Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Arrows or the Cycles of History

Charles Krauthammer had a very worthwhile article in The Telegraph which is instructive about how different world views are organized.

How, he asks, do you see the world? Is there a direction in history, a progress from our more primitive selves to a higher moral and social plane? Obama's arrow of history: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Or is history just cycles of repeated behavior--"the same damn thing all over again"--where the names and battle cries change and the only improvement is in the weaponry? Those who see a direction are of two camps, the liberal and the neoconservative. Clinton, he says, is of the liberal stripe where  "the creation of a dense web of treaties, agreements, transnational institutions and international organizations (like the U.N., NGOs, the World Trade Organization) can give substance to a cohesive community of nations that would, in time, ensure order and stability." Bush is of a similar--he calls neoconservative--view with a different methodology where "the better way to ensure order and stability is not through international institutions, which are flimsy and generally powerless, but through the spread of democracy. Because, in the end, democracies are inherently more inclined to live in peace."

(Note: Krauthammer, here, is speaking of the current, Western world. Other "arrows of history" would include Islam, Imperial Japan, the Nazis and the homicidal Communist movement all who see--or saw--themselves as part of an inevitable historical progression.)

Liberal internationalists count on globalization, neoconservatives on democratization to ascend the heights, to fulfill the arrow of history.
Those who do not believe in the arrow--he calls them realists (vs. the first group are "idealists")--believe that idealists give "high purpose to international exertions where none exists. Sovereign nations remain in incessant pursuit of power and self-interest. The pursuit can be carried out more or less wisely. But nothing fundamentally changes." This group wants only to limit the potential damage  created by the baser instincts of ambitious leaders and political units.

He says much of Obama's international behavior has been to realize this "arc of justice." Thus his "'apology tour,' that burst of confessional soul-searching abroad about America and its sins, from slavery to the loss of our moral compass after 9/11 ....appeasing Vladimir Putin, the Iranian mullahs, the butchers of Tiananmen Square and lately the Castros." But peace did not follow "justice." "The consequent withdrawal of American power, that agent of injustice or at least arrogant overreach, has yielded nothing but geopolitical chaos and immense human suffering."

One would think his recent trip to the Far East, highlighted by his Hiroshima display signals more of the same. But Krauthammer says no, that Obama has shown a real effort to be a realist with his trip to Vietnam, "accepted the reality of an abusive dictatorship while announcing a warming of relations and the lifting of the U.S. arms embargo, thereby enlisting Vietnam as a full partner in the containment of China."
This he called "raw, soulless realpolitik. No moral arc. No uplifting historical arrow. In fact, it is the same damn thing all over again."

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

War is man's most evil pursuit. Every single human motive morphs into something horrible and destructive; the most noble of man's qualities become misapplied. Somehow the diffident grasshopper become the predatory locust. Yet within the world of men, some things must be done. Individuals must live and act within the admitted abomination that is war. In the Second War the Germans and the Japanese were asked to fulfill their destiny, to complete history. This involved destroying or subjugating everyone who was not them. The Allies' children were asked to fight for their lives. Their behavior in this gargantuan struggle should always stand as a testament to man's higher elements in the midst of man's lowest. Yet questions always arise.

With Obama in Japan and visiting Hiroshima, new discussion of the WWII bombing has begun. An article in the LA Times asserts the bombing was cruel, gratuitous and not a factor in the ending of the war. "Most Americans have been taught that using atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was justified because the bombings ended the war in the Pacific, thereby averting a costly U.S. invasion of Japan. This erroneous contention finds its way into high school history texts still today," the article states. More, the cause of Japanese surrender was actually the Russian invasion of Manchuria. " It was not the atomic evisceration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the Pacific war. Instead, it was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and other Japanese colonies that began at midnight on Aug. 8, 1945 — between the two bombings." Indeed the sentiment at least seems to be in line with current thinking; the majority of Americans in polls think the bombs should not have been dropped.

Of course people will differ in the assessment of history. Some assessments will be more accurate--sometimes more honest--than others. And many military men did not want to drop the weapons. But of all the wars in history, World War Two is the least ambiguous to analyze.

The History website has this summary:
Early on the morning of July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Project held its first successful test of an atomic device–a plutonium bomb–at the Trinity test site at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
By the time of the Trinity test, the Allied powers had already defeated Germany in Europe. Japan, however, vowed to fight to the bitter end in the Pacific, despite clear indications (as early as 1944) that they had little chance of winning. In fact, between mid-April 1945 (when President Harry Truman took office) and mid-July, Japanese forces inflicted Allied casualties totaling nearly half those suffered in three full years of war in the Pacific, proving that Japan had become even more deadly when faced with defeat. In late July, Japan’s militarist government rejected the Allied demand for surrender put forth in the Potsdam Declaration, which threatened the Japanese with “prompt and utter destruction” if they refused. (Italics added)
General Douglas MacArthur and other top military commanders favored continuing the conventional bombing of Japan already in effect and following up with a massive invasion, codenamed “Operation Downfall.” They advised Truman that such an invasion would result in U.S. casualties of up to 1 million. In order to avoid such a high casualty rate, Truman decided–over the moral reservations of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General Dwight Eisenhower and a number of the Manhattan Project scientists–to use the atomic bomb in the hopes of bringing the war to a quick end. Proponents of the A-bomb–such as James Byrnes, Truman’s secretary of state–believed that its devastating power would not only end the war, but also put the U.S. in a dominant position to determine the course of the postwar world. (italics added)
On August 6, 1945  an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”

So the Emperor cites the bomb as a factor. And the alternative was an island-by-island attack on Japan that the experts accepted would cost one million--MILLION--American lives.

The LA Times article suggests the U.S. ignored a Japanese peace approach to the U.S. requesting only  the Emperor survive. But that is not entirely true. Their proposal was to keep the Emperor and the current governing militaristic system intact, something the Allies thought nonnegotiable. Another element overlooked in the LA Times article is the continuity of events. Over 200,000 people were killed in the atomic attacks. Isolated, that is horrific. One wonders how the essayist saw those deaths in the context of the war itself. Or do they spare themselves the difficulty? China suffered between 15 and 17 million--MILLION--deaths directly related to combat--many described as "crimes against humanity." The Russians lost 25 to 27 million. MILLION. Certainly we need kinder, gentler wars.

Nonetheless the LA Times article was quite critical of American behavior and motives in one of the world's most easily evaluated conflicts, the American democracy vs. Nazis and Japanese imperialists. Applying morality to war is tricky and can be practiced only by our best and brightest. Fortunately, a look at the by-line has the reassuring information that the LA Times article was authored by none other than Oliver Stone, the esteemed and awarded movie director. He is certainly qualified. As a member of the exclusive self-absorbed entertainment cult and the reliable creator of the movie JFK, one of the cult's more astonishing productions of historical analysis, we can certainly rely upon his opinion.

And I'm sure he would have been willing to talk to the widows, the orphans and the parents of those million Americans, explaining that those soldiers had to die assaulting the Japanese islands because we were true to our inner nature and did not drop the cruel bombs that could have ended the war. That was not who we are.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday 5/29/16

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, a movable religious observance in the Catholic Church celebrating the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It follows Trinity Sunday which follows Pentecost. It was once a large celebration with processions and festivals.

The gospel today is the Loaves and Fishes Gospel from Luke. It occurs after a day of preaching:

As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
"Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here."

A deserted place. Christ answers in that peculiar way:

He said to them, "Give them some food yourselves."

What could He mean by that? Was He kidding them? Being wry and provocative? Raising every question to a monumental concept?

At the Passion, "Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king."

