Wednesday, August 31, 2016


This Friday, a new jobs report will come out. If the Wall Street consensus is correct, it will show the unemployment rate continuing to hover around 5% while nonfarm payrolls will grow about 180,000 for the month. There are a lot of different positions on unemployment but a new book out has a very disturbing take.
Nicholas Eberstadt, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argues in a new book called Men Without Work, due out next week, that we're suffering not from full employment, but massive underemployment. In particular, nearly one out of six working-age men have no job and are no longer looking for one. A release for his book calls this "a hidden time bomb with far-reaching economic, social and political consequences." We have 10 million fewer male workers in the labor force than we should have. Eberstadt in 2013 warned that our reliance on the standard unemployment rate "seriously disguises and understates the magnitude of the ongoing jobs crisis."

Some of Eberstadt's observations:
--Men age 25 to 54 now have a lower labor participation rate than they did in 1940, as the Great Depression was winding down. It is also far lower than in 1948, the year millions of men from World War II were flooding the labor market.
--One in six men today have no job and most have given up looking. At current trends, one in five will be out of the labor force in a generation.
--African-American men are twice as likely to be in this condition as either whites or Latinos.
--Many of these nonworking men support themselves by government disability benefits
--Surveys show an alarming increase among men age 25 to 54, the prime working years, engaged in doing such things as "socializing, relaxing and leisure," "attending gambling establishments," "tobacco and drug use," "listening to the radio" and "arts and crafts as a hobby." Many men, it seems, have virtually no work skills at all — and no way to get them.
Many of these trends in the collapse of male work may be a result of our soaring prison population and the "prevalence of non-institutionalized felons and ex-prisoners," Eberstadt argues.

It is unlikely that any real change will result from these observations because, again, so much is debatable. But one thing is not: Bad things happen in cultures where young men do not work.

Cab Thoughts 8/31/16

The rich tend to get richer not just because of higher returns to capital, as the French economist Thomas Piketty has argued, but because they have superior access to the political system and can use their connections to promote their interests.--Francis Fukuyama
During the last six months of Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, Huma Abedin was drawing paychecks simultaneously from the government, a private consulting firm with close ties to the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation and the secretary’s personal office.

The Fed manages the most important price in all the world, the price of money denominated in the world’s reserve currency. They manage interest rates, which is basically the price of money. They believe they can set the price of money and thereby balance demand and supply. How is this philosophically different from any historical effort to fix wages or prices or anything? When has the idea of freezing or fixing one price to stabilize another ever worked? It always, always, creates shortages.
A paper by Hadfield and Weingast think that what distinguishes legal from social order is not public enforcement but rather common knowledge, a stewarded normative classification institution that designates what is and what is not acceptable conduct in a community. Law emerges then "to better coordinate and incentivize decentralized collective punishment, that is, private ordering: sanctions imposed by individuals not in an official capacity." Split infinitives aside, if true, isolated communities would be dangerous.
One wonders if, of all the goofy ideas that have popped up in the last years, the idea that unhappiness and discomfort are intolerable states in a free society is the goofiest. To cause offense to a person, to hurt his or her feelings, or question his or her sense of worth – these have become grievous social transgressions. One can imagine the future outlawing of pain. Or death. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is ostensibly about censorship--something that was a concern after the Reich and the Commie scare. But much in the story  is of the symbiotic relationship between authoritarianism and utilitarianism,  the dangers of driving for universal happiness. Regarding the need for book burning, the "fireman" Beatty elaborates: ‘Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn It’ He continues: ‘You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right?... That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure and titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.’ Here, the desire for the happiness of all demands the silence of people who rock the boat. Remember, Bradbury published this in 1953.  But I'm sure Bradbury never imagined that social tenderness would become so individual.
What is....the Eridanus Supervoid?
It is axiomatic among right-thinking people that there are many things the market cannot provide, and therefore the state must.  The sheer magical mysticism inherent in this thought is rarely examined. Because the market cannot do something, why must we assume that the state knows better how to do it?--Ridley

Nonpareil (a NYT word) n: 1. a person or thing having no equal. 2. a small pellet of colored sugar for decorating candy, cake, and cookies. ety: Nonpareil is from the Middle French word of the same spelling, with pareil meaning "equal." It appeared in Late Middle English as nonparaille.
Freedom of speech is a basic American right. What is not a right is to be heard. Anyone can expect to pursue any life in this country as long as it does not injure or impair his neighbor's. While he can expect his neighbor's tolerance, what he can not expect is his neighbor's approval.
A lot of problems occur at these inflection points. A guy demands to be heard, a guy demands to be accepted. There is a world of difference between tolerance and acceptance.
The always provocative Slavoj Žižek has a new essay on the problem of immigration called Against the Double Blackmail. Its underlying argument is relatively simple: Europe should neither throw open its borders nor pull up the drawbridge; instead, for Žižek, what we need is a politics of solidarity with the world’s oppressed. But to do that we’re going to need to break a series of liberal-left taboos: acknowledge that telling people to empathize with strangers is pointless and self-serving; that Western European values are superior values, even if in the past Europe built racist colonial empires; that trying to protect one’s way of life is not racist or fascist; and we should stop dismissing criticism of Islam as “Islamophobia”. Once we’ve broken these taboos we should send in the army to take charge of refugee camps, tell the refugees to respect our values or face punishment, then work on building genuine solidarity between groups of people divided by religion and culture.
Apparently he is not kidding.
40% to 80% of the last $6 trillion the Chinese borrowed went to pay interest on the debt they already had. In less polite circles we would call that a Ponzi scheme.
According to a New York Post article (May 22, 2016), in just two years, Hillary Clinton — former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state — collected over $21 million in speaking fees. These fees were paid by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Fidelity Investments, UBS, Bank of America and several hedge fund companies. In 2015, lobbyists spent $3.22 billion lobbying Congress.
The Eridanus Supervoid is the largest supervoid ever discovered. (A supervoid is an area of space that contains no galaxies.) It is about one billion light years in diameter. Current theories of the origins of the universe cannot explain the supervoid, but it has been speculated that "the supervoid may be the result of quantum entanglement between our universe and another." Huh?

Oregon resident Jamie Shupe, who identifies as neither male nor female, can legally be considered nonbinary, a judge ruled. "Binary" is getting a lot of play re: sexuality.
The basic idea of the American government was as the protector of individual rights. New philosophies have expanded that mission of government to improve some people's economic situation. As desirable as that might be, it is not liberty. Freedom is meaningless if we are only free to make choices that meet with government approval. Sarah Skwire has a funny comparison for the removal of individual freedoms for a greater good: the game Jenga. "You built a tower out of rectangular bricks, and then removed bricks from the lower levels of the tower and stacked them on top to make the tower get higher. The fun was seeing how many bricks you could remove from the increasingly unstable structure before it all came down in one glorious collapse.........
Each time a protection is removed, each time an amendment is gutted or the power of government to surveil or harass the citizenry is increased, each time someone suggests doing away with the institutions that have been created to keep the government from doing exactly what it wants when it wants, we do not just lose that particular protection.
We weaken the whole tower. We make it easier to remove more bricks in the future. And we shorten the time until the whole thing collapses."

If anyone cares, Hillary Clinton has claimed from the very beginning of the email scandal that nothing she sent or received was marked classified at the time. As recently as Wednesday of this week, she told Fox News' Bret Baier, "nothing that I sent or received was marked classified. And nothing has been demonstrated to contradict that. So it is the fact. It was the fact when I first said it. It is the fact that I’m saying it now." Yet the State Department today released an email from 2012 that totally contradicts her "fact." According to Catherine Herridge at Fox, the email carries "a classified code known as a 'portion marking' - and that marking was on the email when it was sent directly to Clinton’s account." (Not retroactively, as the Clinton camp likes to claim.) 

