Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cab Thought 11/30/16

Republics are created by ideals and preserved by process.--Alaric Phlogiston

Civil forfeiture: In April 2008, the Saginaw County sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant at the second home of Gerald and Royetta Ostipow, a farmhouse in the neighboring rural Shiawassee County in Michigan. Why the sheriffs were operating outside their own county is unclear.
They discovered that the Ostipows’ adult son, Steven, who was living there at the time, was growing marijuana. The deputies proceeded to seize every item of personal property in the home and the adjacent outbuildings, regardless of whether that property was owned by Steven or his parents.
They then searched Gerald and Royetta’s primary residence, but found no trace of drugs. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent and a sheriff’s deputy later admitted they had no evidence that the couple was involved in their son’s criminal activity.
Regardless, they set about stripping the home bare. By the end of the operation, Saginaw County sheriffs had taken possession of the second home, Gerald’s farm implements and other tools, furniture, a 1965 Chevrolet Nova, an assortment of firearms and ammunition, and dozens of animal mounts. The Ostipows were never provided with a receipt or detailed inventory of the seized items.

The Tax Foundation ran some estimates on five different tax increases and found that worsening depreciation rules (an arcane part of the tax code dealing with the degree to which new investment is taxed) would do the most economic damage to the country, followed by a higher corporate tax rate, and then higher individual income tax rates. Many economists think the death tax--aka "The Grave-Robber tax"--is actually more destructive. A recent article compared it to harvesting the apple orchard by cutting down 40% of the trees. But not only does it reduce capital stock, it reduces incentive to save and invest.

Doctors spend an average of 40,000 hours training. That’s equivalent to 20 years of full-time work.
For the rest of their career, doctors work an average of 59.6 hours/week.
The average doctor’s career ends at 65. If they finish their residency at 29, they’ll spend 36 years working almost 1 ½ times more than most other Americans.

Beer sales by volume at bars and restaurants have dropped for the third year in a row but beer volumes by gross sales are stable. Apparently people are just staying home. “Staying in became the new night out,” Danny Brager, vice president of beverage alcohol at The Nielsen Co., told Beverage Industry magazine in 2010, as a battered nightlife industry tried to figure out how to pry financially strapped patrons off their comfortable couches and away from Netflix, Xbox and GrubHub.
Though the economy has improved since those darkest days after the recession, spending on drinking still hasn’t rebounded at bars/restaurants (on-premises) or package stores (off-premises). According to the Beverage Information Group’s 2016 Cheers On-Premise Handbook, beer sales by volume at U.S. bars and restaurants declined 1.4% from 2010 to 2015 and 3% from 2014 to 2015. Compared to the last decade, Americans aren’t really consuming beer with any less frequency or in smaller quantities, though since 2007 on-premises consumption has dropped as much as 12% in the northeast, Midwest and south, with an incongruous 5% on-premises uptick out west.  Over the last seven years, 1.5% of the share of beer sales has moved from bars to package stores, marking a huge shift in the balance between the two, though off-premise beer sales themselves remained stagnant over the last decade.

("We want you to die!"--The Alien pilot in "Independence Day")
An article recently analyzed ISIS and the Middle East in terms of "game theory." In game theory, there is a fundamental distinction between positive-sum bargaining games, and zero-sum games. In bargaining games, it is assumed that both sides can be better off by agreeing on a way to “divide the pie” instead of playing their optimal threat strategies and ending up with no pie – or worse. All such games are positive-sum in nature. In a zero-sum game, however, there is no pie to divide, and no bargaining compromise is possible.
Analysts assume that negotiation strategies exist, strategies that will somehow end up with an acceptable compromise. President Obama’s stance towards Iran, Russia and China offer examples of this approach. In all three cases, he turned the other cheek, and attempted to “reset” relations with these nations expecting they would reciprocate. All would end up better off. But his antagonists ended up taking full advantage of his weakness, reneged on many agreements, and made Obama look as incompetent at bargaining as he has proven to be.
This argues we are playing a zero-sum game but think we are playing a positive-sum game. ISIS has no bargaining intent; there is nothing they want from the West. They simply want to destroy it. Analogously, Iran has no intention of settling with Israel. Its stated goal is the elimination of Israel.
"Peace? No Peace."

Who is....Meredith Kercher?

Just in case you are not worried enough about America's weird relationships in the Middle East and if you are fatigued with worrying about Iran, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in some leaked e-mails alleges that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of 200 warheads. Yikes. So Iran does its apostolic duty, attacks Israel and........WHAT?

When it comes to a possible gender distinction in the area of smell, a study published last year in PLOS ONE—a multidisciplinary blog for peer-reviewed articles—found women's brains have up to 50% more olfactory  neurons—in other words, women have more brain matter, where it matters, so to speak. Women can detect a broader range of aromas and are also far more able to distinguish between different aromas. Tests have further shown that women have more taste buds than  men and are more able to detect a wider range of flavors. This distinction sounds vaguely illegal. For example, would a woman have an advantage in applying to a job as a sommelier? 

The UN Human Rights office deleted a tweet that asked whether "market fundamentalism"--namely, "the belief in the infallibility of free market economic policies"--is "an urgent threat." The same UN human rights office "has failed to issue a single  tweet about this past month's dire human rights crisis in Venezuela, where millions face mass hunger in part due to attacks on the free market in the failed economic policies of the late president Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro, which included  arbitrary seizure of businesses and private property." (Neuer)

Bill Clinton's top aide Doug Band requested favors from the US ambassador to Malaysia related to the for-profit Laureate University, which was paying Clinton millions as a consultant at the time. In emails from November 2010 obtained by, Band  asked the US ambassador to Malaysia Paul Jones to attend a public event for Laureate University in Kuala Lumpur, as well as a meeting between Bill Clinton, Laureate's CEO Doug Becker and the Malaysian Prime Minister. The emails were copied to then Secretary  of State Hillary Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin. Bill Clinton earned nearly $18million as an adviser and honorary chancellor for the international for-profit college network between 2010 and 2015.

The Clinton illness question is unclear. It has been said that her blood clot was the result of a fall, but it is much more likely the other way around. It is more likely she had a stroke and fell than had a fall, then the clot. But having a clot is a big deal. I have not read the word once in connection to her. Medical reports state she suffered no brain injury. The unusual nature of the clot raises a lot of questions of its origin.

Netflix has a new documentary on Amanda Knox, the woman arrested for the murder of her roommate in Italy, Meredith Kercher. The filmmakers used graphics to point out that Knox was never in the room where Kercher died, according to the DNA present  in the room. They also showed that DNA evidence linking Knox to the knife thought to be used as the murder weapon was inconclusive.