Every opportunity Christ has to close a door He opens one.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cab Thoughts 5/28/16

One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with the environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole. We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.”--Former United Nations climate official Ottmar  Edenhofer, who co-chaired the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group on Mitigation of Climate Change from 2008 to 2015. 

(some formatting problems)

From an article wonderfully titled "Circle the Clydesdales:"
Craft beer's market share rose to 12.2 percent in 2015, more than double its market share of 5.7 percent just five years ago.
While the total U.S. beer market volume declined in 2015 by 0.2 percent, craft brewer's volume rose 13 percent.

More than 600 new breweries opened in 2015, while 68 closed. Overall, there were 4,269 breweries in the country by year's end — the highest total ever— of which 99 percent were small and independent craft breweries.

James Brown recorded 321 albums, wrote 832 songs and had 45 gold records.

Sanders’s socialist policies would replace banks that are too big to fail with a government that is too big to succeed. Taft warned about exactly this in his 1911 State of the Union. Busting the trusts was to free the market, not to insert the government into it. It was necessary to break up Standard Oil and American Tobacco in order to preserve capitalism, not to institute socialism. Taft said, “The anti-trust act is the expression of the effort of a freedom-loving people to preserve equality of opportunity. It is the result of the confident determination of such a people to maintain their future growth by preserving uncontrolled and unrestricted the enterprise of the individual, his industry, his ingenuity, his intelligence, and his independent courage.”--Garry Kasparov in an article in The Daily Beast, believe it or not

According to scientist Freeman Dyson, the worst political decision in history was the decision of the emperor of China in 1433 to cut off his country from the outside world. In the wake of that decision, China lost its position in the forefront of human achievements and fell behind, over the centuries, to become a Third World country.

One explanation of current economic debate is the idea that scarcity is unreal, perhaps the artifact of human evil. Or inefficiency. So countless  politicians, professors, pundits, preachers, and popes regularly speak and write as if trade-offs to solve these scarcities need not be made.
Despite being the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East (after Arabs, Persians, and Turks), Kurds are now minority populations in four countries, making up roughly 20% of Turkey and Iraq, 15% of Syria, and 10% of Iran. Kurds are one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without a state.

A characteristic of the revolution in the political world in this country is the feeling that many have that they are unappreciated by the people who tax them and the people they support. And apparently Romney thinks he will improve matters by calling them suckers.

There's a funny article on "Political Entrepreneurs" by Robert Samuelson; he writes there’s a thriving industry of campaign consultants, pollsters, media buyers, digital experts, fundraising and direct-mailing companies advising would-be political aspirants. In 2012, there were 1,765 of these firms that oversaw $3.6 billion of campaign spending, reports political scientist Adam Sheingate of Johns Hopkins University in his new book “Building a Business of Politics.”“Who sent us the political leaders we have?” asked political writer Alan Ehrenhalt in his 1991 book “The United States of Ambition.” “There is a simple answer. … They sent themselves.” He writes longingly for the return of the days of political bosses.

"The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake," admitted Japan's prime minister regarding the time of the 2011 quake and tsunami, revealing that the country came within a "paper-thin margin" of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people. Conservation group Greenpeace warned that "signs of mutations in trees and DNA-damaged worms beginning to appear," while "vast stocks of radiation" mean that forests cannot be decontaminated.

The U.S. Army's elite Delta Force operations to target, capture or kill top ISIS operatives have begun in Iraq, after several weeks of covert preparation, an administration official with direct knowledge of the force's activities told CNN. Now why would an admin say something like that?

Who is.....John Bunyon?

Art thou for something rare and profitable?
Wouldest thou see a truth within a fable?
Art thou forgetful? Wouldest thou remember
From New-Year's day to the last of December?
Then read my fancies; they will stick like burs,
And may be, to the helpless, comforters. . . .

Wouldst thou be in a dream, and yet not sleep?
Or wouldst thou in a moment laugh and weep?
Wouldst thou lose thyself and catch no harm,
And find thyself again without a charm?
Wouldst read thyself, and read thou knowest not what,
And yet know whether thou art blest or not,
By reading the same lines? Oh, then come hither,
And lay my book, thy head, and heart together. --From "The Author's Apology for His Book," John Bunyon

1. Astronomy. a. a group of stars. b. a constellation.
2. Mineralogy. a property of some crystallized minerals of showing
a starlike luminous figure in transmitted light or, in a cabochon-cut
stone, by reflected light. Usage: Everything focused toward the north;
every curve and asterism of the glittering sky became part of a
 vast design whose function was to hurry first the eye and then the
whole observer onward to some secret and terrible goal of convergence
beyond the frozen waste that stretched endlessly ahead. -- H. P. Lovecraft,
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, 1943 ety: Asterism derives from
the Greek term asterismós meaning "a marking with stars."
It entered English in the late 1500s.
The anti-Obama guys jumped on the report that, while hiring was up, average wages were down in February. But, as a letter to the editor of the WSJ shows, this may not be bad. If most of the jobs created in February pay wages below the average wage for January, then this growth in jobs for newly hired workers can easily pull down the average wage even if no workers’ wages were cut – indeed, even if all workers’ wages rose.  In this plausible scenario, all workers’ incomes rise: newly hired workers’ wages rise from $0 to whatever wages they now earn, while non-newly hired workers also enjoy higher wages. So, as Ned says, numbers are just numbers.

ISIS has officially been the deadliest terrorist group in history. In a tool that maps out the activity of the world’s most prominent terrorist groups, when you filter by “Most Victims,” ISIS comes up first, despite being around for less than a decade (their death count is more than double al-Qaeda’s lifetime total).
While there is uncertainty in exact rates, the Global Average Temperature was slightly decreasing from the 1940s to the 1970s. This decrease, as climatologists then said, was caused by too much pollution, which itself was caused by a “population bomb”. This pollution, the theory said, was knocking back the sun’s rays, an effect which was about to cause us to hit our next glaciation ahead of schedule. This was the consensus at the time. The models. Many books and articles were written about it. But....it didn't happen.

To reason with poorly chosen words is like using a pair of scales with inaccurate weights. -André Maurois, author (1885-1967) This sounds a lot like politics. For example: [T]he case for democracy is simply a case for making political decisions by one particular kind of rules rather than another; it is not a case for unnecessarily politicizing more and more aspects of life.  This distinction unmasks the familiar demands for “democratizing” something or subjecting something to “democratic control,” which means government control.  The distinction also reveals how illogical or disingenuous the phrase “economic democracy” is; such pairings of adjective and noun as “culinary monarchy,” “chemical theocracy,” or “meteorological dictatorship” are hardly less meaningful.--Leland Yeager and David Tuerck

The unemployment rate is declared at about 5%. If you include people who have given up looking for work, the unemployment rate is 6%. If you include people stuck in a part-time job for 20 or 25 hours a week, the real unemployment rate is a dreadful 9.8%.

AAAaaaaannnnnddddd.......a graph:
Chart of the Day

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Search for Virtue in the Cathouse

Duquesne law professor Ken Gormley has a big book--The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr -- with big aims. He describes the Starr-Clinton conflict in the 1990s in an effort to explain the events leading to the Whitewater investigation and Clinton's eventual impeachment. He believes this event pivotal in the development of the rift in Washington between the parties and why that rift persists. It is an ugly story. What both sides did here is eye-opening for its partisanship, its self-centeredness and its cruelty.
Here is a bit culled from an interview Gormley had with NPR:

The investigation of Bill Clinton began in January 1994, when Attorney General Janet Reno appointed special prosecutor Robert Fiske to head the Whitewater investigation. Fiske's appointment, Gormley writes, first "prompted universal praise ... among Republicans."
The praise lasted for several months — until Fiske wrapped up his criminal investigation within six months of his appointment. The short investigation, combined with Fiske's announcement that there was "no evidence that issues involving Whitewater, or other personal legal matters of the president or Mrs. Clinton, were a factor in [Vince] Foster's suicide," caused Republicans to declare Fiske "unfit for the job," Gormley writes.

