Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday 7/31/16

By Comparison

Staring at stars, stones, trees,
The rubbish and the backbone of what is
The helpless incarnation of death’s will,
Is an exploration of innocence.  See, the moon
Pours over the cold window-sill
A night, a midnight or a midnight’s noon,
And its ambiguous beauty makes us feel
The guilt of knowing the real from the unreal.

Trees and stars and stones
Are falsely these and true comparisons
Whose likenesses are the observer. He
Stares, in the end, at his own face, and shame
Of his deep flaw, mortality,
Shines in the star, and from the tree the same
Pity is shed that weakens him when he knows
That he is going where even the stone goes.


MacCaig was a primary school teacher before becoming a Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and Reader in Poetry at the University of Stirling. He used a very spare, plain English style influenced by his studies of the classics. This is a twist on a nature sonnet, written just before he moved to a tight free verse style, describing an indifferent nature and universe.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Cab Thoughts 7/30/16

"Why do Christian nations which were so weak in the past compared with Muslim nations begin to dominate so many lands in modern times and even defeat the once victorious Ottoman armies?"  "...because they have laws and rules invented by reason." --Ibrahim Muteferrika, 1731

Carved in stone above the entrance of the monumental James A. Farley Post Office in New York City are these words: 'Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.' Many think this is the Post Office motto, but the Post Office has no motto. It is an acknowledgement of the famous postal system created by the Persian king Darius as described by the Greek historian Herodotus: 'Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers.These men will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the dis­tance which they have to do, either by snow, or rain, or heat, or by darkness of night. The first rider delivers his dispatch to the second, and the second passes it to the third; and so it is borne from hand to hand along the whole line, like the light of the torch-race.'
Overall, there is $7 trillion of negative-yielding debt in the world, which equals 29% of the Bloomberg Global Developed Sovereign Bond Index. These are not backwater, third-world countries either—these are developed countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, Denmark, and the European Central Bank.
A new investigation reveals that Bill and Hillary Clinton took in at least $100 million from Middle East leaders. The investigation by the Daily Caller News Foundation has uncovered a disturbing pattern of the Clintons’ raising money for the Clinton Foundation from regimes that have checkered records on human rights and that aren’t always operating in the best interests of the U.S. By the way, the $100 million we mentioned above doesn’t appear to include another $30 million given to the Clintons by two Mideast-based foundations and four billionaire Saudis. On the other hand, the recent NYT announcement of investment money passing through the Clinton "Charity" is a little less clear than originally stated.
Who is....Lady Olga?
If you seriously want to monetize the debt, you'd have to buy back the debt held by the public, with newly issued base money. There are two data points that suggest this will lead to hyperinflation:
1. Currency in circulation is about 8% of GDP
2. Treasury debt held by the public is about 80% of GDP
Eating Local has become more than an interesting diversion; it has become a thesis for restoring person-to-person commerce and intimacy. This would oppose the growing impersonal corporate world, a la Wendell Berry.  As Robert Wuetherick asks, “What will be next?  100-mile-sourced medicines?  100-mile-sourced ideas?  100-mile-sourced economic history?”
According to Quora and Intelligence Quotient scores, the smartest human being that has ever lived is William James Sidis. His was the highest Intelligence Quotient of all times with a score of 250-300 with a normal person's IQ  being around 100 and Einstein's IQ is estimated to be 160-190.  At six months, the young William already started to speak, at 18 months he was reading the newspaper, and at four years old he already spoke Latin. At 16, in 1914, he graduated with honours from Harvard in Literature. Despite a degree in letters, Sidis began teaching three scientific subjects: Euclidean geometry, non-Euclidean geometry, and trigonometry. In 1919 he was arrested in a workers' demonstration and sentenced to jail but his father, apparently a renowned psychiatrist, got the charges dropped and the son ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a while. He then moved away and became a clerk. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage at age 46 in 1944. It is rumoured that he could speak fluently 40 languages and was able to learn one in three days. While serving his ordinary life, Sidis continued to write but was not a contributor to the world.
Bubble tea, which is a tea-based drink that has balls of tapioca resting in the bottom, originated in Taiwan. Now that country is restoring the tea again by serving it in huge light bulbs. Light bulbs. We'll see if it catches on.
In 1845 John Snare bid £8 for a painting supposed by the auctioneer to be a Van Dyck, but Snare had his own opinion: he thought the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez might have painted it during Charles’ clandestine trip to Spain in 1623 when the proposed marriage between (then prince) Charles and Maria Anna, daughter of Philip III of Spain, was under negotiation. Years of research and legal issues ensued as Snare attempted to prove the Velázquez provenance. Snare’s enthusiasm ultimately veered into mania, causing him to lose his livelihood and very likely his family.
Golden oldie:
Sexual identity questions are not new. Nor are they terribly unusual. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty. But sometimes the problem is pretty stark.
Jane Barnell was an American bearded lady who worked in sideshow and used the stage name Lady Olga or Madame Olga. She worked all over the U.S. in various shows and ended her career in New York where she appeared in dime shows she carefully selected. She was the subject of a New Yorker article by the esteemed Joseph Mitchell, an article that made her famous for a short time. She was three time a widow, and had two children that did not survive to adulthood.
Mitchell was a subtle writer who profiled Bowery personalities and Olga was one of his best. She had a life that was excruciating: She was sold by her mother to a travelling circus as a child, and walked a line of degradation as she exploited her deformity for income.
I still can't figure out her pregnanciey.
Numinous: adj: :  1. supernatural, mysterious; 2. filled with a sense of the presence of divinity :  holy. 3. appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense :  spiritual. Most common as  evincing the presence of a deity; "a numinous wood"; "the most numinous moment in the Mass" ety: Circa 1650, from Latin numen ‎(nod, divine sway, divinity) +‎ -ous as "from a nod from the god."
Merlot used to be California's second-most planted red wine grape variety by acreage, behind Cabernet Sauvignon. However, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Merlot has been overtaken by Zinfandel for the number two spot for reds.
When armed thugs arrive at your door and demand your money and your car keys, you do as they demand in order to avoid being murdered, but you don’t for a moment think that the thugs’s demands are furthering the greater good.  But let those thugs win the votes of a majority of your neighbors who authorize the thugs to steal your money and your car, and you – if you are like the typical person – play along agreeably, having convinced yourself of the lie that the thugs’s deepest motive is to help you and the society of which you are a member.--Bordeaux
Dyson on string theory and alternative universes: "I would say it's just very good mathematics. Mathematicians love it. It isn't clear string theory applies to the real world, it may or may not. It's quite likely it may turn out to be useful for reasons nobody today can guess.
I would say those things aren't science. They don't belong in science. But you can still have interesting speculations that may be useful in unforeseen ways – but if it's not verifiable, it's not what I would consider science.
There's no reason other universes shouldn't exist; if they are unobservable, then they don't belong to science."
As the economic historians Ian Gazeley and Andrew Newell concluded in their 2010 study of “the reduction, almost to elimination, of absolute poverty among working households in Britain between 1904 and 1937”: “The elimination of grinding poverty among working families was almost complete by the late thirties, well before the Welfare State.”--McCloskey
And another rather surprising note, this from Chelsea German: The Washington Post ran a piece with the alarming headline, “The middle class is shrinking just about everywhere in America.” Although you wouldn’t know it from the first few paragraphs, a shrinking middle class isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Advisory Board member Mark Perry has pointed out, America’s middle class is disappearing primarily because people are moving into higher income groups, not falling into poverty. One has to read fairly far into the Washington Post’s coverage before seeing any mention of the fact that a shrinking middle class can mean growing incomes, she continues.
The size of America's prison population is a function of our violent crime rate. The U.S. homicide rate is seven times higher than the combined rate of 21 Western nations plus Japan.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Aerospace and Missile Force, said in recent remarks that the Obama administration does not want Iran to publicize its ongoing missile tests, which have raised questions about the Islamic Republic’s commitment to last summer’s comprehensive nuclear agreement.
“At this time, the Americans are telling [us]: ‘Don’t talk about missile affairs, and if you conduct a test or maneuver, don’t mention it,’” Hajizadeh was quoted as saying during a recent Persian-language speech that was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

