Monday, February 29, 2016


Bissextus: (or double sixth): 1. February 29th: the extra day added to the Julian calendar every fourth year (except those evenly divisible by 400) to compensate for the approximately six hours a year by which the common year of 365 days falls short of the solar year. ety: Bissextus comes from the Latin term bissextus diēs meaning "intercalary day." It was so called because the 6th day before the Calends of March (February 24th) appeared twice every leap year. This odd day was inserted after the sixth day before the kalends of March, i.e., after the 24th of February, and was not counted as an addition to the year, but as a sort of appendix. Hence the sixth of the kalends of March was called bissextus, or double sixth, which root is still retained in our word bissextile, though the day is now added at the end of February.

In 46 BC, Julius Caesar created a calendar system that added one leap day every four years. Acting on advice by Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar did this to make up for the fact that the Earth's year is slightly more than 365 days, the time it takes for the Earth to circle the Sun is slightly more than the time it takes for the Earth to rotate 365 times (with respect to the Sun -- actually we now know this takes about 365.24219 rotations). So, if calendar years contained 365 days they would drift from the actual year by about 1 day every 4 years. By adopting a leap year with an extra day every four years, the calendar year would drift much less. This Julian Calendar system was used until the year 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII provided further fine-tuning when he added that leap days should not occur in years ending in "00", unless divisible by 400. This Gregorian Calendar system is the one in common use today.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday 2/28/16

Today's is a broad and interesting Gospel. The beginning is almost a news release: Some Galileans had been killed by Roman soldiers; on hearing this, Christ mentions a building that had collapsed in an industrial accident where eighteen had died. "Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?" Christ asks. 
He is dismissive of this. God does not hunt men nor is He responsible for evil or bad mortar. But man is responsible for himself and his actions. "...if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” But the similar outcomes are unrelated to cause.
Savagery and Nature exists. But the spiritual world is of another plane. From the risk of destruction come redemption: At the end of the Gospel, the unproductive fig tree, strangely at the request of the gardener, is spared.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Cab Thoughts 2/27/16

'All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.'--Oscar Wilde

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is sending out William Shakespeare's First Folio to all 50 states, to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. Published seven years after he died, the First Folio is the first printed collection of all of Shakespeare's plays.The Folger has 82 First Folios — the largest collection in the world.

It has been a bloody year in Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city. On November 14th the police department reported the city’s 300th homicide in 2015, a total not seen since 1999. The surge in killings in the majority-black city of roughly 623,000 began after the death on April 19th of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was fatally injured while in police custody. Since Mr Gray’s death the city has recorded 244 homicides, a 78% increase over the same period in 2014, representing more than 100 additional deaths

A great advantage afforded by freedom and diversity: Bigotry in a free society should always be defeated. Say, for example, good credit risks who are denied  mortgage applications because of bigotry  provide opportunities for other mortgage lenders to profitably serve those borrowers.

Obama has, acting strangely again, not gone to the Scalia funeral. I find that difficult to understand. Scalia's death is probably the most important event of his presidency, more than Obamacare. (I think the real importance of Obamacare is his decision to use the Democrat majority in the first years to work on health care and not the financial problems. I will bet that, in history, that will be seen as a great error.)

America incarcerates people awaiting trial at triple the world average. Every day, roughly 500,000 people who have been convicted of no crime sit in county jails.

In 1823, the Christmas classic, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") was published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel. Twenty years and much popularity later, Clement C. Moore claimed and was accorded authorship, but recent scholarship by forensic literary critic Don Foster -- the man who established the author of Primary Colors -- has cast this very much in doubt.

Who is...Michael Burry?
Congress has completely succumbed to the pressure to use one American to serve the purposes of another. As a result, spending grows. I personally believe in helping one's fellow man in need. Doing so by reaching into one's own pockets is laudable and praiseworthy. Doing so by reaching into another's pockets is evil and worthy of condemnation. --Williams

One of the first things a lawyer learns is never ask a question for which you do not know the answer. A characteristic of the modern West is its reluctance to ask hard questions for fear of hearing hard answers.
Michael Burry is the strange M.D. in The Big Short. There is a lot about him in the book, not all flattering, but one of the book's ideas is that only a true outsider, a guy who does not quite think with everyone--and Burry is certainly that--can see these economic distortions coming. He said this recently: "Interest rates are used to price risk." This is a very simple and profound statement. What he means is that the central banks have been using artificially low interest rates to avoid risk and stimulate the economy. This is contrary to the very nature of things and, thus, must be dangerous.

Golden oldie:

The very popular author Alexandre Dumas wrote 250 books but he had a staff of some seventy "assistants" churning out copy for his first drafts, and there was no rule against borrowing passages from earlier writers. His was a confused and confusing history. At the age of twenty-three he declared to live a "career as a romantic" and promptly got involved in several duels that were delayed or postponed or simply dissolved from disinterest or incompetence. Finally he quarreled with a politician and both sides agreed to draw lots, the loser pledging to shoot himself. Dumas lost and withdrew to another room, closing the door behind him. Long moments followed on both sides. Hearing a shot at last, the crowd rushed in to find Dumas unhurt and holding a smoking gun: "Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened. I missed."

Trump won the majority of independents and equaled the sum of Cruz and Rubio among Hispanics. Read that again

The federal government's 1980 "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" warned about the baleful effects of saturated fats. Public interest activists/entrepreneurs joined the fight and managed to persuade major food companies to switch to the shiny new alternative: trans fats.
Thirty-five years later, the Food and Drug Administration finally determined that trans fats are not just useless but unsafe, and ordered them removed from all foods.
Science in the hands of the amateur is a dangerous tool.
The deadliest hurricane on record is the 1970 Bhola Cyclone in Bangladesh, which killed between 150,000-300,000 people.
In 1841 twenty-two year-old Herman Melville set sail aboard the Acushnet, a New England whaler heading for the South Seas. His experiences on this and several subsequent voyages would provide the basis for a half-dozen sea novels written in a five-year burst, 1846-51. In his lifetime, and much to his disgust, Melville's reputation was not made on the last of those, Moby Dick, but on the first, Typee, and its sequel, Omoo. Typee was originally rejected--the cannibalism, naked women and religion-bashing in the book was felt by American publishers as too fantastic--but the stories were confirmed by Melville's fellow sailors.

One in every five people in the world is Chinese.
Baleful: adj: 1. Portending evil; ominous: The guard's baleful glare frightened the children. 2. Harmful or malignant in intent or effect: a baleful influence. ety: Old English bealu-full "dire, wicked, cruel," with -ful + bealu "harm, injury, ruin, evil, mischief, wickedness, a noxious thing," from Proto-Germanic *balwom (cognates: Old Saxon balu, Old Frisian balu "evil," Old High German balo "destruction," Old Norse bol, Gothic balwjan "to torment"), from PIE root *bhelu- "to harm." During Anglo-Saxon times, the noun was in poetic use only (in compounds such as bealubenn "mortal wound," bealuðonc "evil thought"), and for long baleful has belonged exclusively to poets. Related: Balefully.
Baleful and baneful overlap in meaning, but baleful usually applies to something that is menacing or foreshadows evil: a baleful look. Baneful most often describes that which is actually harmful or destructive: baneful effects of their foreign policy.