A new trove of State Department emails reveal how a major Clinton Foundation donor - and high frequency stock trader - was placed on a sensitive government intelligence advisory board even though he had no experience in the field. A "sensitive government intelligence board!" The emails further reveal how, after inquiries from ABC News, the Clinton staff sought to “protect the name” of the Secretary, “stall” the ABC News reporter and ultimately accept the resignation of the donor just two days later.

There is a ridiculous rumor that the V-P choice could antagonize Wall Street. But they have paid their money. Their part is done.
Is the typical Democrat less self-interested than is the typical Republican? Seizing resources from others through the use of state force is certainly a display of greed. It is no less greedy simply because it is done by a pious sounding agent.  Indeed, Jones’s seizing Smith’s resources is a display of greed that is orders of magnitude greater than is Smith’s merely seeking to prevent his resources from being seized by Jones.
While one could make an argument that a lot of this election's problems stems from the decline of responsive political parties, the easiest conclusion to reach on assessing the two presumed candidates for president is that, because of the potential for bad leadership, government should carefully controlled and limited. How about background checks, mandatory government lock-boxes and government with limited firepower?
Golden oldie:
Long Term Capital Management was an investment fund run by Nobel Prize winners. It went broke--and almost took Citicorp with it. Experts. Elites. In companies there is some accountability when experts fail. But political experts are shielded. There is a problem when experts are permitted to operate with zero accountability. The EU represents such technocratic immunity better than any other institution in the Western world. They are difficult to get rid of even when they chase cleaning ladies naked through the hallways of 5-star hotels.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On Politics and Politicians‏

Every once in a while you come across some species--reaffirming insight:

 [T]here is no region of human thought which is so disorderly, so confused, so lawless, so little under the rule of the great principles, as the region of political thought.  It must be so, because that disorder and confusion are the inevitable consequence and penalty of the strife for power.  You cannot serve two masters.  You cannot devote yourself to the winning of power, and remain faithful to the great principles.  The great principles, and the tactics of the political campaign, can never be made one, never be reconciled.  In that region of mental and moral disorder, which we call political life, men must shape their thoughts and actions according to the circumstances of the hour, and in obedience to the tyrant necessity of defeating their rivals.--from Auberon Herbert’s June 7th, 1906, lecture at Oxford University, “Mr. Spencer and the Great Machine”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Make a New Plan, Stan‏

Agreements among people are basic elements in a civilized society. One should be able to expect that an agreement--which is essentially a trade between people --will be honored. Such a notion requires honesty, responsibility and duty--all important social qualities. Except...except... when government is involved. Somehow governments can create all sorts of agreements with all sorts of expectations and responsibilities and, somehow, renege without contempt.

Take Social Security, a tax purporting to be a savings plan for all.
In their 2012 annual report, the Social Security trustees--the trustees-- predict that assets in the federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and federal Disability Insurance trust funds will begin to decline in 2021 and become exhausted by 2033. The 2013 Trustees Report shows little change from the previous year.
If no action is taken, incoming Social Security taxes would cover about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. Which is to say, they are out of money. Money that was supposed to be saved. Money that many were counting on.
All sorts of options are springing up. Benefits can be reduced, they can be slowed--perhaps on a sliding scale based on income, the retirement age for receiving benefits could be raised--and then linked to longevity, or Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) could be modified (i.e. reduced.)
There are calculators for these ideas. ( )
For example: Slow benefit growth for the top half of earners. Result: 35% of the 75-year gap is closed.
Or: Index the age to longevity. Result: 19% of the gap is closed.
Or: Index COLAs to CPI minus 1%. Result: 63% of the gap is closed.
If you do them all together,  35 + 19 + 63, we close 117% of the gap.
See how much fun. It's sort of technical. You can mix and match and do all sorts of creative things.
There are 50 ways to break a promise.
Get on the bus, Gus..

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday 8/28/16

 The Conductor Raises His Arms

A crackle of expectation,
a silence of suspense,
as the needle touches down on the day,

everything standing up
straight and still,
like iron filings magnetized,

the air blue-veined, faint-lined,
with splashes of static
on gatepost and tile.

A sudden gust of electricity
slakes its thirst
among giant purple stems,

rustles its wings in blessing
and grants us the beauty
of a strange interval.

A dry pink light comes down
and a shadow orchestra
shimmers to life.

The conductor raises his arms
and taps the window sill.
A mist of strings

holds back the overture for a moment.
The grey drone of the lawn
hovers just above the ground,

where a tree prepares its song.
A branch’s two-note cry
sounds over the leaves’ fibrillation.

The sun’s brass section begins
with a fanfare of gold
as the main theme is introduced.

Hugo Williams

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cab Thoughts 8/27/16

Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference. Voltaire (1694 - 1778)

A paper is out showing a resurgence of flora and fauna after Chernobyl. "What we do, our everyday habitation of an area - agriculture, forestry - they've damaged wildlife more than the world's worst nuclear accident," said Prof Jim Smith, professor of environmental science, University of Portsmouth, and one of the paper's authors. So the astonishing recovery of the area is not seen as an example of relentless, hopeful life. Rather we humans are such a danger to the Earth--even nuclear accidents are more benign than we are. You have just got to think a certain way....

People rush to replace real-world markets upon the first sign of those free markets failing to operate with textbook perfection, but somehow are willing to forgive and to tolerate horrible failures of government to perform in even marginally effective ways.
While nighttime awakenings are distressing for most sufferers, there is some evidence from our recent past that suggests this period of wakefulness occurring between two separate sleep periods was the norm. Throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of "segmented sleep", from medical texts, to court records and diaries, and even in African and South American tribes, with a common reference to 'first' and 'second' sleep.

Who is....Will Rogers?
It is exceedingly difficult to create property rights that are legitimate, and respected by all, by expropriating the property of some purely on the grounds that they are the wealthiest owners.--Tom Bethell’s 1998 book, The Noblest Triumph. An interesting observation. It does more than create precedence; it undermines a precept of individual liberty.
Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm's empirical study, "Guns and Violence: The English Experience," reports as late as 1954, "there were no controls on shotguns" in England,  but only 12 cases of armed robbery in London. Of these only 4 had real guns. But in the remainder of the 20th century, gun control laws became ever more severe -- and armed robberies in London soared to 1,400 by 1974."As the numbers of legal firearms have dwindled, the numbers of armed crimes have risen" is her summary of that history in England. Conversely, in the United States the number of handguns in American homes more than doubled between 1973 and 1992, while the murder rate went down.
“Ban-the-Box” (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among black men, who disproportionately have criminal records. However, withholding information about criminal records could risk encouraging statistical discrimination: employers may make assumptions about criminality based on the applicant’s race. A recent study by Agan and Starr using fictitious internet job applications show that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but they also support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race. The race gap in callbacks grows dramatically at the BTB-affected companies after the policy goes into effect

Literacy tests in some Southern states used to ask black voters, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" and "How many seeds are in a watermelon?"
The power to tax and regulate makes it possible for the majority to coerce the minority.  There is no such coercive power when resources are allocated by markets.  Market exchanges do not occur unless all parties agree.  Private firms can charge a high price, but they cannot force anyone to buy their product.  Indeed, private firms must provide benefits that exceed the price charged in order to attract customers.--from Common Sense Economics