What race was to Nazis, class was to Bolsheviks, and class origin, like race, was not something one chose. People born into bourgeois, noble, or kulak families had no more right to life to Communists than Jews or Gypsies did to Nazis. In November 1918, Felix  Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, published an article in the journal  Red Terror in which he instructed: "We are not waging war against individual persons. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. During the investigation, do not look for evidence that the accused acted in deed or word against Soviet power. The  first questions that you ought to put are: To what class does he belong? What is his origin? What is his education or profession? And it is these questions that ought to determine the fate of the accused."
So the murder of the Tsar's children makes sense?

A Democratic senator sought Justice Department and IRS Criminal prosecutions of conservatives in 2013, newly-released federal documents reveal. The Department of Justice documents reveal email conversations between its officials and the staff  of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, about possible criminal prosecution of tea party groups for alleged violation of IRS rules.

Buckley on the common practice of "moral equivalence:" “To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from  the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.”

Golden oldie:

A group deserving blame [for today’s rise of populism] are the professors, philosophers, sociologists, economists, and journalists who have committed la trahison des clercs, as Julien Benda called it, or the treason of the clerisy, to use the name given them by Deirdre McCloskey. For more than a century mainstream intellectuals have done nothing but extol the virtues of socialism, harp on the defects of the market, lament the alleged exploitation of the poor, and denounce the immorality of capitalism.--Schwartz

Ad hoc: adv: 1. for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application.: e.g. a committee formed ad hoc to deal with the issue. adjective 2. concerned or dealing with a specific subject, purpose, or end: e.g. The ad hoc committee disbanded after making its final report. Ad hoc literally means "for this" in Latin, and in English this almost always means "for this specific purpose". Issues that come up in the course of a project often require immediate, ad hoc solutions. An ad hoc investigating committee is authorized to look into a matter of limited scope. An ad hoc ruling by an athletic council is intended to settle a particular case, and is not meant to serve as a model for later rulings.

In an interview, Hilary Mantel was asked who she thought was the most overrated author. Her answer: "Dickens. The sentimentality, the self-indulgence, the vast oozing self-satisfaction, the playing to the gallery." I am crushed.
The test: The following triplet, 2-4-6, follows a rule. Give a triplet exhibiting the same rule. The usual answer: 8-10-12, on the assumptio...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Voting on Whether Two Pounds of Lead falls Faster than One Pound

The National Science Foundation  has funded a series of “citizens technology forums,” at which previously uninformed, ordinary Americans were brought together to solve a thorny question of technology policy. According to the NSF’s abstract of the project, carried out by researchers at North Carolina State University under a grant, participants were to “receive information about that issue from a range of content-area experts, experts on social implications of science and technology, and representatives of special interest groups”; this was supposed to enable them to reach consensus “and ultimately generate recommendations.”

The project, first funded in 2002 to support two panels, and expanded thereafter, called for eight more panels (comprised of people “representative of the local population”). Their deliberations were to be overseen by a research team “composed of faculty in rhetoric of science, group decision-making, and political science,” who were charged to test both “an innovative measure of democratic deliberation” and “also political science theory, by investigating relationships between gender, ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status and increases in efficacy and trust in regulators.”

The first of these NSF-funded citizens’ groups tackled regulatory policy toward agricultural biotechnology and recommended that the government tighten regulations for cultivating genetically engineered crops, including a new requirement that the foods from these crops be labeled to identify them for consumers.

Both of these recommendations do not fit current understanding of the questions, and conflict with the views of experts — including those within and outside the government. (The labeling recommendation would also run afoul of the First Amendment constitutional guarantees of commercial free speech, which the citizen-policymakers failed to realize.)
One can only surmise where the democratizing of decision-making can lead. Perhaps they see this as an expansion of Galton's thesis on the wisdom of crowds--although I don't think he meant "the wisdom of the woefully ill-informed."

After all, there is some significant difference between guessing the implication of genetic manipulation and the weight of a dead ox.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Alfred Jewel

Up on the second floor in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, in a gallery displaying artefacts from early England, there is a beautiful teardrop-shaped object. A decorated golden frame surrounds a colourful enamelled design protected by a flat panel of polished rock crystal. It shows the picture of a man dressed in a green tunic, and holding a flowered sceptre in each hand
And around the rim of the object, just a few milli­metres thick, is an Old English inscription in Roman letters:
There are no spaces between the words. Inserting these, we get


Alfred             me ordered                        to make
= Alfred ordered me to be made

The "Alfred" is King Alfred the Great, and the object has come to be called the Alfred Jewel.
The jewel was found in 1693, in a field at North Petherton, Somerset, just a few miles from Athelney, the stronghold of King Alfred and where he founded a monastery. Alfred succeeded his brother Æthelred as king of Wessex in AD 871.

The Alfred Jewel

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday 11/27/16

So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!

This week's gospel recalls Noah's Flood and compares it to the end of the world. It has some famous elements. The Son of Man reference is an idiomatic Hebrew phrase meaning, generally, "Man," but appears in Daniel as a mystical reference to the Messiah. The "taken" line is the stimulus for the "Taken" book franchise. The discussion ends with the peculiar duality that fills the bible: The coming of the end of the world is compared to the coming of a thief. 

There is a story with a similar idea. The Devil is sending representatives to Earth to undermine Mankind and his agents are discussion their best approach. They decide on encouraging the story that there is no God. After hearing the debate the Devil disagrees. "Don't bother telling them there is no God," he says. "Instead, just tell them there is no urgency in coming to Him."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

India Seeks a Cash Cow

The Reserve Bank of India posted this notice on November 8:
Government of India vide their Notification no. 2652 dated November 8, 2016 have withdrawn the Legal Tender status of ₹ 500 and ₹ 1,000 denominations of banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series issued by the Reserve Bank of India till November 8, 2016.
This is necessitated to tackle counterfeiting Indian banknotes, to effectively nullify black money hoarded in cash and curb funding of terrorism with fake notes.
Starting from November 10, 2016, members of public/corporates, business firms, societies, trusts, etc., holding these notes can tender them at any office of the Reserve Bank or any bank branch and obtain value thereof by credit into their respective bank accounts.

The government of India was outlawing the use of high denominational bills, comprising of 88% of the monetary value of cash in circulation.

The bills will retain their value until the end of the year, but the only way to use them is by going to the bank and exchanging them for smaller notes, up to a limit of 4,000 rupees (about US$60).People can also deposit them in a bank account and then use a debit card or electronic transfers for purchases.
Lines formed at banks, with people waiting for days, only to find the bank ran out of smaller bills. Some people were reported as having died in line.
Those without bank accounts had no way to make routine transactions. Already impoverished people had to spend their work time waiting to exchange their money. New bills intended to replace the old ones were scarce.
The results spread through the economy. Merchants lost sales because customers couldn’t pay. Some resorted to barter. Media reports suggest restoring normal commerce could take months. Unable to spend or deposit their sackfuls of large bank notes, business owners across the country are paying employees months of salary in advance, ringing up bogus sales and even buying gold they can smuggle overseas to get rid of stashed money or conceal its source.
The assumption is that the economy will contract for the period. Some think the effect will last into 2018.

