after his death, Eugene O'Neil's wife took Long Day 's Journey Into Night from Random House as soon as she could after he died. The world premiere was in Stockholm, in a Swedish translation, the following February, with the off-Broadway American premiere that November. The audiences were moved to tears and standing ovations, the reviewers saw the "saga of the damned" as going beyond personal pain to "epic literature," and the playwright received a posthumous Pulitzer, his fourth.
The outstanding share count--the number of shares available for sale on the New York Stock Exchange--was well below where it was about 10 years ago. Net financial flow into US stocks have been relatively flat since 2006, while net stock issuance, or the amount of new stocks being introduced onto the market, has plummeted. The math, then, indicates that the most recent bull market has been all about reduced share counts.

Who is....Caliph Uthman?
The Bootlegger and Baptist theory, an innovative public choice theory developed more than 30 years ago, holds that for a regulation to emerge and endure, both the “bootleggers,” who seek to obtain private benefits from the regulation, and the “Baptists,” who seek to serve the public interest, must support the regulation.

The Great Plague, lasting from 1665 to 1666, was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England. The Great Plague killed an estimated 100,000 people, almost a quarter of London's population. The last Plague--pretty good reason to be optimistic, huh? Ten years later the Mini-Ice Age began.

Robert Burns is said to have had more statues and busts made of him than any other man save Christopher Columbus and, maybe, Lenin. In response to one of the first statues erected to her son his mother is reported to have quoted scripture: "Aye, asked for bread and they've given ye a stone." (a reference to the "ask and you shall receive" gospel, Matt 7.9)

Golden oldie:

Nigel Richards  has won several English-language Scrabble titles. He just won the French-language Scrabble World Championships. Richards is a New Zealand native and does not speak French, he just learned the words. In late May Richards began his quest to win the French world title, according to the French Scrabble Federation. That's when he set about memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary. The newspapers covering the championship wrote his competition from France, Switzerland, Senegal and elsewhere were the cream of the crop. Richards has won the (English-language) world championships three times. He won the U.S. National Scrabble tournament five times.
Nocturnal: adjective: Relating to, happening, or active at night. Pluto’s moon Nix is named after Nyx, the ancient Greek goddess personifying night. In Roman mythology she is known as Nox. The Latin word for night, nox, also appears in such words as equinox (equal day and night) and noctambulation (sleepwalking).

Unless and until technology eliminates scarcity, technology will not eliminate the possibility of human beings working gainfully for each other (and, alternatively, if technology does eliminate scarcity, then we’ll have heaven on earth and there will be neither a need for paid human work nor a willingness of anyone to perform such work).(It’s interesting that many religious people long to spend eternity in a place without scarcity and, hence, without the need for labor; that sublime place is commonly called “heaven.”  Yet many of these same people also believe that technology now threatens to so reduce scarcity here on earth that there will no longer be a need for labor; that prospect is considered to be hell.)--Bordeaux
Two Russian nuclear bombers flew within 40 miles of the California coast and one of the pilots relayed a veiled threat during the Fourth of July aerial incident, defense officials said. “Good morning American pilots, we are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day,” a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber crew member stated over the emergency aircraft channel.
It must be the policy of great men and great statesmen to play nuclear chicken on the global stage.
A woman from London has died while bungee jumping on holiday in Spain. Kleyo De Abreu, 23, was killed on Tuesday in Lanjaron, Granada, according to the Guardia Civil. Has anyone ever offered an alternative thrill of uncertain doom that might be easier yet more lasting, like a company that offers exposure to malaria or smallpox? How about random surgery?
According to Muslim tradition the Prophet Mohammed received the revelations that form the Quran between 610 and 632 AD. At this time, the divine message was not compiled into the book form in which it appears today. Instead, the revelations were preserved in 'the memories of men.' Parts of it had also been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels. It was only under Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Mohammed, that the collection of all Quranic material was ordered to be gathered in the form of a book. Quran manuscript dating from the late seventh century has been found to contain older text. With the help of radiocarbon analysis, two fragments have been shown to be decades older -- which puts them among the oldest known examples in the world, according to researchers at the UK's University of Birmingham. "The final, authoritative written form was completed and fixed under the direction of the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in about AD 650. Muslims believe that the Qur'an they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Muhammad."
The testing, which is more than 95% accurate, has dated the parchment on which the text is written to between 568 and 645 AD, the researchers said. This means it was created close to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, who is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632 AD, they said.
The two parchment leaves are believed to contain parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. And according to Professor David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam, the text is very similar to what is found in the present day Quran. "This tends to support the view that the Quran that we now have is more or less very close indeed to the Quran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam," he said.
Rousseau update: "On the whole foragers seem to have enjoyed a more comfortable and rewarding lifestyle than most of the peasants, shepherds, labourers and office clerks who followed in their footsteps."  "There is some evidence that the size of the average Sapiens brain has actually decreased since the age of foraging. Survival in that era required superb mental abilities from everyone. When agriculture and industry came along people could increasingly rely on the skills of others for survival, and new 'niches for imbeciles' were opened up. You could survive and pass your unremarkable genes to the next generation by working as a water carrier or an assembly-line worker. " Both of these totally unsupportable notions appear in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari where the relentless deterioration of human potential is suggested in progress.

The MacArthur Foundation, which has operated in Moscow for more than 20 years - financing higher education, human rights and anti-nuclear proliferation campaigns - said new Russian laws had made it "impossible to continue," by placing the charity on a list of "undesirable" organizations. "We are entirely independent of the United States government and receive no funding from it. We have never supported political activities or other actions that could reasonably be construed as meeting the definition of 'undesirable'," MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch said in a statement Tuesday. More than 60 countries in the last three years have sought to curb the ability of non-profit groups to receive or use overseas funds, using a variety of justifications, the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed in an article earlier this month. What is astonishing is that the aims of these organizations may well not be in concert with those of the host nations even if you are not a spy; why are these people surprised? It is like sending the Red Cross to the Sinai and then being surprised when they shoot at you.

"So the best use of our time is to figure out how to gouge more income from the lowest tier in that bottom 90%? Really?" This was a response to a guy arguing against the minimum wage; his actual position is that someone opposed to the minimum wage does so, not because he thinks it a bad economic idea that endangers the economic community more than it helps, but a truly evil idea that is the result of personal greed and cruelty. An ancient bigotry has been to regard people with opposing views of problems and issues as either intellectually or morally unworthy. The Nazis were great at it.
Under pressure from the NAACP, the Connecticut state Democratic Party will remove the names of two presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, from its annual fundraising dinner because of their ties to slavery. Cleansing the past is tough and has been successfully done--only temporarily--by the most savage and centralized systems. The Soviets try it regularly. The iconoclastic ISIS guys are trying it now.

AAAAAnnnnnndddddd....a  graph:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Jaynes, Nagel and Consciousness

The origin of consciousness has become quite the topic. How does "consciousness" evolve? In Mind and Cosmos Thomas Nagel gets positively mystical about it (and earned the enmity of many of his determinist friends). Julian Jaynes had a different view.

Julian Jaynes published only one book, in 1976, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which tells the story of how mankind learned to think. The American Journal of Psychiatry called Jaynes “as startling as Freud in the Interpretation of Dreams.” Drawing on evidence from neurology, archaeology, art history, theology, and Greek poetry, Jaynes captured the experience of modern consciousness—“a whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can”—as sensitively and tragically as any great novelist. The field of psychology, he wrote, was little more than “bad poetry disguised as science.” In 1988, when Life asked Jaynes and several other thinkers to comment on the meaning of life, he responded that he had no answer. “Words have meaning, not life or persons or the universe itself,” he said. “Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only awe.” He concluded that consciousness had no location in the brain. Instead, it was a function of language. “There is no such thing as a complete consciousness,” he writes. “All about us lie the remnants of our recent bicameral past.”
He divides thinking up with the cutting edge the self-conscious mind studying itself. This was the tipping point. Everything earlier was a hallucination where problems and conflicts could not be resolved and defaulted into confusion like magic and religion.
He has a cultist following, especially with the evolution of the computer. There are small societies devoted to him. But his insights, while interesting but vague, are somewhat sad. And it showed. He became an alcoholic. He held the same job, never gaining tenure, for the rest of his career. He lived alone in a single room on Princeton’s campus, a bachelor all his life. He gave lectures around the country but complained that there was “something wearing about them, as if I should have to try to interest anyone.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Substitute for Intellectual Curiosity.