"I am willing to love all mankind except an American." So said the esteemed Samuel Johnson. Pretty harsh. But it has a context. It was said in 1778 during the American revolution against Britain when the Americans were changing Great Britain forever. 
AAAaaaannnnnnddddddd .........a picture of Lady Olga:

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Contribution of the Real Pros‏

A theme emerging from the Hillary camp is whether or not the U.S. can be lead by an outsider like Trump.
Can we survive an amateur as President? We have so far with the current administration. But it raises a legitimate point. So let's take a short walk down memory lane recalling the last years America has been led by the Real Pros.

Just off the top of my head. The contribution of the Real Pros, in chronological order, starting with Kennedy:

Bay of Pigs
Cuban Missile Crisis
Blockade of Cuba
Nuclear staredown with Russia
Militarizing Vietnam
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Invading Vietnam
Freezing wages and prices
Iran hostages
Invasion of Iran and Operation Eagle Claw
Invasion of Iraq
Egyptian Arab Spring
Overthrow of Qaddafi and the creation of the Libyan chaos
Withdrawal from Iraq
Syrian mess, red-line and whatever else they are doing
And only Heaven knows what we are doing with the Russians in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, with the Chinese in the China Sea, North Korea, and the mysterious Iran Treaty decision.

Now these are just grossly atrocious errors involving military action, not subtle foreign relations or domestic or economic policy which we can not assess. Some of these errors almost ended the world as we know it.
The Real Pros.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


We went to a ballgame recently and sat in some great third base seats close to the field. Interestingly  as we sat down and we all immediately encouraged vigilance in each other; we were in direct line from a line drive foul ball. This general knowledge among the ball fans spread locally as people in front of us and behind us also urged  caution. This is unusual behavior at an event generally deemed to be relaxing-- the mutually agreed upon threat.
A few popups and some soft drives came by but none in our section. Late in the game, however, a right-handed batter got in front of a changeup, hit the ball on the nose and pulled it hard foul. A screeching line drive fired into our section. The crowd gasped as it ricocheted off an empty seat beside a woman holding her child on her lap. She never saw it. The seat was the child's; had he been in the seat and not in her lap I can not imagine how the child would have survived it.

In 2002, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil died two days after being struck in the head by a puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets ice hockey game. 
Three other spectator deaths have been reported in hockey games due to injuries sustained from a puck during a game. All three occurred at minor league games where the vertical barrier between fans and the ice is shorter than at NHL arenas.
After Cecil’s death, the NHL forced all teams to install behind the goals 18-foot mesh nets, designed to catch pucks that fly above the standard eight-foot glass barrier, beginning with the 2002-03 season.
Auto racing has seen a number of spectator deaths from cars and car parts crashing into the stands. In 1998, three spectators were killed at Michigan International Speedway when a tire from Adrian Fernandez’s race car flew into the stands. A fan was killed in a similar incident at the Indianapolis 500 in 1987.
Baseballs batted into the stand are known to have caused injuries, though never death. But it is not that baseball is not expecting problems. Any ball--or bat--that goes into the stands results in several stadium attendants rushing to the area to observe the damage done. It is as if they are professional bystanders who arrive to encourage and assess.

Broken bats are a newer problem. Tyler Colvin was the 13th pick in the first round who played on to the Cubs' opening roster in 2010. He was having a great year into September with 20 home runs and an .816 OPS with 395 AB.. Against the Dolphins, Sept. 19, he drew a bases-loaded walk and had reached third when Welington Castillo took a swing that broke his bat. The ball went over third base, and Colvin turned to follow the ball's path. He did not see the barrel of Castillo's bat spinning toward him. The sharp end of the bat stabbed Colvin's chest then hit the ground. It punctured a hole in his skin and left lung, which deflated. He suffered a collapsed lung, required hospitalization and recovered. But he never played at the same level afterwards.
In a study of 2,232 broken bats, the league found that maple bats were three times more likely to shatter than bats made with ash. Maple bats are also more likely to explode when they shatter, while ash bats more often splinter into small fragments. Maple bats became popular after Barry Bonds started using them about a decade ago and are used by about half of the players in the Major Leagues.

Two people at Fenway were hurt by broken bats in the last two years. After the first injury the players union claimed the players, in each of the last two rounds of collective bargaining, proposed that protective netting extend down the foul lines and even to the foul poles, according to major-league sources. The owners, however, rejected the proposals for the 2007 and 2012 labor agreements, citing concerns that additional netting would detract from the experience of ticket buyers in certain premium seats, sources said.
Japan's ball fields are completely encircled in protective netting. Why the Americans don't do that is a mystery to me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cab Thoughts 7/27/16

Life never knows the return of spring. --John Gay in Beggar's Opera

A lot of talk around about everyone writing in friends and family members for the election.
Dating sites: Older men are more popular with women than younger men. In the online dating space older men inspire trust, stability and maturity. Men from 20 to 30 years are rarely sought as a potential partner for long-lasting relationship followed by future marriage. The tendency with the women’s age is quite opposite. Not knowing this, men lower their real age on sites.

German regulators estimate that insurers will begin to fail after 2018 due to the impossibility of operating in a negative interest environment with over 80 percent of said insurers’ investments in fixed income. Read that again.

In his autobiography Twain says that his career as a river-boat pilot began in the mid-1850s: "I made up my mind that I would go to the head-waters of the Amazon and collect coca and trade in it and make a fortune.... When I got to New Orleans I inquired about ships leaving for Para and discovered that there weren't any and learned that there probably wouldn't be any during that century." He signed on as an apprentice with Horace Bixby, the pilot who had brought him to New Orleans; on the nostalgia and research trip of 1882, Twain arranged to travel upriver with Bixby. The riverbank was so different that when given a chance to pilot his old route Twain couldn't find any of his remembered landmarks. As a boy he would see a dozen steamboats an hour; now there were maybe a half-dozen a day -- one day he saw only one, though it was called "The Mark Twain." The end of his trip was a three-day stay in hometown Hannibal, Missouri; here he reports bursting into tears because of the changes, because of the familiar look and smell of the mud, because he was no longer Sam Clemens but Mark Twain, the famous author who now traveled with a secretary hired to take down notes so that no profitable impression might be lost. (King)