The latest proposal is to levy close to 60% income tax on unaccounted deposits in banks above a threshold post demonetization of high-denomination currency notes. Concurrently, the Indian government may also impose curbs on domestic holdings of gold as the war against "black money" escalates.

The rationale for this disruptive idea: counterfeiting, corruption and the black market. Estimates show anywhere from 25-40% of India’s economic activity happens off the books. That is a huge underground economy. And, with all such economies, the government doesn't see it can not tax it. Forcing the economy into the banking system may help in the long run. Regulators can make better decisions. Government planning would make more sense. Taxes should go up. (If you believe all that is good.)

Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff wants to do this here, in the U.S.. He has a new book out called The Curse of Cash. His plan is to eliminate most paper bills--phasing out $100, $50, and $20 bills, which together account for about 97% of the face value of all US dollars in circulation. This would harm tax evaders and those in the underground economy--especially drug dealers. But there is another, academically appealing, reason: Under a negative interest rate policy (NIRP), putting cash in the bank costs the depositor money instead of earning it. You can avoid this simply by holding paper currency… but not if the paper currency doesn’t exist.
These guys just can not leave us alone.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Bell-Curve of Satire

The fuss about the recent targeting of Melania for satire reminded me of this story.

Celebrity dermatologist Fredric Brandt was found dead in his Miami home, a suicide. Miami Herald journalist Lesley Abravanel reported Brandt was "devastated" by comparisons to the Martin Short character on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Fey's new Netflix series. "The show definitely deeply hurt him, he was being made fun of because of the way he looks," Brandt's publicist Jacquie Trachtenberg confirmed to the NY Post. "It is mean, and it was bullying. But the show was not the reason for his depression, and it was not the reason he would take his own life," said Trachtenberg.

These entertainers have created a problem with their pointed, widely circulated mimicry. Fey did incredible damage to Sarah Palin and was never discouraged from behavior that anywhere else would have been considered serious bullying. Relentless, routine abuse--like a weekly or nightly comedy show can do--raises real question. At some point, as occurs in coarse bad fiction, a character can no longer be exposed but only tormented. That is to say, at some point the humor becomes torture.

Something evil develops when such cruelty becomes pleasurable.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Thanksgiving is a tricky word. It means gratitude but it implies more than something to be grateful for, it implies something to be grateful to.

In the fall of 1621 the Plymouth settlers had a celebratory meal with a local Indian tribe as part of a traditional English harvest festival. There are two accounts; no mention is made of a Day of Thanksgiving but they were probably happy; since their arrival they had a 50% mortality. It lasted three days. A Day of Thanksgiving, a day the English would have considered religious, was first held in the new land in 1623 following a needed rainfall. Various days of thanksgiving were celebrated by the country over the years, the first in commemoration of the end of the Revolution by Washington. In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln formally made Thanksgiving an annual event.

It is interesting to see these two men, Washington suspicious of organized religion and Lincoln harder to read, celebrating an official Thanksgiving, but both seem heartfelt, Lincoln's surprisingly so. Washington's is almost a mirror of the mindset of the time. The two proclamations are below.

The Thanksgiving Proclamation
New York, 3 October 1789

By the President of the United States of America: a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor--and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me `to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.'

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be -- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks -- for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted -- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions--to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually -- to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn [sic] kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord -- To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease [sic] of science among them and us -- and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence [sic], have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The World's Largest Asset Class

At $26 trillion America’s housing stock is the largest asset class in the world, worth a little more than the country’s stockmarket. America’s mortgage-finance system, with $11 trillion of debt, is probably the biggest concentration of financial risk to be found anywhere. It is still closely linked to the global financial system, with $1 trillion of mortgage debt owned abroad.

The supply of mortgages in America has an air of distinctly socialist command-and-control about it. Some 65-80% of all new home loans are repackaged by organs of the state. The structure of these loans, their volume and the risks they entail are controlled not by markets but by administrative fiat.No one is keen to make transparent the subsidies and dangers involved, the risks of which are in effect borne by taxpayers. But an analysis by The Economist suggests that the subsidy for housing debt is running at about $150 billion a year, or roughly 1% of GDP.

The mortgage machine is a largely off-balance-sheet way to funnel money to ordinary Americans, most of whom still want to own homes. Just as underwriting standards in the private sector gradually loosened over time before 2007, there are gentle signs of loosening evident today, too—rules on down-payments, for example, have been relaxed.

This is from "Comradely capitalism: How America accidentally nationalised its mortgage market," The Economist, August 20, 2016:

"First, banks have partially withdrawn from the mortgage game after facing swathes of new rules and $110 billion of fines for misconduct. They still own mortgage-backed bonds and they still make home loans to wealthy folk, which they keep on their balance-sheets. But with the exception of Wells Fargo they are less keen on writing riskier loans in their branches and feeding them to securitisers. New, independent firms like Quicken Loans and Freedom Mortgage have filled the gap. They originate roughly half of all new mortgages. The second big change is that the government's improvised rescue of the system in 2008-12 has left it with a much bigger role (see chart 3). It is the majority shareholder in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, mortgage companies that were previously privately run (though with an implicit guarantee). They are now in "conservatorship", a type of notionally temporary nationalisation that shows few signs of ending. Other private securitisers have withdrawn or gone bust. This means that the securitisation of loans, most of which used to be in the private sector, is now almost entirely state-run. Along with Fannie and Freddie, the other main players are the Veterans Affairs department (VA), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Ginnie Mae, which helps the FHA and VA package loans into bonds and sell them."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22 and Kennedy

The Thanksgiving holiday, one of the best holidays and certainly the best secular one, has been spoiled for everyone who was awake and thinking in the mid 60's by the assassination of Jack Kennedy. That promising shift from the generation of Eisenhower to its sons, to youth and its potential, to the charismatic and the virile was just stopped cold by Oswald in Dallas. We defaulted back to the older, ponderous Lyndon Johnson, a true guardian of the Old Guard. That loss--of youth, of hope, of promise, of beauty--has never been overcome and we are reminded of it every Thanksgiving. One only wonders how much of the unrest in the 60's and 70's was a result.

An aspect of the assassination that has dogged its shadow has been the shameless exploitation of the atrocity by writers, politicians and artists. This exploitation, which has become almost a cult, believes--or says it believes--that the assassination was a conspiracy of a number of men, groups or organizations. Every aspect of the event has been picked over, every inconsistency of life magnified, every possibility made a probability. The result is that the event, right before many of our eyes, has been completely recreated and, like an alternative universe, continues without interference with its own laws, experts and history. It is very like those academic musings run wild. "If, instead, you assume that history and archeology was 300 years wrong--or falsified--and Moses was actually alive in the court of Akhenaton...." "If, instead, you assume there is a unexplained and unexplainable driving force in history..." "If, instead, you assume that everyone is possessed at birth by sexual urges towards their immediate family...." It is another victory of the Art of the Plausible.

This is nowhere more revolting than is seen in the movie "JFK" where a seemingly respectable director rewrites the assassination story according to a man whose grasp on the event is dangerously close to psychosis. Oliver Stone writes a story of the assassination through the eyes and the belief set of James Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans, who had arrested, charged, indicted and tried a local community figure, Clay Shaw, for involvement in the Kennedy murder. Shaw's arrest was virtually random. There was no evidence against him other than the word of a psychiatric patient who failed a lie detector test and refused to testify. How an American citizen could come under such unreasonable, whimsical charges has never been explained. But Garrison persisted and then Stone followed up after the laughable trial (where the jury took longer to find their seats than to find "not guilty") with a movie inexplicably presenting the Garrison thesis as within the same time zone as reason. Of course, all the facts of the assassination were changed to implicate the innocent, the shooting presented was almost a complete fiction and this all was delivered by Kevin Costner, a credible actor, with certainty and outrage. Anyone who knew anything about the assassination walked from the theater with their collective heads spinning. But many with less of a good grasp left alarmed and resentful. This constant barrage of misinformation has done a lot to undermine this country's credibility and value in the minds of its people who, after all, own and run it.

There are two bad lessons here. The first is there are people and industries in the world who, even in those cultures with the highest of ideals, will do anything, say anything, publish anything to make a buck. If possible they will take the Plausible-made-Art and create an industry of it with historians, academics, and franchises. The second is that they often hide their entrepreneurship in the gowns of Art. How many of our greatest artists have questioned the reliability of memory, the interaction of history and art--even to the point of their blending? So Stone calls Julian Barnes and Cormac McCarthy as witnesses for his defense.

Stone is more Goebbels than John Huston here. He is everything that is wrong with businessmen gone rogue. His product is harmful to the society, toxic to the young and delivered without an ounce of social conscience. The real story about Garrison is how is it possible that Clay Shaw could be treated like a Kafka character in the United States. Another would be a clarifying and cleansing explanation of all the facts and evidence that has been gathered over the years about the murder. This might set the country at ease. But there's probably not much money, or return on arrogance, in this. Instead why not take advantage of the distressed and confused citizens, contribute to their malaise and cash in.

In 1976 the U.S. House of representatives created a commission, The House Select Commission on Assassinations, to investigate all the evidence in the murder again. This time they applied all the newer technologies available as well. Aside from the single and erroneous "fourth bullet thesis" not a single new conclusion was reached. Instead this august deliberative body concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy--but they believed one existed anyway

Monday, November 21, 2016


"The New Yorker" has an article called "The Case Against Democracy."

It has the usual references to freshman course topics like Plato's opposition to democracy,  J. S. Mill's proposition that the educated be overweighted in voting (In fact, the British academics voted twice at that time, once at school and once at home), and the American contributions (the first literacy test for voting was in Connecticut in 1855.)

David Estlund coined the word “epistocracy,” meaning “government by the knowledgeable.”
This is from an abstract: An influential anti-democratic argument says: ‘(1) Answers to political questions are truth-apt. (2) A small elite only—the epistocrats—knows these truths. (3) If answers to political questions are truth-apt, then those with this knowledge about these matters should rule. (4) Thus, epistocrats should rule.’
He offers as an alternative opposed to epistocracy,  "procedural fairness."

In a new book, “Against Democracy” (Princeton), Jason Brennan, a political philosopher at Georgetown creates an argument for epistocracy. Against Estlund’s claim that universal suffrage is the default, Brennan argues that it’s entirely justifiable to limit the political power that the irrational, the ignorant, and the incompetent have over others. To counter Estlund’s concern for fairness, Brennan asserts that the public’s welfare is more important than anyone’s hurt feelings; after all, he writes, few would consider it unfair to disqualify jurors who are morally or cognitively incompetent. As for Estlund’s worry about demographic bias, Brennan waves it off. Empirical research shows that people rarely vote for their narrow self-interest; seniors favor Social Security no more strongly than the young do. Brennan suggests that since voters in an epistocracy would be more enlightened about crime and policing, “excluding the bottom 80 percent of white voters from voting might be just what poor blacks need.” (The New Yorker)
All this and the trains run on time.
Brennan draws ample evidence of the average American voter’s cluelessness from the legal scholar Ilya Somin’s “Democracy and Political Ignorance” (2013), which shows that American voters have remained ignorant despite decades of rising education levels.

In “The Myth of the Rational Voter” (2007), the economist Bryan Caplan suggested that ignorance may even be gratifying to voters. “Some beliefs are more emotionally appealing,” Caplan observed, so if your vote isn’t likely to do anything why not indulge yourself in what you want to believe, whether or not it’s true?

Be careful. The elite want their country back.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday 11/20/19

The philosopher Santayana was a wise man, a materialist who had respect for religion. He was fascinated by America and wrote his only novel, The Last Puritan, about it. It is less a story than a collection of ideas, a tapestry of thoughts and viewpoints. He had an amusing view of a philosophical crisis he saw in America: America's material success had outpaced their Calvinistic theological pessimism. For all Santayana's nostalgia for Puritan rigor, though, he did not much like it. Protestantism was a poor foundation on which to build a society—it was arid and unimaginative, especially when compared with the vastly richer mystical resources of Roman Catholicism. But what post-Puritan America encouraged was even worse: a soft tolerance that ruined religion for everyone, including Catholics. Another European import that troubled Santayana was German Romanticism, which gave the highest regard to the individual's intense experience of nature. Transcendentalism was its American variant.
Santayana resented the way that liberalism—the genteel tradition's political expression—had supplanted religion and glossed over the intractability of human nature. And, for all his erudition, he eventually took up some naïve political positions.
Here is his character, Wetherbee, speaking on his Catholic religious beliefs:

"There are only two radical alternatives open to human faith. Both are hypotheses. To accept either is to run a risk, to lay a wager; but the gamble is forced upon us by life itself.  To live is to bet, because the conduct of life pledges all our poor assets and pledges our soul, to one side or the other. You may choose the broad and obvious path of heathen philosophy, fancifully decorated, if you like with some heathen religion....You will find yourself in an immeasurable physical or logical or psychological universe--your analysis of its substance and movement really makes little difference, for in any case your soul, with everything you love, will be a pure incident, long prepared and soon transcended. Your life will be a tragic or a comic episode in a universal hurly-burly of atoms or laws or energies or illusions. I do not say you might not find such a life bearable or even entertaining; all the animals take to it with gusto, and why shouldn't man, if he is nothing but a talking, laughing, machine-making animal? But there is an alternative, which is to believe in the human heart, to believe in the supernatural, and to refuse to follow the great heathen procession except perfunctorily and provisionally. Those who deliberately choose this alternative cannot be taxed, for that reason, with intellectual illusion. We can formulate as well as the heathen, or perhaps better, the results of cold observation, and the views with the unaided intellect must be content; but we appeal to the higher court. We impose upon all natural facts and all natural desires a supernatural interpretation. A miracle we say has occurred both in the manger of Bethlehem and in our own souls; and we have understood that astronomy and biology and profane history may show the universe to be manifestly heartless, and yet it may be the work of a divine heart of which own heart is a distorted image; and every event in it may have been designed as a stimulus or occasion or punishment for the thoughts of the heart."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cab Thoughts 11/19/16

More than anything else, wealth results from a state of mind and a set of values.  Government is not a source of wealth.  Governments, including ours, are essentially parasitic; they consume and dispose of wealth produced by private individuals.--Williams

According to a new article in The Atlantic, there are three to four million habitual gamblers in the United States and the entire gambling industry is geared to them specifically. 20% of these people attempt suicide.

Clinton was Secretary of State during the Obama administration's decision to undermine and help destroy the governments of two nations -- Egypt and Libya -- that were no threat whatever to Americans or to America's interests. The net result was that two Middle East nations that were at least neutral toward the United States, in contrast to others who are hostile and belligerent, were turned into countries where Islamic extremists created turmoil, and one in which Islamic terrorists killed the American ambassador and those who came to his aid.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton inherited an Iraq where terrorists had been soundly defeated, thanks to General David Petraeus' "surge" campaign, which both had opposed when they were in the Senate.
But the Obama administration turned victory into defeat by pulling American troops out of Iraq, against the advice of top military leaders, setting the stage for the emergence of ISIS and its triumphant barbarism that attracted adherents who began waging a terrorist war inside Western nations, including the United States. (from Sowell)

A great and famous story about people.  Jennie Jerome was Winston Churchill's mother. A very beautiful woman, she is said to have dined with two of England’s premier leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his rival, William Gladstone, in the same week.  When a journalist asked her to relate her first impressions of the two men, Ms. Jerome replied:
"When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman."

A little over half of the households in the bottom 20 percent have nobody working. Nobody. In 2010, there were more people working full-time in the top 5 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent. 
The true statement that, from our understanding of causal connections between facts alone, we can derive no conclusions about the validity of values, has been extended into the false belief that science has nothing to do with values. This awkward phrase is from Hayek, meaning that values, although crucial to a social structure, have become suspect because science demands to be objective and has inadvertently infected society with its open-mindedness. 

What is....Laurentine Ice Sheet?

But the main thing missing from English’s response is any sense that there might be something intrinsically wrong in deliberately killing and maiming innocent civilians as a means to bring about even a desirable outcome. That is what people find morally revolting about terrorism, not just the death and suffering it causes. The sense that there are limits on what may be done to people is a crucial part of the morality most of us share. Contempt for such moral boundaries is the defining mark of both state and non-state campaigns of terror. In spite of his acknowledgment of what he calls the ‘terrible human costs’ of terrorism, English seems clueless about this essential aspect of the phenomenon, and of the normal reaction to it. ‘The casualness with which we all tend to be comfortable with other people’s suffering lies at the heart of the problem of terrorism,’ he says. Note that ‘all’. To assimilate terrorism to a universal human failing is morally obtuse. It is something much more radical than that. (from Thomas Nagel's review of Does Terrorism Work? A History by Richard English)
Golden oldie:
World production of CO2 reached 31.6 gigatonnes in 2011, the highest ever. But the IEA report also notes that American CO2 production is d...

Allen Bloom wrote about some popular writers. On Steven King, about the best Bloom can say is that Anne Rice, "whose fictions are profoundly unhealthy, and whose style is even more tedious than King's," is worse. Lumping him with television, movies and computers, Bloom says that "King will be remembered as a sociological phenomenon, an image of the death of the Literate Reader."

Between 1825 and 1905, the tsars executed 191 people for political reasons—not for mere “suspicion” as under the Soviets but for actual assassinations, including that of Tsar Alexander II. In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarked that between 1905 and 1908 the regime executed as many as 2,200 people—forty-five a month!—“calling forth tears from Tolstoy and indignation from Korolenko and many, many others.” By comparison, conservative estimates of executions under Lenin and Stalin—say, twenty million from 1917 to 1953—yield an average of over ten thousand per week. That’s a tsarist century every few days.
Brown University's student body president will be hand-delivering menstrual products to all nonresidential bathrooms on campus, including men’s rooms, with the help of 20 other students. Viet Nguyen, President of the Undergraduate Council of Students, announced the initiative in a campus-wide email Tuesday, saying he wants to communicate the message that not all people who menstruate are women. (Newsweek) 
This raises an interesting question: Is law ever necessary to enforce the truth?
The Phoenix City Council banned churches from feeding the homeless in an area not zoned for restaurants.  Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights banned special deals on drinks and cover charges for women – no more ladies night, it discriminates against  men!  Some states want to ban baggy pants and the Los Angeles City Council forbids people dressed as super heroes who take pictures with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard.  California banned trans fats.  Some want to regulate salt intake, sodas, and school bake sales.

Why was it, Solzhenitsyn asks, that Macbeth and other Shakespearean villains killed only a few people, while Lenin and Stalin murdered millions? The answer is that Shakespeare’s villains “had no ideology”:
"Ideology—that is what gives . . . the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses and will receive praises and honors."

There are any number of ways one can view the organization of this country.  One interesting approach emphasizes "We the People" as the nation's founding element. it’s not so much that We the People govern.  That’s not what popular sovereignty means.  Popular sovereignty means that it’s the rights of the individual person that needs to be protected by government and then the people control or they limit government, but government is not the same as us.  They’re a small subset of us.  They’re the governors and the reason we have a Constitution is to provide the law that governs them. So the Constitution is a constraint on the organization that protects us. (after Barnett)

According to The Associated Press, France has become the first country in the world to ban disposable, plastic cups and dishes. Under the new law, which passed last month, all single-use cups, plates and other dishware sold in the country will need to be compostable and made at least partly of bio-sourced materials. Businesses have been given until Jan. 1, 2020 to comply with the measure. If everyone lights just one little candle.........

Premium costs in the Obamacare exchanges increased about 12 percent nationwide from 2015 to 2016. Current rates are being finalized, but it looks as if the increase from 2016 to 2017 will be double that.

The Laurentine Ice Sheet covered millions of North American square miles starting around 95,000 years ago. It advanced and retreated over the continent multiple times. Its grand finale was 22,000 years ago with its final push, the Wisconsin Glacial Episode. This episode covered most of Canada, New England, and all of New York with New York City marking the southernmost boundary. At least one mile of ice thick! Eventually, the climate warmed and ice cover disappeared entirely from New York around 11,000 years ago.

Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton and his co-author, Anne Case documented an astonishing rise in death rates among lower-class whites, from diseases related to addiction and substance abuse. This trend is also an indirect indicator of a huge cultural change for the worse in working-class America.