 "..a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded."--Dwight Eisenhower

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings of July, 2015 is devoted to nutritional and obesity research. This is from the abstract:

"Herein, we present evidence that M-BMs are fundamentally and fatally flawed owing to well-established scientific facts and analytic truths. First, the assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false. Second, M-BMs require participants to submit to protocols that mimic procedures known to induce false recall. Third, the subjective (ie, not publicly accessible) mental phenomena (ie, memories) from which M-BM data are derived cannot be independently observed, quantified, or falsified; as such, these data are pseudoscientific and inadmissible in scientific research."
(N.B. M-BMs means memory-based dietary assessments)

The summary is that the conclusions drawn by the federal government’s controversial Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) rest on fatally flawed assumptions about unusable data and, as such, are scientifically useless. This information is significant. The anxiety over fat and cholesterol has lead to banning whole milk from schools and the rise of non or low fast yogurt. It is why doctors and nutritionists wanted to put everyone on a low-fat diet and why so many restaurants feature a “heart healthy” section of low-fat foods. It’s why restaurant foods are fried in vegetable oils.  It’s why hospitals feed low-fat to patients, including diabetics.
But more important, it has given us false hope, the belief that we can influence our health in a way the researchers and our esteemed government must have known was untrue.
Or both are inept and/or corrupt.

In a recent interview with researcher Edward Archer, he said this: “The government funded researchers control the field by funding only those researchers that use the same flawed methods; they stifle progress by rejecting contradictory evidence, and immediately impugn the integrity and competence of researcher who disagree.”

This is--or should be--very unsettling.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cab Thoughts 8/26/15

“Every time I update a new edition, typically every four years, I get the same results: A low-cost index outperforms two-thirds or more of active managers over time. And the one-third that outperform are never the same from one period to the next.”--Burton Malkiel, professor of economics emeritus at Princeton University and author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street

It looks as if the Cuba embargo is now lifted, as is Iran's. I have never been a proponent of embargoes. They are not a blockage--which is an act of war--but they are close. They are an attack on the society and people in the society. The embargo on Cuba is instructive. It ground the country down to barely subsistence level but did it influence the political structure? Absolutely not. It sacrificed the people to no end. As always. As such, it is the perfect political act, attacking the citizen, sparing the political villain and posturing.

Science consensus: Every molecular biologist in the world stood by the “central dogma of molecular biology”, to wit, DNA makes RNA that makes protein–period. Temin came along claiming evidence that RNA could back-transcribe to make DNA and underwent about a decade of horrible treatment from his peers until all the experiments that were performed to prove him wrong, ultimately proved him right. He finally got the Nobel prize. Ah, consensus. 

Matt Welsh on Trump’s speech at FreedomFest: This is the single dumbest speech I have witnessed in 17 years of covering American politics. Not just the lies, the policy positions (such that they existed), or even the dizzying heights self-regard, but the level of basic human intelligence and decency. For a guy who complains that the media only quotes “half-sentences,” Trump’s real adversary is the full-length transcript. These aren’t speeches, they’re seizures.

There is a remarkable shift to rental building, now as high as the 1990 peak. While single-family houses can be easily secularized and are thus much more "cash equivalent", rental units will be far more difficult to convert into money-equivalent credit creation. And as this building continues, rental rates should respond by moving lower.

Who is....the Beauty of Xiaohe?

Estimates of the pension-fund deficits facing states and cities vary, depending on the assumptions used to calculate the cost of bills due over the next several decades. According to Federal Reserve figures, they have $1.4 trillion less than needed to cover promised benefits. Moody's, which in 2013 began using a lower rate than governments do to calculate future liabilities, has estimated that the 25 largest U.S. public pensions alone have $2 trillion less than they need. Cincinnati and Minneapolis are among cities Moody’s has since downgraded.

The only way that democracy can be made bearable is by developing and cherishing a class of men sufficiently honest and disinterested to challenge the prevailing quacks.  No such class has ever appeared in strength in the United States.  Thus the business of harassing the quacks devolves upon the newspapers. When they fail in their duty, which is usually, we are at the quacks’ mercy.--Mencken’s 1956 collection, Minority Report

Pluto's largest moon only about 1/10th the size of planet Earth but is 1/2 the diameter of Pluto itself.

The vain arrogance of the literati and the Bohemian artists dismisses the activities of the businessmen as unintellectual moneymaking.  The truth is that the entrepreneurs and promoters display more intellectual faculties and intuition than the average writer and painter.  The inferiority of many self-styled intellectuals manifests itself precisely in the fact that they fail to recognize what capacity and reasoning power are required to develop and to operate successfully a business enterprise.--von Mises

In twenty-five years, the Mongol army under Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people than the Romans had conquered in four hundred years. Together with his sons and grandsons, he conquered the most densely populated civilizations of the thirteenth century. Whether measured by the total number of people defeated, the sum of the countries annexed, or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history. Most astonishing is that the entire Mongol tribe under him numbered around a million. From this million, he recruited his army, which was comprised of no more than one hundred thousand warriors. His empire stretched from the snowy tundra of Siberia to the hot plains of India, from the rice paddies of Vietnam to the wheat fields of Hungary, and from Korea to the Balkans. The majority of people today live in countries conquered by the Mongols.

Eighty percent of North Koreans who escape into China are women. Nine out of 10 of those women become victims of human trafficking, often for sex. If the women complain, they are deported back to North Korea, where they are thrown into gulags or are executed.

White-livered (also lily-livered): adjective: Cowardly. From the former belief that a lack of vigor or courage was from a deficiency of bile which showed in a light-colored liver. Earliest documented use: 1546. 

The Progressive belief: Dominated by powerful, grasping, and profit-obsessed capitalists, the market works so poorly that workers are generally underpaid for overly difficult work while consumers are generally overcharged for poor-quality products, and yet the assurance of earning even more money by exploiting the profit opportunities created by all this underpaying and overcharging remains hidden from the view of the greedy capitalists.  Such opportunities are seen only by politicians, pundits, professors, preachers, and popes – yet each of whom is best equipped only to force other people to stake funds on efforts aimed at correcting these market inefficiencies.--Bordeaux

Golden oldie:

Within a nondescript Bronze Age cemetery first discovered by Swedish archaeologists in 1934 and rediscovered by the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute in 2000, researchers have found the oldest and best-preserved mummies in the Tarim Basin area of China. The cemetery is about 4000 years old. The region borders numerous countries and was historically a part of the Silk Road trade route between the West and the East so it was expected the genetics of these people could be from anywhere. Of interest were a number of redheads, including the so-called Beauty of Xiaohe. DNA studies showed that most were from South Siberia but there was another strain from Europe. Interestingly, some of the DNA has no contemporary correlation.

And a Golden oldie on the minimum wage:

Capital controls imposed by the Greek government are taking a heavy toll on Greek businesses, according to a new report. With over two-thirds of respondents reporting a "significant drop in revenues," and 1 in 9 firms forced to suspend production due to shortages of raw materials (unable to buy due to capital controls), the problems created by The Greek government's action seem asymmetric as almost a quarter (23%) of firms are now "planning to transfer their headquarters abroad for security, cashflow, and stability reasons."