"What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias." --Judge Learned Hand 
An analysis of Europe I stumbled across: Nonperforming loans make up almost 20% of Italian banking system assets. As you go from north to south in Italy, the percentage of bad loans increases. Some southern banks hold nearly 40% nonperforming loans. By contrast,  nonperforming loans of US banks are down to a somewhat manageable 1%. During the worst of our banking crisis, US nonperforming loans never rose above 3½%. Italy’s level is almost six times greater, and there is not an economic crisis yet. A collapse of the Italian banking system is a systemic risk for all of Europe. Compared to Italy, Greece will seem quite manageable.
Who is...Ben Rhodes?
Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul in 1981. Agca claimed that he had planned to go to England to kill the king but couldn’t because it turned out there was only a queen and “Turks don’t shoot women.” He also claimed to have Palestinian connections. Most people believe this story is all disinformation and that Agca was a contract killer for the Russians through Bulgaria’s KGB-connected intelligence agency. The motive behind an alleged Soviet-inspired assassination must be viewed in the context of the Cold War in 1981. Pope John Paul II was Polish-born and openly supportive of the democratic movement in that country. His visit to Poland in 1979 worried the Kremlin, which saw its hold on Eastern Europe in danger. Documents from the ex-East German secret police, the Stasi, appear to pin the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on the KGB.
Although the exact extent of the conspiracy remains unknown today, Agca reportedly met with Bulgarian spies Sergei Antonov, Zhelio Vassilev, Todor Aivazov, and Bekir Celenk in Rome about assassinating Lech Walesa, the Polish labor union leader. However, this plan was abandoned when Agca was offered $1.25 million to kill the pope.
I wonder, who was the Russian KGB man in East Germany at the time?
Global debt increased by $57 trillion in the seven years ending 2014. The leaders among creditors were the sovereigns: at 9.3-percent growth, government debt swelled to $58 trillion from a starting point of $33 trillion. Corporations came in second place with their debt levels rising by 5.9 percent to $56 trillion from $38 trillion. The onus was clearly on these two competitors to offset the relatively weaker growth of financial and household debt which was no doubt dragged down by the collapse in U.S. mortgage availability and the recapitalization of (some) lenders.
In Paris in the early 1800s there were  two hospitals devoted entirely to the treatment of syphilis. Afflicted women were sent to the Hôpital Lourcine, a hospital filled with the most frightful instances of venereal ravages. The men were sent to the Hôpital du Midi, which required that all patients be publicly whipped as punishment for contracting the disease, both before and after treatment. There were hospitals everywhere, hospitals for lunatic women and for idiot men, hospitals for the incurable, for the blind, for the deaf and dumb, and even for ailing elderly married couples who wished to die together.
Golden oldie:
There has been some talk about a BTT, a "Business Transfer Tax." It is sort of a VAT, like the tax-hungry Europeans. Basically, with a BTT, a company pays tax on the revenue it receives net of what it pays for the services and products it is selling. For example, Netflix would pay on the revenue it receives after deducting the money it sends to television and movie producers for the rights to show their products.
Texas achieved independence from Mexico in 1836. In 1844, President John Tyler restarted negotiations with the Republic of Texas, culminating with a Treaty of Annexation. But the slave thing never stopped. The treaty was defeated by a wide margin in the Senate because it would upset the slave state/free state balance between North and South (and because risked war with Mexico, which had broken off relations with the United States.) But shortly before leaving office and with the support of President-elect Polk, Tyler managed to get the joint resolution passed on March 1, 1845. Texas was admitted to the union on December 29. While Mexico didn’t follow through with its threat to declare war, relations between the two nations remained tense over border disputes, and in July 1845, President Polk ordered troops into disputed lands that lay between the Neuces and Rio Grande rivers.
This bull market is more than seven years old, and only one rally in history has lasted longer—from December 1987 to March 2000. After that, we had a two-and-a-half-year bear market that chopped the stock market in half.
Ben Rhodes, the White House information guy, was profiled in NYT Magazine. It is not pretty. Rhodes declared, “We created an echo chamber.” Rhodes exploited the fact that when newspapers close foreign bureaus to economize on staff, the gray beards disappear. Now, “They call us (at the White House) to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo,” Rhodes proclaimed. “Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
Exhibit A of the “master shaper” Rhodes bending the press to Obama’s will was the Iran arms deal. The Times explained that Obama’s team exploited the press by pretending the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani and a “moderate” faction of the Iranian regime presented a brand-new opportunity to strike an Iran deal. But in reality, the Obama negotiators began talking to Iran in July of 2012, almost a year before the election. This false narrative entered the echo chamber. Polls showed that the American public didn’t like the Iran deal, but the media just shouted over them with recycled Obama lingo about the “historic” and “landmark” agreement.
Another example that wasn’t mentioned by the Times is the death of four Americans at Benghazi. In 2012, Rhodes easily ventriloquized the media with the bizarre spin that the U.S. Consulate wasn’t subjected to a terrorist attack, but that it suffered from a spontaneous protest over an internet video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Even after Team Obama was forced to relent on this blatantly false talking point, the ventriloquist dummies wouldn’t focus on how they had been used.
Just last week, Fox News’ chief Washington, D.C., correspondent James Rosen told host Bill O’Reilly that the State Department blatantly lied to him when he asked about the Iran deal negotiations timeline.

These economist are disturbing to read when their guard is down. Greenspan, after the financial crisis, and the criticism he received for contributing to the housing bubble at the core of it, went back and studied herd behavior, with some surprising results. “I was actually flabbergasted,” he admitted. “It upended my view of how the world works.”
Jon Stewart showed up and gave an interview about the nomination of Trump and argued that the failure of Liberals to manage big government successfully had a lot to do with the voter disillusionment. Somehow this was seen as wise. Then he said something actually telling. Commenting on Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again," he said, "When was America ever great?" This is an essential--maybe the essential--difference between the Right and the Left in the U.S.. The Right see America as a revolutionary change in the history of the relationship between men and their governance, the Left sees it at a flawed, bigoted effort at maintaining a flawed, bigoted status quo.
There are two sides of many word bases. Scrutable, licit, peccable, clement, effable are a few of the "positives." Some "negatives:" Incredible, infinite, irresistible, unafraid, and unambiguous.
 A piece by Jack Winter in The New Yorker of July 25, 1994, “How I Met My Wife” which used “positives” opens: “It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consulate.”

Burgess said A Clockwork Orange was his least favorite book. Critics did not like it either: "Anthony Burgess is a literary smart aleck whose novel, A Clockwork Orange last year achieved a success d'estime with critics like William Burroughs, who mistook his muddle of sadism, teddyboyism, jive talk and Berlitz Russian for social philosophy." (I tend to like anything with a crack at Burroughs.)  He said he had to write the book "in a state of near drunkenness in order to deal with material that upset me very much."
But Burgess did not think that he was in a muddle over meaning: the muddle was due to the film being based on the American edition of the book, which omitted his last chapter. In his introduction to the 1986, restored, American edition, he says that he gave in to his American editors because he needed their money, but they turned his novel into a fable, something merely sensational and not "a fair picture of human life." He explains that in his last chapter -- symbolically, Chapter 21 -- "my young thuggish protagonist grows up" because he recognizes "that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction."
AAAaaaannnnnddddd.........a picture of a pet:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Above It All‏

Russia in Eastern Europe. Russia in the Ukraine; Russia has taken over Crimea and is working to undermine the rest of the country.
Now China in East Asia, and Iran in the Middle East.
All are on the march.

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea,” the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command told Congress on Tuesday. Its goal? “Hegemony in East Asia.” They are  installing anti-aircraft batteries and stationing fighter jets on South China Sea islands and have built an artificial island it created on another disputed island chain--the Spratlys, claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Russian intervention has rescued the Bashar al-Assad regime from collapse. They are now bombing rebel groups, many supported by the U.S..