30 year bond returns are 2.4%. if long-term rates rise from 2.4% to 3.4%, the value of the long bond will decline by about 21%. If rates rise by 2% the bond price will decline by 35-40%  
"First, if you look at those people who are out of the labour force – what I call the ‘new lower class’ – they are no longer participating in the major institutions of American society. To put it crudely, I think they look upon Trump as sticking it to the man in a way they find gratifying. But I think they also look upon this as entertainment. I’m exaggerating to some extent, but there’s a sentiment of ‘well, this is a really interesting reality show, look at what this guy is getting away with, with all his outrageous stuff – let’s see what happens next’.... Then you have other people in the white working class who are getting married, holding jobs, playing by the rules – and they are pissed as hell. They see all of these shenanigans among the elites, the Wall Street types, for instance, with their 20,000-square-foot mansions. And most aggravating of all, they have to suffer the cognitive elite’s incredible smugness and condescension. The elites don’t even bother to hide this condescension towards the white working class. They are constantly making fun of rednecks, of evangelical Christians. And they talk about ‘flyover country’, as if nothing between the East Coast and West Coast really makes any difference. Indeed, cognitive elites are contemptuous of the working class."--Murray ad:

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Election's Real Significance

There is consternation in the halls of Washington, academia and the media over the Trump Surprise. The opinions were virtually unanimous: Trump would not win. He would continue only in stand-up. There was worry over the future of the Rube-publican Party itself, the defeat would be so devastating. Clinton's people celebrated on the plane the day before the election. The people who advise and steer our lives, indeed who want to advise and steer our lives, had investigated the evidence and come to a conclusion.

Then he won. The people who see themselves as the ones who should assess us, evaluate us and guide us were completely wrong about this basic act in the democracy. Our patient, tolerant, scolding leaders had no idea what was afoot. Trump's win was immediately parsed: He did not actually win, he won only in the Electoral College. The win was part of a poorly diagnosed syndrome, the Brexit-Columbian FARC-Vote Syndrome. Then the win was darker, indicative of unseen deep currents in the voters; racism, misogyny, xenophobia were likely involved. There were some evils that could not be plumbed.

So the self-appointed experts retreat into the safety of obscurity, mystery and evil. Magic is likely next. Their error is everyone else's fault, it seems. But that still sidesteps the real question: Why can't experts be right, even when the problem is hard? And if these experts are wrong about this--after all, polling data and sampling studies are pretty straightforward--what are these people able to do?

If experts can not assess a simple election, what should we trust them with?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wisdom from Mike Rowe

“Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe did a video for PregerU, a website with a religious bent dedicated to explaining American values. It is curious that a TV personality (he is also the cab driver in the "Cash cab" thing and is not, but looks like, the new Maytag spokesman) would be asked to do something like this. What is worse is how sensible he sounds in this goofy world. His topic was the popular advice to “follow your passion.” He argues, sensibly, that passion and ability often have nothing to do with each other.

“If we’re talking about your hobby, by all means, let your passion lead you,” he said. “But when it comes to making a living it’s easy to forget the dirty truth: Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.
“Your happiness on the job has very little to do with the work itself,” he said. “Never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”
He then wrote this in response to some questions about the talk:
"I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cab Thoughts 11/16/16

"Gas is compared implicitly to a mythical perfect alternative that none of us use." --John Hanger

In the grand palace of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia, there once existed a magnificent golden room adorned from floor to ceiling with precious amber, gold and other semi-precious stones. For nearly two hundred years the Amber Room dazzled visitors to the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg. The Russians installed the Amber Room in the Winter House in St. Petersburg before Peter’s daughter, Czarina Elizabeth, decided to move the Room to the Catherine Palace in 1755. The room was restored and enlarged throughout the 18th century. It became Catherine the Great’s private meditation chamber and a gathering room for her intimate circle, and later Alexander II (1818-1881) used the Room as a trophy room for his amber collection. But then the Nazis invaded, and the Amber Room, with its 6 tons of amber valued between $140–500 million, vanished without a trace. It presumably was destroyed in Germany by Russian bombing at the end of the war.
Chimerical: adj: 1. wildly fanciful; highly unrealistic: a chimerical plan. 2. unreal; imaginary; visionary: a chimerical terrestrial paradise. quote: I don't need to tell you that writers sometimes get ideas which practical-minded individuals regard as chimerical.-- Henry Miller, Nexus, 1960 ety: Chimerical is formed from Chimera, the name of a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology that is part goat, part lion, and part serpent. The Greek term chímaira means "she-goat." Chimerical entered English in the 1630s. This has led, of course, to a real life entity described by the noun, chimera. In biology a chimera is  an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation or, in genetics, a DNA molecule with sequences derived from two or more different organisms, formed by laboratory manipulation.
In-Q-Tel is a nonprofit venture-capital firm that invests taxpayer money in startups developing technology useful to the CIA It provides only limited information about its investments, and some of its trustees have ties to funded companies. Huh?
"The main point is very simple.  It is that comprehensive economic planning, which is regarded as necessary to organize economic activity on more rational and efficient lines, presupposes a much more complete agreement on the relative importance of the different social ends than actually exists, and that in consequence, in order to be able to plan, the planning authority must be able to impose upon the people detailed code of values that is lacking." This is Hayek on the difficulties of legislating social ends. Has anyone heard a modern champion of foolishness, or inequality or unfairness? The reason is that these are all subjective; forced sterilization sounded very sensible and modern early in 20th Century America--until the Nazis showed it wasn't. Legislating methods to reach endpoints is tough when the endpoints are aspirations, and vague at that.
Brave new world alert: Fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has found breaches in Illinois and Arizona's voter registration databases and is urging states to increase computer security ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election, according to a U.S. official familiar with the probe.
Who is.....Rielle Hunter?
A review by Caplan  of "Captain Fantastic;" (It's actually long and I clipped these two as summary. You know things are getting strange when economists are reviewing movie comedies.)
1. On the surface, Captain Fantastic is a leftist cliche: not just a socialist living off the grid, but a cultish Chomsky fan.  But I’ve never met a socialist remotely like him.  He’s not just amazingly open to reasoned argument; his intellectual style is perfectly calm and genuinely friendly.
2. Captain Fantastic is a full-blown economic illiterate.  When he looks at stores, all he can see is capitalists gutting American democracy.  The idea that stores make life easier, freeing up time for more worthwhile pursuits, is alien to him.  So is the idea that modern technology makes primitive survival skills obsolete.
The Harvard College's fourth most popular course, Economics 1017: "A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy," saw a significant jump in enrollment to 497 undergraduates from 251 undergraduates last year.
Golden oldie:
From O'Rourke's Eat the Rich:  "Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?...It's not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup. Nor can education be the reason. Fourth graders in the American school system know what a condom is but aren't sure about 9 x 7" O'Rourke quotes famous MIT economist Paul Samuelson: "Marx was wrong about many things.. .but that does not diminish his stature as an important economist." Asks O'Rourke: "Well, what would? If Marx was wrong about many things and screwed the baby-sitter?" (Actually, he did. On June 23, 1851 Helene Demuth, the family housekeeper, gave birth to a boy believed by most scholars to have been sired by Karl Marx. Presumably in an effort to preserve the Marxes' marriage, Karl Marx's closest personal friend, Frederick Engels, a bachelor living in Manchester, claimed fatherhood of the boy, who was given his name. Didn't Andrew Young claim  paternity of Rielle Hunter's daughter by John Edwards? There must be some handbook that these public figures use and go by.)
Black and white portrait on a mature woman wearing a dress.
Ms. Demuth

Bryan Caplan points out the interesting fact that in totalitarian countries the press consistently reports that ordinary citizens there live materially much better than those citizens actually live, while in free countries (that are at least reasonably market oriented), the press consistently reports that ordinary citizens there live materially worse than those citizens actually live. Since "....Western media is manifestly competitive, ... you have to ask, "Why hasn't competition stopped the brainwashing?"  The only credible response is that media consumers like hearing about a world of terror, hate, fear, brutality, and poverty."  

It's not possible to do fiscal stimulus in both good times and bad. Years when the national debt is rising as a share of GDP need to be offset by years where the national debt is falling as a share of GDP. If the fiscal policymakers do more stimulus at a time when unemployment is 4.8%, they will not be able to do as much the next time it is 8% or 10%. This is a basic economic notion; it's even a principle for Keynes.
Hillary Clinton raised $143 million dollars in one month.
The Apple tax question in Ireland is going to be provocative. A multinational company knows well that any state where it operates can challenge the way it is filing for taxes. But this is not the case in Apple's instance. Here the European Union is challenging both Apple and the Irish government. A third party has come in uninvited with an opinion. Very interesting.
At $26 trillion America’s housing stock is the largest asset class in the world, worth a little more than the country’s stockmarket. America’s mortgage-finance system, with $11 trillion of debt, is probably the biggest concentration of financial risk to be found anywhere. It is still closely linked to the global financial system, with $1 trillion of mortgage debt owned abroad.  Just think about that.
Documents, stolen from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, were altered by hackers to create the false impression that Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was funded by Soros. A pro-Russian hacking group, CyberBerkut, had inserted Navalny’s name, bogus dollar amounts and fabricated wording. Or so it is said. One might be suspicious of released and "liberated" documents, especially hacked ones. The disinformation program in Russia is quite fantastic; they will do anything. The highest-level KGB defector in history, Romanian Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa, wrote a book called Disinformation about the Soviet lies-into-truth campaign and it is hair-raising.

Aaaaaaaaaannnnnnddddddd.......Hand-colored photograph of the original Amber Room, 1931.
Hand-colored photograph of the original Amber Room, 1931. Photo credit: public domain

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


The election is barely over and the Left immediately runs into the traffic. Why is this? What is this animosity that the Left always displays in every conclave, every meeting, every event? Why does the Right so often seem to be overwhelmed, barely hanging on, before the Left's outraged and ceaseless challenges? Even now, with an astonishing election over for a just few days and everyone barely able to catch their breath, the Left is growling on the TV and in the street.

There are many characteristics the Left has--sincere belief in un-provable things, a main one--but the significant distinction of the Left is its heritage of the belief in progress in conflict. Ever since Hegel, the Left has seen the present and the future as a product of an unseen thread of history made flesh by conflict. The present and the future is the result of the defeat of the tired and completed icons of the past. But, while that defeat is inevitable, it is always incomplete. And, as the purges, violence, executions, mass murders, burnings attest, this is a death march, a constant flint-eyed execution of the present to create the future. The dialectic is more than a method, it is a state of being. The present is a crucible. Conflict is all.

And with conflict as the mid-wife, compromise is a true waste of time.

Monday, November 14, 2016


At 8:09PM GMT, on November 14th, the moon will pass by the Earth at a distance of 356,511km – the closest it gets to the Earth on its elliptical orbit and the closest it has passed the Earth since 1948. As it does so, it will be a full moon, making it a particularly big supermoon, technically a “perigee full moon.”

Supermoons are roughly 30% larger in area and 30% brighter than the smallest full moons – full moons that happen when the moon is at its furthest distance from Earth, its “apogee.” In terms of diameter – the width of the moon – it will be about 14% wider than the smallest full moons.

The difference between this unusually big supermoon and other supermoons is negligible.
While a supermoon is 30% brighter than the smallest full moons, it’s only about 15% brighter than an average full moon.
When it comes to the size, the difference in width (diameter) between a supermoon and an average moon is about 7%.
The differences in sizes comes from the shape of the ellipse that the moon draws around the Earth as it is pushed and pulled by other gravitational forces.

This is distinct from the so-called Moon Illusion which affects your perception of the size of the moon.
When the moon is close to the horizon, it can appear up to 300% the size it does when it is high in the sky – which makes much more of a difference than the actual 7% boost you get from it being a bit closer to the EarthThat moon appearance (as the name suggests) is a complete illusion – the image of the moon does not change significantly at all as it moves from the horizon up into the sky. But, when it is close to the horizon, observers think it looks bigger. So the senses are not deceived, the mind deceives itself. Exactly what causes the moon illusion is still a matter of debate.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday 11/13/16

Religion is the belief of forces outside of Nature; "supernatural."  In essence, religion is a remarkably modern concept as it sounds much more like quantum thinking; it certainly is not Newtonian. Unlike most philosophies--particularly those 18th and 19th Century based--Revelation and divine intervention are absolutely not from the world of cause and effect.

The first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the caves of Qumran by Bedouin shepherds in 1947. Hundreds of complete scrolls and tens of thousands of textual fragments were eventually found, or recovered at a price. The black market was remarkably transparent; there were anonymous ads in the WSJ offering the scrolls for sale.
Research on the scrolls was conducted by a highly restricted group of scholars, and it proceeded at such a slow pace that complaint and suspicion mounted in the academic community.
Having been given a master set of Scroll microfilm negatives for safekeeping, the Huntington library announced that a photographic record of "the greatest archeological find in history" was now available to anyone interested, by inter-library loan.
The Scroll texts are believed to be the remnants of the library of an extremist Jewish sect contemporaneous with Christ -- older by a thousand years than any other scriptural manuscripts. They include books of sect rules and prayers and most Old Testament stories.
Many see a continuity back and forth between the people of the scrolls and Christ
In a 1993 BBC documentary, Davies said that when faced with documents predating Christ by some 100 years, telling of a "Teacher of Righteousness" persecuted by a "Wicked Priest," and prophesying a Messiah who is persecuted, exiled and "pierced" or "piercing," it's hard not to regard the Qumran scrolls, as "a script, or a series of scripts, waiting there for somebody to come and fulfill it."
This is a sort of materialistic dismissal of Christ as socially inevitable, although it is doubtful that the same guy would accept the Old Testament prophesies as similar cause and effect.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Cab Thoughts 11/12/16

Some thoughts on the election, old and new:

A great line on the election: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”--Salena Zito in The Atlantic.

It's a nice day to start again. Elections are like New Years. Every time is a new time, with new possibilities, new hope. So Trump offers Hope and Change. And, truly, anything is possible. We have some big problems but we know them and we have good hearts. His nomination will be a nice day for a white wedding. My vote for the Inaugural Poet: Billy Idol. 

The analysts will be employed for years explaining this election. Most have said, so far, this was an economic backlash; people are worried about the direction of the economy and hold free trade responsible. I am not so sure. I wonder if this is more cultural than economic. People are tired of being schooled by their self-appointed superiors. Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Steven Colbert, all the entertainers--all of these people have great disregard from the average guy in this country. People don’t like being called rednecks, racists, hicks, slow, homophobic, transphobic, dumb, unsophisticated, Cracker Barrel patrons. These elites are more than happy to have the average guy fight their wars but wouldn't think of picking him up hitchhiking and would never have him to lunch. They have great disregard for the average American; the average American may have just returned the snub.

People are threatening to leave the country over the election. Ah, globalization.
For those of you considering emigrating to Canada because of the election, this news:
A Canadian lab worker may have been accidentally exposed to Ebola while working with pigs that were infected with the virus on Monday.

I think that elections should be held at one time--a couple of days in a row if necessary--on the same day that taxes are due. Is it a coincidence that April 15th is about as far away on the calendar from the second Tuesday in November as possible?

Hillary lost her place in history. Her unprecedented nomination and campaign was certainly a monumental achievement. But her achievement will always pale when compared to Trump's. There is some thing sad about this, almost Greek. She has become a footnote in her own story.

A rumor: Palin as Sec. Interior. And Melania in the White House. C'mon, Angie!

A curiosity  about the Trump supporters I am seeing: There is no exuberance, no rejoicing. They do not have the enthusiasm their opponents had. They are happy, maybe a bit mischievous, but cautious. Interesting. More evidence this is  more cultural than political.

A wonder about Trump: He has engineered an astonishing--almost unbelievable--moment in American political history. A total outsider who has never sought political office of any level in the past, he enters the biggest national political race in the world, defeats well-positioned veteran politicians for the nomination and then defeats a political icon from an iconic family whop had overwhelming financial and political support. Which is to say, like him or not, he has become a historic figure.  More than the first African-American president or the first woman candidate for president, he is a national phenomenon. As such, he has the opportunity to be great, literally great, in American history. The circumstance of his election will place him in a spotlight that only he will be able to dim. He has an astonishing opportunity here. He is almost a post-modern figure, a flawed man with a staggering upside.
And that spotlight, held by an innately hostile press, will show the downside as well.

Trump did better among Hispanics than Romney. And better with Asians than Romney. And Obama did better than Hillary with white males. 52 percent of Catholics voted for Trump, with just 45 percent backing Clinton, which is remarkable since Catholics overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in the last two elections.

Comedian Bill Maher has an interesting take on the election that I think has some merit. One Friday night he said it was wrong for Democrats to have portrayed former Republicans as villains, explaining that they “cried wolf” when it wasn’t necessary.
The “Real Time” host contended Donald Trump was truly dangerous for America, on the other hand, and the injudicious attacks of other candidates in the past have weakened the impact of attacks on him now.
“I know liberals made a big mistake because we attacked your boy [President George W. Bush] like he was the end of the world,” Maher told panelist David Frum, a former speechwriter for Bush. “He wasn’t.”
Maher continued: “And Mitt Romney, we attacked that way. I gave Obama a million dollars, I was so afraid of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have changed my life that much, or yours. Or John McCain.”
“They were honorable men who we disagreed with. And we should have kept it that way. So we cried wolf. And that was wrong,” Maher said.
But it is hard for the righteous to hold their fire.

Maybe Katy Perry and Jay-Z do not translate out of their respective niches into political leadership as well as people think. Maybe these arrogant, self-appointed leaders are just annoying.

CNN did not learn any lessons from the election. Their lead story, which became Yahoo!'s lead story, was an interview with the estimable Van Jones expressing his outrage over what he thought was the obviously racist election results. Van is a curious choice for anyone's spokesman. He is a former active Marxist revolutionary who slid into Black Militancy when the Marxist gig did not go well. Just your average American taking average politics.

There is a risk of investigations into Hillary, her Foundation and her friends--I think Obama should pardon them as he leaves. A preemptive pardon, like immunity. Or a "get out of jail free" card. Just pardon her before anyone does anything really stupid that scars the country.

The meme going into the election was that Trump's inevitable defeat would splinter the Rube-publicans into several doomed factions. Now the genius analysts claim Trump has reorganized the Rube-publicans into a new majority. Well...who knows. But what would you think if you were a Democrat leader? How would you assess this disaster, this incredible misreading of the public and their sympathies? And would you look at Bernie Sanders' followers with anything resembling real fear? 

Republicans started the night with a 54-46 majority in the Senate and were on track to end up with at least 52 seats, presuming they win a December runoff in Louisiana, as expected. Democrats did grab a Republican-held seat in Illinois, where GOP Sen. Mark Kirk lost to Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee Iraq war vet. They also retained their Nevada seat vacated by Reid; Cortez Masto will become the first Latina U.S. senator. She beat Republican Rep. Joe Heck. And Pat Toomey won in Pa. despite tremendous outside PAC money.

One distinctive characteristic of the Obama election was how opposed the petulant Rube-publicans were to helping him in the transition. It will be interesting to see if the Democrats do the same.

For a revolution, a lot of familiar faces are beginning to coalesce around the president-elect. Giuliani, Christy, Palin, Grassley. This doesn't look like much change. And, of course, change is unlikely although hope is always present. One interesting question will be what happens when the limits of what Trump can do becomes apparent to his supporters. For example, what can be done with the Obamacare mess? Will they be content (or exhausted) with their symbolic achievement or will they want more? Will they demand actual vision and leadership?

A report says Hillary hold Comey and Obama responsible for her defeat.  "Hillary felt, that the president could have stopped Comey a long time ago, because that's what [former President] Bill [Clinton] said."
These agencies are reprehensible in their biases but I think there was something a lot deeper than news releases she was fighting here.

In 1824, the election between Adams and Jackson went to the House of Representatives, which voted Adams into the White House.

Mary Beard has a truly important observation. Writing about the Trump speech of conciliation she says:
"The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything. It was precisely what ancient rhetorical and political theorists feared almost more than anything else: that speech might not be true, and the corrosive effect of that on popular power....Politicians may always have lied, but at least the Greeks and Romans worried about that. We have come almost to take it for granted." Strangely she does not apply this criticism equally to Mrs. Clinton.