Over 75% of people who marry partners from an affair eventually divorce.

As early as 1853, the luxurious Mount Vernon Hotel at Cape May, New Jersey, impressed Americans and amazed travelers from Britain by equipping every room not only with running water but also with a bathtub. By 1877, one medium-priced Boston hotel offered in each of its rooms a wash basin with running hot and cold water.  But it was the early twentieth century before the private bathroom became normal for every room in better American hotels. Except for the Chalfont

In November 2009, NASA declared that it had discovered water on the moon that could allow for the development of a space station on the moon. The water is billions of years old, which could give scientists clues into the history of the solar system.

AAAAAannnnnnddddddd.....a picture:

"The Beauty of Xiaohe," female mummy, ca 1800—1500 B.C. Excavated from Xiaohe (Little River) Cemetery 5, Charqilik (Ruoqiang) County, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Photo Credit: © Wang Da-Gang

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

She Had a Glow About Her

Sometimes, whether through fatigue or religious fervor or propaganda, some become disenchanted with science and its value. Here is something to perk such victims of ennui up, from the July 1812 issue of The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (vol. 1, no. 3):


This is a summary of an article explaining the occurrence and the cause of spontaneous combustion following drinking. It does go on in some detail as to why women are so afflicted and not men but the hard science might bore the reader.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Milo Minderbinder in the 21st Century

The military draft is gone. Now our wars are fought by pros, not amateurs, and only pros who want to. But there are other volunteers: Mercenaries or "Mercs."
Mercenary corporations have received $138 billion in contracts for Iraq alone, according to the Financial Times. And the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated in 2011 that fraud, waste, and abuse accounted for about $60 billion of the money spent in Iraq alone. (So maybe privatization does not always reduce waste.) There has even been the suggestion that Mercs are a kind of "war lobby" that campaigns in favor of conflict because they benefit from conflict.

Abstracting war from society is a bad idea. It allows the culture to wage war without consequence to itself. It also allows for deceptive high-mindedness. The army becomes a product, something that can be engineered, not for them but for their creators. Because the society is paying for its soldiers, it will assume the right that it can refine them to its wishes. So the culture will always try to have clean hands and will build limiting requirements into the conflict which the culture's soldiers will reluctantly obey but their opponents will not. 

Every society at war should make an effort to have some impact, at the very least, built into the homeland's daily life as a result.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday 8/23/15

Today's gospel is the final discourse on the "bread of life."
Christ continues the "I am the bread of life" theme and it becomes
the moment of truth, of decision. He continue to pry apart the physical and the spiritual, much as the Old Testament law separated blood (life) from flesh. This must have been revolutionary religious thinking for them. And grisly.
"It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life."

It is too much for many of His followers.
"As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him."

Not the best recruiting gospel.

Then, strangely, He mentions the ascension.  He is almost speaking to the future of past events as those present would not understand its significance.
Now, with much of His support melting away, Christ asks the disciples if they will leave too.
Peter again becomes Everyman: "To whom should we go?"

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cab Thoughts 8/22/15

Just as poetic discussion of the weather is not meteorology, so an issuance of moral pronouncements or political creeds about the economy is not economics.--Sowell

The average American spends more than ten hours a day plugged in to some form of media.  If we are not watching television, we are listening to the radio, going to movies, playing video games, messing with our smartphones or spending endless hours on the Internet.  And more than 90 percent of the “programming” that we are fed through these devices is produced by just six huge media corporations. So six companies provide the American 10 hours a day of information and entertainment. Goebbels never dreamed of such power.

Apparently Tsipras says that lenders have sent a message that in countries under a bailout there is no point in holding elections. Think about that. If you are not economically independent, you are not politically independent.
Eco Morales, the sort-of elected leader of Bolivia wearing a picture of Che Guevara on his jacket, gave Pope Francis a carved wooden cross of a hammer-and-sickle on which Christ was crucified. While this is a rather obtuse symbol to me, the Pope said he understood the work and would take it home. This Pope is going to cause some interesting conflicts. He is from that South American activist tradition, "Liberation Theology," and it is an interesting approach that should create some valuable point-counterpoint discussions and shed some light on this ongoing, endless debate. But it will not. John Paul hated the Communists, this guy hates the Capitalists. Why anyone should give these guys any more credence in economic theory than we give them in gravitational theory is beyond me. But there will be slurs and name calling, no discussion. Yet there is a simple breakdown of these debates: Capitalism does not create inequality, freedom does. Only horrific and remorseless power can homogenize peoples and cultures. You have got to go no further than the Bush effort to make Iraq's culture resemble his.
Who is...Admiral Zheng He?
Iris Murdoch was a philosophy professor at Oxford and a novelist, a brilliant woman who gradually declined into Alzheimer's. In her last years, Murdoch could startle: "Who am I?" and "How did this anguish start?" and a series of unfinished letters always beginning with "My dear, I am now going away for some time. I hope you will be well."
Officials and experts said some Middle East countries, like Turkey and Egypt, may even try to develop their own nukes. The Saudi kingdom has no nuclear infrastructure to speak of but they do have IOUs from Pakistan, because Saudi Arabia helped finance Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the 1970's and 1980's. "The Saudis," said a former U.S. official, "might ask Pakistan for a bomb." (Pakistan has good relations with Iran and likely would say no.) Turkey and Russia signed an agreement to build a massive nuclear power facility at Akkuyu along Turkey's Mediterranean shore. The groundbreaking for the four-reactor complex took place in April. This from NBC. Now, if the nuke deal with Iran is done and everyone in Washington is thrilled, why aren't these nations reassured?
The basketball coach, John Wooden, was a very accomplished guy. One of his sayings: "Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful." 
The period from roughly 2700 BC to 2500 BC was the age of the pyramid in Egypt, and one of these was so massive that it remained the tallest building in the world for the next thirty-eight centuries. Pyramid building required a highly organized supply system involving quarries, mines, shipyards, storehouses, workshops and a labor force of thousands.
As we are seeing in Greece, there are dangers in being a creditor. Philippe le Bel (1268-1314), king of France, was one of France's most disastrous kings. The cost of running France was six times as much as it had been under Philippe Auguste less than a century earlier, even allowing for inflation. He had an especially large debt to the Templers, who had become major bankers of the time, so the king brought trumped up legal charges against them and, in a remarkably well-orchestrated raid, all the Templars were arrested one night and their property declared forfeit. The king had them tortured--many died under torture--then had them executed.That's one solution.
"Neither a lender...."
A conundrum from a letter to the Times: Progressives believe that (1) businesses are ever-eager to grasp profit by exploiting available laborers who have few options, and yet (2) businesses are today indifferently leaving profits on the table by not exploiting available laborers who have few options.
Between 1405 and 1433, Chinese Admiral Zheng He commanded seven expeditionary voyages as far away as East Africa and the Middle East. These expeditions, known in Chinese history as the treasure voyages, consisted of hundreds of ships of enormous dimensions carrying a crew as large as 28,000 and great amounts of treasures. Seven times, from 1405 to 1433, the treasure fleets set off for the unknown. These seven great expeditions brought a vast web of trading links—from Taiwan to the Persian Gulf—under Chinese imperial control. This took place half a century before the first Europeans, rounding the tip of Africa in frail Portuguese caravels, "discovered" the Indian Ocean. When Zheng He returned, China had a new emperor who was uninterested in the continuation of such government-sponsored naval adventures. Had the Chinese emperors continued their huge investments in the treasure fleets, there is little reason why they, rather than the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British, should not have colonized the world.
Golden oldie:
According to the UN, more than 2,500 deaths of women in Mexico every year can be attributed to gender-targeted violence. The National Citizen Femicide(!) Observatory, or OCNF, says at least six women are targeted and killed every day in Mexico. Of those, less than a quarter are investigated. Of those investigations, fewer than 2 per cent lead to a sentence. No one seems to know exactly how many people are missing in the country, although Human Rights Watch says at least 27,000 have gone missing since 2006. In Mexico’s southern state of Guerrero at least 20 mass graves have been found since last September, when people began looking for 43 vanished student teachers from Ayotzinapa. 43 vanished student teachers! This is a major topic in Bolano's 2666, a novel whose purpose is as difficult to understand as is its acceptance.
In English beheadings, the victim would be expected to pay and forgive the executioner. It would be hoped that the headsman completed his job swiftly and with care, and that the "tip" would encourage his good will to that end.