Following the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal that granted Iran $100 billion and normalized its relations with the world, the first shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft batteries from Russia was delivered to Iran and it is negotiating an $8 billion arms deal with Russia that includes sophisticated combat aircraft. Like its ballistic missile tests, this conventional weapons buying is a blatant violation of U.N. Security Council prohibitions.
Germany charged on July 8 that conservative forces in Iran still appear to be trying to acquire nuclear technology, likely with the goal of undermining Tehran's nuclear deal with the West.
Germany's intelligence agency said in its annual report Iran's persistent efforts to illegally acquire nuclear technology in Germany continued at a "high level" during 2015.
A separate report from the intelligence agency in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia this week said it had registered 141 attempts to acquire technology for proliferation purposes last year, and that two-thirds of these attempts were linked to Iran.

Fortunately America continues to be vigilant. Obama's stalwart international policies include closing Guantanamo prison, visiting Cuba and making global warming statements.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Accumulating and Compounding Debt

Albert Einstein famously said, "Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it...he who doesn't ...pays it." 

This is an adaptation of an example of compounding numbers adapted from Dr. Albert Bartlett by the always very alarmed Chris Martinson.

Dr. Bartlett said, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function.”
"Suppose I had a magic eye dropper and I placed a single drop of water in the middle of your left hand. The magic part is that this drop of water is going to double in size every minute.
At first nothing seems to be happening, but by the end of a minute, that tiny drop is now the size of two tiny drops.
After another minute, you now have a little pool of water that is slightly smaller in diameter than a dime sitting in your hand.
After six minutes, you have a blob of water that would fill a thimble.
Now suppose we take our magic eye dropper to Fenway Park, and, right at 12:00 p.m. in the afternoon, we place a magic drop way down there on the pitcher’s mound.
To make this really interesting, suppose that the park is watertight and that you are handcuffed to one of the very highest bleacher seats.
My question to you is, “How long do you have to escape from the handcuffs?” When would it be completely filled? In days? Weeks? Months? Years? How long would that take?
I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it.
The answer is, you have until 12:49 on that same day to figure out how you are going to get out of those handcuffs. In less than 50 minutes, our modest little drop of water has managed to completely fill Fenway Park.
Now let me ask you this – at what time of the day would Fenway Park still be 93% empty space, and how many of you would realize the severity of your predicament?
Any guesses? The answer is 12:45. If you were squirming in your bleacher seat waiting for help to arrive, by the time the field is covered with less than 5 feet of water, you would now have less than 4 minutes left to get free.
And that, right there, illustrates one of the key features of compound growth…the one thing I want you take away from all this. With exponential functions, the action really only heats up in the last few moments.
We sat in our seats for 45 minutes and nothing much seemed to be happening, and then in four minutes – bang! – the whole place was full."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday 7/24/16

Today's gospel is the "ask and you will receive" gospel where Christ introduces a rather surprising element of life to spirituality: Persistence. He encourages continual prayer as if God can be fatigued into acquiescing. Tenacity, not righteousness, rules.  It is a funny idea, especially when connected to the Old Testament reading where Abraham bargains with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. (What if there are 20 good men in the town, would you destroy it then?)
God sits in almighty judgment; man wheedles.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cab Thoughts 7/23/16

"The value of an education ... is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks." - Albert Einstein

A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) fitted with a camera is currently scouring parts of the Mariana Trench as part of a project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Mariana Trench is located in the Pacific Ocean, just east of the 14 Mariana Islands (11"21' North latitude and 142" 12' East longitude ) near Japan. It is the deepest part of the earth's oceans, and the deepest location of the earth itself.  It was created by ocean-to-ocean subduction, a phenomena in which a plate topped by oceanic crust is subducted beneath another plate topped by oceanic crust. The deepest part of the Mariana Trench is the Challenger Deep, so named after the exploratory vessel HMS Challenger II; a fishing boat converted into a sea lab by  Swiss scientist Jacques Piccard. It has a known depth of 10,994 meters and so far the ROV has descended to a depth of 4,064 meters.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, tax freedom day, the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough to pay the state and federal tax bill for the year, arrived on April 24. That means all the money we made in the first 114 days of 2016 went to taxes.

Warren Buffett had a lot to say about hedge funds and financial advisors at his annual meeting, none of it complementary. He worked in a fresh plug for a book he's been recommending for decades, "Where Are the Customers' Yachts?," by Fred Schwed. The title comes from the story of a visitor to New York who was admiring all the nice boats in the harbor, and was told that they belonged to Wall Street bankers. He naively asked where the bankers' clients kept their boats. The answer: They couldn't afford them. "There's been far, far, far more money made by people in Wall Street through salesmanship abilities than through investment abilities," he said. "There are a few people out there that are going to have an outstanding investment record. But very few of them. And the people you pay to help identify them don't know how to identify them. They do know how to sell you." Interestingly, at the heart of Buffet's investment success has been his ability to draw on other people's money as an investment source through his insurance companies.

Capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.--Abraham Lincoln

Henry David Thoreau is buried with Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts on Authors' Ridge, in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Thoreau was an integral but prickly member of the Transcendentalist community in Massachusetts, as might be expected from the writer of "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." Even Emerson grew to dislike his friend's Waldenisms, if only for stylistic reasons: "Always a weary, captious paradox to fight you with," he wrote in his journal. In his journal, Thoreau shows how he could get just as tired of Emerson's smooth "palaver," his "repeating himself, shampooing himself, [as if] Christ himself." Thoreau was not without friends, but most seemed to side with Emerson. One said, "I love Henry, but I cannot like him; and as for taking his arm, I should as soon think of taking the arm of an elm-tree."

Who is...Vargas Llosa,?

Millennials have now overtaken baby boomers as America's largest living generation according to Pew. Americans aged 18-34 are going to college, getting into debt, entering into the workforce at minimum wage, and living with their parents. I'm unsure how much of a big deal this is. When I was a child, my widowed grandmother lived with four of her children, one a widow. One, my uncle, eloped after my grandmother died. He was 72.

Speaking of Millennials, Rodriguez Braun, writing about Vargas Llosa,  The Way to Paradise, sees much in common between utopianism and what we call today "populism." They are both rejection of that free society that, he writes "is founded upon modesty concerning the existence of any historical law, on the community of interest of free women and men, on realism over the nature of politics and on the respect of the individual in a liberal democracy". Essentially, on the impossibility of building heaven on earth.

National Pro Fastpitch's newest expansion team, the Houston-based Scrap Yard Dawgs, signed Monica Abbott, 30, to a $1 million, six-year contract. It's the first $1 million contract for the NPF, a softball league that begins its 50-game schedule this month for the 13th season.  As a senior pitcher at the University of Tennessee, she set NCAA Division I records for the most games started, wins, strikeouts, shutouts and innings pitched. As a member of the Chicago Bandits last season, she posted a 13-1 record with a 0.31 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 90 innings. 

In the early 1800s, David Ricardo developed a theory of comparative advantage as an explanation for the origins of trade. And this explanation has substantial power, particularly in a pre-industrial world. Assume, for example, that England is suited to produce wool, while Portugal is suited to produce wine. If each nation specializes, then total consumption in the world, and in each nation, is expanded. Interestingly, this is still true if one nation is better at producing both commodities: even the less productive nation benefits from specialization and trade. 

The purpose of the financial system is to bring together people who have surplus funds (savers) with people who have a deficit of funds (spenders). European Central Bank President Mario Draghi had this to say: Negative interest rates are "not the problem, but a symptom of an underlying problem" caused by a "global excess of savings." Too much savings. How do those two ideas fit together?