But he made the trains run on time.  'Between the war with Spain and the first world war, a radical transformation took place in both American foreign and domestic policy.  Expansion abroad, like reform at home, became a means of rationalizing the economy.... Progressivism and imperialism flourished together, not as opposites, but as “expressions of the same philosophy of government, a tendency to judge any action not by the means employed but by the results achieved, a worship of definitive action for action’s sake . . . .” '(historian Arthur Ekirch)
Echoes of Obama's "whatever works for you" philosophy he articulated in Cuba. Ends with politicians always justify means. Strangely, bad endpoints never seem to result in the reassessment of the means.
Harvard University has announced new rules that will punish students who join single-sex clubs, including fraternities and sororities. Part of that punishment will make them ineligible for college endorsement for top fellowships, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. It will not ban students who participate in single sex sports. Gee, that doesn't sound fair.
Some recent court rulings pushed the Justice Department to drop its unjust charge that FedEx conspired with illegal online pharmacies to transport drugs to buyers without valid prescriptions. The WSJ  notes, “[t]he only way it [FedEx] could know whether packages include illegal drugs is by tearing them open and investigating the prescriptions” – a practice not only inconsistent with good business practice but also destructive of customers’ privacy. One wonders what the DOJ could be thinking. Of course, illegal online pharmacies have no real victim as they exist to supply cheaper meds--real or not--to people who are willing to pay for them. So there is no complaint as there is no actual victim. So.....what inspires this kind of overreaching for prosecution?
The utilitarian principle  recently paraised by Obama--“the greatest happiness for the greatest number"--should make every citizen's hair stand on end. 
Bentham did not originate it; there are similar expressions in a number of eighteenth-century philosophers, such as Hutcheson, Helvetius and Beccaria.  But, very importantly, behind Bentham’s utilitarianism was its unequivocal rejection--rejection--of natural rights.
Natural rights, according to Bentham, are “simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, — nonsense upon stilts” So-called moral and natural rights are mischievous fictions and anarchical fallacies that encourage civil unrest, disobedience and resistance to laws, and revolution against established governments. Only political rights, those positive rights established and enforced by government, have “any determinate and intelligible meaning.” Rights are “the fruits of the law, and of the law alone. There are no rights without law—no rights contrary to the law—no rights anterior to the law.”
This is one of the major thinkers behind Obama's "whatever works" pronouncement. Oh, well.
Once tax receipts reach the Treasury, they are owned by no one. They are like a huge pile of candy. Then the fun begins.

Will Rogers was a renowned American humorist in the early 20th century. During World War I, German U-boats threatened the Allied war effort by sinking US ships headed to Europe. The Allied navies could not stop the slaughter.
Rogers was asked what he would do about it. He said that the only solution was to boil away the Atlantic Ocean, and then capture the U-boats sitting on the bottom. When asked how to do that, Rogers answered that he was responding as a policymaker, and that that question must be handled by others.
Boiling away the Atlantic was a solution to the U-boat problem. Any issues created by the solution would have been ignored. Whether or not it could be done was treated as someone else’s problem.
Policymaking is easy, even if it ignores reality.
(This appeared in a discussion about solving the terrorism problem by banning either guns or Muslims.)

Golden oldie:

"Given the public awareness that science can be low-quality or corrupted, that whole fields can be misdirected for decades (see nutrition, on cholesterol and sugar), and that some basic fields must progress in the absence of any prospect of empirical testing (string theory), the naïve realism of previous generations becomes quite Medieval in its irrelevance to present realities." This is from an essay on science by Jerome Ravetz who works at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford.
This is a pretty scary generalization about science.

Gen. Michael Flynn headed up the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) when, in 2012, an intel report  predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Syria – and showed how US policy deliberately ignored and even succored it. Several disparate islamic rebel groups were seen as reasonable to overthrow Bashar al-Assad with the help of “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.” Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then CIA director David Petraeus argued for a full-scale effort to overthrow beleaguered Ba’athist strongman Bashar al-Assad with massive aid to a loosely-defined “opposition.” He was interviewed by Al-Jazeera:
Al-Jazeera: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?

Flynn: I think the administration.

Al-Jazeera: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?

Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.

Al-Jazeera: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.”

 AAAAaaaaaannnnnddddd......a picture of a simultaneous sunset and eclipse:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tyler Matakevich

Champions of the underdog will be watching Tyler Matakevich tonight. He is a linebacker drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers at the 246 position. He is hanging on to the Steeler roster as the Steelers decide on one more linebacker to keep. He has had a good camp but the odds are against him.

Matakevich is coming off a season in which he swept college football's major awards recognizing the nation's top defensive player (the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards), and he was the soul of a Temple team that arguably was the best in the program's history. So why wasn't Matakevich drafted higher than 246th overall,

Matakevich, from the Combine:
6-feet tall, 238 pounds, 4.81 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 7.19 in the three-cone drill, 4.5 in the 20-yard shuttle, 112 inches in the broad jump and 31 inches in the vertical jump.
‌• Only five of 31 linebackers who ran the 40 did so in a slower time than Matakevich.
‌• Only four of 16 linebackers who ran the three-cone drill did so in a slower time than Matakevich.
‌• Only five of 20 linebackers who ran the 20-yard shuttle did so in a slower time than Matakevich.
‌• Only four of 32 linebackers had a worse broad jump than Matakevich.
‌• Only eight of 32 linebackers had a worse vertical jump than Matakevich.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Venezuela, Socialism and Unreality

Lionel Robbins in a 1932 essay defined "Economics" as "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."
The fiasco/horror of Venezuela is stimulating all sorts of opinions. Almost none of them involve a criticism of socialism itself. Much of the emphasis is upon the government's reaction to the disaster--forced labor and the like seems to most commenters to be an unusually harsh solution. Not a lot of history majors there.

The Socialist Party of Britain gives this shorthand description of what socialism is: “free access to all goods and services.”
A guy named Tucker wrote a very interesting, simple--and maybe common, as my reading of economics is light--analysis: Socialism is rooted in a very simple error, one so fundamental that it denies a fundamental feature of the world. It denies the existence and the persistence of scarcity itself. That is to say, it denies that producing and allocating is even a problem. If you deny that, it’s hardly surprising that you have no regard for economics as a discipline of the social sciences.
So long as anything is scarce, there cannot be free, unlimited, collective access to it. Whatever it is will be over-utilized, depleted, and finally vanish following the final fight for the last scrap – sort of like what is happening in Venezuela today.
That is to say, you can’t have socialism in a scarce good or service. Instead, it has to be allocated. Things can be allocated by arbitrary decision backed by force, or they can be allocated through agreement, trading, and gifting. The forceful way is what socialism has always become. This is for a reason: socialism does not deal with reality.

Nor, if you heed Lionel Robbins, does the Socialist Party of Britain's definition of socialism overlap "economics." It is something else.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cab Thoughts 8/24/16

Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.--Albert Einstein

In the two centuries after 1800, the goods and services made and consumed by the average person in Sweden or Taiwan rose by a factor of 30 to 100—that is, a rise of 2,900 to 9,900 percent. The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments. It was caused by massively better ideas in technology and institutions. And the betterments were released for the first time by a new liberty and dignity for commoners—expressed as the ideology of European liberalism. Not "liberalism" as it's come to be understood in the United States, as ever-increasing government, but its old and still European sense, what Adam Smith advocated in 1776: "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."  (from an article by McCloskey in Reason)
Interesting story. York is a small town in Pa. It is right on Interstate 83, a 40 minute straight shot into Baltimore. In 2007 Maryland famously imposed a “millionaire’s tax” of 6.25% on incomes of over $1 million a year. Funny thing is, when the tax was imposed, suddenly all the tax returns over $1 million disappeared. So either people found ways to shield income from taxation… or they moved to York. . Real estate values going up, people renovating the downtown row houses (where there was crime and even riots not too long ago), new high-end restaurants, charter schools—it is becoming a fancy, fancy place to live.
These people are so interesting. Years ago they decided to tax yachts. They wanted the money and they felt the rich would not care. The yacht market declined--the Americans dominated that market in the world--and virtually disappeared.
Who is...Norman Mailer?
Some conservatives and libertarians are coming up with proposals for more “efficient” versions of the welfare state — namely direct cash grants for life to virtually all adults, instead of the current hodgepodge of overlapping bureaucratic programs. Most recently Charles Murray proposed guaranteeing a national income. Does "unearned income have a downside."
Sowell has an interesting analogy to the plight of nations that have received wealth without earning it: Spain. "In 16th- and 17th-century Spain — its “golden age” — the windfall gain was gold and silver looted by the ton from Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere. This enabled Spain to survive without having to develop the skills, the sciences or the work ethic of other countries in Western Europe.....What this meant in practical terms was that other countries developed the skills, the knowledge, the self-discipline and other forms of human capital that Spain did not have to develop, since it could receive the tangible products of this human capital from other countries. But once the windfall gains from its colonies were gone, Spain became, and remained, one of the poorest countries in Western Europe. Worse, the disdainful attitudes toward productive work that developed during the centuries of Spain’s “golden age” became a negative legacy to future generations, in both Spain itself and in its overseas offshoot societies in Latin America." He argues that a similar situation has developed in Saudi Arabia with its windfall oil.