When Congress decided to reauthorize the independent counsel investigation, the three-judge panel overseeing the independent counsel decided to replace Fiske with another attorney, Kenneth Starr.
Starr, Gormley says, "did as good a job as he could do [during Whitewater]. Certainly there were others around him eager to find wrongdoing and came together to produce a witch hunt. But I don't think Ken Starr was out to bring down Clinton."
Clinton, however, saw otherwise. "President Clinton believed from the start that this was nothing but a political witch hunt," Gormley says. "In his mind, they were out to get him because they wanted a regime change and were willing to go for broke."
In December 1997, Starr shut down the Whitewater investigation because of insufficient evidence. A month later, Linda Tripp called Deputy Independent Counsel Jackie Bennett and said she had taped conversions with Monica Lewinsky about an affair with the president.
The decision to move from Whitewater to Lewinsky, Gormley says, "altered Ken Starr's legacy as a prosecutor."

"There is no question that [Starr's office] had lost perspective," Gormley says. "Their job was not to get a person — it was to investigate. And there was such a lack of restraint on both sides, which ended up being bad for the country."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Guise as an Expert

Sally Clark's first son died suddenly within a few weeks of his birth in September 1996, and, in December 1998, her second died in a similar manner. A month later, she was arrested and subsequently tried for the murder of both children. Clark was found guilty of the murder of two of her sons in November, 1999. The convictions were upheld at appeal in October 2000, but overturned in a second appeal in January 2003, after it emerged that Dr. Alan Williams, the prosecution forensic pathologist who examined both of her babies, had incompetently failed to disclose microbiological reports that suggested the second of her sons had died of natural causes. The conviction was overturned and she was freed from prison in 2003. The experience caused her to develop serious psychiatric problems and she died in her home in March 2007 from alcohol poisoning.

Another element--even more interesting--was the  case relied on significantly flawed statistical evidence presented by pediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who testified that the chance of two children from an affluent family--Clark was a solicitor--suffering sudden infant death syndrome was 1 in 73 million.

Most of the subsequent self examination by the courts centered on Professor Meadow’s use of statistics. When he told the jury that the odds against two of Sally Clark’s children dying of unidentified natural causes (or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) were 73 million to one, he was leaving the area of his expertise – pediatric medicine – and entering a field in whose basic principles he was completely unschooled – statistical probability. He did so without alerting the jury or the court to the fact he was no longer addressing them as an expert and thus invested a statistical fallacy with all the authority his medical status endued him with.

In giving this part of his evidence he relied upon the draft version of the latest CESDI report ( Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy). This report, whose principal author was Professor Fleming, Professor of Infant Health and Development Physiology at the Institute of Child Health at Bristol University, was commissioned by the Department of Health. It was a study of factors contributing to sudden and unexpected deaths in infancy. In relaying some of the statistics from this report to the jury, Professor Meadow misconstrued them, committing three elementary statistical errors simultaneously. So serious were these errors that they moved Dr. Stephen Watkins, a trained epidemiologist with an expertise in statistics, to compose an editorial which was published in the British Medical Journal under the title ‘Conviction by Mathematical Error’. In the editorial he did not argue that Meadow’s abuse of statistics had led to the conviction but rather that the prominence of misleading statistics in Meadow’s evidence meant that these could have overshadowed the other evidence. He suggested that this necessarily rendered the conviction unsafe.

The draft version of the paper which Meadow used as his source indicated that there was one SIDS death for every 1,300 deaths. It also identified three important factors which, if present in a particular family, were capable of increasing the risk of such a death, namely the presence of a smoker, the absence of any wage-earner and the fact that the mother was below the age of 26. In families in which none of these factors applied it was said that the odds against one unexplained infant death occurring by natural causes were much higher than indicated by the general figure; instead of 1,300 to 1 they were 8543 to 1. In families in which all three risk factors were present, they were significantly lower, namely 214 to 1.
The authors of the paper made clear, however, that although the three factors they had singled out were perhaps the most important, there were also other factors which would affect the probability of a SIDS death occurring.

Meadow’s first statistical error was that he ignored this caveat. Although he was now moving from abstract generalization to concrete particular, where specific risk factors might have been identified, he assumed without inquiry that the Clark family should automatically be assigned to the lowest category of risk. Since the risk factor was subject to a large variation – from 214 to 1 to 8543 to 1, this was potentially significant.
Whatever error Meadow had introduced in this manner though, was now massively compounded by his next step. Here, in fairness to Meadow, it must be said that the paper he was relying on was itself presented in such a way that the unwary and uninformed reader might well misconstrue it.
The CESDI report contained the following passage:
For a family with none of these three factors, the risk of two infants dying as SIDS by chance alone will thus be 1 in (8,543 x 8,543) i.e. approximately 1 in 73m. For a family with all three factors the risk will be 1 in (214 x 214) i.e. approximately 1 in 46,000. Thus, for families with several known risk factors for SIDS, a second SIDS death, whilst uncommon, is 1,600 times more likely than for families with no such factors. Where additional adverse factors are present, the recurrence risk would correspondingly be greater still.
… When a second SIDS death occurs in the same family, in addition to careful search for inherited disorder there must always be a very thorough investigation of the circumstances – though it would be inappropriate to assume maltreatment was always the cause (quoted in General Medical Council v Meadow, 2006, paragraph 137 with italics added) .
The crucial words here are ‘by chance alone’. What these words were intended to convey was that the calculation which arrived at the figure of 1 in 73 million was an abstract mathematical exercise which could not properly be applied to any instance of recurrent infant death in a particular family. For this method of squaring the original odds could only be used legitimately if it could be shown that the causes of the two deaths were entirely independent of one another – a negative which in practice could never be established with complete certainty. Since the two children whose deaths had given rise to the allegations against Sally Clark were siblings who shared the same genetic inheritance and the same environment, there was no reason to make such an assumption. Indeed a particular set of genetic or environmental circumstances might actually mean that the death of a first child was predictive of a second death.

Yet these two errors were relatively minor in comparison to the third statistical fallacy on which Meadow’s evidence rested. This was what Watkins has called ‘the lottery effect’ (also known as ‘the prosecutor’s fallacy’) which consists in calculating the ‘chance of a specific individual, identified in advance, having a particular experience and [using] that as the measure for the chance of some individual, out of all those at risk, suffering it.’
This fallacy is perhaps best illustrated by considering a hypothetical weekly lottery in which every member of the UK population of 60 million purchases a ticket bearing a different combination of numbers. When one particular person – let us call her Mrs. Smith – wins this lottery, the odds against her doing so in that particular week were, before the event, 60 million to one. But once Mrs. Smith has produced her ticket to show that she has won, the authorities do not invoke these odds in order to suggest that she has committed an act of fraud. Because in reality, although the odds against any one specified person winning this prize are very high, the odds against an unspecified person winning are not high at all. Indeed, in our hypothetical lottery it is clear that one person wins the lottery every week.

As the Royal Society of Statistics indicated, in a press release issued after the first trial of Sally Clark, the question which Meadow should have addressed was not the one concerned solely with the chances of two natural deaths occurring in the same family:
‘The jury needs to weigh up two competing explanations for the babies’ deaths: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [SIDS] or murder. Two deaths by SIDS or two murders are each quite unlikely, but one has apparently happened in this case. What matters is the relative likelihood of the deaths under each explanation, not just how unlikely they are under one explanation.’
In other words if, for the sake of argument, the chances of two unexplained natural infant deaths in a family were 1 in 500,000 and the chances of a double murder were also 1 in 500,000, then, if all other evidence was equal or equivocal, there would be a 1 in 2 chance that Sally Clark’s children died of natural causes. There is a big difference between this and the 1 in 73 million chance which Professor Meadow, in his guise as an expert, had confidently put before the jury, comparing these odds to the chance of successfully backing four different 80-1 outsiders to win the Grand National in four successive years.

The phrase "guise as an expert" is well worth remembering.

(From Richard Webster: Conviction by mathematical error?)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cab Thoughts 5/25/16

"2016: a choice between Trump and Goldman Sachs."--the evil Snowden

Surveys indicate no increase in Chinese happiness since 1999, or perhaps even 1990, despite rapid growth in real per capita income.  America also shows no rise in average happiness since the 1950s. At this point people on the left will bring up the equality issue. It's not about boosting GDP, it's about boosting equality, because people compare themselves to their neighbors. I think there's a bit of truth to that, but the happiness surveys don't support that claim either. The US scores higher than Europe, even though Europe is more equal. Latin America scores higher than East Asia, even though Latin America is far less equal than places like South Korea and Japan.
If happiness surveys are correct, and basically nothing matters short of horrific war, then its bad news for all ideologues. For leftists claiming equality will make us happier. For right-wingers talking about economic growth.
In the end, I think we need to be very careful here. Surveys show that the Chinese people feel very strongly that China as a whole is much better off than in 1980.
All this makes Obama's strange utilitarian idea he voiced in Cuba that you should do what works--and what is a better indicator than what makes you happy--difficult.
An interesting reply the feared Paglia wrote at the end of an article to a reader's question on an earlier article about Clinton's Nancy Reagan remark:
I think you are quite right to suggest that Hillary was triangulating at Nancy Reagan’s funeral. Thinking she had the nomination locked up, she was pivoting toward Republicans and trying to show she was their gal too. But I also suspect she was having a random senior moment, not unlike her fantasy of running for cover under sniper fire in Bosnia.
The woman Hillary was praising for her pioneering courage in talking publicly about AIDS was actually Elizabeth Taylor, not Nancy Reagan. It’s very telling: Hillary thinks stereotypically of people as faceless members of groups, fodder for polling data and pandering outreach—which automatically triggers, for example, her cringe-making Southern Fried dialect for black audiences. Nancy Reagan (a former actress married to a former actor) had melted into Clan Hollywood. In Hillary’s mind, all actresses are clones, just as all of her skirt-chasing husband’s targets are floozies, bimbos, and nut jobs.
Golden oldie:
82% of jobs "created" in February were minimum wage teachers, retail trade, and waiters, bartenders and chambermaids. What about well-paying jobs like finance, trucking, manufacturing or mining? +6K, -5K, -16K, and -18K, for a net loss of 33k jobs.

Who was ...Nathen Bedford Forrest?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education profile of Deirdre McCloskey: " just because something can be statistically tracked doesn’t mean it matters,"
...[s]he ridicules “the idea that you can make an economy expand by just spending more. If that were true, the Industrial Revolution would have happened in Mesopotamia four millennia ago,” ...She also dismisses the pessimism of Robert Gordon, the Northwestern University economist who, in his recent, much-discussed book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, sees technological growth as having slowed, leaving a precarious or wannabe middle class in danger of spiraling down the drain of a service economy of poorly paid Walmart greeters and Starbucks baristas. McCloskey, in contrast, bets that the 37 percent of the world population in China and India whose incomes are rapidly growing will lead to “a gigantic increase in the number of scientists, designers, writers, musicians, engineers, entrepreneurs, and ordinary businesspeople devising betterments that spill over to the now rich countries allegedly lacking in dynamism.” Similarly, she banks on innovation to overcome current environmental and health problems.

The significant problem in this election seems to me that despite the deep and broad disaffection the public has towards the political system, none of the candidates, if elected, can improve it, practically or philosophically.
The bulk of consumption  of cannabis lies in the number of people who use marijuana on a daily or near daily basis. “A little over half of cannabis use in the U.S. is consumed by people who spend more than half of their [total] waking hours under the influence,” says Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2013, more than 35% of those Americans aged 12 and older who reported using marijuana in the past month also said they consumed it on 21 or more days. Spain, Italy and France had the highest percentage of their populations using cannabis on a daily or near daily basis. Spain actually tied with the U.S. at 2.6%, and Italy and France saw 1.7% and 1.5%, respectively. While the U.S. reports 35% of past-month cannabis users also consume on a daily or near-daily basis, those rates were 34% in Spain, 24% in Italy and 33% in France. In the Netherlands, where cannabis use in venues known as coffee shops is tolerated by the government, 3.3% of citizens reported past-month use and 23% of those past-month users (0.8% of total population) reported daily or near daily use. Apparently the use has stabilized in Europe over the last years.
The main problem in this election will be the overwhelming support for Hillary by the 'objective' press. It doesn't really matter who the opponent will be but Trump, with his unguarded history and life, will probably be a goldmine of quotes and actions.  Recently there was a great example. Someone challenged Trump about an endorsement from some KKK guy. Trump said it wasn't solicited and wasn't welcome. More questions were fired until one answer was vague enough to trumpet and dissect. Now this is par for the course with a biased media but it fearlessly raises the unanswered question: why would a Rube-publican be responsible for the Klan? The KKK was a paramilitary group set up in the South at the end of the Civil War to intimidate newly freed black American citizens from voting for Rube-publicans and Blacks during Reconstruction. Its first president was the redoubtable Nathan Bedford Forrest, a ferocious and talented Confederate cavalry leader. The only admitted KKK member I know of was the Southern Democrat Senator Robert Byrd. So what's this got to do with Rube-publicans?
Saw several "Sherlock" episodes. Very surprising. Good but disturbing. Reminiscent of the old Altman film, "Marlow."
Ruth Pitter was an accomplished British poet, quite popular in her time, who was said, as she grew older, to be close to a romance with C.S. Lewis. (They knew each other seven years before being on a first name basis.) This is from a letter she wrote: "Old Bertrand Russell is doing a series of radio pep-talks, trying to sell us the hoary fallacy of being radiantly happy on an ethical basis! I wonder who let the darned old fool loose. I am going to Oxford tomorrow to see C. S. Lewis, who puts the blame where it belongs, on our fallen nature."

Redoubtable: adj: 1 :  causing fear or alarm : formidable 2. illustrious, eminent; broadly :  worthy of respect. ety: from the 15th century through Middle English from the Anglo-French verb reduter, meaning "to dread," and ultimately derives from duter, meaning "to doubt." Things or people that are formidable and alarming can also inspire awe and even admiration, however, and it wasn't long before the meaning of redoubtable was extended from "formidable" to "illustrious" and "worthy of respect."

From a Rolling Stone article they claim is inside info from a recent Rube-publican insider meeting, FWIW: “$75 million to stop Trump and $25 million to Marco Rubio, but they gave Rubio a condition: he’s got to win the Florida primary or he’s out and Mitt Romney’s in. That’s the plan.”

To believe in government as we know it is to accept that an enormous range of problems and issues can be resolved only by overwhelming violence and the threat of violence; to reject truth, beauty, love, and peace and to embrace instead lies, ugliness, hatred, and war; to presume that mature human beings can do no better than a group of ill-behaved, nasty little toddlers brawling in a sandbox.--Higgs

A University of Southern California study in 2009 revealed that African American girls are 50% more likely to be bulimic than white girls. Additionally, girls from families in the lowest income bracket studied are 153% more likely to be bulimic than girls from the highest income bracket.

Harper's has an article by Dan Baum on drugs in the U.S. and he wrote this amazing thing from an interview he had with old Nixon hand, John Erlichman: The Nixon campaign in '68 and the Nixon White House had two enemies: black people and the anti-war left. He said, and we knew that if we could associate heroin with black people and marijuana with the hippies, we could project the police into those communities, arrest their leaders, break up their meetings and most of all, demonize them night after night on the evening news. And he looked me in the eyes and said, "Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Edmund Burke’s vitriol against the French Revolution ultimately sparked a painful division among the Whigs. Did the Revolutionaries truly mean what they said in promising the dawn of freedom, or was their crusade an incoherent and desperate push for power? Whig statesman Charles James Fox believed that the disasters that accompanied rebellion in France were “accidental” products of an essentially benign process. Burke, by contrast, believed the calamities were the inevitable result of a campaign to ruin religion and sabotage property. The Whigs were divided not over competing values but over opposing assessments of whether their principles could coexist with the Revolution.
It is commonly believed that his antagonism was driven by the desire to secure custom against liberty and thus to champion “tradition” against the rights of man. In fact Burke saw his position as one of resistance against an illegitimate force that sought to undermine universal principles of justice. As he put it in a letter to Captain John Mercer on February 26, 1790, his aim was to lend support to “the first principles of law and natural justice”. 
AAAAAaaaaaannnnnnnddddddd....the math presentation of two common sayings:
    • "A penny saved is a penny earned."                                                                     - Benjamin Franklin
    • "Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it."                                 - ----Albert Einstein

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton has new book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.  He is an older, conservative Brit with some despair, it seems. He was interviewed recently by Mick Hume of "Spiked." ("Spiked" is a small, free speech publication and their handling of Scruton was quite fair.) There were some interesting things in the piece as Scruton struggles with the modern world's changes. He is particularly interesting as he presents what seems to be a Burke-like view of conservatism. (Don't know this guy well so I might be wrong.) Here are some of the more interesting selections:

‘Conservatives are by their nature people who are trying to defend and maintain existence without a cause’. Simply to keep things as they are? ‘We obviously all want to change things, but recognising that human life is an end in itself and not a means to replace itself with something else. And defending institutions and compromises is a very difficult and unexciting thing. But nevertheless it’s the truth.’
...‘the original slogan of the French Revolution – liberté, égalité, fraternité – was just a slogan, and nobody troubled to ask themselves whether liberté and égalité were compatible in practice. Really the subsequent history has been an illustration of that conflict between them.
But these great ideals, for which people did fight and die, were changed under the pressure of 20th-century politics into bureaucratic processes, that are constantly equalising, constantly passing little bits of legislation to ensure that anybody is not discriminating, not standing out, not learning something that puts them in a higher category than anybody else. And, likewise, liberté has been bureaucratised in the sense that it doesn’t any more represent the freedom of people to break out, to do the thing that they really want to do. Rather it’s conceived as a form of empowerment – the state gives you this in the form of vouchers or privileges, privileges, for example, that you might have as a gay, or a woman, or an ethnic minority. So in all these ways, both those ideals have ceased to be ideals and become the property of the state, to distribute among people according to the fashion of the day.’

‘The question of maintaining a serious moral order while allowing economic freedom has, I think, troubled people right from the beginning of history, and has always been a tension within conservative thinkers, going right back to [Edmund] Burke. The traditional way of reconciling these two things was through religion, which would remove certain things from the market.

...legalising gay marriage? ‘The arguments in favour of offering something to a previously disprivileged group are all very well and they do have weight. But much more important is the effect of this on the institution of marriage. My view is that here we need some serious anthropology. You have to recognise that rites of passage are not personal possessions, they are possessions of the whole community, they are the ways in which the community defines itself and defines its obligation towards the next generation. So you don’t make these radical, metaphysical alterations to an institution such as marriage without there being long-term consequences. And nobody seemed to want to talk about the long-term consequences.’

‘I think that obedience, properly understood, is if not the highest virtue (that would make me an Islamist) the one that is presupposed by all the others – obedience to the law, to morality, to authority, to those you love and those who depend on you. That is what freedom consists in, as Kant wisely saw.’

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Provable and Unprovable

Have the theories of science progressed beyond our abilities to prove them? How do we evaluate string theory, or the multiverse or, for that matter, global warming?

A three-day workshop was held at Ludwig Maximilian University one year after physicists George Ellis and Joe Silk called for such a conference in an incendiary opinion piece in Nature

The crisis, as Ellis and Silk tell it, is the wildly speculative nature of modern physics theories, which they say reflects a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Many of today’s theorists — chief among them the proponents of string theory and the multiverse hypothesis — appear convinced of their ideas on the grounds that they are beautiful or logically compelling, despite the impossibility of testing them. Ellis and Silk accused these theorists of “moving the goalposts” of science and blurring the line between physics and pseudoscience. “The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable,” Ellis and Silk wrote, thereby disqualifying most of the leading theories of the past 40 years. “Only then can we defend science from attack.”
They were reacting, in part, to the controversial ideas of Richard Dawid, an Austrian philosopher whose 2013 book String Theory and the Scientific Method identified three kinds of “non-empirical” evidence that Dawid says can help build trust in scientific theories absent empirical data.

Theory has detached itself from experiment. The objects of theoretical speculation are now too far away, too small, too energetic or too far in the past to reach or rule out with our earthly instruments. So, what is to be done? As Ellis and Silk wrote, “Physicists, philosophers and other scientists should hammer out a new narrative for the scientific method that can deal with the scope of modern physics.”

Today, most physicists judge the soundness of a theory by using the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper’s rule of thumb. In the 1930s, Popper drew a line between science and nonscience in comparing the work of Albert Einstein with that of Sigmund Freud. Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which cast the force of gravity as curves in space and time, made risky predictions — ones that, if they hadn’t succeeded so brilliantly, would have failed miserably, falsifying the theory. But Freudian psychoanalysis was slippery: Any fault of your mother’s could be worked into your diagnosis. The theory wasn’t falsifiable, and so, Popper decided, it wasn’t science. Critics accuse string theory and the multiverse hypothesis, as well as cosmic inflation — the leading theory of how the universe began — of falling on the wrong side of Popper’s line of demarcation.

Several philosophers at the workshop said, Popperian falsificationism has been supplanted by Bayesian confirmation theory, or Bayesianism, a modern framework based on the 18th-century probability theory of the English statistician and minister Thomas Bayes. Bayesianism allows for the fact that modern scientific theories typically make claims far beyond what can be directly observed — no one has ever seen an atom — and so today’s theories often resist a falsified-unfalsified dichotomy. Instead, trust in a theory often falls somewhere along a continuum, sliding up or down between 0 and 100 percent as new information becomes available.
(From an article in Quanta Magazine by Natalie Wolchover)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday 5/22/16

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Friday, May 20, 2016

"The Last Match" A Review

It walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening. What is it?
"The Last Match" is a play at City Theatre by Anna Ziegler. It is recent but she is serious, with a play on Broadway this year starring Kidman. It is a four person play centering on a tennis match in the American Open Semifinals between an established and fading American star and a rising, young Russian who has not yet fulfilled his promise. The two battle each other (and their wives in flashbacks) in what is a very enjoyable story about competition, sacrifice and aging. It suffers somewhat from sport's over-exposure and the minute public dissection of competition; the story line is familiar. But it is an enjoyable time.
It is more a narrative than a true play with external rather than internal struggle--an element I clearly over-translated in my initial assessment of the story as really a story of age and development of a single individual--rather than the more narrative competitive story between two athletes. A review states:
"For a moment, forget what the actors look like and forget the backstories created for them by playwright Anna Ziegler. Sergei Sergeyev clearly is patterned after the world’s No. 1 player, Novak Djokovic, and Tim Porter just as clearly is channeling the No. 3 player at age 34, Roger Federer.
Watching the play now at City Theatre, you can make the comparison right down to Tim wearing Federer’s familiar Nike swoosh and Sergei in Adidas, the brand that sponsored Djokovic when he was on the rise."
Well, I didn't think that at all. I never conceived of Federer as a self-satisfied and privileged guy nor did I think of the wise-cracking Djokovic as ever short or troubled. (I did, however, see both players as Agassi at different stages of his life.) Nor did I insightfully see the ads on the shirts. I saw two different ages view competition and sacrifice with hunger and regret.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed it thoroughly. There were some quibbles. I thought the emphasis on the parents' absence on both sides artificial, added, I think, to salt the drama. And I think the peripheral female leads were a bit too strong; the Russian girlfriend played by Robin Abramson came dangerously close to swamping her extravagant male counterpart and the American wife, Daina Michelle Griffith, played her character with such isolated complexity that she threatened to absorb the story when she was on stage.
J. D. Taylor was very good in a terrific part as the Russian, Danny Binstock was a bit thick for such a refined athlete but did well in a more difficult part that did not inherently have the audience sympathy.
All in all, a fun time regardless of how many characters you thought were on stage.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What's Wrong with Hockey

"If you're going to slash him, break a bone. If you're going to hit him from behind, give him a slight concussion." -- Mike Milbury, NHL TV analyst

There is a lot wrong with the sport of hockey. For starters, the puck is small and moves so fast that it does not translate well to television. Since TV is where sports make most of their money, that is a problem and will limit its popularity and growth. As will the games foreignness. Most of its potential audience have never skated; everybody has thrown a ball.
But there is a bigger problem, the problem of how the game--and the players--see themselves.
First, there is a gap between how players regard each other in hockey as opposed to other sports. Somehow hockey players transcend sportsmanship. Yes, they have an uplifting handshake after the series and they interview well and charitably. But they unquestionably try to hurt each other for advantage. There is some of that in all sports--"wearing the other guy down," hit him on every play," "throwing the pitch inside"--but nothing like hockey. Hockey allows--encourages--the athletes to harm each other. Harm. Athletes who respected the game and each other simply would not do that. It is the difference between Navratilova and Harding, Musial and Marishal. But Harding and Marishal are notable exceptions; such players are the rule in hockey, so much so that some teams hire skating bodyguards to protect their players.
Secondly, sportsmanship is not encouraged by the league. Blatant assault, a crime on the street, is a two minute penalty on the ice. And this is constantly reinforced by the league in its decisions as it splits hairs over split skulls. A league comment on Cooke's felonious hit on Savard implied Savard did not play correctly, that his skating style invited injury.
Finally, there is the league's purposeful public face. This is nowhere more obvious than the league's handling of Sydney Crosby. Crosby is the game's premier talent. His level of play, his devotion to the game, his suffering through unending physical abuse are all tributes to him. More, he is a nice guy that any sport would love to have as its face. Never troubled. Never a problem. No outrageous off-ice behavior. Yet the league does nothing to protect him. He is always hampered in playoffs when the game mysteriously changes and is suddenly judged by rules quite different from the rules that created the playoff competitors. He is held, interfered with, obstructed, concussed and sometimes injured so he cannot play. Imagine what would happen if Curry or Harper or Djokovic became purposeful targets for injury. Only a seriously arrogant--or benighted--league would be willing to sacrifice the play and presence of its premier players.
Not only do they stand by as willing accomplices to his nightly muggings and near-death experiences, they criticize him and his exceptional play. This, from NHL commentator, Jeremy Roenick--a guy whose hiring is approved by the league. “If I were Sidney Crosby right now,” Roenick said, “I’d watch the work ethic that Jonathan Drouin has on a nightly basis.” Drouin? Drouin is having a good series but has had a bad year. The forward was sent to the minors, decided to request a trade, then deserted the team’s American Hockey League affiliate for five weeks. Drouin? Work ethic? The one element of Crosby's game I have never before heard criticized is his work ethic.
No other sport abuses its stars physically and verbally. No sport would allow it--because they might not survive it.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cab Thoughts 5/18/16

Some people have a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other; and I think that, if such a government were once established amongst such a people, it would not only oppress men, but would eventually strip each of them of several of the highest qualities of humanity. Despotism, therefore, appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic times.--deTocqueville

It is much easier to think of innovations which benefited only the less well-off than it is to think of innovations which have benefited only the rich.This is from the Introduction to the book How the West Grew Rich by Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell, Jr.. While it is probably true, it does not include the predatory inventions of financiers such as collateralized mortgage obligation which democratically can victimize both the rich and the poor.
Golden oldie:
When Tocqueville warned about the peculiar form of despotism that threatened democracy, he noted that instead of tyrannizing men, as past despotisms had done, it tended to infantilize them, keeping “them fixed irrevocably in childhood.” What Tocqueville warned about, Marcuse celebrated, extolling the benefits of returning to a state of what he called “primary narcissism.” What Marcuse encouraged, in other words, is solipsism, not as a philosophical principle but as a moral indulgence, a way of life. I note in passing that Marcuse was a college professor: How proud he would be of those contemporary universities which have, partly under his influence, become factories for the maintenance of infantilizing narcissism.--Roger Kimball

Trump has had a lot of success but, to my knowledge, has not won the majority of votes in a single state he has won. So would a convention fight--which has occurred seventeen time in the past--be that big a deal?

CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Cuba’s Castro why his socialist government jails dissidents, and whether he would free them.  “Dáme la lista!” Castro thundered at Acosta, a second-generation Cuban-American. “Give me the list of political prisoners, right now!” Interestingly, Acosta did not have a list. Or a name. Apparently he was depending upon some generalized accepted belief rather than specifics. That tells a lot about American news. He gets to ask a penetrating question publicly to one of the world's great tyrants and he can't back it up?

It was mortifying to see Obama lectured by Castro recently. But there was a broader, brutal editorial regarding Obama's visit to Cuba in the WashPo. It argues that his appearance bolsters the savage government there. The author was a former prisoner there. He had a horrific story about the problem the government had with prisoners crying out before execution. The government thought the cry to Christ was a prayer but actually it was a group rallying cry. They eventually decided to gag the prisoners before shooting them. (It is interesting to think of this as Anne Applebaum reported: Totalitarians are more afraid of the right of assembly than any other right.) 
But we have the Saudis as friends.
“If Judge Garland is confirmed, he could tip the ideological balance to create the most liberal Supreme Court in 50 years.”--NYT. But everyone says--including the NYT--that he is a "centrist." In a column in the Wall Street Journal, Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, wrote that Garland is so against small business and so much for big labor that “this is the first time in the NFIB’s 73-year-history that we will weigh in on a Supreme Court nominee.” What worries the NFIB, she explains, is that “in 16 major labor decisions of Judge Garland’s that we examined, he ruled 16-0 in favor of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board).” Elsewhere in the Journal, the editorial board wrote that they can’t think of a single issue on which Garland would vote differently from the four liberal Justices that already sit on the bench.
It was written in the SCOTUSblog that Garland favors deferring to the decision-makers in agencies. “In a dozen close cases in which the court divided, he sided with the agency every time.”
So, not surprisingly, Obama has nominated a man to the Supreme Court who agrees with him.
But these are areas of basic disagreement, basic to conservative thought. The real question is, what should the Rube-publicans do? Should they just accept this or, as the Democrats have done in the past--for example, with Bork and Thomas, just oppose it and get a compromise candidate?
Japan’s population declined last year for the first time in nearly a century.

A review of public records shows that some of the men who were with Scalia at the ranch when he died are connected through the International Order of St. Hubertus, whose members gathered at least once before at the same ranch for a celebratory weekend. Members of the worldwide, male-only society wear dark-green robes emblazoned with a large cross and the motto “Deum Diligite Animalia Diligentes,” which means “Honoring God by honoring His creatures,” according to the group’s website. Some hold titles, such as Grand Master, Prior and Knight Grand Officer. The Order’s name is in honor of Hubert, the patron saint of hunters and fishermen. The WashPo wrote, oxymoronically, "The society’s U.S. chapter launched in 1966 at the famous Bohemian Club in San Francisco, which is associated with the all-male Bohemian Grove — one of the most well-known secret societies in the country."  An oxymoronic "well-known secret society." Great. Supreme Court Judges dressing up in strange robes and...wait, they do that at work.
Who is....Matthew Arnold? (G. K. Chesterton said that under his surface raillery Arnold was, "even in the age of Carlyle and Ruskin, perhaps the most serious man alive.")
It is dangerous to hold politicians for what they say. A speechwriter, a wandering metaphor, a moment of bravado might easily distort the appearance of an otherwise reasonable guy. But Obama said this in Cuba: “Here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people. The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution, America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world, these ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.”
Now that, on the face of it, is downright foolish.
Apparently in a well-meaning but economically illiterate policy, Puerto Rico has frozen the price of condoms because of the threat of Zika virus. In an penny-wise effort to save money, this policy will be very expensive as the availability of condoms will drop and the Zika infection rate will consequently rise. Freezing prices is a touchstone for unreality.
In 2008 Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew were killed by her sister's estranged husband William Balfour. Hudson's brother-in-law was convicted on three counts of first degree murder in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison. Now Balfour has been interviewed by ABC. Why would anyone do that?
"We have good reason to believe that there's a bombshell in Donald Trump's taxes," Romney told Fox News host Neil Cavuto on Wednesday. One of the things I hated about the last election was how the Democrats smeared Romney with innuendo about his money and his taxes--especially that unforgivable speech Reid gave on the Senate floor. And here is Romney doing the exact same thing.
Mary Beard writes: Classicists are forever pointing out that "Et tu Brute" were not actually what the ancients said that Caesar said as he died. The best bet is that he said to Brutus  (in Greek) 'kai su teknon?' or 'and you my child?', fuelling the suspicion that Brutus was actually Caesar's illegitimate son ('teknon' could be literally 'son' or a more general term of affection for a younger man). But what is less often pointed out is that the assassination was a rather inglorious failure, and not a successful coup at all. It wasn't just, as Shakespeare had it, that Brutus and his colleagues were shortly defeated by the supporters of the murdered leader (so watch your back, Boris). It was also that there whole political programme proved futile. They set out to destroy not just the tyrant, but also tyranny, in the name of Libery. The actual result of the assassination, after more than a decade of civil war, was autocracy (aka tyranny) established on a permanent basis under the emperor Augustus. 
Matthew Arnold extolled criticism as “the disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.”
Touchstone: N: 1. A hard black stone, such as jasper or basalt, formerly used to test the quality of gold or silver by comparing the streak left on the stone by one of these metals with that of a standard alloy. 2. An excellent quality or example that is used to test the excellence or genuineness of others. usage: "the qualities of courage and vision that are the touchstones of leadership" (Henry A. Kissinger). ety: from assaying. A touchstone is a small tablet of dark stone such as fieldstone, slate or lydite used for assaying precious metal alloys It has a finely grained surface on which soft metals leave a visible trace. The word was introduced into literary criticism by Matthew Arnold in "the Study of Poetry"(1880) to denote short but distinctive passages, selected from the writings of the greatest poets, which he used to determine the relative value of passages or poems which are compared to them. (wiki)
Over the winter, the Chicago Cubs laid out $276.25 million for their top four free agent pickups. The St. Louis Cardinals spent $108.5 million on four players. Six other big league clubs spent at least $175 million on the free agent market. The Pirates made five significant signings — pitchers Neftali Feliz, Ryan Vogelsong and Juan Nicasio; and infielders Sean Rodriguez and John Jaso — at a total cost of $19.4 million. With an Opening Day payroll of about $96.7 million, the Pirates ranked 23rd among the 30 major league teams.
There remains a distinction between law and command. Law has an agreed upon structure, a history and predictability. Law is voluntary. Command is individual, often well-meaning but always outside the generally agreed upon and voluntary concepts and process of law.
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You can buy anything on-line.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Ass and the Fox and the Lion

The Ass and the Fox, having entered into a partnership together, went out into the forest to hunt. They had not proceeded far, when they met a Lion. The Fox approached the Lion and promised to contrive for him the capture of the Ass, if he would pledge his word that his own life should be spared. On his assuring him that he would not injure him, the Fox led the Ass to a deep pit, and contrived that he should fall into it. The Lion, seeing that the Ass was secured, immediately clutched the Fox, and then attacked the Ass at his leisure.
Moral of Aesops Fable: Traitors must expect treachery.

Monday, May 16, 2016

William I and the Royal Contract Killer‏

On 15 March, 1580, King Philip offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who killed William the Silent, to whom he referred as a "pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race." William was William I of the Netherlands, a man opposed to the rule of the Spanish through the Holy Roman Emperor, Phillip. While nationalism was involved, the essence was religious as the Netherlands was staunchly Protestant and Phillip, of course, was not.  Several devout Catholics leapt to the offer. The first was one  Juan de Jáuregui but his attempt did not succeed. Next was Balthasar Gérard, a law student. After discussing his plan with a number of religious, and getting absolution for travelling and living with Protestant heretics, he went to the Netherlands and, through a remarkable bit of intrigue and luck, managed to get close to William and shot him to death on July 10, 1584. The very business-like Dutch showed surprising savagery in killing Gérard.
This was one of many incidents in the Netherlands' evolution to statehood, one period called, in the wonderful Old World manner, the Eighty Years War. William has sixteen children and a solid, if torturous, succession. His grandson was William III of Orange, the future King of England (with Mary) who appears as a cold villain in Dumas' "Black Tulip" which concerns the murder (and a lot more) of the Republican de Witt brothers on August 20, 1672.
The Netherlands became formally independent after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
In the Netherlands, William is known as the Vader des Vaderlands, "Father of the Fatherland", and the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, was written in his honor.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sunday 5/15/16

A "country house poem" on loss, modern upheaval and "uncertain hope."

On Lady Katharine Paston’s Tomb at Oxnead

Sun set three hundred years,
These marble shadows on the wall still stand,
Fixed by her husband’s grief, and Stone’s hand,
Long vanished skill, and wealth, and tears.

Outside her dilapidated
Church the usual June again transposes
The graveyard offals into grass and roses,
Beauty and corruption equated,

Balanced principles,
Whereby this white memento-mori is
Now mere memoria pulchritudinis,
New summer dappling her walls.

We’re not the tomorrow, alas,
Of this lady’s wish: her treasures scattered for ever,
Her mansion now green mounds beside the river,
Not a Paston left to wear her flesh . . .

And since we put the resurrection
Even of annual crops to chance,
Eternity of blood’s no longer, as once,
Any man’s confident possession.

We do with less than that;
The uncertain hope that someone not yet born
May saunter here on a remote June morning
To find the key under the mat.


Cab Thoughts 5/14/16

Our shouting is louder than our actions, / Our swords are taller than us, / This is our tragedy. / In short / We wear the cape of civilization / But our souls live in the stone age. -Nizar Qabbani, poet and diplomat (21 Mar 1923-1998
On March22, 1982, Clint Malarchuk survived a life-threatening injury during a 1989 NHL game when St. Louis Blues player Steve Tuttle's skate blade slashed his jugular vein, causing immediate massive blood loss. He was saved by the trainer, Jim Pizzutelli, a former Army medic who had served in Vietnam, who compressed the vessel until it could be controlled by a physician who somehow had the tools to do so. Eleven fans fainted, two more suffered heart attacks and three players vomited on the ice. Two men have died from on-ice injuries in NHL,  Howie Morenz (1937) and Bill Masterton (1968). 

An interesting question is that freedom allows the incompetent decision-maker to err. Should we protect him from his error? And, if he votes for a leader and protector, won't he risk the same incompetence in the voting booth as he does in his daily life?
The facts revealed in our study should change views. Inequality, properly measured, is extremely high, but is far lower than generally believed. The reason is that our fiscal system, properly measured, is highly progressive. And, via our high marginal taxes, we are providing significant incentives to Americans to work less and earn less than they might otherwise.--Economists Alan Auerbach and Laurence Kotlikoff 

Pictographs are pictures which resemble what they signify. Ideograms are symbols which represent ideas.

In a "No dogs allowed" sign, the dog illustration is a pictogram. The red circle and bar is an ideogram representing the idea of "no" or "not allowed".
A rebus is often seen as a puzzle or game. But the rebus is a developmental stage of written language. In essence a rebus is a message spelled out in pictures that represents sounds rather than the things they are pictures of. For example the picture of an eye, a bee, and a leaf can be put together to form the English rebus meaning “I be-lieve”, which has nothing to do with eyes, bees or leaves. In the beginning, Ancient Egyptian writing relied heavily on pictographic signs representing concrete objects. Words which cannot be represented easily by means of a picture, such as proper names, ideas and function words, were difficult to write. The rebus principle provided the means to overcome this limitation. Fully developed hieroglyphs read in rebus fashion were in use at Abydos in Ancient Egypt as early as 3400 BC.
A famous Ancient Egyptian rebus statue of Ramses II consists of three hieroglyphic elements. A large falcon representing Horus the sun god – RA, who is standing behind a sitting child – MES, and the child is holding a sedge plant stalk in his left hand – SU. Remember we are not looking at these hieroglyphs from the perspective phonograms. These three items compose the rebus RA-MES-SU or as we prefer Ramesses. (Donald Frazer)
It is interesting that this type of phonetic writing is making a comeback through, of all things, the advanced technology of messaging.
Louis L'Amour wrote 113 books, 260 million copies of which have been sold worldwide in dozens of languages, and thirty of which have been turned into movies.
One of the central tenets of existentialist thinking – especially Sartre’s – is the belief that ‘human existence [is] different from the kind of being other things have. Other entities are what they are, but as a human I am whatever I choose to make of myself at every moment. I am free.’ Where this freedom comes from and how it resists all the elements of daily living is a bit vague.
This episode is instructive: It is described in Carole Seymour-Jones’s A Dangerous Liaison: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (2008), in which, during a visit to Moscow in 1962, Sartre became involved in a relationship with a KGB agent. As the agent, Lena Zonina, wrote in a report at the time, the philosopher’s visit was ‘set up in such a way as to give him a complete illusion that he meets with anyone he wants to meet, that he chooses the subjects for conversation, and that he works out his own programme rather than follows one imposed on him’. Sartre was taken in by the deception, falling in love with Zonina, an attractive and highly intelligent but ailing and vulnerable woman who was herself acting under severe constraint, proposing marriage to her and visiting the Soviet Union on no fewer than eight occasions within four years in order to be with her. With Sartre unwilling to make a decisive break with de Beauvoir and the philosopher’s usefulness to the Soviet cause waning, the relationship came to an end. But the carefully engineered romance seems to have served its purpose in bolstering Sartre’s belief that communism ‘must be judged by its intentions and not its actions’.
Who is...Leonard Woolf?
One of the clichés that has characterized Keynes is his remark to the effect that in the long run we are all dead. This may encapsulate much of modern thought. The emphasis is on the short run, today, not tomorrow.  Don’t worry about the long run. You’ll be dead then. But there is a lot more. The emphasis is upon the single individual and his life. There is no responsibility he has to anyone after his death. He brings no future to the period beyond his own existence. That is a significant aberration, unusual in history, I think. I wonder if it is a particular affliction of the childless and, as such, is much more common.

Disagreement is rising on the Fed, according to Jon Hilsenrath of the WSJ, between those on the Fed who believed that risks to the economy were materializing and those who wanted to wait and see. Either way, the Fed is confused and their 4-hikes in 2016 meme is disappearing fast. But they have models, right?
Golden oldie:

The labor force participation rate for men has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded.
Just when it seemed that the Syria's proxy war would remain confined within the "comfortable" realm of conventional weaponry, Reuters gave the first hint of a potential, and radioactive escalation, when it reported that Iraq is searching for "highly dangerous" radioactive material stolen last year.
In 1917 Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased a small, used handpress; a month later, it was delivered to Hogarth House, their West London home, and the Hogarth Press was born. Over the next three decades the Woolfs would publish 525 titles, many of them by other influential modernists -- Mansfield, Forster, Eliot -- and most of them collector's items today.
The Pope's comment on Trump was pretty subtle for a second or third language; he turned a specific question into an aphorism. It sounded like a bon mot from the French Court. Of course it was taken at literal value by the less-than-subtle Americans and everyone lost their minds. 
From The American College of Pediatricians article "Gender Ideology Harms Children" :
Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of health — not genetic markers of a disorder.
No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.
Gender dysphoria (GD), formerly listed as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), is a recognized mental disorder in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V). The psychodynamic and social learning theories of GD/GID have never been disproved.
Reversible or not, puberty-blocking hormones induce a state of disease — the absence of puberty — and inhibit growth and fertility in a previously biologically healthy child.
According to the DSM-V, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.
Rates of suicide are twenty times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBQT — affirming countries. What compassionate and reasonable person would condemn young children to this fate knowing that after puberty as many as 88% of girls and 98% of boys will eventually accept reality and achieve a state of mental and physical health? 
Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.

Rebus: noun: A representation of a word or phrase using pictures, symbols, letters, etc., pictures that represents sounds rather than the things they are pictures of. From Latin rebus (by things), from res (thing). Earliest documented use: 1605.
use: “Daniel Clowes’s narratives are full of anagrams and rebuses, clues (a wand, an eye, a movie camera) to an underlying mystery that is never solved.”Tad Friend; Comics from Underground; The New Yorker; Jul 30, 2001.
Every bottle cap from a bottle of Lone Star beer (the National Beer of Texas) contains a rebus.
There is an interesting economic notion called "on the margin." For a traditional example that economists use to illustrate the concept, consider: Diamonds have a higher market price than water, even though diamonds are mostly valued because they look pretty whereas water is essential to life. The explanation is that on the margin an extra diamond brings far more satisfaction than an extra gallon of water.
Paul Krugman and other climate change alarmists have to walk a very fine line: On the one hand, they need to scare the heck out of Americans, warning them that utter disaster awaits if we don’t support policies to make energy more expensive. On the other hand, the climate alarmists have to be really optimistic, promising Americans that if they would just let the government get more power and more money, then all of a sudden the climate catastrophe disappears with surprisingly little pain. (from Murphy, the economist not the dog.)
AAAaaaaannnnnnddddddd......a picture, when galaxies attack:
2016 February 3
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.
                       M81 versus M82