More on banks: if you really wanted to punish the banks, you would deregulate them and force them to compete with one another. Bad banks would go out of business, and new ones would spring up left and right. And consumers would benefit.

Stanford University students voted on a campus resolution that would have their college require a course on Western civilization, as it did until the 1980s. Stanford students rejected the proposal 1,992 to 347. A columnist at the Stanford Daily explained why: Teaching Western civilization means "upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations." So there is hostility to the culture that has been the greatest economic and social engine in the history of the world. Why? One opinion: The West integrated into its success moral standards, artistic standards, and cultural standards. And standards imply judgment.

Golden oldies:

Neal Gabler has written an article in The Atlantic on finances in Middle America. While it is getting hammered in reviews, it is really worth the read. It is here:  But it should be read critically. It is not well done and is liked by some, I assume, because it has an honesty about it. But the nidus of the story is that this guy made some very bad choices, not the least of which is his occupation choice--he is a professional writer. And he thinks badly. For example, on his daughters' college plans: "Because I made too much money for the girls to get more than meager scholarships, but too little money to afford to pay for their educations in full, and because--another choice--we believed they had earned the right to attend good universities, universities of their choice, we found ourselves in a financial vortex." So he and his family had "earned the right" to good colleges. And "We have no retirement savings, because we emptied a small 401(k) to pay for our younger daughter's wedding." Sorry, that's just stupid. There is simply a disconnect between this guy's thinking and the world he lives in. My bet is it has nothing to do with the economic system, either. My bet is he would screw up any complicated financial system--or would demand so much support from it that the system itself would fail.
The middle class is in deep water but neither the devil nor the stars were involved.

In the 2012 book The Clash of Generations, published by MIT Press, authored by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns, they calculate that on a net present value basis the U.S. government faces liabilities for Social Security and other entitlement programs that exceed the funds in the various trust funds by $60 trillion. This sum is more than three times greater than the current level of GDP.

As the Russian taunting warship flights show, international relations depend upon someone being a grownup. Someone must see the bigger picture. The U.S. must always have as leaders someone who will not be reflexive or gratuitous. And some, usually the exceptionally stupid or weak, the symbolic or malicious, often are willing to take advantage of that. That said, there are reasons why a nation would do this kind of provocative foolishness.  Near-threatening behavior elicits responses. Those responses tell the other side about how ships and planes might maneuver in a real attack, how quickly events are communicated to higher echelons, frequencies used by fire-control systems, and so on. The target must assume that the approach is hostile and begin responding, and that response can provide useful data. But the primary purpose of such a maneuver is simply to show that you are willing to do it, to signal unhappiness, and to impress the public by projecting a sense of power. The Russians love this nonsense. But as anyone reading The Hunt for Red October knows, this kind of nonsense is not limited to nations. Or children.

Amanuensis: n: 1. a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another; secretary. Amanuensis can be traced to the Latin phrase servus ā manū meaning "slave at hand." It entered English in the early 1600s. Should the word be banned because of its origin?

The Chinese are reforming their military along American lines. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) had been a World War II-type force, heavy on manpower but not evolving technologically. This was particularly true of the ground forces. In addition, hampered by interservice rivalry, the army, navy, and air force did not operate well together. So the Chinese are emulating the United States' Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which radically changed US military operational principles. It created geographical commands-such as Central Command and Pacific Command-with forces operating under a single regional commander, regardless of service. The services (Army, Navy, and Air Force) lost control of their forces once they were deployed. At that point, their functions were confined to training, procurement, and tactical doctrine. So in the US, the services are in charge of managing resources while the regional commanders fight wars. In World War II, on the other hand, each service fought its own war, with limited coordination and occasionally painful consequences. Goldwater-Nichols was intended to solve that problem, and the Chinese have decided to try to solve it, too.

The three largest banks in the US--Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo--disclosed that the number of delinquent corporate loans increased by 67% in Q1. JPMorgan's delinquent corporate loans increased by 50% to $2.21 billion. Bank of America's delinquent loans increased 32% to $1.6 billion. Wells Fargo's delinquent loans are up by 64%, to $3.97 billion.

From a book review: Uber is a shining example of creative destruction - in particular, in this case destroying not only an older, established way of serving consumers but, more importantly, destroying the government-granted monopoly privileges that that older, established way enjoyed.
Douglas Rushkoff, however, is unimpressed with Uber.  In his new book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Rushkoff alleges that the true monopolist is Uber, the success of which "involves destroying the dozens or hundreds of independent taxi companies in the markets it serves."  It is significant that in this book Rushkoff never mentions the entry restrictions and other government-granted privileges that protect traditional taxicab owners from competition. He apparently does not think that is monopolistic behavior.

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

Friday, July 22, 2016

What is Given, What is Taken

One of the mythologies of modern democracy is that privilege is grasped by elites. It is, but it is also bestowed upon the elites by their adoring fans. Take for example, the recent edition of JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Assn.. This is the scientific journal of the AMA. The recent publication contained  a scientific study authored by The President of the United States, an article on healthcare reform in the United States. The piece, which contains 68 footnotes to academic journals and government publications, claims to present evidence showing that the number of Americans without health insurance has dropped dramatically, and resulted in lower hospital readmission rates. Obama also used the article to recommend the introduction of a “public option” plan in parts of the U.S. and for the federal government to push down drug prices.
“I am proud of the policy changes in the [Affordable Care Act],” he writes, “and the progress that has been made toward a more affordable, high-quality, and accessible healthcare system.”
"It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find another paper in any scientific journal in which a politician was allowed to subjectively analyze his own policy and declare it a success. This is a textbook definition of conflict of interest," writes the LA Times.
“For most Americans … Marketplaces are working.” Or so the President writes. Maybe. But just saying so does not mean it is true and that is nowhere more important than in a scientific journal. And if you disagree? Obama denounces “hyperpartisanship,” and then goes on to criticize Republicans for “excessive oversight” and “relentless litigation” that “undermined  ACA implementation efforts.” He--and the Journal--thinks this is reasonable.
There has been a lot of talk about how the laws are not applied evenly in the land. And the legal system does seem to bend over backwards to accommodate the political elites in the country. But what about the laws of common sense? How could anyone allow such a subjective and political discussion to appear in a scientific medical journal?
Simple. There is a lower bar for these people. Lower in almost every way. Amazingly, we do not have the expectations of these people that we have for each other. Why, I'll bet people would not think it outrageous to give Obama a Nobel Peace Prize.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Patenting Clichés in a Crowded Intellectual Space

The journey of progress always encounters new problems and one was sighted as we explored a new area of "wife of the candidate" speech. To be sure Melania Trump was especially vulnerable to criticism; any opponent of Democrats with high cheekbones and a good jaw drives Democrats and their press familiars into a frenzy so trouble was sure to follow. But even I did not anticipate the problem that the "wife of the candidate speech" would reveal. It seems there is a shortage of political platitudes. Obama's wife mentioned a number of them a few years ago and it appears Trump's wife mentioned the same ones. Now perhaps Mrs. Obama's speech was so memorable in platitude mentioning that it stuck in Mrs. Trump's speech-writer's head for eight years. Or maybe it was so notable that anyone would want to imitate it. At any rate, it seems Cliché Standards are not well established.
My bet is we have a new problem in America: The Platitude Gap.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July, 20, 1968: Kennedy to Armstrong to Cernan‏

President John F. Kennedy made his famous appeal to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Sputnik had been launched; Americans were alarmed.