A pretty reasonable question to ask of the State Department re: Clinton's off-the-reservation server: How did people at State and across the entire administration know not to use a “” address when communicating with the secretary?
“It is affectation that makes so many of today’s writings, often even the best among them, unbearable to me. The author takes on a tone that is not natural to him.” Of course it is sometimes the work of a lifetime for an artist to discover who he is and it is true that a great deal of good art results from the trying on of masks, the affectation of a persona not one’s own. But it seems to me that most of my contemporaries, including Mailer, are – as Gide suggests – desperately trying to convince themselves and the audience that they are something other than they are. Vidal wrote this, quoting Gide, about Norman Mailer and his Advertisements for Myself, a curious collection of his early writings and later explanations. He continues, "However, it may be possible to get away with this sort of thing today, for we live in the age of the confession. What Mailer has done is not different in kind than what those deranged and fallen actresses have accomplished in ghost-written memoirs where, with a shrewd eye on the comeback trail, they pathetically confess their sins to Demos, receiving for their tears the absolution of a culture obscenely interested in gossip. I suspect Mailer may create more interest in himself by having made this “clean breast of it” than he would have got by publishing a really distinguished novel. The audience no longer consumes novels, but it does devour personalities."
One could wonder how this self-exposure translates in our modern age of exhibitionism.

The Arts have always hoped to capture the universal, the unseen common "phlogiston" among men. This vision of commonality, of unity, is difficult to square with popular "diversity," which is inherently exclusive and unique. This gets even more complicated when the historical way of evaluation quality in the Arts has been the breadth of its application.
The Institute for Economics and Peace reports that the number of terrorism deaths worldwide in 2015 was  32,685. They have a Terrorism Index! Over 80 per cent of the lives lost were in five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. Over the last 15 years there have been a number of large and devastating terrorist attacks in Western countries. This includes the September 11 attacks which killed 2,996 people, the Madrid train bombings which killed 191, the Norwegian massacre which killed 77 and the London bombings which killed 56. However, it is important to compare these significant events with the more persistent and severe impacts of terrorism occurring in the rest of the world. Attacks in Western countries accounted for a small percentage incidents, representing 4.4 per cent of terrorist incidents and 2.6 per cent of deaths over the last 15 years. The four large attacks listed above make up 91 percent of deaths from terrorism in the West during this period.
This has been put forward to disclaim the urgency of terrorism in the U.S.. But, to me, it just shows the potential these lunatics have to do damage.

The attacks on Trump's followers will be shown over and over. Trump's people will look mature, upstanding and abused by morons. If the Democrats want to edit tapes, they should edit that one. But Trump's behavior is wearing thin, on me at least.

Venial: adj.  1. able to be forgiven or pardoned; not seriously wrong, as a sin (opposed to mortal).
2. excusable; trifling; minor: a venial error; a venial offense. usage: Now a venial sin being the slightest and least of all sins--being halved--or, by taking either only the half of it, and leaving the rest--or, by taking it all, and amicably halving it betwixt yourself and another person--in course becomes diluted into no sin at all.-- Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume 4, 1761. ety: Venial can be traced to the Latin term venia meaning "grace, favor, indulgence." It entered English in the mid-1200s.

“More than 40 Americans die each and every day from prescription opioid overdoses,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in March. “Increased prescribing of opioids — which has quadrupled since 1999 — is fueling an epidemic that is blurring the lines between prescription opioids and illicit opioids.”
The SS Baychimo was a steel-hulled 1,322 ton cargo steamer built in 1914 in Sweden and owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, used to trade provisions for pelts in Inuit settlements along the Victoria Island coast of the Northwest Territories of Canada. The "Baychimo" became a notable ghost ship along the Alaska coast, being abandoned in 1931 and seen numerous times since then until her last sighting by a group of Inuit in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned.

Remarkably little is known about the motives of most individuals who adopt a gluten-free lifestyle. According to a 2015 survey of more than 1500 American adults, “no reason” (35%) was the most common explanation for selecting gluten-free foods, followed by “healthier option” (26%), and “digestive health” (19%).3 “Someone in my family has a gluten sensitivity” (10%) was more common than those reporting, “I have a gluten sensitivity,” which was the least common rationale cited (8%)

We have a weakness for what is measurable. But things are usually harder than that. Bourdeaux wrote recently that the conditions of a successful economy are not in themselves enough to stimulate a successful economy. Those additional important qualities may not be easily quantified. The success of even the freest market requires that people respect each other's property rights, that people keep their promises and that people behave responsibly toward their family, friends and own future selves. "Markets that are at least reasonably free are a necessary condition for prosperity. But free markets are not a sufficient condition. This fact is why deregulation alone or free trade alone or tax-cutting alone should not be expected to spark and sustain widespread economic growth.  The case for free markets presumes the existence of a culture that encourages people to care about their families and their futures and that discourages people from looking with scorn upon entrepreneurs and merchants. Under these cultural pre-conditions, prosperity will indeed occur if markets are free." 
Time horizons, too.
Golden oldie:

Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.--The New York Times in 1921 on Robert Goddard's dreams of rockets in space
An answer on Quora to the question, what were the biggest mistakes  U.S. history? The Carter Doctrine was a policy enacted by President Carter on January 23rd, 1980 when President Carter specifically stated in the State of the Union that the US would use military force in anyway in the Middle East to protect American interests. Specifically:
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
The doctrine was enacted in response to several developing situations in the Middle East that seemed poised to upset the hegemony of the US over the region, the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan as well as the Iran Hostage Crisis significitanly influenced the creation of this doctrine. It was meant to mirror the previously established Truman Doctrine that President Truman had enacted to stem the flow of Communism throughout the world and solidify the US and its existing hegemony at the time. Many also drew parallels to the Lansdowne Declaration of 1903 where the British similarly stated that it would defend the Persian Gulf from encroaching powers that threatened its interests.
No doctrine since the Truman Doctrine has been this expansive in its protections and declarations while also failing to actually carry out its stated goals. Even today, the effects of the Carter Doctrine are felt and widespread and have resulted in the damaging of the US's image abroad in several ways. It was a truly terrible mistake made by an average and militarily naive president.
In his autobiography, Barney Frank admits that he [Frank]“had not thought a great deal” about financial markets prior to taking this leadership position [on the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee]. These guys are shameless.

AAAAaaaaaaannnnnddddddd........2 graphs on the value of position vs draft number, the first is offense, the second defense from cmusportsanalytics:


Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.09.11 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.09.21 PM.png

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


A common notion in the criticism of our modern world--and how modern business has escaped the Smith dictum that free trade benefits both buyer and seller--is that advertising and the media encourage people to buy what they do not want.
A recent book review of Phishing for Phools in Barrons discusses this topic as raised by authors Akerlof and Shiller who argue that the sweet aroma of Cinnabon’s baked goods and the orange brand name “Sunkist” are examples of business people deviously tempting consumers to buy things that consumers really don’t want to buy:
From the review:
"Suppose it’s true, however, that modern markets are chock-full of devious phishermen preying successfully upon helpless phools who buy too many oranges in the belief that each has been “kist” by the sun. What’s to be done? The authors offer no specific proposals. Yet they clearly imply that more government regulation is a key part of the solution. At one point, for example, they advocate “more generous funding” for the Securities and Exchange Commission; at another, they speak approvingly of greater regulation of slot machines.
Solutions via government are based on a glaring fallacy: that people deficient in choosing for themselves in the marketplace will automatically shed those deficiencies once the government authorizes them to choose for others. Ironically, while citing slot machines, the authors make no mention of a related scam: government-run lotteries. The lotteries are perhaps the most obvious example of how those who are supposed to protect us from phishing scams themselves eagerly phish for phools.
Nothing, indeed, could be more phoolish than for ordinary men and women to submit to elites who are as confident as professors Akerlof and Shiller that they know best how other people should behave. Such elitism poses a far worse danger to society than entrepreneurs offering aromatic pastries for sale."