According to a new study’s estimates, the total Utica Shale play could hold technically recoverable volumes of 782 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly 2 billion barrels of oil.
A 2012 U.S. Geological Survey assessment of the Utica Shale and underlying Point Pleasant formation pegged the technically recoverable undiscovered resources at 38 trillion cubic feet of gas, 940 million barrels of oil and 208 million barrels of natural gas liquids such as ethane, butane and propane.
The new assessment is also higher than estimates the researchers had calculated a year ago, when they determined that 188.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 830 million barrels of oil could be extracted from the Utica play using existing technology.
The Pennsylvania Marcellus reserves surpassed the Barnett Shale play of Texas to become the largest shale gas play in the country. Total gas reserves for the formation are now at an estimated 354 trillion cubic feet with the formations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia accounting for about 70 percent of the increase.

According to "Politico," former Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner, and the infamous former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who was responsible for writing many of Obamacare’s rules and regulations for the insurance industry, only to be fired following the disastrous rollout of the enrollment website, has been hired as the new CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the "powerful K Street lobbying group." What a coincidence.

A fascinating thesis by Taleb, of Black Swan fame: In an essay, Taleb and Treverton highlight five characteristics that could help identify states that - while appearing stable on the surface - may actually be quite fragile.
“Fragility”, they write, “is aversion to disorder”. Under this criterion they view Italy as a stable state!
The five characteristics they view as major factors in instability are:
- centralized decision making,
- lack of economic diversity
- high levels of debt and leverage
- absence of political variability
- lack of track record in surviving shocks
“Italy, paradoxically, shows no signs of fragility. It is effectively decentralized and has bounced back from perennial political crises. It also experiences a great deal of harmless political variability, cycling through 14 prime ministerial terms in the past 25 years.”
One of the curiosities of current thought is how the Left characterizes Greece. Greece has powerful unions, high taxes--especially on high earners, huge benefit programs, gigantic government spending with spending 59% of GDP in 2013 and 49% now and debt 175% of GDP. That looks like a Keynesian dream, a Progressive vision made flesh. Yet the whole system is falling apart. They claim it is the result of "austerity" but those numbers do not look harsh to me. Somehow the responsibility of these unsustainable programs has fallen on the shoulders of the people dumb enough to finance them.

AAAAaaaaannnnndddddd.......a graph:
The labor force participation rate for college graduates has been on a relentless downtrend.
Bachelor Degree Labor Force Participation

Friday, August 21, 2015

Giving Peace a Chance

A lot has gone wrong in Iraq and Iran and more information is out that shows more went wrong than we thought.

Emma Sky is a British, Oxford-educated political analyst who served as a humanitarian worker in the Middle East for a decade before helping the US rebuild Iraq. Her new book, "The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq," is not kind to the Obama administration's handling of Iraq.
Somehow, from 2007 to 2010, Sky was the political adviser to U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno when he served as deputy American commander in Iraq and then the US-led mission's top commander. During Sky's time with Odierno, violence in the country plummeted after a U.S. troop surge and crucial Sunni tribal cooperation stabilized the country. Odierno "wanted U.S. engagement with Iraq to continue for years to come, but led by U.S. civilians, not the military," Sky wrote. He estimated 20,000 or so U.S. troops would be needed to stay in Iraq beyond 2011.
The Obama administration, however, eventually went along with the plan backed by Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. That plan called for no U.S. troops beyond 2011 and relied on the continued support of the authoritarian Iran-backed regime of Nouri al-Maliki, then Iraq's prime minister. Maliki's new lease on life led him to steer Baghdad "toward a very pro-Iranian and sectarian agenda, which inevitably disillusioned and disenfranchised Sunni Arabs for a second time."
The rise of ISIS is partly a manifestation of this Sunni discontent.
"The Obama administration wanted to see an Iraqi government in place before the U.S. midterm elections in November," Sky said. "Biden believed the quickest way to form a government was to keep Maliki as prime minister and to cajole other Iraqis into accepting this." Despite the best efforts of Sky and her colleagues, she could not convince the administration otherwise.
"Biden was a nice man, but he simply had the wrong instincts on Iraq," Sky writes. "If only Obama had paid attention to Iraq ... But his only interest in Iraq was in ending the war."
Tim Arango, the Baghdad bureau chief for The New York Times, told Reddit in September that "after 2011 the administration basically ignored the country. And when officials spoke about what was happening there they were often ignorant of the reality."
"In the Arabic media, there was confusion as to why the United States and Iran should both choose Maliki as prime minister, and this fueled conspiracy theories about a secret deal between those two countries," Sky noted. (Much from Yahoo)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paul Schaffer, Sammy Davis Jr. and Time

Paul Shaffer has an interesting story about Sammy Davis Jr. and artists. Davis was scheduled to perform on the Letterman Show and Shaffer could not get hold of him to discuss his song and rehearse. Finally he caught Davis by phone and Davis said," 'Once in My Life' will be fine, Paul. Key of E going into F." Shaffer wanted to rehearse it but Davis did not. He arrived clearly unwell and again declined to practice. Shaffer had made a tape with his band and asked if, at least, Davis would listen to it. Davis reluctantly agreed.

Davis listened and said, "It's swinging man, but think of how much more fun we could have had if I hadn't heard this tape.'

Shaffer wrote, "His words still resonate in my ears; the notion still haunts me. Sammy swung that night but as he was performing I couldn't help thinking that his carefree feeling about time -- as opposed to my lifelong notion of the pressure of the time -- was coming from a higher spiritual plane. As a musician, I've always thought I rushed. I still think I rush. The great players never rush. It reminds me of that moment when I watched Ray Charles turn to his guitarist, just as the young guy was about to solo, and say 'Take your time son. Take your time.' "

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cab Thoughts 8/19/15

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us. -Paul Valery, poet and philosopher (1871-1945) 

Finland’s Wife-Carrying Championships has its roots in the late 1800s when a gangster named Rosvo-Ronkainen living in Sonkajärvi, Finland accepted only men who could go through and accomplish a challenge – stealing women from neighboring villages. Stealing women isn’t a practice anymore in the Finnish villages but the sport that emerged from it has become a tradition that’s been annually done since 1992. One of the rules is: All participants must enjoy themselves.

Platte River Systems, of Denver, Colorado, maintained the 'homebrew' server at the center of the mounting scandal hitting the Clinton campaign. Can anyone imagine why? Platte River Systems? Daily Mail Online writes the firm in the past was sued over claims it illegally accessed the US master database of phone numbers, and that it seized control of hundreds of phone lines - including some used by the Department of Defense and White House military support desks. The disclosure raises questions over the ability of the firm to maintain the controversial Clinton server, which was housed in her upstate New York home and had no State Department security back-up. Clinton is facing increasing scrutiny after material which was 'above top secret' and came from the CIA was found in emails she had kept in it. But, like the Animus spill, no big deal.

The legacy of the Space Shuttle Program: 135 missions over 30 years, 300 astronauts carried into space, 14 lost in 2 disasters,  Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 and the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.  Missions included carrying Spacelab for 20 trips, a joint venture between the NASA and the ESA, the launch and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, docking with the Mir Russian space station, and the building and supply of the International Space Station.