In 1966, five years later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, in the midst of the enthusiastic optimism, a disaster at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida: A fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Undeterred, in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.
At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: “The Eagle has landed.”

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972.
The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today’s dollars). It is doubtful that many earthlings now remember the names of any of the men involved.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


PSA is a protein measurable in the blood of all males with prostates that is loosely connected to prostatic cancer.
Medicare officials are considering a measure that would penalize doctors who order routine prostate-cancer screening tests for their patients, as part of a federal effort to define and reward quality in health-care services.
The proposal, which hasn’t been widely publicized, has prompted a flurry of last-minute comments to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, virtually all in opposition. The official comment period is now expired and the government is holding off on their decision.
Many of those commenting said the measure would discourage doctors from discussing the pros and cons of screening for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) with their patients and allowing them to decide, as several major medical groups recommend.
“PSA screening is a very controversial topic. The debate is ongoing and people feel very strongly about it, one way or another,” said David Penson, chair of public policy and practice support for the American Urological Association, which urged CMS to reject the proposal. “To make it a quality measure would say, ‘You’re a poor quality doctor if your patients get this test.’ ”
The proposed measure is part of continuing federal efforts to develop ways to identify and reward value in health care. The Obama administration has said it plans to tie 50% of Medicare payments to such quality measures by 2018.
Since 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended against routine screening for prostate cancer for men of any age on the grounds that the benefits don’t outweigh the harms.
This is an astonishing development. There are two points here: First, there is a wide spectrum of prostate cancer. That is "cancer," as it is generally understood, does not adequately describe the entity we see under the microscope when "prostate cancer" is diagnosed. It fits the microscopic criteria but does not behave physiologically like other cancers all the time. Second, PSA testing finds the "prostate cancer" at a high rate, regardless of its position on the spectrum.
It is the disease that is complicated, not the test. In true bureaucratic, anti-science fashion, the government would ban the test.

Monday, July 18, 2016

You Say ISIL, I Say ISIS, You Say Tomato...

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible… Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness… the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Where there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms-- Politics and the English Language, George Orwell

It is high time that everyone sees the Heroes of Beslan clearly.
Burnings. Beheadings. Torture. Mass gang rapes. This kind of man is not unknown among us. The drug cartels, Mengela, the murderers of the Clutter family all have spotted human history with unspeakable savagery and pain.
It is clear that governments the world over are paralyzed with some inexplicable conflict here. There seems to be uncertainty, some unique thinking that exceeds our grasp, that makes even the name ISIS--spoken pointedly as "ISIL" by administrators--abstract. With such ambivalence, action is hard to follow.
I have a modest proposal. I propose a popular uprising of words. No more use of words and phrases like "action," "violence," "terrorism" or "attack" by these people. Only "atrocity, " "fiendishness" and similar words and phrases should be used. And no more "fighter," or "Islamist," or "terrorist." Only truly judgmental words like "Unhinged," "Deranged," "Sadist" and "Maniac" should be used. No "killed," only "murdered." When a maniac is killed , he should be "put out of his misery." Everyone involved is an "accomplice" or "enabler" until proven otherwise.
And everyone should spread the word that "virgin" is a mistranslation of "raisin." Fewer guys are likely to die for 72 raisins. And nothing hurts self-absorbed mania like humor.

Orwell believed language meant something and could do things. Let's try to prove it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday 6/17/16

Today's gospel is Mary and Martha. Christ always tries to contrast the physical and the spiritual, the mundane, daily world from the world of God. Often these examples are startling--leaving one's home, selling all you own, leaving the plow. But those examples have a certain harsh context: Christ is contrasting the world of the New Testament with the older, contracted world of Israel, tribe and family. He wants to free the people's minds from the black hole of their land and history. With Mary and Martha, He places it in a softer light, a domestic setting with two devoted friends.

Martha and Mary are entertaining Christ but Mary is spending her time sitting and listening to Christ. When Martha, who has been busy with the entertaining work, complains to Christ, He says: "Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled by many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part.."

His comfort is a function of Martha's efforts. He knows and appreciates that. She is "careful and...troubled by many things." That is how we all are; that is our world. He knows that, too. He sympathizes with her.

But He will not allow her to be distracted by the world from the universal that is the world.

There has been a debate recently over productivity; productive people have come up as less high-minded, a bit rustic beside the more thoughtful elite.
The "Sons of Martha" by Kipling is a different, surprisingly American, take:

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, ‘Be ye removed’. They say to the lesser floods, ‘Be dry’.
Under their rods are the rocks reproved – they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matter hidden, under the earthline their altars are;
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their work when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand.
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat:
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that:
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed, they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise Runs:
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


We are products of history. We must be; Hegel, Marx and Fukuyama all agree.
Europe is awash with theoretical responses to the current terroristic Politics of Derangement. One was Hollande’s plan to strip French nationality from dual citizens convicted of terrorism. Quite a threat.

There is a review of Christiane Taubira’s Murmures à la jeunesse on the terrorism in France. The reviewer says the short book, translated as "Whispers to the Young," offers a "particularly compelling (and upbeat) contribution to the debate of managing this"... Politics of Derangement. Taubira, from Guyana, was France’s Justice Minister until her resignation in late January 2016 because of her opposition to Hollande’s plan. As she notes pointedly, none of the nine men who carried out the November 2015 attacks in Paris was binational; but twenty-seven of the victims were. Her tract caused a sensation when it was published a week after Taubira’s resignation.

Taubira’s silent interlocutor, never mentioned explicitly, is her nemesis the hardline Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who publicly declared that there was no point trying to understand the appeal of jihadism, as “to understand terrorism was already in some sense to justify it”.

The reviewer states "Taubira makes a powerful case against the securitization of Islam, and of Muslims in general: she points out that jihadism is attractive not for its religious message, but in its quest for a radical break with the established social and political order. She observes, in this context, that a high proportion of jihadist sympathizers are recent converts to Islam. Above all, she affirms that jihadism is not a purely home-grown phenomenon, but is inextricably intertwined with the calamitous failings of Western policy in the Middle East, from Palestine and Iraq to the more recent cases of Libya and Syria."

It is a reaction, a dialectic, of history.

But there is a lot less going on here in Nice and Orlando than that. These were peripheral philosophical acts, at most. These were acts of seriously deranged people who, in the heat of a homicidal frenzy, wrapped themselves in an available flag.

There is an obvious problem here: Every individual , however destructive, if sane, has a point. He has some combination of educational and personal factors that led to his position and action. Nazis, embittered over the first war and its treaty, had a point. But the homicidal derangement syndrome we are watching unfold (and, probably, develop to larger and more efficient weaponry) has a very special characteristic: The loss of human empathy, the inability to identify with fellow members of the species.
That is very rare among the sane although it is characteristic of shards within the culture like drug cartels. And, of course, cartels have their story too. But dealing with them as a logical outgrowth of history might be giving them a lot more depth than they deserve..