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Investigative Press

I do not know much about Eric Zuesse but I admit to suspicion of a guy called an "investigative historian" who writes a lot for The HuffPo. But he has written a fierce article about the UK and US in the Middle East. Some is just quoting reasonable people, though. Some excerpts, fwiw:

Peter Ford, who was the UK’s Ambassador in Syria during 2003-2006, was asked by the BBC in the "The Big Question" interview on Feb.14th, whether the current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have to be a part of the solution in that country after the war is over, and Ambassador Ford said:

“I think sadly, but inevitably, he is. Realistically, Assad is not going to be overthrown. This becomes more clear with every day that passes. Western analysts have been indulging in wishful thinking for 5 years; it’s time to get real, we owe it to the Syrian people to be much more realistic and hard headed about this. The West has to stop propping up the so-called ‘moderate opposition’, which is not moderate at all.”
This was quoted by Almasdar News on Feb. 18th, which went on to note that,
"The frustrated interviewer asked Mr. Ford about 'what we should have done,' and he responded that 'we should have backed off, we should have not tried to overthrow the regime.' Mr. Ford eloquently added that this policy has been 'like a dog returning to vomit.’”
"...we never saw a secular Arab regime that we didn’t want to overthrow.”
He was saying there that we support only non-secular regimes, sectarian regimes, in Arabia, this meaning fundamentalist Sunni governments — especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, the very same regimes that even the U.S. Secretary of State acknowledged in a 2009 cable that was wikileaked are the chief regimes that are funding jihadist groups.
Ford was noting that the United States and UK strive to keep in power those governments, the ones that are led by royal families that supply the bulk of funding for jihadist groups — jihadists who perpetrate terrorism in the United States and Europe.
“We never saw a secular Arab regime that we didn’t want to overthrow”: Ambassdor Ford was so bold as to imply that our governments are supporting, under the table, the very same ruling families that they know to be funding (as that cable only vaguely referred to them) “Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” (which includes in Western countries, too).
The BBC’s interviewer ignored that statement; he wasn’t struck by it, such as to ask: “Why are we supporting the chief funders of Islamic jihad? Why are we overthrowing (or in Syria are trying to overthrow) a secular regime, against which we join foreign jihadist groups in order to overthrow that non-sectarian regime; why are these dogs, as you call the U.S. and UK, returning time and again to that vomit?”

This was a live interview program, and so the BBC censors weren’t able to eliminate Ambassador Ford’s responses from the interview; but, instead, the interviewer did his best to interrupt and to talk over Ford’s shocking — and shockingly truthful — assertions about the government (ours) that supposedly represent our  interests (and not the interests of Western oil companies etc.). Ford will probably not be invited again to be on live television in the West to air his views about Syria.

Now, on Clinton:

Here she was, expressing her current view regarding Syria, in a recent debate against her Democrstic Pasrt opponent Bernie Sanders:
QUESTIONER: In respect to when you take out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Right now or do you wait? Do you tackle ISIS first? You have said, Secretary Clinton, that you come to the conclusion that we have to proceed on both fronts at once. We heard from the senator just this week that we must put aside the issue of how quickly we get rid of Assad and come together with countries, including Russia and Iran, to destroy ISIS first. Is he wrong?

CLINTON: I think we're missing the point here. We are doing both at the same time.

QUESTIONER: But that's what he's saying, we should put that aside for now and go after ISIS.

CLINTON: Well, I don't agree with that.
She's still (now after five years, and even though she knows that we’re supporting jihadist-backing Arabic royal families and their Shariah-law regimes) comes back to that “vomit”: that "we never saw a secular Arab regime that we didn’t want to overthrow.She does this even though, in October 2014, the man who had collected the mega-donations to Al Qaeda (all of which had been in cash) had detailed, under oath, in a U.S. court proceeding, that the Saud family were the main people who paid the "salaries" of the 9/11 terrorists. The Saud family are now the chief backers of the overthrow-Assad campaign. Do politicians such as Clinton actually represent the Sauds? It’s not only the Bush family who do. What’s exhibited here is a double-scandal: first, that a person such as that would even be a Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Presidency (and Jeb Bush shares Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy prescriptions, though he’s virtually certain not  to win the Republican Presidential nomination); and, second, that the Western press try to avoid, as much as possible, to expose the fact that this is, indeed, “vomit,” and avoid to explain to their audience the very corrupt governmental and news-media system that enables people such as Ms. Clinton to become and remain a leading Presidential candidate in the United States. Clearly, a person like that isn’t qualified to be in government at all; she’s corrupt, or else incredibly stupid. And no one thinks she’s that stupid. But lots of people accuse her of being corrupt.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday 8/21/16

The Gospel today is on the "narrow gate" through which salvation is reached. It is the idea behind the "straight and narrow," where "straight" is from "strait," or "confine" (as in "straitjacket" or "the Straits of Magellan.") The spiritual life is a limiting, refined life; it is humanity pared down. Our spiritual nature is our essence and the material has been accumulated, to be thrown off.

One of the sorrows of the times is our disinterest--if not active disdain--for the thoughts and writings of great men of the past. We act as if the observations and concerns of those passed are beneath us now, as if something has been solved.

This is John Donne's Holy Sonnet 7:

At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall, o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance, hath slain, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For, if above all these, my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou’ hadst seal’d my pardon with thy blood.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cab Thoughts 8/20/16

"We are the friends of liberty everywhere but custodians only of our own."--John Adams

For progressives, a legal minimum wage had the useful property of sorting the unfit, who would lose their jobs, from the deserving workers, who would retain their jobs.  Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist who served as Woodrow Wilson’s U.S. Commissioner of Labor, opposed a proposal to subsidize the wages of poor workers for this reason.  Meeker preferred a wage floor because it would dis-employ unfit workers and thereby enable their culling from the work force.--Thomas Leonard, on the early history of the minimum wage

A recent study shows students from for-profit schools on average were worse off after attending for-profit schools. Undergraduates were less likely to be employed, and earned smaller paychecks–about $600 to $700 per year less–after leaving school compared to their lives before. Those who enrolled in certificate programs made roughly $920 less per year in the six years after school compared to before they enrolled. The key factor is that most of these students never earned a degree–they dropped out early. Excluding them, the minority of students who earned degrees saw an earnings bump after graduating. This does not include debt which 90% of students take on. The analysis includes one big caveat: The group of students they studied left school either just before or during the 2007-2009 recession. Unemployment was skyrocketing, and incomes were falling broadly. “Therefore, our findings are likely to be partially explained by overall weakness in the labor market,” they say.
Think Trump University.

What is....the Great Attractor?

Sowell has an article on the problems of socialism and includes this observation on the effects of the minimum wage as he complains about the fact that no one ever looks at cause and effect in socialism: In 1948, when inflation had rendered meaningless the minimum wage established a decade earlier, the unemployment rate among 16- to 17-year-old black males was under 10%. But after the minimum wage was raised repeatedly to keep up with inflation, the unemployment rate for black males that age was never under 30% for more than 20 consecutive years, from 1971 through 1994. In many of those years, the unemployment rate for black youngsters that age exceeded 40% and, for a couple of years, it exceeded 50%.

Heuristic: adj: 1. encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve problems on his or her own, as by experimenting, evaluating possible answers or solutions, or by trial and error: a heuristic teaching method. 2. serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation. usage: Not least, the rigidity of the dictation has also been the subject of long arguments over its heuristic value as a learning method.-- Lilia Blaise, "In Paris Suburbs, Adopting a Dreaded School Test as a Tool of Integration," New York Times, May 11, 2016 Heuristic is a New Latin construction, equivalent to the Greek heurískein, "to find out, discover." It entered English in the early 1800s.

From a paper from Princeton on the GDP growth in Democrat vs. Rube-publican Presidencies. One writer was Blinder: "During the 64 years that make up the core 16 terms, real GDP growth averaged 3.33% at an annual rate. But the average growth rates under Democratic and Republican presidents were starkly different: 4.33% and 2.54% respectively. This 1.79 percentage point gap (henceforth, the “D-R gap”) is astoundingly large relative to the sample mean. It implies that over a typical four year presidency the U.S. economy grew by 18.5% when the president was a Democrat, but only by 10.6% when he was a Republican. And since the standard deviations of quarterly growth rates are roughly equal (3.8% for Democrats, 3.9% for Republicans, annualized), Democratic presidents have presided over growth that was faster but not more volatile." (“it appears that the Democratic edge stems mainly from more benign oil shocks, superior [productivity], and perhaps greater defense spending and faster growth abroad.”)

There will be a lot of talk this campaign about free trade. It is not complex: It is unregulated exchange. People make decisions as to what they will give up for what they will gain. As an aside, the losses to certain segments of America, while large in an absolute sense, are utterly trivial compared to the gains in living standards seen in places like Asia.

Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville accused the Justice Department lawyers of lying to him during arguments in the immigration case, and he barred them from appearing in his courtroom. (From an article in the NYT on May, 16, 2016 titled "Federal Judges in Texas Demands Justice Dept. Lawyers Take Ethics Class.") Now, isn't that a big deal and has anybody heard much about this?

What about this: From the Washington Examiner: “The CIA's inspector general is claiming it inadvertently destroyed its only copy of a classified, three-volume Senate report on torture, prompting a leading senator to ask for reassurance that it was in fact ‘an accident.’” The IRS seems to have destroyed hard drives containing potentially incriminating evidence regarding the IRS Tea Party targeting case. Clinton's emails kept on a private unsecured server — presumably to avoid Freedom of Information Act disclosures — were deleted. Now emails from Hillary’s IT guy, who is believed to have set up the server, have disappeared. Gonzalo Lira wrote: “A terrible sentence, when a law-abiding citizen speaks it: Everybody else is doing it — so why don’t we? ... What’s really important is that law-abiding middle-class citizens are deciding that playing by the rules is nothing but a sucker’s game.” (from Reynolds in USA Today)

Golden oldie:

Our galaxy and other nearby galaxies are being pulled toward a specific region of space. It’s about 150 million light years away and no one is sure what it is. But it is named. It is called the Great Attractor. Part of the reason the Great Attractor is so mysterious is that it happens to lie in a direction of the sky known as the “Zone of Avoidance”. This is in the general direction of the center of our galaxy, where there is so much gas and dust that we can’t see very far in the visible spectrum. We can see how our galaxy and other nearby galaxies are moving toward the great attractor, so something must be causing things to go in that direction. That means either there must be something massive over there, or it’s due to something even more strange and fantastic.
When evidence of the Great Attractor was first discovered in the 1970s, we had no way to see through the Zone of Avoidance. But while that region blocks much of the visible light from beyond, the gas and dust doesn’t block as much infrared and x-ray light. As x-ray astronomy became more powerful, we could start to see objects within that region. What we found was a large supercluster of galaxies in the area of the Great Attractor, known as the Norma Cluster. It has a mass of about 1,000 trillion Suns. That’s thousands of galaxies. 1,000 TRILLION SUNS! THOUSANDS OF GALAXIES!

Often one will see the argument that both minimum wage and restricted trade help some and hurt others. Sort of a wash. But there is a big difference. Minimum-wage legislation is a restriction on people’s freedom to find mutually agreeable terms of exchange while free trade is a policy of refusing to so restrict people’s freedom. This freedom thing is really very difficult for some people.
If there is any place in the Guinness Book of World Records for words repeated the most often and revered, over the most years, without one speck of evidence, “diversity” should be a prime candidate.
Is diversity our strength? Or anybody’s strength, anywhere in the world? Does Japan’s homogeneous population cause the Japanese to suffer? Have the Balkans been blessed by their heterogeneity — or does the very word “Balkanization” remind us of centuries of strife, bloodshed and unspeakable atrocities, extending into our own times?

Birdbrain. There is a paper out on bird neuronal density. Here is a summary of its significance and an abstract:
Birds are remarkably intelligent, although their brains are small. Corvids and some parrots are capable of cognitive feats comparable to those of great apes. How do birds achieve impressive cognitive prowess with walnut-sized brains? We investigated the cellular composition of the brains of 28 avian species, uncovering a straightforward solution to the puzzle: brains of songbirds and parrots contain very large numbers of neurons, at neuronal densities considerably exceeding those found in mammals. Because these “extra” neurons are predominantly located in the forebrain, large parrots and corvids have the same or greater forebrain neuron counts as monkeys with much larger brains. Avian brains thus have the potential to provide much higher “cognitive power” per unit mass than do mammalian brains.
Some birds achieve primate-like levels of cognition, even though their brains tend to be much smaller in absolute size. This poses a fundamental problem in comparative and computational neuroscience, because small brains are expected to have a lower information-processing capacity. Using the isotropic fractionator to determine numbers of neurons in specific brain regions, here we show that the brains of parrots and songbirds contain on average twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass, indicating that avian brains have higher neuron packing densities than mammalian brains. Additionally, corvids and parrots have much higher proportions of brain neurons located in the pallial telencephalon compared with primates or other mammals and birds. Thus, large-brained parrots and corvids have forebrain neuron counts equal to or greater than primates with much larger brains. We suggest that the large numbers of neurons concentrated in high densities in the telencephalon substantially contribute to the neural basis of avian intelligence.

Americans added $71 billion in credit card debt in 2015 and repaid just $26.8 billion during the first quarter of 2016—the smallest first-quarter paydown since 2008. Surprisingly, the group with the highest credit card debt are middle-aged Americans. The average 45- to 54-year-old American owes $9,000 on credit cards, 50% more than the average Millennial. But credit cards are just one part of the American debt binge. Total outstanding consumer credit, a measure of non-mortgage debt, increased by $13.4 billion to $3.6 trillion in April. The biggest chunk is student loans, which make up 37% of outstanding consumer credit. Student-loan lending by the government climbed to $989.6 billion in April and now stands at $1.26 trillion.
The average interest rate on credit cards today is a whopping 15.19%.

Jeremy Bentham regarded natural rights as intellectually incoherent. 
Natural-rights theory was the revolutionary doctrine of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, being used to justify resistance to unjust laws and revolution against tyrannical governments. This was the main reason why Edmund Burke attacked natural rights—or “abstract rights,” as he called them—so vehemently in his famous polemic against the French Revolution.
Natural rights, according to Bentham, are “simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, — nonsense upon stilts” So-called moral and natural rights are mischievous fictions and anarchical fallacies that encourage civil unrest, disobedience and resistance to laws, and revolution against established governments. Only political rights, those positive rights established and enforced by government, have “any determinate and intelligible meaning.” Rights are “the fruits of the law, and of the law alone. There are no rights without law—no rights contrary to the law—no rights anterior to the law.”
So no rights precede law; law creates rights. This in opposition to the American Revolution--inspired by Locke and others--that declared certain qualities in human life basic and inalienable where the job of government was to protect them.

The Magna Carta was agreed upon by King John after a rebellion of his barons. It established a legal relationship between the King and his subjects with actual limits. Of greatest interest to later generations was clause 39, which stated that “no free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed] or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” This clause has been celebrated as an early guarantee of trial by jury and of habeas corpus and inspired England’s Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679).

According to a New York Post article (May 22, 2016), in just two years, Hillary Clinton — former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state — collected over $21 million in speaking fees. These fees were paid by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Fidelity Investments, UBS, Bank of America and several hedge fund companies.In 2015, lobbyists spent $3.22 billion lobbying Congress. In 2013 and 2014, just 10 chemical companies and allied organizations spent more than $154 million lobbying the federal government. The Center for Responsive Politics in 2013 reported that the Dow Chemical Co. “posted record lobbying expenditures” in 2012, “spending nearly $12 million,” and was “on pace to eclipse” that amount. Fourteen labor unions were among the top 25 political campaign contributors between 1989 and 2014.
Why do you suppose people give good money away to politicians?

Shady internet lenders in China are reportedly coercing female college students to provide nude pictures of themselves as collateral – a loan-for-porn scheme that has prompted anger on the country’s internet.Under the arrangement reported by state media this week, some college students have agreed to send photos of themselves naked, holding their identification cards, to potential lenders. In exchange, they became eligible for higher loan amounts – two to five times the normal sum, the state-run Beijing Youth Daily reported.
Lenders tell the students they will publish the photos online if the loans are not repaid on time, often at usurious interest rates.

AAAAAAaaaannnnnndddddddd.......a graph using old and probably outdated and overly optimistic data on the effect of early saving:

Friday, August 19, 2016

Happy Vasili Arkhipov‏ Day

Today is the anniversary of the death of Vasili Arkhipov, a beacon of integrity and intelligence in the fog of nationalism and bravado. His death is important because it was caused by technical overreach instigated by that nationalism and bravado and we should be reminded of that. But his life, particularly his human heroism during the blundering Cuban Missile Crisis, is a tribute to the better elements of mankind.

At the height of the Cold War with America, the Russians began to fear the gap developing between the two powers' submarine fleets. The Russians eventually rushed the development and construction of the K-19, the first of two new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarines. As with much of the Russian development and manufacturing, there was a lot wrong with the K-19. In the movie, "K-19," Harrison Ford played the part of a real Russian sub commander in 1961 who managed a real on-board accident in a K-19 cooling system that threatened a meltdown. As in Chernobyl, individuals accepted their radiation deaths as they went into the reactor on the K-19 and Jerry-rigged an alternative cooling system. Many died, the commander played by Ford years later died of complication of radiation exposure.

His name was Vasili Arkhipov. There should be a world holiday for him.

The following year, in July of 1962, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba as a deterrent to future US interference after the Bay of Pigs invasion debacle a few years earlier. In mid-October, a U.S. reconnaissance airplane produced evidence of medium and long range Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy promptly established a military blockade to prevent further missiles from entering Cuba and demanded that the missiles be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union.

The two great powers faced off. It is important to know that Kennedy was being advised to launch a first strike against the Russians with the logic that the Russian retaliatory ability was limited and would cause 30 million civilian deaths at the most. The military thought that a bargain. At the same time Castro was campaigning Khrushchev for a first strike against the U.S., knowing full well Cuba as an entity would not exist afterwards. (See The Armageddon Letter.) These people were the world leaders whose decisions were going to determine the future of the world. And those who were democratically elected did not seem to be getting any less crazy advice.

The K-19 hero Vasili Arkhipov was second-in-command in the nuclear-armed Foxtrot-class submarine B-59, part of a flotilla of four submarines protecting Soviet ships on their way to Cuba. On October 27, as they approached the US imposed quarantine line, US Navy ships in pursuit started dropping depth charges to force the B-59 to surface for identification – completely unaware that it was carrying nuclear weapons.
The explosions rocked the submarine which went dark except for emergency lights. With the air-conditioning down, temperature and carbon dioxide levels rose sharply. The crew was hardly able to breathe.
Unable to contact Moscow and under pressure from the Americans for several hours, Captain Valentin Savitsky finally began to crack. He assumed that war had broken out between the two countries and decided to launch a nuclear torpedo. He would not go down without a fight.
However, unlike the other submarines in the flotilla, the three officers on-board the B-59 had to agree unanimously to launch the nuclear torpedo. As the other officer sided with Savitsky, only Arkhipov stood in the way of launching World War III.
An argument broke out among the three, but Arkhipov was able to convince the Captain not to launch the torpedo. How was he able to prevail under such stressful conditions? He was actually in charge of the entire flotilla and as such was equal in rank to Savitsky. But the reputation he had gained during the K-19 incident may have been the decisive factor in convincing the other officers to abort the launch. That detail may have made all the difference.

The submarine eventually surfaced and awaited orders from Moscow, averting what would have been a nuclear holocaust. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended a few days later.
This crucial episode of the Cold War only became known to the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union many years later.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

More PSA

There are some fascinating aspects to the PSA discussion. Many believe that testing for PSA finds disease that has no implication to health. That is, the small is not indicative of the large. A biopsy of the prostate showing cancer does not mean that the individual with that biopsy is at risk from cancer--but not always.
The graph below from the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the time after the introduction of PSA testing resulted in dramatic drop in prostate cancer deaths. (The other side of the argument is that many were treated who did not need it.)
Another thing from the graph: Look at the virtual non-impact of breast cancer survival with the introduction of mammography.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cab Thoughts 8/17/16

“Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.” --George Washington

Harvard Professor John Y. Campbell’s article in the May 2016 issue of the American Economic Review titled “Restoring Rational Choice: The Challenge of Rational Consumer Regulation.”  His conclusion? “...household financial mistakes create a new rationale for government intervention in the economy.” So we're dumb and can't have the keys to the car. I wonder when they'll think we're too dumb to vote for the guys that will drive.

Sales of safe deposit boxes in Europe are soaring. And the German insurance company Munich Re is experimenting with the physical storage of banknotes. To start, it will store €10 million in notes.

Richard Fisher was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) from 2005 to 2015. He is wired into the Fed and the state of the economy. He spoke at a conference recently. He is worried about the US government debt, which now totals $19 trillion (up $11 trillion since 2008), because the Fed has fired all its monetary bullets and has no room for further expansion on the balance sheet.
But Fisher’s most telling comment came during the Q&A session when he was asked how his personal portfolio was positioned. Fisher’s response: “In the fetal position.”
Moreover, he also said, “All my very rich friends are holding a lot of cash.” 

What is...Aleutian Islands?

[R]eins of power come at a price.  Anyone acquiring the reins will be a person to whom such power is worth the price.  Moreover, the more power there is to acquire, the more it will be worth, the more people must invest to acquire it, and thus the more that such power gets concentrated in the hands of people intent on using it for all that it is worth.  So, the process by which people gain political appointment will systematically tend, and increasingly tend, to select the wrong person for the job.-- Arizona philosopher David Schmidtz

How the country is being managed is always a subjective assessment. The national debt was 8 trillion(!) in 2008. It is now 19 trillion. In Obama's two terms it has leapt 11 trillion dollars. Is that really "managing" the problems?

Legalized marijuana, for medical if not recreational use, is still illegal. The June 6, 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Raich, upholding a federal ban on medical use regardless of state-passed decriminalization. The Supreme Court case arose from California’s Proposition 215, which in 1996 authorized doctor-prescribed use of cannabis within the state; twenty years on, two dozen other states have followed California’s example, as have many countries worldwide. While federal authorities in the U.S. have mostly turned a blind eye to statewide decriminalization. The economic implications of legal drug commerce, though, is beginning to slide into financial articles.
Specious: adj: Superficially true, but actually wrong. ety: Originally, the word meant beautiful or pleasing to the sight. Over the centuries the meaning shifted to describe something that is deceptively appealing. The word is from Latin speciosus (fair, beautiful), from specere (to look). Ultimately from the Indo-European root spek- (to observe). usage: “As always, exchange officials will make the final judgment and, we assume, reject specious claims.” Health Care Caricature; The New York Times; Mar 22, 2014.

Bordeaux offering a Bastiat slant on terrorism and protectionism: If we would – as we should – condemn and punish terrorists who create jobs and higher incomes by poisoning municipal water supplies, why do we not do the same to politicians who terrorize us with tariffs and other import restrictions?  And why do we not scorn and ridicule – or at least ignore for the ignoramuses the they are – the pundits, preachers, and professors who encourage the economic terrorism that is protectionism?

A nice summary of McCloskey's trilogy by Higgs: Deirdre McCloskey has attracted much attention to her trilogy The Bourgeois Era, in which she advances (again) the notion that the process of modern economic growth—as she calls it, the Great Enrichment—has sprung mainly and fundamentally from a change in reigning ideas, in particular, from cultural changes that began in Holland and Great Britain in the seventeenth and eighteen centuries and accorded for the first time great respect to innovators and capitalists who carried out the technological and economic changes whereby the rate of overall economic productivity growth was raised to a much higher level and average incomes increased eventually by a factor of 30-100. McCloskey, with tremendous erudition, argues against all the previously advanced theories—material capital accumulation, human capital accumulation, slavery, improved institutions (in particular, better-established private property rights), the presence of certain raw materials such as iron or coal, and all the others—and offers instead her own explanation rooted in the cultural and ideological changes that have often been lumped under the rubric of “liberalization” in the old, classical liberal sense of this term.

Golden oldie:

Re: California's drought. Justin Sheffield concluded in a 2012 Nature paper that “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years,” the period that includes half the warming of the last 100 years. Moreover, if global warming were an important cause of drought, the world should have had more droughts. It hasn’t. Was California’s drought part of a long-term decline in precipitation? No. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),“The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. ” The higher temperatures of the twentieth century, another Nature study explains, did not translate into increased extremes between wet and dry weather. Further, looking back in history, drought was most severe in the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. Inconveniently, the twelfth century was warm and the fifteenth century was cold..
Philosophy is the study of metaphysics (existence), epistemology (knowledge), ethics (action), politics (force) and esthetics (art and beauty).

A new trove of State Department emails reveal how a major Clinton Foundation donor - and high frequency stock trader - was placed on a sensitive government intelligence advisory board even though he had no experience in the field. The emails further reveal how, after inquiries from ABC News, the Clinton staff sought to “protect the name” of the Secretary, “stall” the ABC News reporter and ultimately accept the resignation of the donor just two days later.
After Byron's death, three of his closest friends (his publisher, John Murray; his fellow celebrity poet, Thomas Moore; and his companion since his Cambridge days, John Cam Hobhouse), together with lawyers representing Byron’s half-sister and his widow, decided that his written memoirs were so scandalous, so unsuitable for public consumption, that it would ruin Byron’s reputation forever. Gathered in Murray’s drawing room in Albemarle Street, they ripped up the pages and tossed them into the fire. The incident is often described as the greatest crime in literary ­history.
GE is leaving Connecticut for Boston. Hedge funds are moving to Miami. Capital goes to where it is treated best.
The Aleutian Islands are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller ones extending about 1,200 mi. westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and mark a dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south.  While nearly all the archipelago is part of Alaska and is usually considered as being in the "Alaskan Bush", at the extreme western end, the small, geologically related Commander Islands belong to Russia.
In the early morning of 6 June 1942, 500 Japanese soldiers landed on Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They took the only inhabitants of the island, a ten man (and six dog) US Navy Weather Detachment by complete surprise and quickly took control of American soil. This was part of a grand vision of Pacific control that really centered upon Midway. Yamamoto intended to "invade and occupy strategic points in the Western Aleutians" as well as Midway Island on the western tip of the Hawaiian chain. He envisioned these two sites as anchors for a defensive perimeter in the north and central Pacific.
His plan also included the final destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. By using the Aleutians and then Midway as bait, he intended to lure the already weakened American fleet from Pearl Harbor and annihilate it before new construction could replace the losses it had sustained on December 7th. An attack on the Aleutians in early June 1942, Yamamoto believed, would draw the U.S. fleet north to challenge his forces. With the departure of the U.S. warships from Pearl Harbor, he would then move his main fleet to seize Midway. Because of Midway's importance-the island was within bomber range of Pearl Harbor-he concluded that Nimitz would redirect his fleet from the Aleutians to Midway to prevent the loss of the island. Waiting off Midway to intercept that force would be the largest concentration of naval power ever assembled by Japan. After overwhelming the American fleet, Yamamoto would have undisputed control of the central and western Pacific.
But the Americans had the Japanese code and the battle of Midway stopped all that.
AAAAaaaaaaannnnnnndddddddd ...........a picture of a spiral galaxy, edge-on:

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available. 
Edge-On Galaxy NGC 5866 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst has haunted me ever since day one. Her story started in February, 1974 when she was kidnapped by a group that called themselves The Symbionese Liberation Army, a group of wackos, crackpots, overt madmen and one possible genius. It is hard to pick what part of the story is the most distressing. And now, years later, the story is back, spearheaded by a publicity blitz for a new book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, by Jeremy Toobin.
Patty Hearst was 19-years-old, the granddaughter of the wealthy newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. They were a small group with no coherent goals and several were clearly mad. Toobin's explanation for them is the best I have ever heard: They were the activist endpoint of the demonstration, the Guerilla Theater. They were not a movement, they were an armed display. A revolutionary spectacle.

There are two inexplicable elements to the story. (Toobin asks a third question: How did she get off?)
First, crazy people do not join groups and they certainly do not join other madmen. Isolation, preoccupied self-absorption, is the very nature of psychosis. Charming as the notion might be, there are no revolutions in an asylum. An individual might threaten Nurse Ratchet but he will have no help. So how did these lunatics organize? Modern problems make this question all the more important.
Second, what happened to Hearst? She was a rather simple girl from a very rich family thrown into this loony bin who emerged a gun-toting, stranger bombing, bank robber. How did this happen? What was going on in her mind? There was some serious problems at the time. During the early and mid '70s, there were 1,000 — 1,000!— bombings a year in the United States, many the result of the murderous Bill Ayres, his murderous wife and his SDS. But Patty Hearst, bank robber? Again, with the maniacs drifting to more modern death cults, it is a reasonable question.

The Smart girl failed to take some opportunities to escape but she was a frightened child. Hearst may not have been a PhD candidate but the life she was trapped in certainly looked worth escaping. Why didn't she? Here is Toobin on one of Hearst's escape opportunities: "Patty and two of the SLA members decide to go shopping. They need stuff and they go to a sporting goods store. Bill and Emily Harris go inside the sporting goods store, leaving Patty in a van across the street, with the key in the ignition. She's free to leave — she can drive away, she can walk away — but instead she waits. Bill and Emily Harris stupidly decide to shoplift. They leave the store and the clerk tackles them on the sidewalk. Across the street Patty Hearst is looking at her two comrades tackled by the clerk. So what does she do alone in the van? Does she drive away? Does she walk away? No, she picks up a machine gun and fires wildly across the street to try to free Bill and Emily Harris. It doesn't work at first, so she picks up another gun and fires another fusillade of bullets across the street, miraculously not hitting anybody, but, in fact, successfully freeing Bill and Emily Harris, who get back into the van and drive off."
She also ended up in the E.R. with poison oak. Nothing. She was in difficulty on a hike and was helped by a forest ranger. Not a word. Instead she maintained her anonymity and went on robbing banks, shooting up streets and placing bombs.

After her small group of inept desperadoes were all killed, Hearst was eventually captured by the FBI, convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 7 years in federal prison. She served 22 months before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. Later, President Bill Clinton pardoned her.

Toobin calls the presidential actions on Hearst's behalf an example of "wealth and privilege in action. ... The fact that she got these two presidential gestures of forgiveness is the purest example of privilege on display that frankly I have ever seen in the criminal justice system," Toobin says. Although, for some reason, many of the insane radicals of the time were never seriously judged. (See Ayres, his murderous wife and their SDS death cult.)

"This iconic photograph became one of the most famous images of the 1970s," Jeffrey Toobin says. It shows Patty Hearst standing in front of a Symbionese Liberation Army flag several months after she was kidnapped.
Hearst's iconic photograph in front of a Symbionese Liberation Army flag several months after she was kidnapped.