Who was ....Catilina?

Mayor de Blasio congratulated the women's soccer team for their winning the World Cup at a New York parade yesterday. He said the success of the team was a blow for equality everywhere. Fortunately there was no idiot around whose appreciation of the team was limited to that of a really good soccer team playing wonderful soccer and deserving the championship. The same day Omar Sharif died. He was a fine actor who appeared in Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago and many others. He will always be in that iconic moment riding out of the desert. He had an obituary on NPR that emphasized that he was successful despite that he was a Catholic, an Egyptian, criticized by other Egyptians for playing opposite the Jewish Barbra Streisand and that he was square faced, dark haired not blond like the western O'Toole and had an accent. Regrettably he died before he could reap the advantages sowed by the women's soccer team.

As of the beginning of June, in China, the balance of margin financing outstanding was an estimated 12% of the free float market cap of marginable stocks and 3.5% of GDP—easily the highest in the history of global equity markets.

Manitou Lake on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is the world’s largest lake within a lake (41.1 square miles).

Golden oldie:

In late September of 1950,  over a few days, a Navy vessel used giant hoses to spray a fog of two kinds of bacteria, Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii — both believed at the time to be harmless — out into the fog, where they disappeared and spread over the city.
The unsuspecting residents of San Francisco certainly could not consent to the military’s germ warfare test, and there’s good evidence that it could have caused the death of at least one resident of the city, Edward Nevin, and hospitalized 10 others. Over the next 20 years, the military would conduct 239 “germ warfare” tests over populated areas, according to news reports from the 1970s. These tests included the large-scale releases of bacteria in the New York City subway system, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and in National Airport just outside Washington, D.C.– From MSN

Puerto Rico bonds are triple tax sheltered.

“The government funded researchers control the field by funding only those researchers that use the same flawed methods; they stifle progress by rejecting contradictory evidence, and immediately impugn the integrity and competence of researcher who disagree.” That is a line from an article in Reason Magazine research. Gotcha!

The power of any particular union to push up the wages of its members, that is, to make them higher than they would be without the activity of the union, rests entirely on its ability to prevent the entry into the trade of workers willing to work for a lower wage.  This will have the effect that the latter either must work elsewhere at still lower wages or that they will remain unemployed.--Hayek

Privilege: An recent article argued against the use of the word "privilege" as a synonym for "successful." "The etymology of the word “privilege” is: “privi” – private; “lege” – legislation.  Private legislation.  (“Special privileges” is, therefore, a pleonasm.--from the Greek, meaning "more, too much.")  A person who is truly privileged, therefore, is a person who benefits from a special use of government force wielded in his or her favor. This use of force is not generalizable beyond the individual (or small, closed group) for whom the privilege is created.  A genuine privilege is a benefit that government bestows on only an individual or on a small select group with the intention of benefiting that individual or members of that small group even if such benefits come at the greater expense of the general public." (Bordeaux)

Only 3 percent of soldiers in the active-duty Army have earned Ranger badge, it is an unofficial prerequisite for obtaining many infantry commands, and an explicit requirement for leading combat troops in the Ranger Regiment. It is also a significant career enhancer even for officers who do not serve in combat units. There are at present two women in the advanced stages of Ranger School and, if they finish, they will be the first women to do so. 17 other women who started Ranger School this year did not make it. None of the 29 female officers who started the similar Marine program passed. If either of these women pass the Ranger course, they will place a real question upon the sincerity of the military in their often stated gender equality.

The Vestal Virgins of Rome were women priests who tended the sacred fire of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire. If they lost their virginity, even as a result of rape, they were buried alive in an unmarked grave. In the 1,000-year history of the temple, only 18 Vestals received this punishment. One of the most famous accusations involved Catalina of the famous Catilina Conspiracy.

Politico reported recently about an upcoming meeting. “Clinton’s aide said she will discuss some of the structural forces conspiring against sustainable wage growth, such as globalization, automation, and even consumer-friendly ‘sharing economy.’” This deserves some thought. Opposing expanded opportunities to buy and sell (that is, by globalization),  machinery that releases labor to perform tasks that would otherwise be too costly to perform (that is, by automation), and innovations that increase the supply of goods and services by encouraging owners of private property to use their properties more intensively to satisfy consumer demands (that is, by the sharing economy) in any rational world would seem to be a crazy policy. Globalization and automation have been the driving forces of economic development and success in the last 150 years. Opposing them sounds Luddite.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) has been rolled out quietly but it is a big deal every citizen should be aware of. "[p]erhaps it's important to keep [the AFFH rule] sounding obscure in order to get it through." --Brookings Fellow Richard Reeves. Under Obama’s proposed AFFH rule, the federal government will collect data on the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of thousands of local communities, looking for signs of “disparities by race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability in access to community assets.” This is not about blocking housing discrimination, which has been illegal since 1968, but rather frustrating inevitable socioeconomic differences that gradually emerge in a free culture.
Interestingly, this has been done before, by Clinton; from 1994 to 2008, HUD moved thousands of mostly African-American families from government projects to higher-quality homes in safer and less racially segregated neighborhoods. The 15-year experiment was dubbed "Moving to Opportunity Initiative." Studies were done on the results. They were not pretty. "Moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods does not appear to improve education outcomes, employment or earnings," the study concluded. Even then-senior HUD official Raphael Bostic, a black Obama appointee, admitted in a foreword to the 2011 study that families enrolled in the program had "no better educational, employment and income outcomes." Worse, crime simply followed them to their safer neighborhoods. HUD Secretary Julian Castro, the man assigned to implement this new policy, is on everyone’s shortlist to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate. Federal intervention in neighborhood makeup should be seen as at least peculiar. With the previous failure, it is obstinate.

Lucius Sergius Catilina was a contemporary of Caesar and Cicero, a man of great wealth and charm, a handsome and ambitious man with a reputation of Jeckel-and-Hyde swings of action and sentiment. He was accused of profiting from Sulla’s dictatorship, killing his own brother-in-law, murdering the praetor Gratidanus, defiling a Vestal Virgin, and of killing his son to please his new wife, who allegedly did not want to marry into a family that already had an heir. He was accused by Cicero of plotting, with Crassus, to take over much of Italy's farms. His history wound down with the Catilinarian Conspiracy where he tried to rally the poor and old soldiers from Sulla's old army to kill the Roman Senate and take over Rome. First on his assassination list was Cicero, who avoided assassination and revealed the conspiracy to the Senate--with Catilina present. He fled to an army he had raised and was killed at the front of it. "Catiline was found, far in advance of his men, among the dead bodies of the enemy; a most glorious death, had he thus fallen for his country."—From Florus' Epitome de Tito Livio (II.xii)
There is a thesis that Catilina was framed--by Cicero--and it is presented nicely in the easy reading Catilina's Riddle, by Saylor.

Solar activity was thought to be caused by a turbine-system of moving fluid within the sun. In search of a more accurate system of prediction, Professor Zharkova and her team discovered fluctuating magnetic waves in two layers of the sun. By studying the data of the dual waves, she says, predictions are far more precise.
“Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 percent,” said Zharkova, whose findings were published by the Royal Astronomic Society.
Using this method, she and her team discovered that there will be far less solar activity in sun cycles 25 and 26, leading to a prolonged period of solar dormancy
“In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other -- peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’,” said Zharkova.
The Maunder Minimum is the title given to periods of time when sunspots are rare. It last occurred between 1645 and 1715, when roughly 50 sunspots were recorded, as opposed to the standard 40,000. That time was marked by brutal, river-freezing temperatures in Europe and North America.

Go Set a Watchman has been released. It is by Harper Lee who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, her only other novel. It is said to be a follow-up novel, or perhaps a first draft of Mockingbird. It is going to be a tough novel for us all, especially the academics, because it turns much of Mockingbird on its head and makes Atticus an aging racist. This will be interesting--and maybe painful--to watch.

French symbolism: In July 1793, Marie Antoinette’s former favorite shade of defiance, green, was added to the list of unpatriotic markers because a young woman named Charlotte Corday, who had stabbed to death the revolutionary journalist Marat in his bathtub, had been apprehended with a green ribbon in her hair. Following Corday’s summary execution, Simon Schama has pointed out, her memorable headgear made green “the color of counter-revolution—prohibited, to the ruin of drapers and haberdashers, from any public dress.”--Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion

AAAAAAaaaaaaaaaannnnnndddddd......a graph:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Russians in Space

In 1957 the Russians launched the first man-made object out of the Earth's atmosphere. Sputnik. The Russian news agency, Tass, said the satellite Sputnik was 560 miles above the Earth and circling it every hour-and-a-half. Interestingly the Russian spokesman,  Dr. Blagonravov, said no one had anything to fear from the Soviet satellite program.
In 1961 Major Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth for 108 minutes traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour. He was the first human in space.
In 1965 30-year-old Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov completed a 12-minute spacewalk, the first man to ever do it. Outside his ship the suit began to balloon in the low pressure of space and started to compress him. In response he vented precious air inside the suit into space. He suffered the same effects of decompression sickness that a surfacing diver does and barely pulled himself back on-board the craft.

Sputnik and the Americans

The Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik I, October 4, 1957. The 183-pound, basketball-sized satellite orbited the earth in 98 minutes. The Sputnik launch shocked the Americans who feared that the Soviets might also be capable of sending missiles with nuclear weapons from Europe to America.
The United States, fearful and somewhat embarrassed by this apparent gap in technology, immediately began developing a response, signaling the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race.
On November 3, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik II, which carried a dog named Laika. In December, America attempted to launch a satellite of its own, called Vanguard, but it exploded shortly after takeoff. On January 31, 1958, things went better with Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite to successfully orbit the earth. In July of that year, Congress passed legislation officially establishing NASA from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and other government agencies. In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared that America should put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, a statement in many ways completely beyond his control. 
On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission achieved that goal and made history when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The New France

Marie Brenner has written an article in Vanity Fair on France and anti-Semitism. It is very sad. Here are some sections.

Amedy Coulibaly, who had grown up in a Paris suburb with his Malian parents, attacked people in a Jewish delicatessen, the Hyper Cacher, in a quiet area in Porte de Vincennes. The day before, Coulibaly had killed a policewoman who was investigating a traffic accident in the suburb of Montrouge. He had at least one Kalashnikov rifle, a Scorpion submachine gun, two Tokarev pistols, knives, ammunition, and a silver laptop, with instructions on how to upload his footage and what to say to the news media. What he did not bring, however, was any equipment to make it work without Wi-Fi. The Hyper Cacher had no Wi-Fi. He held 19 people hostage, eventually massacred four people. He wore a GoPro video camera strapped to his torso to record the slaughter. He reportedly announced to his hostages: “I am Amedy Coulibaly, Malian and Muslim. I belong to the Islamic State.” He admitted that he had killed the policewoman in Montrouge and that he was working with Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre. He said, ‘There are many people like me who are now preparing in Arab countries.’ He told others, ‘I am not crazy. We understand the Koran. We understand the good and the right way.’ He said, “Do you understand why I am doing what I am doing? Do you understand what I am doing here? I am here because the Prophet has given me an order. I am here to stop the war in the Arab countries.”
By the time the siege was over, four French Jews were dead, including one young man who grabbed a gun that Coulibaly had left on a counter because it had jammed. 

France has the largest population of Jews in Europe (and the third largest in the world, after Israel and the United States) and has always been seen as the laboratory to understand what is happening on the Continent. But Jews make up less than 1 percent of the French population. Even so, according to the S.P.C.J., they are the target of 51 percent of all racist acts in France. The country has become Israel’s biggest source of immigrants.

70% of French Jews are Sephardic Jews, the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. The adjective "Sephardic" and corresponding nouns Sephardi (singular) and Sephardim (plural) are derived from the Hebrew word "Sepharad," which refers to Spain.

 “This is not the Paris of Woody Allen. That Paris no longer exists.”
The base of the Statue de la République is defaced with a swastika as a protest in support of Palestinians turns anti-Semitic, Paris, July 26, 2014. By Etienne Laurent/EPA/Corbis.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday 8/16/15

Today's Gospel is the continuation of the manna/"bread of heaven" writings, starting with the very difficult:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;..."

This is very upsetting and must have caused a crisis among those listening. It, in retrospect, is pointed to as support for communion and the organization of the Church. But the audience did not know that at the time. What could have they thought? "The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'” 
And Christ gets more specific, more graphic:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day."

This is grisly stuff. Isolated, it sounds very much like a reference to the ancient human sacrifice period among the early Jews.
It is.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cab Thoughts 8/15/15

“There is no doubt but that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem.” --Hoffer

One fun debate is why certain areas of the country have a large criminal component. All sorts of unprovable good ideas are offered from the loss of religion to the breakdown of the family to bad diet to global warming. One suggestion never made is the lawlessness of the state providing bad example. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 defined some of the penalties for illegal immigration and the relationship between the federal government and the state governments in how those penalties might be enforced. Several cities have declined to participate in these laws and have, with pride, declared themselves "sanctuary cities" where illegal immigrants might live unmolested by immigration law. So, should we be surprised at illegality when the county's government themselves break the law on an imagined point of principle?

Chocolate has evolved into such a massive industry that between 40 and 50 million people depend on cacao for their livelihood. Over 3.8 million tons of cacao beans are produced per year.

There is a peculiar article in "Aeon" written by  Benjamin Dueholm. In it he argues that ISIS appeals to people seeking transcendence, as if this were insightful. "Far from being a parochially Islamic impulse or a nerd’s fantasy – something you can get involved in from ‘your mama’s basement’, as one counter-terrorism expert has said – the myth of the Caliphate echoes dreams of transcendent legitimacy that are deeply embedded in European culture and literature. To find a story of a sovereign authority long lapsed in kingship but still entitled to the allegiance of all the just, and fated to reappear at an auspicious moment, we need look no further than The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)."

Who is...Kit Harington?

The Public TV "Adams" series should be required viewing for all Americans and should be seen every July Fourth. The brilliant portrayal of Jefferson--a portrayal that is the only one that has ever made sense of that astonishing, idealistic and dangerous man--is the same actor that plays Stannis in GoT, Stephen J. Dillane.

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol (Prohibition), including beer made at home. The 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, however, the repeal’s legislation  left out the legalization of home beer making although home wine making was legalized at that time.On October 14, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment sponsored by Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA) creating an exemption from taxation of beer brewed at home for personal or family use.  This exemption went into effect on February 1, 1979, making home brewing legal on a federal level in the U.S.. This took the U.S. off a list prohibiting home brewing that included only Iran and Malaysia.
The 21st Amendment predominantly leaves regulation of alcohol to the individual states. Thus each states’ laws regarding home brewing vary widely. Some states have very specific laws that outline exactly what can and cannot be done with homebrew, while others are vague. Mississippi and Alabama were the last two states to legalize homebrewing. Alabama law went into effect on May 9, 2013, and the Mississippi law went into effect on July 1, 2013.

From Yahoo News: "Iran nuclear talks busted through their second deadline in a week Tuesday, casting new questions about the ability of world powers to cut off all Iranian pathways to a bomb through diplomacy. But the parties agreed to continue their talks." This reminds me of the old America, brash and hopeful and unbelievably naïve. It would be charming were the world not so dangerous.

A recent report from the Kauffman Foundation ranked the Pittsburgh region dead last for startup activity among the nation's 40 largest metropolitan areas. A Brookings Institute study showed that high-tech employment here remains a much smaller share of jobs overall than in Seattle, Boston or Silicon Valley. Brookings' ranking put Pittsburgh in the middle of the pack — 45th out of 100 cities — for what it called “advanced industry employment.”

Barack Obama says that 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous”. This is not exactly true. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers a broad range of temperature rises that are possible; the question is, are all of them dangerous? The answer is, actually, no. The 97 per cent figure is derived from two sources. The first was a poll that found that 97 per cent of just seventy-nine scientists thought climate change was man-made—not that it was dangerous. A more recent poll of 1854 members of the American Meteorological Society found the true number is 52 per cent. The second source of the 97 per cent number was a survey of scientific papers, which has now been comprehensively demolished by Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, who is probably the world’s leading climate economist. So....where is the correction of Mr. Obama's error? Where is the line of scientists who want to make the point of temperature change vs. danger clear? Where are the honored high priests of scientific accuracy?

"Afterimage" is visual sensation persisting after the original stimulus has been removed. A 'negative afterimage' is caused by fatigue colour receptors in the back of the eyes and brain and the negative of the original image appears.

Golden oldie:

Over the weekend China's top stock brokerages pledged that they would collectively buy at least 120 billion yuan (£12.3 billion, $19.3 billion) of shares to help steady the market, with backing from the People's Bank of China. The central bank is effectively becoming the buyer of last resort, printing money to buy up shares and prop up prices. In 1929, Wall Street's banks did something similar. JPMorgan and several other top financial firms agreed to pool resources and buy up shares to put a floor under prices. It happened after a drop of about 30% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The effort by the US banking systems had only the briefest of effects on the index, and America was eventually plunged into the Great Depression.

Former attorney general Eric Holder said today that a “possibility exists” for the Justice Department to cut a deal with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that would allow him to return to the United States from Moscow.  He could buy any book he wanted, see any movie, date slender women, give interviews denouncing out stupid and rapacious government and indirectly impugn us and our system of government. But why would that be in our interest?

On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora exploded. The massive volcanic eruption lasted ten days and completely ravaged the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. Residents who managed to survive the initial explosion and the ensuing tsunami became victims of deadly lung infections caused by all the ash and toxic fumes in the air. The eruption, which was one of the most powerful in recorded history, ejected more than 10 cubic miles of volcanic material. It created a layer of ash in the atmosphere that blocked the sun, caused crop failure throughout the world with death of livestock. And starvation: 200,000 Europeans starved.
A Vermont woman named Eileen Marguet wrote of that dark summer in this poem:
It didn’t matter whether your farm was large or small.
It didn’t matter if you had a farm at all.
’Cause everyone was affected when water didn’t run.
The snow and frost continued without the warming sun.
One day in June it got real hot and leaves began to show.
But after that it snowed again and wind and cold did blow.
The cows and horses had no grass; no grain to feed the chicks.
No hay to put aside that time, just dry and shriveled sticks.
The sheep were cold and hungry and many starved to death,
Still waiting for the warming sun to save their labored breath.
The kids were disappointed, no swimming, such a shame.
It was in 1816 that summer never came.
Cosplay: noun: Literally "Costume Play."  1. The art or practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction, especially from manga, animation, and science fiction. 2. A skit featuring these costumed characters. 3. To portray (a fictional character) by dressing in costume.Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture and a broader use of the term "cosplay" applies to any costumed role-playing in venues apart from the stage. Any entity that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject and it is not unusual to see genders switched. Favorite sources include manga and anime, comic books and cartoons, video games, and live-action films and television series.
The description of the cosplay, portmanteau, is more interesting than the word itself, which might describe pathology (furries) at the worst or the trivial at its best. It is a portmanteau of the words costume and play, portmanteau meaning a trunk or suitcase but, also, a word which fuses both the sounds and the meanings of its components, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel. Others include:  Bodacious—from bold and audacious,  Chortle—from chuckle and snort, Meld—from melt and weld, Neither—a combination of not and either, Snark—from snide and remark, Splatter—from splash and spatter, and Vitamin—from vital and amine. Two technical terms are Pixel—from picture and element and Transistor—from transfer and resistor.

Kit Harington showed up to Wimbeldon sporting decidedly Jon Snow-length hair.

From James Angelos' new book The Full Catastrophe. Zakynthos is an island off the western coast of the Peloponnese. It is mockingly anointed the “Island of the Blind” after nearly 2 percent of the population — nine times the estimated rate for most European countries — was found to be receiving benefit payments for sightlessness. Angelos discovers a scheme to defraud the ministry of health that extends from the single public hospital’s sole ophthalmologist to the former prefect who signed off on the payments, one of many such social-welfare scams that cost the Greek government billions of euros.

Despite its size, England drinks more Champagne than any other nation.

“Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (l926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”--Mussolini

The paper the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied upon to show that urban heat islands (the fact that cities are generally warmer than the surrounding countryside, so urbanization causes local, but not global, warming) had not exaggerated recent warming. This paper turned out—as the skeptic Doug Keenan proved—to be based partly on non-existent data on forty-nine weather stations in China. When corrected, it emerged that the urban heat island effect actually accounted for 40 per cent of the warming in China.

Four Russian long-range bomber aircraft flew close enough to the US shores that they were intercepted by military fighter jets. The first set of two bombers flew near Alaska and just 30 minutes later a separate set flew far off the west coast of California. What motive for playing nuclear chicken could a grown-up possibly have?

Am I the only one who thinks the fouling of the Animas River is being handled very casually? Had this been done by a private company, the country would be nuts with outrage. As a matter of paranoid interest, a week before  millions of gallons of toxic waste were put into the Animas River in Colorado by the EPA, a letter to the editor was published in The Silverton Standard & The Miner local newspaper, authored by a retired geologist detailing verbatim, how EPA would foul the Animas River on purpose in order to secure Superfund money. This, of course, is lunacy but this kind of thing emerges when the daily reality does not balance with the response.

High level people: A special aide to President Obama, White House Staffer Barvetta Singletary, fired a 40 caliber Glock 23 service weapon at her boyfriend after an argument over his possible infidelity. This woman works in the White House!

The inspector general for the Intelligence Community notified senior members of Congress that two of four classified emails discovered on the server Clinton maintained at her New York home contained material deemed to be in one of the highest security classifications - more sensitive than previously known. The notice came as the State Department inspector general’s office acknowledged that it is reviewing the use of "personal communications hardware and software" by Clinton’s former top aides after requests from Congress.

AAAAaaaaaannnnnndddddd.....a graph of the current Chinese stock market and the U.S. in 1929:
Embedded image permalink

Friday, August 14, 2015


At the center of jihadist politics is a rejection of the nation-state, or so says a recent article in The New Yorker. It makes sense as religion, as truth, crosses borders and ethnicity. One is reminded of the conflict between the two modern state goliaths: Germany and Russia. Germany was exclusive, a nation of Aryans with an adopted and probably fictional ancient history, Russia was all embracing--or so they insisted--as a nation of workers, crossing borders. Nazis wanted to cross borders only to kill the locals, the communist wanted to absorb the neighbor.
The West is undergoing a decline in its national identification. One wonders what will work best against a sworn enemy who has the same disregard for the State.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

School Graphs

The labor force participation rate for college graduates has been on a relentless downtrend.
Bachelor Degree Labor Force Participation
It is getting even more expensive to go to school. Even after adjusting for inflation, college costs have gone up more than 400% in the last 30 years.
College Tuition
The student loan balence has nearly tripled in the last decade.
Student Loans

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cab Thoughts 8/12/15

"Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists."--Chesterton

The Environmental Defense Fund has assets of $209 million and since 2008 has had over $540 million from charitable foundations, plus $2.8 million in federal grants. In that time it has spent $11.3 million on lobbying, and has fifty-five people on thirty-two federal advisory committees. 
German-owned Patriot missiles stationed in Turkey were briefly taken over by hackers, according to media reports. The attack took place on anti-aircraft ‘Patriot’ missiles on the Syrian border. The American-made weapons had been stationed there by the German army to protect Nato ally Turkey. The missile system carried out “unexplained” orders. It was not immediately clear when these orders were carried out and what they were.

The estimated number of people living in the U.S. with a viral STI/STD (sexually transmitted infection/sexually transmitted disease) is over 65 million. One in two sexually active people will contact an STI/STD before the age of 25.

Who is...Robert Oppenheimer?
An interesting line from Bordeaux implying Progressivism is societal creationism: Adam Smith rejected the naive myth that beneficial social order, which is unquestionably the result of human action, must therefore be the result of human design.  In short, Smith showed that creationism is as naive a theory of human society as it is of the cosmos.
Coca has been used forever in South America because of alleged help the plant gives with altitude sickness. Coca consumption is legal in Bolivia, where it’s considered comparable to coffee, but it is banned by most countries because it is the base ingredient for cocaine. Millions of people in the region chew coca leaves, which have a tiny amount of cocaine, and even Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, first came to prominence as a leader of coca growers.
The best-known use of the coca leaf in the U.S. is in Coca-Cola, the drink introduced in 1886 by an Atlanta pharmacist as a combination of coca-laced syrup and water. Coca was removed from the recipe about 110 years ago. Today’s formula is flavored with a nonnarcotic extract from the coca plant.

A recent report projected that the cost of manufacturing in the U.S. will fall below costs in China within the next three years, in large part due to the rise of fracking. So total costs in industry might shift back to the U.S. on the basis of energy--and hence transportation --costs. China is far from their target markets.

The White website has corrected President Obama during his press briefing about the Islamic State when the President said that U.S. forces were "training ISIL."

Recherché: A NYT word meaning, appropriately, "unusual and not understood by most people."  1. a : exquisite, choice b :  exotic, rare  2. excessively refined : affected 3. pretentious overblown. ety: French from past participle of rechercher to seek  out, alteration of recercher, from Middle French. First Known Use: 1722

Re: the IRS scandal of targeting groups because of their political beliefs where the IRS agent Lerner took the Fifth(!): The evidence shows “that the Obama IRS scandal is also an Obama DOJ and FBI scandal,” noted Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The FBI and Justice Department worked with Lois Lerner and the IRS to concoct some reason to put President Obama’s opponents in jail before his re-election. And this abuse resulted in the FBI’s illegally obtaining confidential taxpayer information.” In a recent interview he asks, “How can the Justice Department and the FBI investigate the very scandal in which they are implicated?” How, indeed.

Golden oldie:

In her chapter in Climate Change: The Facts, Joanne Nova points out that the entire trillion-dollar industry of climate change policy rests on a single hypothetical assumption, first advanced in 1896, for which to this day there is no evidence.
"The assumption is that modest warming from carbon dioxide must be trebly amplified by extra water vapour—that as the air warms there will be an increase in absolute humidity providing “a positive feedback”. That assumption led to specific predictions that could be tested. And the tests come back negative again and again. The large positive feedback that can turn a mild warming into a dangerous one just is not there. There is no tropical troposphere hot-spot. Ice cores unambiguously show that temperature can fall while carbon dioxide stays high. Estimates of climate sensitivity, which should be high if positive feedbacks are strong, are instead getting lower and lower. Above all, the temperature has failed to rise as predicted by the models."
(For the record, I have no idea if the book referred to above has any merit.)

Enigma was the Germans’ most sophisticated coding machine, necessary to secretly transmitting information. The Enigma machine, invented in 1919 by Hugo Koch, a Dutchman, looked like a typewriter and was originally employed for business purposes. The Germany army adapted the machine for wartime use and considered its encoding system unbreakable. The Brits had broken their first Enigma code as early as the German invasion of Poland and had intercepted virtually every message sent through the occupation of Holland and France. Britain nicknamed the intercepted messages Ultra.

It can be something of a culture shock to move from profit to non-profit. There are many changes that occur with such a move but one is the change in emphasis on process. There is a de-emphasis on performance--it makes nonprofits uncomfortable--and an emphasis on how things are done. Rules homogenize and bleach everything. An example: A waiter was running a 13 man lunch at a tony private club and was really hustling. He rushed on to the elevator and encountered a woman passenger from HR who said to him that he had entered the elevator in a manner inconsistent with safety rules. She demanded he go with her to the boss to discuss this violation--this with his lunchroom waiting. This would never happen in the working world. But process is all and it is unforgiving. It is how people in the future will judge.

 [There is a far-off sound as if out of the sky, like the sound of a string snapping, slowly and sadly dying away. A stillness falls, broken only by the thud of an axe on a tree, far away in the orchard.]--closing stage directions for Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard 

If the political philosophers are correct in concluding that the nature of men is such that they will, given the opportunity, seek to take advantage of other men and to impose their will upon them, it is then not unreasonable to assume that these same men would seek to gain control of a monopolistic instrument of coercion such as the political state in order to effectuate such a design. .......The result of this process would be that “order” is no longer solely perceived in terms of the “hygienic” function of eliminating acts or threatened acts of aggression and violence, but instead is perceived as including the organization and structuring of human relationships in order to permit some men, through the use of state coercion, to make the behavior of other men more predictable for their objectives.  That such, in fact, has been the history of man’s efforts with political processes cannot be denied by any realist.--from page 458 of Butler Shaffer’s  September 1975 University of Miami Law Review article, “Violence as a Product of Imposed Order,” as reprinted in the 1979 collection The Politicization of Society (Kenneth S. Templeton, Jr., ed.)

The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V (born Tommaso Parentucelli). It holds some 180,000 manuscripts, 1.6 million books and 150,000 images and engravings. Last year, non-profit organization *Digita Vaticana Oculus* was founded with the aim of helping fund the digitization of 80,000 of the manuscripts, or 41 million pages. The first 500 manuscripts are now available to view, along with 600 incunabula - books or pamphlets printed before 1500 AD.

"Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." This is attributed to  Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. Oppenheimer was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the USA's World War II program to develop the first nuclear weapons. This quote is usually attributed to Oppenheimer on the occasion of the first successful nuclear test, the Trinity test in New Mexico in 1945, after which USA President Truman authorized the atomic bombings of the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing well over 200,000 men, women and children. It is not clear whether Oppenheimer used these words at the time of the test or at a later date. What he did say at the time was, "It works!"

On June 30th, an unexpected blood moon was seen over a significant portion of the United States, and only in the U.S.. As light from the moon or sun enters the atmosphere it gets scattered by particles like water, aerosols, and in this case smoke from wild fires in Canada. Green, blue, and purple colors are sent in all directions but colors with longer wavelengths like red, orange and yellow continue through the atmosphere and remain visible to the human eye.
One variation of the black bear is a white bear called the Kermode, ghost, or spirit bear. These bears are very rare. Native Americans believed these white bears had supernatural power.

Of the 30  presidential policy directives (PPD) issued by Obama, 19 have not been released. And for 11 of those, the White House has not disclosed even the subject of the order. "It's not only the public that doesn't have copies. It's also Congress that doesn't have copies," Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said. "It's a domain of largely unchecked presidential authority. It doesn't mean it's bad, but it's lacking in independent oversight." PPDs have the same legal force as an executive order, forming a body of largely secret law, said Harold Relyea, a political scientist who advised Congress on national security directives before retiring from the Congressional Research Service."The difference is that while executive orders are public by law — they must be published in the Federal Register to be effective —- PPDs are not," he said.

AAAaaaaaannnnnddddddd......a chart:Chart of the Day