Friday, July 15, 2016

Facts vs. Knowledge‏

The Human Genome Project published the first draft of the complete human genome in Nature magazine on February 15, 2001. 2001! That is fifteen years ago. I think people, on reflection, would express surprise. Why? Because we have now had the complete genome for fifteen years now and the expected dramatic changes have not happened.
We--the modern Western world--have a subtle prejudice: We believe that facts are part of a whole understanding and that more facts imply more understanding. Facts are not isolated bits, they are clues. Like puzzle pieces, each fact brings us closer to an understanding of the whole. Like a parlor game or a Sherlock Holmes story, each bit of information leads us to the solution of the problems of life.
Except they do not. When Vanna White spins the wheel, the next letter may or may not solve the puzzle but the puzzle itself is quite limited, only one line of a crossword. It may hold the truth of life but so far it has not.
So our culture builds information bits, amassing information, store-housing "knowledge" with the confidence that we will eventually come to some conclusions about life. The computer and entertainment electronics are built to complement this thinking.
Or maybe created it. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Medical Complaints‏

I received this note recently:
The state of medicine in the US is in shambles. The problem is an overshooting in the bastardization of concepts like evidence-based medicine and the patient-satisfaction, which are viewed as something like (fictitious and functional) opposites to "paternalistic medicine". Of course the terms are not even poles of any kind of conceptual spectrum. Some quick clarifications/definitions:

evidence-based: typically the results are based on a *population*. There was this group of people with some condition. We did X to them. Y happened as a result, and here is our statistical confidence on seeing Y when we do X. 
- nothing wrong with this result really, and it sure helps us understand what works *in general*.

guideline: An operational rule book on a particular condition, whose basis strives to be "evidence based" (i.e. the result of those studies), and from which any *care giver* can deviate ("....oh, of course these are no substitute for actual practice with individual patients") at their own legal and financial risk. 

paternalistic medicine: "I am your doctor. I know what is good for you and what is not good for you. Trust me, I will make medical decisions for you. 

patient-centered medicine: "I am the patient. I know what I value, not you, doc. I will make all the decisions on my care, doc. I am a "client", see. What I feel is right is actually best for me.
- implicit is the thought that: "of course the doctor's job is to clarify the entire situation in 7th-grade language so I can make that decision".
- of course years of learning and experience can easily be translated into 7th grade, culture-sensitive language on short notice, so that you (who has every prior experience, including that of end of life issues, your probability of survival, success etc) can make snap decisions on the spur of the moment in real time, leaving open every possible loophole for lawyer and your own hindsight to return to in all legal glory for an aftermath of financial (and maybe criminal) plundering of the care-giver and medical infrastructure (which is what they/it fear, making for some interesting preemptively evasive behaviors). 

doctor: a red-listed species, soon to be replaced by the invasive *care giver*. Originally represented by some Oslerian entity of remarkable learning and clinical skill, that could in most cases stand in for your, priest and lawyer (in terms of advocacy), MRI/CT/US machine and lab (low-efficiency, but passable diagnostic equivalent), pharmacist and dispenser of treatments, as well as mother when you need someone to hear the cry ("Mummy!"). 

care-giver: an invasive species that wears white coats, and is the result of a convergent evolutionary process to fit a common evolutionary niche. Many also carry stethoscopes that they hardly know how to use (in a traditional sense). Protean species that have evolved into this include nurses (now known as the "clinical nurse practitioner", or CNP), and an entirely new 2-yr enlightened group called PA or "physician's assistant", who are non physicians elevated to the lowest calorie doctor standard that "less-money" can buy. Optometrists and even medical technologists wear the white coat and patients mistakenly call everyone "doctor".
- but lo and behold, even doctors are evolving into care-givers these days. your average physician today is no better than a PA IMO.

medical-care: an evolving concept, even a misnomer. At present represented as a combination of interactions between care-givers and infrastructure (MRI/CT/US/lab/pharmacy/OR/ER) and the laws laid down in the unassailable 'guidelines', what the market will bear and legal risk.
- it optimizes patient-satisfaction, care-giver adherence to guidelines and legally supportive documentation.  

common-sense in medicine: an extinct skill, previously referring to medical judgement that considers the vagaries of an individual patient navigating a disease, now to be replaced by a mindless executions of the care-giver, based almost entirely on the guidelines, which are of course justified as they are evidence-based whenever we can have evidence for it, what legality dictates and the workload.

with that we come to the state of affairs: a Procrustean approach where you, the patient, will be fit to a few standardized racks (your feet will be cut off or you will be stretched to make it work), so that the population statistics look great (while each individual differs from the "mean" by about 0.8 std deviations - the standardized mean difference), and you will be bulldozed by interacting with caregivers and infrastructure, suffer at the hands of the insurance companies, and the system will sustain minimal (legal, financial) risk, while perpetuating itself. You will subscribe to dual incompatible illusions that you have both a doctor looking after you in a paternalistic manner (which you desire despite your protestations) while you believe you are the ultimate decision-making/consumer (the satisfied "patient-center" of it all). You will not know better. The numbers will speak well of the well oiled machine. You will be sold short, but will die obliviously happy.
This was my response:
Medicine and politics is a "target-rich environment," perhaps deserving of an Ambrose Bierce approach. But I think there is a lot more going on, and going wrong, than such definitions allow. The Procrustean pressures are on everything, not just the patient, and are the direct result of the divided loyalties of the medical system. And the problem is much larger than at the interface between patient and doctor.
Is medical care a right? A result of holding a job? A charity?
Is the physician a scientist? A humanist? A technician?
What are we to do with physician extenders?
Is the fact that the majority of ground-breaking studies in pharmacology over the last years are irreproducible important?
Do patients have no responsibility for their behavior or, should they, like bad drivers, suffer financially for their bad statistics? Would such an attitude prejudice their rights?
Is Lee Hood right? Will the physician be the mere moderator in the discussion between the patient, the geneticist and the statistician?
We can explain the disparity between our high health costs and our mediocre life expectancies but what can we do about it?
We have had months of political campaigning yet I have not heard any discussion about medical care. There are complaints about the Affordable Care Act but not a single alternative. Yet there is a defining alternative, one proposed by the self-appointed Hillary Clinton in the 1990s when she offered her health plan along the guidelines of Uwe Reinhardt. It limits health care spending to 10% of GDP. It was her idea then, is it her idea now? And, if so, what does the kind of contraction such a plan implies mean for health care?
In some ways, medicine is a metaphor for the nation, a complicated mix of good will, science and technology, populated by practitioners raised in an environment of outdated principles, receiving information corrupted by economics and politics, serving a naïve patient population with suicidal tendencies and run by grasping non-scientific leaders who refuse to confront significant and basic problems that soon will be exaggerated by the growing demand and a discouraged work force.
Fortunately we all have the audacity of hope to hold on to. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cab Thoughts 7/13/16

"I was told by the founding members of the Women's Studies Department at the State University of New York at Albany that I had been brainwashed by male scientists to believe that hormones even existed, much less had any role in the shaping of our identity and character."--Camille Paglia

The Greeks used to have a word for it. Now it's the Japanese.  Kodokushi or “lonely death” refers to the Japanese phenomenon
of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time. First noticed in the 1980s, kodokushi has become an increasing problem in Japan, attributed to economic troubles and Japan's increasingly elderly population. It represents upwards of 5% of total deaths – about 30,000 people a year.

In the Middle Ages, the Church viewed translations of the Bible from ancient languages into English, French and other common languages as heresy, and a direct threat to the importance and power of the Church. William Tyndale, whose English translation of the Bible in 1526 was the first to take advantage of the printing press, was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and was condemned to be burned to death. Tyndale was a young cleric who had become disillusioned with the pomp and power of the Church; he was ascetic and scholarly by nature, and was instinctively attracted to the purer faith associated with the Lollards and the 'new men.' 