Is Kasick staying in the race because he thinks that he could be offered the v-p?

Pozzuoli was a Roman port town near the supervolcano Campi Flegrei. The Roman philosopher Seneca noted, the “dust at Puteoli [the city’s Latin name] becomes stone if it touches water.” Why? Pozzolana is a mixture of silica oxides and lime, two of the three key ingredients in cement; the third ingredient is water. Geochemist Tiziana Vanorio suspects the ancient Romans first watched pozzolana hardening into cement in the seawater surrounding Campi Flegrei. They co-opted the natural process, mixing in small chunks of pumice — a porous volcanic rock that forms when superheated magma is quickly cooled. And Roman concrete was born. It became an iconic building material of the ancient world, and it’s the reason many Roman structures, including the Colosseum and the Pantheon, have survived to the present day.
What come next is hard to believe, the stuff of sci-fi: After the fall of the Roman empire, the art of concrete-making was all but forgotten. It disappeared.
It gradually returned centuries later, but didn’t become widespread again until 1824, when Joseph Aspdin developed and patented Portland cement.
The Romans used to add horse hair to concrete to keep it from cracking while hardening. Now there are additives that increase concrete’s electrical conductivity, strength, ductility, and resistance to acid corrosion. There are chemical retardants that slow concrete’s hydration, accelerators that speed it up, and plasticizers that increase its workability. There are corrosion inhibitors. There are pigments. There are decorative stones and seashells.
All from the products of a volcano and the sea.
“The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova--apparently no pun intended--describes the history and nature of the con man and his victim. She is a psychologist and a contributor to It is a Gladwell-like construction of readable, sensible stories, popular analysis and advice.  And the occasional hair-raiser: She recounts the story of a lonely 68-year-old physics professor at the University of North Carolina whose trip to Bolivia and Argentina to meet a Czech model with whom he’d been corresponding via an online dating service lands him in jail after unwittingly serving as a cocaine mule. But it all has a bright side: “Ultimately, what a confidence artist sells is hope,” Konnikova writes. Ah, yes, the audacity--and self-deception--of hope.

Friday, February 26, 2016


Like the guy on the floor of a bank during the holdup, a woman tied to a post during the raid, the criminal enterprise and narrative reduces the lives, the hopes and dreams, of the average guy to background noise. That is the message of The Big Short. Money and power are the elephants on the plains. We are just poor critters. The Japanese murder squads called their victims "logs." Atwood's women are "furniture." All are background noise to the real direction, the real story. Everything--honesty, human dignity, everything--is sacrificed to the Greater Narrative.
And so it is with our political experiment.
Gawker writes that at least one U.S. reporter traded content in his article for information from Hillary Clinton’s staff while she was Secretary of State. In what is an astonishing documented exchange--this is all from released documents--, the reporter agreed to insert specific words and imagery into his article in return for a copy of Hillary’s upcoming speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. He wrote his article to the specifications of the person he was reviewing! His name? Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic!
In another instance, Politico’s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, promised to deliver positive coverage of Chelsea Clinton, and, in a separate exchange, permitted  Philippe Reines, Senior Advisor to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to ghost-write an item about the State Department for Politico’s Playbook newsletter. His article was ghost-written by the department he was reviewing! 
This is terrible stuff and one wonders if the democracy can stand it. The manipulation and distortion--where we expect honesty and  insight--is shocking but the implication of this layer of political-journalistic symbiosis implies a casual cynicism, a hand-glove cronyism that should, in an honest world, cause its implosion.  
Maybe that's what Trump and Sanders are: The implosion.

(A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.– H.L. Mencken)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Michael Burry

Michael Burry is the neurologist played by Christian Bale in The Big Short. A strange man, Burry was one of the few--all, not coincidentally, outsiders--who predicted and profited from the fall in mortgage bonds in 2008.

Burry is consistently weird and more than a bit of a recluse. In many respects, he is an unfortunate man. But, of course, because of his success in 2008, he is pursued for financial advice. In a Dec. 28, 2015 interview with New York Magazine, Burry spoke a bit about the economy. Here are some excerpts.

First, what did he hope would come from the 2008 crisis?
"The biggest hope I had was that we would enter a new era of personal responsibility. Instead, we doubled down on blaming others, and this is long-term tragic. Too, the crisis, incredibly, made the biggest banks bigger... Banks were forced, by the government, to save some of the worst lenders in the housing bubble, then the government turned around and pilloried the banks for the crimes of the companies they were forced to acquire. The zero interest-rate policy broke the social contract for generations of hardworking Americans who saved for retirement, only to find their savings are not nearly enough... Government policies and regulations in the postcrisis era have aided the hollowing-out of middle America far more than anything the private sector has done. These changes even expanded the wealth gap by making asset owners richer at the expense of renters. Maybe there are some positive changes in there, but it seems I fail to see beyond the absurdity."

And the current policies?
"We are right back at it: trying to stimulate growth through easy money. It hasn’t worked, but it’s the only tool the Fed’s got. Meanwhile, the Fed’s policies widen the wealth gap, which feeds political extremism, forcing gridlock in Washington. It seems the world is headed toward negative real interest rates on a global scale. This is toxic. Interest rates are used to price risk, and so in the current environment, the risk-pricing mechanism is broken. That is not healthy for an economy. We are building up terrific stresses in the system, and any fault lines there will certainly harm the outlook."

What are you investing in?
"Fresh, clean water cannot be taken for granted. And it is not — water is political, and litigious. Transporting water is impractical for both political and physical reasons, so buying up water rights did not make a lot of sense to me, unless I was pursuing a greater fool theory of investment — which was not my intention. What became clear to me is that food is the way to invest in water. That is, grow food in water-rich areas and transport it for sale in water-poor areas. This is the method for redistributing water that is least contentious, and ultimately it can be profitable, which will ensure that this redistribution is sustainable. A bottle of wine takes over 400 bottles of water to produce — the water embedded in food is what I found interesting."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cab Thoughts 2/24/16

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

John Kerry on "Fox News Sunday" speaking about the non-deal climate deal in Paris: "This mandatory reporting requirement ... is a serious form of enforcement, if you will, of compliance, but there is no penalty for it, obviously." They just say this stuff. The highly praised Iran nuclear agreement might give some insight. Iran's parliament has never approved it. And that the Iranian president has never signed it. Iran is not legally bound to anything. The State Department wrote the deal "is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document." 
Everything these guys do is pretend. One hopes that the Great Climate Change Victory recently in Paris will put an end to our climate anxiety for a while but somehow I doubt it.
Soccer was introduced to Italians in the late 1800s by the British, but it was not until the 1930s under Mussolini that the sport took off on an international level.
In 1881 Oscar Wilde embarked for America and a year-long lecture tour on such topics as "The House Beautiful" and "The Decorative Arts."
His proclaimed mission was "to make this artistic movement the basis for a new civilization. " After one talk in Leadville, a mining town in the Rocky Mountains, he descended ito o mine and opened a new silver vein with a drill. While in the bar that night "with the miners and the female friends of the miners," Wilde noticed the sign "Please don't shoot the pianist; he is doing his best." Back in England, while touring his "Impressions of America," Wilde recalled all this with delight: "I was struck with this recognition of the fact that bad art merits the penalty of death, and I felt that in this remote city, where the aesthetic applications of the revolver were clearly established in the case of music, my apostolic task would be much simplified, as indeed it was."
Who is....Philippe Petain?
There is a problem lurking out there for the ACA. One of the ways government bypasses reality is to shift cost burdens. For example, electric cars are mandated by government edict but, regardless of what their merits might be, are impossible to sell at a profit so they are sold at a loss and the cost made up in SUV pricing. So the SUV buyer is essentially subsidizing the electric car, i.e. paying too much for his SUV. In the ACA, the insurers are losing money. The plan was to pay the insurers back through the general tax fund. But the congress, led by Rubio, outlawed that. That will make the insurer losses real. They will react in some way.

Talking to politicians about the economy is like talking with eight-year-olds about sex. They have heard all the words, but they haven't a clue.--Michael Aronstein
Previous studies have shown that, despite the success of firms like Facebook, the number of startups has dropped sharply, from about 13% of all firms in the late 1980s to about 8% in 2011. Now a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that the expansion of the remaining startups — which traditionally has been much faster than the growth of existing companies — has slowed considerably. By some measures, it now barely exceeds the average of older companies. These are worrisome numbers.

According to some accounts, Truman was inducted into the KKK, though he was "never active." Other accounts claim that though he gave the KKK a $10 membership fee, he demanded it back and was never inducted or initiated. The Internet is like Judgment Day.

There are some curiosities about guns in the U.S. and the attitudes about them. The Left is eager to control gun ownership although the evidence is against its success in reducing crime but opposed to "stop and frisk" despite its success in crime reduction. They are concerned about individual rights regarding "stop and frisk" although it has been approved by the courts but not concerned about the rights question regarding gun control despite all the court decisions against it and even Lawrence Tribe's rejection of it.


In 1924, congress restricted immigration from Asia, reduced the numbers coming from southern and Central Europe, and produced a 40-year moratorium on most immigration into the United States. Its authors and President Coolidge wanted the U.S. to remain a nation whose primary religious and ethnic ties were to Europe, not Africa or Asia. Under FDR, Truman and JFK, this was the law of the land.
Asks Buchanan, "Was that a period of fascism?"
Francois Darlan was admiral of the French fleet in 1939. Upon the surrender of France to the German invaders in June of 1940, Darlan let it be known that he was inclined to sail the fleet to Great Britain, to keep it out of German hands. 
But Darlan was quickly “bought off”: He was made navy minister and then supreme commander of all Vichy French military forces under Philippe Petain’s government. He became a collaborator with the German puppeteers (even passing on to the Germans sensitive U.S. military information that had landed in the French embassy in Washington, D.C.), and, to add insult to injury, ordering most of the French fleet to North Africa to avoid Allied capture. (The Royal Navy at Oran would nevertheless attack it shortly thereafter.) Darlan was eventually convinced to aid the Allies in their invasion of North Africa and he ordered a Vichy-force ceasefire to permit the Allied landings in North Africa to move forward unopposed. Darlan finally signed an armistice with the Allies, folding his Vichy forces into the Free French military. On Christmas Eve, 1942, he was assassinated by Bonnier de la Chapelle, a Charles de Gaulle follower who was training to be a British agent. Despite the help Darlan ultimately provided, the Allies rejoiced. “Darlan’s murder, however criminal, relieved the Allies of their embarrassment at working with him,” admitted Churchill.

"The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change," Secretary of State John Kerry announced after coming out of a meeting with Russian ruler Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday. Less than a month ago, President Obama reiterated his public position, saying Syrian dictator Bashar Assad must go: "I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power."
Is this a sudden, Russian-provoked reversal of policy? Only if you took Obama seriously. Mortifying.
Interesting and I guess important case before the Supreme Court: Evenwel v. Abbott. The basic question in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, is who must be counted in creating voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters? Right now, all states and most localities count everyone. Those not eligible  to vote are children, immigrants here legally who are not citizens, unauthorized immigrants, people disenfranchised for committing felonies, and prisoners. It is a curious subset to focus upon and somehow in the discussion the old 3/5 rule shows up, dressed in moral indignation.

Yahoo’s annual Christmas party this year was a Roaring 20s / Great Gatsby theme, complete with champagne towers and a vintage Rolls Royce. The party itself, right down to the theme, was a symbol of waste, indulgence, and excess; it reported costly between $7 and $10 million to stage.

Singularity: n: the state, fact, quality, or condition of being singular. Uniqueness. 2. in physics: a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially in space-time when matter is infinitely dense, as at the center of a black hole. There is a third, scary meaning, in the technological world: the point where machines improve themselves and/or their products.

Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" – Richard Feynman
Researchers track Fukushima radiation by focusing on the isotope Cesium-134, which has a half-life of only two years. All Cesium-134 in the ocean likely comes from the Fukushima disaster. In contrast, Cesium-137 – also released in huge quantities from Fukushima – has a half-life of 30 years, and persists in the ocean, not just from Fukushima, but also from nuclear tests conducted as far back as the 1950s. The most recent study added 110 new Cesium-134 samples to the ongoing studies. These samples were an average of 11 Becquerels per cubic meter of sea water, a level 50 percent higher than other samples taken so far. So, how does a 50% increase in West Coast radiation in two years fit into your models?
And, in other atmospheric news, just three months ago, the world's greatest carbon emitter, China, admitted to having under-reported its burning of coal by 17%, a staggering error (assuming it wasn't a deliberate deception) equal to the entire coal consumption of Germany. China promises to begin reducing carbon emissions 15 years from now. India announced it will be tripling its coal-fired electricity capacity by 2030. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is effectively dismantling America's entire coal industry.

AAAAaaaannnnnddddd.......a graph:

Chart of the Day

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Putting the Society Under Protective Custody

I recently wrote a little blurb about the publishing of Huckleberry Finn and some reactions to it. In general, in the months after the  publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published (1885), a Concord, Massachusetts, library banned the book, calling its subject matter “tawdry” and its narrative voice “coarse” and “ignorant.” In the 1950s, the book came under fire from African-American groups for being racist in its portrayal of black characters, despite the fact that it was seen by many as a strong criticism of racism and slavery. As recently as 1998, an Arizona parent sued her school district, claiming that making Twain’s novel required high school reading made already existing racial tensions even worse.
So it was banned by two groups, white and black. 

But in censorship there are no ties. Everyone loses. We have loads of examples of efforts throughout history of uncomfortable and simply hateful art and beliefs inflicted upon society. The problem is that such art does not scratch at a scab on the body politic, it is the scab. Sometimes the problem is significant, sometime, like a crucifix in urine, it is gratuitous. But outlawing it is not the answer. Outlawing hate speech would be like trying to outlaw hate itself.

Imagine the Athenians reacting to Lysistrata.” (It is a dirty anti-war comedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, first staged in 411 BC.) It is the comic story of Lysistrata and her one woman's mission to end the Peloponnesian War, as she convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. The Athenians were at war at the time--guys were dying--and the playwright was laughing at them.
We must be better people now. We have become much more refined. Now we do not struggle over plays, we struggle over words. We are actually banning words.

There is a legitimate objection when facing something like Finn: The problem with the quality of the understanding of the public. They simply might not get it. The first response to Taming of the Shrew might easily be anger if you are of a parochial mind. And it is especially difficult now as everyone is so tender; the outrage is so quick. But that was Bowdler's original concern; he did not think the audience up to it. They--in his case women and children--were so fragile as to be easily corrupted.
The Church thought that too. That's why they developed The Index. They were protecting those poor people, as we try now.

The problem is simply bigger than that. If education is necessary, then let's do it. But the only thing censorship does is expose our unwillingness to confront and to solve problems. Or, worse, it exposes our fear that those offended cannot be taught, that the work cannot be explained because of the deficit in the audience. Sometimes the work does not deserve our efforts, as when people put crucifixes in urine and call it art, but still the solution is to confront it--or rise above it, not lynch the artist and burn his works.
These works require a response. The question is which response. And our choice is usually less a judgment of the work than of its audience.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pope Francis vs. Trump

The Pope Francis-Trump news event is a perfect example of what is wrong with the modern media. If you search for the complete text of what the Pope said, you will find it difficult to find. And there is a reason for that. What the Pope said was quite clever and amorphous--like a repartee in a European court. Rather than pointed, it was a generality and, as such, has to be scoured for controversy. Here is the question and answer:

Q: Good evening, Your Holiness. Today you spoke eloquently about the problems of migrants. On the other side of the frontier there's a very tough electoral campaign going on. One of the Republican candidates for the White House, Donald Trump, in a recent interview, said you are a "political man" and that maybe you are a pawn of the Mexican government as far as immigration policy is concerned. He has said that if elected, he would build a 2,500-kilometer-long wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, thus separating families, etc. I would like to ask you, first off, what do you think of these accusations against you, and if an American Catholic can vote for someone like this.

A: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as "animal politicus." So at least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

I am not a big fan of Liberation Theology--and I think this Pope is--but what the press did with this educated and measured statement is characteristic of what is wrong in our modern news. The absolute last thing a news reporter wants is an answer. The LAST. What he want is a bridge to the next flare-up, the next concern or anxiety. No answer can close a discussion; every answer is a tool to stir the next pot.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday 2/21/16

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Despite its drama, it was never formalized in the Church until after the Tenth Century. In it, Christ is transfigured on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah while Peter, James and John watch in amazement.
It is often seen as a jumping off point in the Gospel where Christ and the apostles are both energized by this glimpse of heaven.
But it is a remarkable, almost posed, artistic and philosophical moment. A distillation of the conflicts and resolutions of the New and Old Testament, it is a powerful mixture of spirituality and humanity, Christ and the great prophets and the apostles all swirling in opposition and conformity.
And light.

The World
by Henry Vaughan

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
       All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
       Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
       And all her train were hurl’d.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
       Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
       Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
       Yet his dear treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour
       Upon a flow’r.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
       He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
       Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
       Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,
       Work’d under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
       That policy;
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
       Were gnats and flies;
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he
       Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
       His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
       In fear of thieves;
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
       And hugg’d each one his pelf;
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,
       And scorn’d pretence,
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess,
       Said little less;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
       Who think them brave;
And poor despised Truth sate counting by
       Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring;
       But most would use no wing.
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
       Before true light,
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
       Because it shews the way,
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
       Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
       More bright than he.
But as I did their madness so discuss
       One whisper’d thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
       But for his bride.”

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cab Thoughts 2/20/16

Consumer spending may serve Humanity no more frequently than most other human activities.  But how forbidding society would be if one man’s aesthetic/moral preferences decided what goods his fellow consumers select.  In open societies, human consumption choices share only one characteristic – they are made in pursuit of happiness.  The importance and finality of consumers’ freedom was italicized by William Penn.  For he used it as a precedent to warrant equal freedom in religion: “Men have their liberty and choice in external matters; they are not compelled to … buy here and eat there, nor to sleep yonder….  That this liberty should be unquestioned, and that of the Mind destroyed [is, he said] the issue here.”--Stanley Lebergott

June 15, 2013, Ethan Couch, 16, and some friends stole beer from a store and later went for a drive with him at the wheel. Speeding on a dark country road outside Burleson, a suburb of Fort Worth, he plowed a pickup truck into four pedestrians, killing all of them, and hit two vehicles before his truck flipped over. A teenager who was among Mr. Couch’s passengers was thrown from the vehicle and was left paralyzed and brain damaged.
Hours later, Couch recorded a blood alcohol level of 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for drivers of drinking age, and he tested positive for prescription sedatives. He later pleaded guilty to charges including four counts of manslaughter. Couch’s lawyers argued that he deserved leniency precisely because of his privileged upbringing. His lawyer called as a witness a psychologist who claimed that Mr. Couch had "affluenza," meaning he was too spoiled to know right from wrong. He was given leniency. He was recently rearrested for violating his parole.

From the "Dept. of Settled Science:" In 1992, three researchers bothered to measure the average human temperature. They found that the conventional wisdom (based on an 1878 German study) was wrong. Normal is 98.2.

The solar wind streams off of the Sun in all directions at speeds of about 1 million miles per hour. The source of the solar wind is the Sun's hot corona. The temperature of the corona is so high that the Sun's gravity cannot hold on to the gases that compose it. Although why this happens is understood,  the details about how and where the coronal gases are accelerated to these high velocities is not.

Will and the common pencil analogy in his review of Matt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything: Presidential campaigns inflate expectations that power wielded from government’s pinnacle will invigorate the nation. Thus campaigns demonstrate that creationists threaten the creative ferment that produces social improvement. Not religious creationists, who are mistaken but inconsequential. It is secular creationists whose social costs are steep.
Ridley applies to everything the perspective of Leonard E. Read’s famous 1958 essay “I, Pencil.” In it a pencil explains that “I am a mystery” because not a single person knows how to make me. The seemingly simple pencil is wood harvested by loggers using saws and ropes made elsewhere, wood transported by trucks and trains made by many thousands of people, to mills where machines — the products of ore mined by thousands and steel mills staffed by thousands more — prepare the wood to receive graphite mined abroad and the eraser from foreign rubber, held in place by aluminum mined somewhere and smelted somewhere else, before lacquer (castor beans and other ingredients) is applied, and. . . .
Behind a pencil stand millions of cooperating people, but no mastermind. Which is why worshipers in the church of government, the source of top-down authority, disparage a free society’s genius for spontaneous order: It limits the importance of government and other supposed possessors of the expertise that supposedly is essential for imposing order from above.

Who is...Danielle DiMartino Booth?

The average adult heart beats 72 times a minute; 100,000 times a day; 3,600,000 times a year; and 2.5 billion times during a lifetime.

In Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar, a story is related that Julius Caesar divorced his wife (Pompeia) because of rumors of opprobrious behavior. At trial, Caesar said he knew nothing about his wife’s rumored adultery, but asserted that he divorced her because his wife “ought not even be under suspicion” (The Life of Caesar, 9-10).
In 2007, the last time Hillary Clinton filed financial disclosures as a member of the U.S. Senate, she indicated she was worth between $10.4 and $51.2 million. Bill Clinton's net worth is about $55 million. In 2012, the most recent year with data available, the Clinton Foundation disclosed assets of $226 million, with $51.5 million in contributions and grants received. Saudi Arabia alone gave to the foundation $10 million to $25 million, as did government aid agencies in Australia and the Dominican Republic. Brunei, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar and Taiwan each gave more than $1 million. So did the ruling family of Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Foundation, both based in the United Arab Emirates, and the Friends of Saudi Arabia, founded by a Saudi prince.  
Caesar's wife must be above suspicion.

Americans spent $3 TRILLION on healthcare in 2014, a 5.3% year-over-year increase, which works out to $9,523 for every man, woman, and child in the US. Today, healthcare spending accounts for a whopping 17.5% of the US economy. Spending on prescription drugs jumped 12.2% in 2014, to $297.7 billion.

Probity: n: 1. integrity and uprightness; honesty. Probity came to English in the 1500s and finds its roots in the Latin probus meaning "upright."   "Opprobrious" means 1. expressing contemptuous reproach; scornful or abusive: opprobrious epithets or, 2, bringing disgrace; shameful or infamous: opprobrious conduct. Its origin is "full of reproach, intended to bring disgrace," late 14c., from Old French oprobrieus (Modern French opprobrieux), or directly from Late Latin opprobriosus, from Latin opprobare "to reproach, taunt," from ob "against" + probrum "reproach, infamy." Etymological sense is "disgrace attached to conduct considered shameful." I could not find a direct link to "probity."

Raising the minimum wage implies the notion that a higher minimum wage results in a sufficiently large increase in demand for the goods and services produced by minimum-wage workers that a higher minimum wage gives no economic reason to employers to economize further on low-skilled labor.

Danielle DiMartino Booth writes that in the next three years, some $1.1 trillion in Treasurys could roll off the Fed’s balance sheet if reinvestment were to cease. Tack on the potential for mortgage backed securities (MBS) to prepay and/or mature and you’re contemplating a figure that approaches $2 trillion. That would increase the supply of Treasurys and MBS available to investors and reduce the Fed’s support of the economy. The higher the supply on the market, the lower the price and hence, higher the yield, which moves opposite price.

It’s the exercise of power, not the exercise of freedom, that requires justification.-- David Boaz

Dyson was interviewed recently and said something very interesting. He said the original models for global warming were created to allow for individual variations of multiple components--generally varying one component at a time. (He actually knows the originators of the models personally.) Individual variations of single elements while holding large groups of other elements as constants is a successful and convenient technique in analysis but it was never conceived of as a predictive model nor is it a good one. He knows these guys.

Golden oldie:

The Pirates continue to play Modernist baseball, that is minimalism with an emphasis on self realization and no judgment. They now have two legit starters, three number five starters and no four, five or six hitters. The Cubs have a similar problem in a way: They have eight number three hitters. I do have a solution. And it might help our other problem, the Penguins. The Pens lost several night ago and their radio color guy, Phil Borque, almost cried. I exaggerate not. This team is having a nervous breakdown and I have no idea what is going on. Crosby is 88th in league scoring. So, my plan. In a silly PR move a few years ago the Pirates brought Crosby in before a game and he took a few pitches. He hit the first one into the right field stands. Hand-eye is hand-eye. So we put Crosby at first.

The oldest piece of paper in the world was found in China and dates back to the second or first century B.C. Paper was so durable, it was sometimes used for clothing and even light body armor.

Throughout 1890, the U.S. government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance spiritual movement, which taught that Indians had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs. Many Sioux believed that if they practiced the Ghost Dance and rejected the ways of the white man, the gods would create the world anew and destroy all non-believers, including non-Indians. On December 15, 1890, reservation police (Sioux) tried to arrest Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief, who they mistakenly believed was a Ghost Dancer, and killed him in the process, increasing the tensions at Pine Ridge. On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under the Sioux Chief Big Foot near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. Shots were fired and the Indians were wiped out. Almost 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men.
Some say there was more motive than accident involved: They say that the soldiers, who were of the 7th Cavalry, were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876.
This was the last major conflict between white America and the American Indian.

No sane person would have invested in China in the 1970s, but that is what genuinely emerging markets look like.

Peer-to -Peer lending is emerging to fill in the gaps created by the banks' decrease participation in the lending market. Take Lending Club. Say you want a $25,000 debt-consolidation loan. Your FICO score is in the “good” range – 660-720 – and you have annual income over $100,000. With Lending Club you can get a five-year loan at 7.89% with a 3% origination fee. That works out to a 9.63% APR, less (and in some cases much less) than most credit cards charge. Where does this money come from? Investors buy packages of loans that may contain thousands of loans like these. Is this safe? We'll see. But the real change is liquidity. You can sell a bond or leave a bank but these lending contracts are very illiquid.

AAAAaaaaaannnnnndddddd.......a graph of one consequence of low rates---increased borrowing:

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Two Concepts of Liberty''

Isaiah Berlin's 1959 essay, ''Two Concepts of Liberty,'' is considered a major contribution to political theory. In it, he made a distinction between negative liberty, that which the individual must be allowed to enjoy without state interference, and positive liberty, that which the state permits by imposing regulations that, by necessity, limit some freedoms in the name of greater liberty for all. The question asked by negative liberty is: “What is the area within which the subject…is or should be left to do or be what he wants to do or be, without interference by other persons?” Positive liberty, universally professed and practiced in the Sino-Soviet East, asks a very different question: “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, one thing rather than another?”

“Negative” freedom is a familiar enough concept, defined by liberal and conservative theorists, from Locke and Hobbes to Mill, Constant, Bentham, and Tocqueville. They have disagreed as to the area to be left to the individual free of society’s control but they all have agreed that something must be left— “To invade that preserve, however small, would be despotism.”

It is shocking to reflect on how new the doctrine of negative freedom is. It is a recent creation. Creation. Freedom, as an inherent part of mankind, is new and, as such, is fragile. There is no obvious evolutionary channel that was followed to create it, no obvious provenance. It has no discernible history in mankind before the Middle Ages. It has not, until recently, become a context in which to view man and his behavior.
Mr. Berlin writes:
There seems to be scarcely any consciousness of individual liberty as a political ideal in the ancient world. … The domination of this ideal has been the exception rather than the rule, even in the recent history of the West. Nor has liberty in this sense often formed a rallying cry for the great masses of mankind. The desire not to be impinged upon, to be left to oneself, has been a mark of high civilization both on the part of individuals and communities. The sense of privacy itself, of the area of personal relationships as something sacred in its own right, derives from a conception of freedom which, for all its religious roots, is scarcely older, in its developed state, than the Renaissance or the Reformation.

Positive liberty is older. Philosophically, this kind of liberty rests on the assumption that there is one “real” human nature, with “rational” needs. Every prophet of positive freedom, from Plato to Khrushchev, thinks he knows what this “real” human nature is.
He write:
This renders it easy for me to conceive of myself as coercing others for their own sake, in their, not my, interest. I am then claiming that I know what they truly need better than they know it themselves [and they would not resist me if they were as rational and as wise as I. … But I may go on to claim a good deal more than this. I may declare that they are actually aiming at what in their benighted state they consciously resist, because there exists within them an occult entity—their latent rational will, or their “true” purpose—and that this entity, although it is belied by all that they overtly feel and do and say, is their “real” self, of which the poor empirical self in space and time may know nothing or little; and that this inner spirit is the only self that deserves to have its wishes taken into account. Once I take this view I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies, to bully, oppress, torture them in the name, or on behalf, of their “real” selves.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"On Inequality" by Harry G. Frankfurt

George Will has an article on inequality that discusses the work of Harry G. Frankfurt and his new book On Inequality. Frankfurt is a Princeton professor of philosophy emeritus.
This is a topic filled with political and religious nuance. Equality that is not spiritual but material creates very difficult problems as such an equality can be created only by force. More, what of the other inequalities where even force fails, like beauty and health?

Some segments:
"It is misguided to endorse economic egalitarianism as an authentic moral ideal."
Frankfurt argues that economic inequality is not inherently morally objectionable.
"To the extent that it is truly undesirable, it is on account of its almost irresistible tendency to generate unacceptable inequalities of other kinds."
They can include access to elite education, political influence and other nontrivial matters. But Frankfurt's alternative to economic egalitarianism is the "doctrine of sufficiency," which is that the moral imperative should be that everyone have enough.
The pursuit of increased economic equality might, but need not, serve the ethic of sufficiency. And this pursuit might distract people from understanding, and finding satisfaction with, "what is needed for the kind of life a person would most sensibly and appropriately seek."
This has nothing to do with "the quantity of money that other people happen to have." Frankfurt argues, "Doing worse than others does not entail doing badly." And an obsession with others' resources "contributes to the moral disorientation and shallowness of our time."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cab Thoughts 2/17/16

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.
~Alexander Tytler, historian

In his private meeting with news columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and made clear that he plans to step up his public arguments. The President of the United States failed to understand that Americans were anxious after two major terrorist attacks in Western cities because he doesn’t watch enough TV? He just says these things.
Apparently the NYT subsequently edited the segment out. Giving government a helping hand up, not a hand out.
Over the last years CO2 levels in the atmosphere are up to 400 parts per million, up 40 %. It is 1200 in commercial greenhouses.
Rechauffe: a NYT word. noun: 1. Warmed leftover food. 2. Rehash: old reworked material. ety: From French réchauffé (reheated, rehashed), from chauffer (to warm), from Latin calefacere (to make warm), from calere (to be hot) + facere (to make). Other (some hot, some not) words derived from the Latin root calere are chafe, nonchalant, calefacient, and chauffeur (literally, a stoker, who warmed up the engine in early steam-driven cars). Earliest documented use: 1778.
The most decorated unit ever in U.S. military history is the 442nd regimental Combat Team, whose motto was “Go for Broke.” It consisted of Japanese-American volunteers. Together they won 4,667 major medals, awards, and citations, including 560 Silver Stars (28 of which had oak-leaf clusters), 4,000 Bronze Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and one Medal of Honor, plus 54 other decorations. It also held the distinction of never having a case of desertion.
Cocaine is the most frequently reported illicit substance associated with drug abuse fatalities and causes three times more deaths than any other illegal drug.

Four years ago, the American government embarked on an ambitious campaign to expand civil rights for gay people overseas by marshaling its diplomats, directing its foreign aid and deploying President Obama to speak before hostile audiences. According to the NYT this campaign has raised the profile of gays in hostile areas and aligned the U.S. with antagonistic positions. The complexity of good intentions.

Personal debt has doubled over the last seven years but the interest paid out--because of low interest rates --is up only 15%. That has made debt inexpensive but has devastated savers whose returns have dropped 5 to 7 percent annually. (Much of that return is from rising bond prices, not interest.) In essence, the public has traded interest earnings to the government to service the debt at a lower rate. Not coincidentally, recently there was a one BILLION dollar "put' (in essence a "short) on a high yield bond fund. On the other hand, every model predicting a rise in inflation as a result of increased money supply has been wrong so far.

Who is...Henrik Ibsen?

What happened in Paris at the climate meeting? I'm not sure. Here's one take: After years of preparation and two weeks of tireless negotiations, after all the speeches and backroom compromising, one misplaced word brought the momentum toward a historic global deal on climate change to a halt Saturday — for at least a few hours. Obama administration lawyers discovered early in the day that the latest draft text had a potentially deal-killing tweak: Deep into the document, in Article 4, was a line declaring that wealthier countries "shall" set economy-wide targets for cutting their greenhouse gas pollution. That may not sound like such a headache-inducing roadblock, but in the world of international climate negotiations, every word counts. In previous drafts, the word "shall" had been "should" — and in the lingo of U.N. climate agreements, "shall" implies legal obligation while "should" does not. That means the word change could have obliged the Obama administration to submit the final deal to the Senate for its approval. In other words, it would be binding. And meaningful. "It's a fraud really, a fake," says James Hansen, the former NASA Scientist, considered the father of global awareness of climate change.

Golden oldie:

George Akerlof’s and Robert Shiller’s Phishing for Phools argues that people – as consumers and investors – are plagued by such a plethora of psychological quirks and informational deficiencies that their decision-making very often makes them prone to buy things that they don’t really want to buy and otherwise to act in ways that they don’t really want to act. So entrepreneurs predictably exploit people’s psychological quirks and informational deficiencies. But , if true, one would expect a brisk and successful business group of entrepreneurs who spring up to protect people from doing what they do not want to do. Like parents?
Only between 5 and 7% of the sea floor has been charted.

I have long felt that Trump was a statistical aberration, an inevitable minority candidate in a pluralistic society. A recent article gave me pause. Two snippets: 1) In a new interview with GQ, Trump essentially concedes a tendency to go over the top. That would change, he said, if he became president. “I would imagine I would be quite a bit different,” Trump explained. “I would feel differently about things as a president. Right now, I'm fighting a lot of people. As a president, I would be more measured.” And 2) in October, when he appeared at the nonpartisan No Labels convention in Manchester, N.H. Trump knew that the No Labels group craves a candidate who will reject the partisan extremes of left and right and base a governing style on compromise. Trump presented himself as just that man, emphasizing how, as a real estate developer, he had worked with Democrats in New York City to get things done. Still, the audience wanted to hear more about Trump's willingness to compromise. “Compromise has become the dirty word,” a questioner said to Trump. If a President Trump were involved in a conflict on, say, taxes, what kinds of things would he offer, “as a gesture of compromise”?  “Let me just tell you, the word compromise is not a bad word to me,” Trump replied. “I like the word compromise. We need compromise, there is nothing wrong with compromise, but it's always good to compromise and win. Meaning, let's compromise and win.” Then Trump got to the heart of the matter. “But if you are going to compromise, ask for about three times more than you want. You understand? So when you compromise, you get what you want.” 
The problem is that we have famously elected business guys in the past, notable Hoover and Carter. I have never seen anyone who has managed to summarize good government leadership qualities but, in my mind, great American leaders have had integrity first. I see none of that here.
In 1879 Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House opened in Copenhagen. One critic compared the play to the dropping of "a bomb into contemporary life," and "a death sentence on accepted social ethics"; another described Nora's exit from her house and her gender-roles at the end of Act V as "a door slam heard 'round the world."
"Incremental reforms, evolving out of trial-and-error experience, may over the course of time amount to a profound change in society, but this is wholly different from the kind of sweepingly imposed prepackaged changes to smite the wicked and exalt the anointed, in keeping with the invidious and dramatic vision of the intellectuals. That vision requires villains, whether individuals or groups or a whole society permeated by wrong ideas that can be corrected by those with right ideas."--Sowell. And, "Beware the intellectual who seeks power over our decisions and over the persuasion to which we can respond, especially when he seeks this power to prevent us from doing what he thinks we should not desire to do."--Harold Demsetz.

Senior congressional aides expect the White House to use its executive powers to tighten federal gun laws shortly after President Barack Obama returns from a Hawaiian vacation in early January. Yet a recent CNN survey found a majority (52 percent) of those polled oppose tighter gun laws. And a WashPo/ABC poll  found 53 percent are against the assault weapons ban the White House has endorsed. does that work out between the government and the citizens?
Hospital visits for alcohol poisoning have doubled in six years, with the highest rate among females aged 15 to 19, a British report has found.
Emergency admissions due to the effects of alcohol, such as liver disease, have also risen by more than 50% in nine years to 250,000 a year in England.
Rates were highest in deprived areas and in the north, and among men aged 45-64. In England in 2013, approximately 18% of men and 13% of women drank at a level considered to be putting them at increased risk of harm. In 2013/14, approximately 1 in 20 emergency admissions in England were related to alcohol.
Chronic heavy drinking—more than 14 drinks a week for men or 7 for women—can damage the brain and compromise memory, learning and how we regulate emotion and stress.

AAAAAaaaaaaannnnnddddddd......a picture. Each year in February, the sun's angle is such that Horsetail Falls waterfall lights like fire. Yosemite, USA:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Second Commandment

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth--Part of the first or the second commandment of the Old Testament, depending on the version. Some Protestant groups feel the Catholic version  specifically buries this admonition within the First Commandment because of Catholicism's preference for statues.
There is an old book about how a culture defines itself and symbolism's part in it. The thesis is specifically about television but the general discussion is interesting. How does the method of communication influence the content? Would there be an Iliad or a Beowulf, for example, if their creators had writing?
How are things transmitted, one person to another? We evolved as a speaking people. In the beginning was The Word. How is that spoken language elaborated upon? Can it be done safely? Accurately? Incorporating modern technology, David Bowie became a persona that merged with the very music that persona was presenting.
Plato wrote--wrote--of Socrates' speech on writing: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.
Indeed, the Egyptian god Thoth, who is alleged to have brought writing to the Egyptian King Thamus, was also the god of magic. Magic.
As the Koran was the dictated word of God through the angel Gabriel, Islam outlawed translation of the Koran for years, fearing adulteration of The Word.
Which brings us the the remarkable Second Commandment. In essence, the Second Commandment defines symbolism in the Old Testament culture. Its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word. There was to be no symbol.
The Second Commandment was an unprecedented demand for abstract thinking.

Monday, February 15, 2016

"You didn't build that"

For some reason Obama usually gets a pass.
"You didn't build that" is a notion that deserves some thought for, though it is very shallow thinking, it is quite defining. It essentially dismisses basic ownership rights because there was more than one creator involved. So you may not own your shoes. But it is bigger; it implies that those basic rights that we all assume actually have no real basis because you did not create them either. So freedom of speech comes from where? You didn't create that.
Strangely, the idea implies something even weirder. Somehow the ownership of what you did not create falls to the collective who had a part in it. But, since they did not do it all, nothing is specifically theirs. The shoemaker did not make the nails for the shoes or raise the cows that were the source of the leather for the shoes you mistakenly assumed were yours so....the shoemaker didn't build that either. Conveniently this ownership then falls upon the functionaries of the government, the presumed organizers of the band that contributed to the making of those shoes.
So, I suppose, like Jasay, the guard dog owns the house.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday 2/14/16

The Temptation in the Desert: Christ is asked by the Devil to change stone into bread, is offered dominion over the earth, and is offered the opportunity to summon angels. The temptation of God is unsettling even if we can rationalize it under Christ's duality. This event has been translated as the temptation of Israel but there is a peculiarity here that does not go away: Who is Christ proving Himself to? He is not being asked to change stone to bread because He is hungry but to prove He can do it. Ditto the display of throwing Himself from the precipice. These are displays of proof, confirmation of His divinity. Only the opportunity of dominion is the Devil really a factor and, as Christ does not need the Devil for dominion, one thinks the Devil is superfluous.
What this really looks like is a heavenly internal debate: "I could do it this way but won't. This way but won't. Nor this way."
What the devil is doing there must be a joy to the Manichees.

'Hunger' by Robert Laurence Binyon

I come among the peoples like a shadow.
I sit down by each man's side.
None sees me, but they look on one another,
And know that I am there.
My silence is like the silence of the tide
That buries the playground of children;
Like the deepening of frost in the slow night,
When birds are dead in the morning.
Armies trample, invade, destroy,
With guns roaring from earth and air.
I am more terrible than armies,
I am more feared than the cannon.
Kings and chancellors give commands;
I give no command to any;
But I am listened to more than kings
And more than passionate orators.
I unswear words, and undo deeds.
Naked things know me.
I am first and last to be felt of the living.
I am Hunger

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Cab Thoughts 2/13/16

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

All inequities are avenged. The American Indian has been pushed to virtual extinction by military action and disease. Decades later the Indian gift to the European, tobacco, is beginning to kill the invading Europeans. The European nations invaded and exploited countless third world countries. Now those third world countries are moving to those exploiting nations and burdening them to the point of collapse. All inequities are avenged.
The ultimate in epigenetics: A male emperor angelfish lives together with up to five female mates. If the emperor angelfish dies, one of the females turns into a male fish and becomes the leader of the group. Again, the slippery slope.
Eudemonic: adj. 1. pertaining or conducive to happiness. 2. pertaining to eudemonics or eudemonism. (vs: "hedonic,' or merely pleasurable--as in hedonism).  Eudemonic stems from the Greek word eudaímōn meaning "fortunate, happy." It entered English in the early 1800s. Philosophers have long held that we can distinguish between eudemonic experience, or a striving towards meaning and purpose that underlies human beings' capacity to engage in complex social and cultural behavior, in contrast to the striving for more hedonic or simply pleasurable experience. (Friedman)
Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable peddler set himself ablaze in the town of Sidi Bouzid after his cart was confiscated by a policewoman who slapped him and spat in his face. The incident causes long-simmering frustrations over injustice, poverty and the greed of the political elite to spill over into protests, which are brutally subdued. Bouazizi died, but in his act of self-immolation, the Arab Spring was born. Faida Hamdy was the council inspector who confiscated the vegetable stall and now in interviews is filled with regret. “Mohammed Bouazizi and I are both victims,” Mrs Hamdy said. “He lost his life and my life is not the same any more. When I look at the region and my country, I regret it all. Death everywhere and extremism blooming, and killing beautiful souls.”
Damon Runyon wrote imaginative stories about a threepenny operatic subset in life. How could he be so creative? He lived it. Runyon's wife of fourteen years left him. She formerly was a Spanish dancer at the Silver Slipper; they first met at a Mexican racetrack when she was a kid running messages for Pancho Villa when Runyon was a reporter running Villa to ground.
On the mysterious Easter Islands where the moai stands, a set of glyphs have been discovered, called the Rongorongo. These glyphs have never been deciphered.
Steve Wozniak buys sheets of $2 bills from the US Treasury and has a local printing company glue them together like a notepad and perforate the bills.  Each $2 bill costs him about $3 to make. He then pays bills by tearing them off. People usually are suspicious.
He's been stopped by the Secret Service multiple times, one of the times even being read his Miranda rights.
Why does he do it?  Entirely to confuse people and entertain himself. (Quora)
The U.S. assumes how incompetent at business the French are. If only they could get over their state socialism and their acute Eurosclerosis. Yet look at what has actually happened to France’s median hourly wage. It has gone from 100 to 280. Up 180% in 45 years! Japan is up 140% and even the often sluggish Brits are up 60%. But the killer is the U.S. median wage. It has been dead flat for 45 years. The French look a lot better than we generally think and our economy a lot worse.
Who is....Loretta Lynch?
The EU has made borders unimportant in Europe. This is very new. Is there uncertainty over whether or not a nation has the right to control its own border? I know the Aussies are tough about immigration, insisting on employable citizens.  There have been 500,000 signatures in Great Britain urging that the U.K. ban Trump from traveling there. So, does that mean that the U.K. has the right to make requirements and judgments on immigrants? According to The Guardian, "The home secretary can decide to exclude a person from the UK if it is believed that an “individual’s presence in the UK would not be conducive to the public good”, according to government guidance." So a country can pick who they will admit?
What exactly is the right of a person external to a nation to be protected under the laws of that nation? Isn't that what people have resisted all though history, the imposition of some national rule or vision from the outside?
Just three months ago, the world's greatest carbon emitter, China, admitted to having underreported its burning of coal by 17%, a staggering error (assuming it wasn't a deliberate deception) equal to the entire coal consumption of Germany. China promises to begin reducing carbon emissions 15 years from now. India announced it will be tripling its coal-fired electricity capacity by 2030. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is effectively dismantling America's entire coal industry.
Golden oldie:

Following Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent announcement that all combat jobs would now be open to women, results of a survey given to more than 7,600 of America’s special ops forces have been released, showing an overwhelming majority of male commandos are opposed to the decision. More than 80 percent said women aren’t strong enough and can’t handle the demands of the job while 64 percent believe they aren’t mentally tough enough. Other factors were apparent, too, including the fear of harassment charges.
On December 18, 1620, the British ship Mayflower docked at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, and its passengers prepared to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony.
The famous Mayflower story began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, founded their own church, separate from the state-sanctioned Church of England. Accused of treason, they were forced to leave the country and settle in the more tolerant Netherlands. After 12 years of struggling to adapt and make a decent living, the group sought financial backing from some London merchants to set up a colony in America. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers–dubbed Pilgrims by William Bradford, a passenger who would become the first governor of Plymouth Colony–crowded on the Mayflower to begin the long, hard journey to a new life in the New World.
On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod. Before going ashore, 41 male passengers–heads of families, single men and three male servants–signed the famous Mayflower Compact, agreeing to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey all laws made for the good of the colony. Over the next month, several small scouting groups were sent ashore to collect firewood and scout out a good place to build a settlement. Around December 10, one of these groups found a harbor they liked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They returned to the Mayflower to tell the other passengers, but bad weather prevented them from docking until December 18. After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. The tribe had abandoned the village several years earlier, after an outbreak of European disease. That winter of 1620-1621 was brutal, as the Pilgrims struggled to build their settlement, find food and ward off sickness. By spring, 50 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers were dead. The remaining settlers made contact with returning members of the Wampanoag tribe and in March they signed a peace treaty with a tribal chief, Massasoit. Aided by the Wampanoag, especially the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrims were able to plant crops–especially corn and beans–that were vital to their survival. The Mayflower and its crew left Plymouth to return to England on April 5, 1621.
Over the next several decades, more and more settlers made the trek across the Atlantic to Plymouth, which gradually grew into a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing center. In 1691, Plymouth was incorporated into the new Massachusetts Bay Association, ending its history as an independent colony. (From the History site)

Two days after the San Bernardino atrocity Attorney General Loretta Lynch said her "greatest fear" is the "incredibly disturbing rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric" in America and vowed to prosecute any guilty of what she deemed violence-inspiring speech. That's pretty crazy. Is it as crazy as Trump? Yes. After strong backlash against her comments on speech that "edges toward violence," Lynch seemed to, as Politico puts it, "recalibrate" her language in a press conference Monday, underscoring that her department would only prosecute "deeds not words." Actually prosecuting words may be too late as the damage may already be done. Perhaps prosecuting thought.
Something I just across on the Internet and never thought of: Dynamic pricing allows for airfares to go up when you visit or refresh a page multiple times. This increase is based on demand, which you are technically increasing with multiple page views. To avoid this, clear your cookies and check prices to see if they change.
AAAAAAaaaannnnnnndddddddd..........a picture of merging galaxies. Galaxies! A cosmic bridge of stars, gas, and dust currently stretches over 75,000 light-years and joins them, implying gravitational interaction.
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.
Arp 87: Merging Galaxies from Hubble

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Election time is always a worry. Can we, the Democracy, do it? Can we live up to Madison's expectations? After all, the alarming choices we have did not come from nowhere.
In 1906 the British statistician Francis Galton was at a fair where about 800 people tried to guess the weight of a dead ox. Galton collected all the guesses so he could figure out how far off the mark the average guess was. The guesses were wide ranging, most much too high or low, but the average of the guesses stunned him:  The dead ox weighed 1,198 pounds, the crowd's average, 1,197. Thus was born the concept of the "Wisdom of Crowds." Individuals might be wildly wrong but, as a group, they were reliable and accurate.
Warmth swept through the democracy. Collective decisions were dependable, regardless of how many goofy outliers there were. And aristocracy was risky. Small groups of decision makers meant small samples of input. We should expand the franchise. Long Term Capital Management was doomed despite the accepted genius of its two creators; a group of guys in a bar could tell you their plan would not work.
Very inspiring and reassuring----until you run across this observation of an admittedly limited, single (white) man:  "Democracy is the pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." - H. L. Mencken