The individualism handed down from the Scottish Enlightenment was concerned with finding a social system that "does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid." This is from Hayek, explaining that individualism is not a reactive greedy isolationism but rather a social theory. Importantly, much of the orderliness of social life is often the result of human action, but not of human design. The distinguishing feature of this brand of individualism is that it takes the self-interest of the individual (which includes caring for one's friends and family) as a psychological fact of human action, not as endorsing the unattractive characteristic of selfishness or greed. For Hayek, the intellectual confusion that leads to the belief that individualism approves and encourages human selfishness (which it does not) is one of the main reasons why so many people dislike it. The next element of his thinking is the limitation of man's knowledge. Hayek elaborates further on what he calls the "pretence of knowledge" in his Nobel Speech.
Who is....Horace Greeley?
The university as we know it today evolved from guilds or unions. Men studying at universities who reached a middling level of competence were know as "bachelors", since, though they had some ability, it was not enough to support a family. A student with considerable experience, he would lec­ture and otherwise aid apprentice students and serve masters, somewhat in the fashion of teaching assistants in modern research universities. ... A bachelor would then have to pass through two stages on his way to becoming a master.
The Sohn Investment Conference (run by investment guru Ira Sohn) pulls together some of the greatest traders and hedge fund managers in the world every year. “The conference wants a specific recommendation from me. I guess ‘Get out of the stock market’ isn’t clear enough,” said Stanley Druckenmiller from the conference stage in New York. Gold “remains our largest currency allocation.”The billionaire investor expressed skepticism about the current investment environment due to Federal Reserve’s easy monetary policy and a slowing Chinese economy.
“The Fed has borrowed from future consumption more than ever before. It is the least data-dependent Fed in history. This is the longest deviation from historical norms in terms of Fed dovishness than I have ever seen in my career,” Druckenmiller said. “This kind of myopia causes reckless behavior.”
He believes U.S. corporations have not used debt in productive investments, but [have] instead relied on financial engineering with over $2 trillion in acquisitions and stock buybacks in the last year.
After the Civil War, Washington was a wreck. With the country growing and expanding, many wanted to move the capital in the direction of the nation's growth, west. St. Louis was a prominent candidate. Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune , who advised Civil War veterans to 'go West and grow up with the country,' wanted the capital to do the same, as did the editor of the Chicago Tribune. Reavis even held a 'national' con­vention in St. Louis to champion his city. 
Turkey and Iran are the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires. They have a history of expansion and militarism. Iran is Shi'a. Saudi Arabia is Sunni but only a recently minted state and with no military. Iraq is a shell and Syria is tearing itself apart. Israel is armed to the teeth but has no real interest in the breakdowns of the neighboring Arab states other than defensive.
But if Syria and Iraq hollow out a chaotic and powerless center, what will its neighbors, Turkey and Iran, do?
In September 2015, writer and statistician Nate Silver urged people to "calm down" about the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination. Two months later, he wrote that the media should "stop freaking out about Donald Trump's polls" and that Trump's odds were "higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent." Six months after that, after Ted Cruz had dropped out of the race but before John Kasich had done so, Silver wrote: "Donald Trump is going to win the Republican nomination." "Other than being early skeptics of Jeb Bush, we basically got the Republican race wrong," Silver wrote.
Truculent: adj: 1. fierce; cruel; savagely brutal. 2. brutally harsh; vitriolic; scathing: his truculent criticism of her work. 3. aggressively hostile; belligerent. ety: 1540s, from Latin truculentus "fierce, savage," from trux (genitive trucis) "fierce, wild."
Strangely enough, the word truculent in French, same word, is a very positive word applied to people larger than life, with a great ability for words and the language in general. A lot of Shakespeare characters can be seen as truculents in the French sense, a storyteller often is, Gérard Depardieu can be at times and in real life too. It describes someone who takes a lot of space, speaks with wit and laughs aloud, shows a lot of panache and tells impressive stories, some kind of big-hearted lion without the cruelty nor the claws.
[dictionary definitions for the French truculent: colorful, earthy]  
The average savings of a 50-year-old is only $42,000. The average net worth of somebody between 55 and 64 is $46,000. A couple at age 65 can expect to pay $218,000 just for medical treatment over the next 20 years. Eighty percent of people between 30 and 54 believe they will not have enough money to retire. One in three people have no money saved for retirement at age 65, and almost 40% are 100% dependent on Social Security.
Those that support what they believe to be isolationism frequently cite Thomas Jefferson’s warning against involvement in entangling alliances. Yet, the American Revolution was won only because the colonies used extensive diplomacy and alliance building. Benjamin Franklin was sent to Paris to recruit the French government to the side of the US. Franklin used the conflict between Britain and France to try to position the US as a French ally. The French, at first, provided some covert supplies to the US during the revolution. France would later make a large-scale commitment to the US because it wanted the British defeated in North America.
Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was quite candid in saying that zero interest rates and quantitative easing were intended to create a “wealth effect.”  He wanted asset values to rise so the affluent would spend more, so the economy could boom. He achieved the first of these: asset values rose. But who owns assets?
Ticket splitting is becoming rare in polarized America: In 2012, only 5.7 percent of voters supported a presidential candidate and a congressional candidate of opposite parties. At least half a dozen Republican senators seeking reelection and Senate aspirants can hope to win if the person at the top of the Republican ticket loses their state by, say, only four points, but not if he loses by 10. A Democratic Senate probably would guarantee a Supreme Court with a liberal cast for a generation. Only three Democrats — Andrew Jackson (twice), Franklin Roosevelt (four times) and Lyndon Johnson — have won more than 53 percent. So if Trump gets blown out, what happens to the Rube-publican Party?

Rube-publican strategist Mary Matalin has left the Rube-publican Party.

An observation in an article by David Roberts : Almost irrespective of what you think of Clinton's politics or her policies, she is manifestly more prepared to run the federal government than Donald Trump. The number of people who recognize this elemental fact about the election, however, has probably already reached and passed its peak. It will decline from here on out. The moment of clarity is already ending.....The campaign press requires, for its ongoing health and advertising revenue, a real race. It needs controversies. "Donald Trump is not fit to be president" may be the accurate answer to pretty much every relevant question about the race, but it's not an interesting answer. It's too final, too settled. No one wants to click on it.What's more, the campaign media's self-image is built on not being partisan, which precludes adjudicating political disputes. How does that even work if one side is offering up a flawed centrist and the other is offering up a vulgar xenophobic demagogue? It would be profoundly out of character for reporters to spend the six months between now and the election writing, again and again, that one side's candidate is a liar and a racist and an egomaniac. It would be uncomfortable, personally and professionally." So, according to him, the press will make a race out of an obvious mismatch. Hide the women. Save yourselves.
The earth is getting younger and older with more children and more older people. The problem is that we have not arranged ourselves on the planet in neat, homogeneous groups. In fact, most of the children are going to be in Africa and the arc around the Indian Ocean while most of the retirees will be in the developed world and China. The China demographics are surprising and a result of the "one child policy."
From Crestmont: Short-term interest rates (one year or less) are generally determined by the Federal Reserve; long-term interest rate yields are driven by the inflation rate or inflation expectations. The relationship between interest rates and inflation was not evident before the 1960’s. Current research now suggests implications for the future.
Though there are occasional, very limited periods that break the general rule, according to research from Crestmont's The 6/50 Rule states: “Interest rates will change by at least 50 basis points (0.5%) within the next 6 months.” There’s almost 50 years of history–virtually without exception–in our favor. Chances are that the change will be a good bit more than that.

AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaannnnnndddddd......a map of Israel and her neighbors: