Sunday, December 31, 2017


One of the curiosities of New Years Resolutions is the unspoken belief that new and better ideas are always coming to the fore. I hope that is true but my advice is a hash of old suggestions:

Seek fulfillment. Emphasize safety.

The great Old and New Testament sin is pride, the great sin of the doomed Greek was anger. 

Do not go out of the house in your pajamas.

Spend less than you earn.

Learn a good quote once a week.

There are better ways to do military-type lifts that pressure bones and joints but no good reason to do them at all.

Keep boundaries. Always reassess them.

One thing at a time. Multitasking has been shown to be terribly inefficient.

Do not be on time, be early.

Never use the phone at social events, dinner or in the car.

Keep up-to-date phone numbers and addresses of friends. Use them. Keep up with old friends with a line or e-mail; do not allow them to slip away.

Get seven hours of sleep a day.

The time before and after exercise  is very important. Warm up and cool down.

People will not remember presents but they will remember how you made them feel.

Ours is a period of downgrading. Start a mild upgrade with more effort on appearance. Maybe it will catch on.

Do not phone from the bathroom.

First dates should always be coffee or lunch.

Do not read anything while eating a meal with others.

Sign all petitions and always vote "no."

Build a good wardrobe one good piece at a time.

Do not put ice in wine. If the wine is not cool enough, go to a better place.

Angry people are usually entertaining but avoid them after 6 o'clock.

Read a formal literary effort, a book or essay or play, a little bit every day.

Wake up. Early. The day will be nice and long and full of opportunities.

Go to bed at a reasonable time. Anything that happens late at night is because the perpetrators think no one is watching.

Do not name your children after large cities in Texas. Or European cheeses.

If you are going to drink alcohol, drink only good alcohol. Never drink something because it is there.

Never drink alcohol because you "don't want to waste it."

Memorize one insightful quote or poetry line every week.

Have your teeth cleaned every six months.

Make a budget. The discipline alone is helpful. 
Set aside a percentage for two groups of savings. Use one account to go to when necessary for a big purchase or a surprise problem. Use the other one for retirement. Never touch the second one.
People tend to like what they do when they are good at it. So, be good at your job and your diversions.
Always get the cost of goods or services up front. This is especially true of lawyers.

When traveling:
Never travel without a phone that works.
Always, always get the harbor-master's number when you leave a ship.
Never travel alone to an area where you do not know the language or the alphabet.
Always travel with enough money.
Avoid areas where you might depend upon the good-will of people with old political grudges towards some group you remotely resemble.
Again, always, always get the harbor-master's number when you leave a ship.
Buy one tailor-made piece of clothing so you can see the difference from retail.
"To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying, and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown - the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none." (Friedrich Nietzsche) 
Remember this when attacking another's beliefs. You are attacking more than his intellectual position, you are attacking his area of comfort and command.
Save 10% of your income for retirement.

And some book suggestions.
Gentlemen of the Road, an interesting book by Chabon, hard to classify, about an obscure but important time in the Middle East; Girl in the Spider's Web, by Lageranz, a very acceptable addition to the Dragon Tatoo franchise with the necessary righteous revenge; Under the Banner of Heaven, non-fiction by Krakauer, riveting and illuminating; Zero History by Gibson, where he looks to be introducing a recurring character, typically unfocused but better organized than usual; Was Hitler a Darwinian by Richards, a bit scientific but interesting; The Stone Raft by Saramago, a guy I like who, I think, has tapped into a very modern thinking process. I prefer this to Blindness although the latter is much more intense.
The heavier suggestion: Charles Taylor's The Language Animal, a  rather tedious effort to define language and place it in evolution, with all the inherent uncertainties.
And I reread the beautiful written--if savage--The Duchess of Malfi this year and as always recommend it highly (over the wifette's serious objections.)
Finally, Species, by Harari. This is a sweeping book written by an arrogant man that tries to encompass the development and direction of Homo Sapien. There is so much to object to and so much hubris to overcome, it is a bit wearying but there is a lot of "college survey course" type information about this very interesting area, however tainted with assumption and superficiality, that I found myself taking more notes on this book than any other all year.

Paul's Letter to the Galatians says that Christ on earth means that all men are adopted sons of God, heirs to His infinite creation.
So every man, regardless of station or circumstance, wealth or heritage, birthright or appearance, sickness or health is equal in the eyes of God. There have been a lot of notions--from nihilism to castes, from divine right to class conflict, from Freud to Malthus--that have come down the pike since the beginning of recorded time but has there ever been a more radical, more hopeful, more optimistic idea than that? And could there be a better thought to start the new year?
Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Penultimate Vice

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus. . . .
Translated by Richmond Lattimore (1951)

Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men — carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
           Begin it when the two men first contending
           broke with one another —
                                         the Lord Marshal
           Agamémnon, Atreus’ son, and Prince Akhilleus. . . .
Translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1974)

Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles. . . .
Translated by Robert Fagles (1990) 

These are three translations, generally regarded as the best, of the first line of The Iliad, the great epic poem of Homer, one of the foundations of Western Art. The first line in epics of this type traditionally encapsulates the nature of the whole poem, as this line does. But these three are quite different in emphasis, Fagles, the more modern, highlights "rage" as the focus in the story, Fitzgerald "anger",  where Lattimore is more deferential with an invocation to the goddess as the stimulus of this story but then blames anger also. There is more than a qualitative difference in the words "anger and"rage." "Rage" is "anger" uncontrolled; "rage" possesses, "anger" torments. "Rage is "anger" in action.

The terrible Achilles, possessed as he is by "rage", destroys his own friends and countrymen. "Anger," being more self-contained, cuts a narrower swath and damages the self and those nearby, usually family, has less of an impact when compared to rage and seems an inferior choice.

So the great hero of the Iliad is a pawn to his rage and, in the first great epic in the Western canon, rage is elevated to the most prominent place among the destroyers of personality and life--even before "hubris," the Christian's "pride," that dooms Lucifer in the Old Testament. More important, one's fate and that of one's surroundings are not written in the stars but in our hearts.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Source of Resolutions

Pale Gas is the mnemonic for the seven deadly sins (vices): pride, avarice, lust, envy, greed, anger and sloth. These were originally listed by Pope St. Gregory the Great but, of course, redefined by Aquinas who felt they were rather vices which led to sin. It is a shame that lust so dominates our cultural prohibitions because the other vices are vibrating and alive. They all deserve some thought. And these old thinkers thought about them so well.

Five are of the "inordinate desire" variety: "For one's own excellence"--pride (Aquinas changed this to "vainglory", the desire for the recognition of one's own excellence), of "possession or riches"--avarice, "sexual pleasure"--the old reliable lust, "of food and drink"--gluttony, "for revenge"--anger (vs. the righteous anger of seeking justice.)

Anger, the Achilles killer, is surprising as only revenge, an interesting sharpened point. And the church fathers struggled over pride and where it fell among fulfillment, ambition and achievement which explains St. Thomas' modification away from excellence and into the recognition of same. Envy is defined as "sadness on account of the goods possessed by others." Envy is sadness! And sloth is "sorrow in the face of spiritual good", not just laziness but "a malady of the will which causes us to neglect our duties." (Sheen, Fulton not Martin) Sloth is more than slobbering weakness or self indulgence, at its core is sorrow! Therapists take note.

The world is the lesser for the absence of these thinkers, high-minded, confident and clear. And it misses the debate on these qualities--or lack thereof. There is a frisson in just the reading of them.

Tension, drama, fullness are all impossible without confines, without a fixed point, without the right of judgment.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality: Generally the more upbeat the law's name, the less the name resembles what's in the law. There has been a bomb threat over the passage of the new net law. A bomb threat.

The jurisdiction for regulation of the internet providers (vs. content providers) was changed from the Federal Communication Commission to The Federal Trade Commission. That is to say, changed back to the way it used to be before 2015. ISPs will again be under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, which will again be responsible for pursuing cases to protect consumer privacy and data security, including cases involving fraudulent, deceptive or otherwise unfair and anti-competitive business practices. There has been a lot of angst over the threat of this change but were things so bad before 2015? And the Open Internet rules the FCC devised based on its Title II authority expressly permit ISPs to block, filter and curate content. Is that so good?

But, of course, this will be a reason-free discussion. Will writes, in an article on hyperbole in popular discourse: "During two decades, the internet was barely regulated as it delighted its users. In 2015, a regulatory policy ("net neutrality"), one without a constituency sufficient to move Congress, was imposed by bureaucratic fiat. Thirty-three months later, net neutrality was ended. And the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth commenced: "This is the end of the internet as we know it." (Sen. Bernie Sanders); "A brazen betrayal ... disastrous ... I am disgusted" (Sen. Richard Blumenthal); "Outrageous" (Sen. Cory Booker); "Horrible" (Sen. Tim Kaine); "Shameful" (Sen. Sherrod Brown)." Of course.

In 2006, only the higher-end suites at the Four Seasons in Austin, TX (the city's most luxurious hotel) had flat-screen televisions.  The regular rooms still had the box-shaped version.  But by 2015 flat-screen tvs were standard not just in rooms at the Four Seasons, but also in most any Motel 6. Tammey in Forbes uses this argument to explain the advantages of ending "net neutrality." He writes,  "“Net neutrality” was all about giving everyone – large and small – equal access to the internet.  Ok, but that’s a violation of property rights.  Plain and simple.  End of discussion.  Those who own the “pipe” should be able to do whatever they want with it, including charging different prices for access to the pipe." To this conclusion: "Great wealth, the kind of wealth that causes inequality to soar, is frequently a function of entrepreneurs democratizing access to the goods and services formerly enjoyed by the rich alone."

The nature of those seeking to govern us should be clear to everyone now. And it should be clear that government, as The Great Attractor, attracts some characteristics more than others. We should all remember that none of us will be protected by what a law says. (Remember "Separate but Equal?")  We will be protected by only one thing: Vigilance-with-a-Spine.

Drag the lava lamps into the safe spaces and everyone hold hands. We'll be ok with this one (as long as the lovers of freedom, peace and harmony don't bomb us.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong....The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure." -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Keats wanted his gravestone in Rome to read "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Instead his executors wrote, "This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who, on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone."
Shelley said it was not tuberculous that killed him but his talentless critics.
Keats's girlfriend, Fanny Brawne, protested that this fable of his over-sensitivity gave Keats "a weakness of character that only belonged to his ill-health."
Byron dismissed the thesis with this in Don Juan:

"'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article."

A summary of Tobias Renkin’s, Claire Montialoux’s, and Michael Siegenthaler’s  study on the minimum wage: We study the impact of increases in local minimum wages on the dynamics of prices in local grocery stores in the US during the 2001-2012 period. We find a significant impact of increasing minimum wages on prices in grocery stores. Our baseline estimate of the minimum wage elasticity of grocery prices is 0.02. This magnitude is consistent with a full pass-through of cost increases into prices. We show that price adjustments occur mostly in the months following the passage of minimum wage legislation rather than at the actual implementation of higher minimum wages. This forward-looking pattern of price adjustments is qualitatively consistent with pricing models that feature nominal rigidities. We find no differential price effect for products consumed by poorer and richer households, and no evidence for demand effects. Our results suggest that consumers rather than firms bear the cost of minimum wage increases. Moreover, poor households are most negatively affected by the price response. Price increases in grocery stores alone offset at least 10% of the nominal income gains of the poorest households.

In 1882 Anthony Trollope died. The recent commemorative plaque placed in Poets' Corner is inscribed with the last sentence from Trollope's posthumously-published Autobiography: "Now I stretch out my hand, and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words that I have written." The "many words" amount to forty-seven novels, all still in print and most selling well.

But the genuinely useful light that economics sheds does not fall on the economizing process; it illuminates the process of exchange.  Just about everyone knows how to economize, and does so effectively.  What people do not know and what economics can explain for them is how millions of economizing people, each one pursuing his or her own interest, manage to cooperate effectively despite the fact that they are all substantially ignorant of what others want or can do.  The fundamental problem of economics is not so much scarcity as a multitude of interdependent projects that somehow have to be coordinated. --Heyne.
This is probably not for academic or bureaucratic readers who will certainly volunteer for the job of coordination.

Who is....Stella Penn Pechanac?

But why are people in China sending some random woman in Pennsylvania free hair ties? Why would anyone put in the time, money, and effort to send a stranger on the other side of the world free stuff?
It’s called brushing.
Chinese agents shipping ridiculous amounts of hair ties to McGeehan is merely an unscrupulous way for them to fraudulently boost sales and obtain positive feedback for their clients' products on e-commerce sites.
Basically, a "brushing" firm somehow got ahold of McGeehan’s name and address — she imagines this happened from placing legitimate orders on AliExpress, the international wing of China’s Alibaba — and then created user profiles for “her” on the e-commerce sites that they wish to have higher sales ratings and favorable reviews on. They then shop for orders via the fake account, compare prices, and mimic everything an actual customer would do, before finally making a purchase from their client's store. When delivery is confirmed, they then leave positive reviews that appear to the e-commerce platform as "verified."
Due to the unbalanced pricing policies of the United Postal Union and subsidies from the U.S. Postal Service, it costs people in China virtually nothing to ship small packages to the U.S. That, combined with the super cheap price they pay for the junk they ship, makes brushing a quick and cost effective way to move up the sales rankings -- which means everything for e-commerce merchants.

In a new study,  McKinsey says massive government intervention will be required to hold societies together against the ravages of labor disruption over the next 13 years. Up to 800 million people—including a third of the work force in the U.S. and Germany—will be made jobless by 2030, the study says.

The economy of most countries will eventually replace the lost jobs, the study says, but many of the unemployed will need considerable help to shift to new work, and salaries could continue to flatline. "It's a Marshall Plan size of task," Michael Chui, lead author of the McKinsey report, tells Axios.

In the eight-month study, the McKinsey Global Institute, the firm's think tank, found that almost half of those thrown out of work—375 million people, comprising 14% of the global work force—will have to find entirely new occupations, since their old one will either no longer exist or need far fewer workers. Chinese will have the highest such absolute numbers—100 million people changing occupations, or 12% of the country's 2030 work force

Golden oldie:

Champagne, Prosecco, and cava are the three best known sparking wines. Champagne is from the Pinot Noir (ablanc de noirs is a Champagne made predominantly from Pinot Noir grapes), Pinot Meunier, or Chardonnay (blanc de blanc is made from Chardonnay), and is most often a blend of all three. Prosecco is made in the Veneto region of Italy (the same region that gave us the glorious Aperol spritz), from a varietal of grape called Glera. Cava is usually made with a few obscure grape varietals —Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello—though it can also be made from Chardonnay or Pinot grapes.
Amazon plans a Lord of the Rings prequel.

A great quote from someone: "YOU, are NOT Wall Street’s client... YOU are the CONSUMER of the products sold FOR Wall Street’s clients..."
And another: "As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective...The world has never seen such technologies. We are simply not prepared for any of this."

If you want a hair-raising experience, look up the murder of a girl named Maria Reyes by the MS-13 gang. Civilization is fragile and occasionally needs vigorous defense.

From a letter from the President of Wesleyan University:
Every dollar spent from the endowment to deliver an education reduces the cost paid by students and their parents. I fear that at many schools, the endowment tax will turn out to be a tax on financial aid—it, and other provisions in the bill, would make colleges and universities like ours less financially secure and drive up costs at a time when affordability is a critical challenge.
This is a fluid situation. There is much at stake in this bill, directly and indirectly, for our campus community and all who care about Wesleyan’s future – and the future of higher education. Students and families should be aware that some proposals, particularly those in the House version of tax reform, would eliminate the student loan interest deduction (increasing the tax burden on those who must borrow to pay for college); end Wesleyan’s ability to issue tax exempt debt (impacting the university’s financial health); and tax the tuition benefit enjoyed by Wesleyan employees.

Circa 1300,  the word “girl” meant a young child of either sex. A “boy” was a male servant. Don't tell the guy who wrote Sapiens; he'll do a new book.

David Poisson, a popular French national ski team veteran and former Olympian, was killed in a training crash near Calgary, Alberta. Poisson, 35, was a World Cup bronze medalist in 2013 and competed in both the Vancouver and Sochi Winter Olympics. Hoping to qualify for the PyeongChang Games in February, he was training for World Cup races in North America in the resort of Nakiska and, according to Royal Canadian Mounted Police, crashed through safety netting after catching an edge. He struck a tree and died at the scene.

The Soviet Union lost about 27 million soldiers and civilians in WW11— about 60 times more than America lost in the war.
Remember, Stalin was responsible for some 20 million Russian deaths through forced farm collectivization, planned famine, show trials and purges, and the murders of his own Red Army troops which he did without Nazi help.

Raised during a time of prosperity to become doctors and lawyers and engineers, alumni from an elite Caracas high school are abandoning their homeland. They are among the two million who have left after the Hugo Chávez revolution ushered in economic collapse and a crackdown on democracy. (wsj)
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken A big Full Moon will rise at sun...

There is an editorial on the Saudi changes seen in the light, not of terrorist or religious struggle, but as an effort to drag the U.S. into permanent conflict with Iran and thus permanent presence in the Middle East to support the Saudis. It has the wonderful title: Saudi Arabia Wants to Fight Iran to the Last American.

Stella Penn Pechanac has been accused of working as an operative of corporate-investigation firm Black Cube and gathering information on critics of Harvey Weinstein, U.S. insurer AmTrust Financial, and now, a Canadian private-equity firm. (wsj) Here is a link to my highly reliable news source, well regarded by the Robinsons:
Stella Penn, an operative at Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube bluffed her way into meetings with Rose McGowan and journalists.

The only thing that seems to be at work in protecting us from our enemies is their incompetence. I watched the Elizabeth Smart story the other night and the police at one point were actually called to the library in town because the librarian saw her sitting there with the kidnapper. The cops arrived but did not see the girl's face because she was veiled and her kidnapper said it was against their religion for her to be seen by a man. A hard-boiled cop accepted that and left. Left. She was eventually found because some of the investigators broke protocol. But the cops were really good in giving the family lie detector tests. And protecting wacko religious rights.

In the winter of 1942-43 the Soviet Red Army surrounded  and destroyed a huge invading German army at the city of Stalingrad on the Volga River. Nearly 300,000 of Germany's best soldiers would never return home. The  battle for the city saw the complete annihilation of the attacking German 6th Army. It marked the turning point of World War II. The battle was part of a renewed German effort in 1942 to drive southward toward the Caucasus Mountains, to capture the huge Soviet oil fields. Russia had already suffered some 6 million combat casualties during the first 16 months of Germany's invasion.

The Pirates fired Rene Gayo, their longtime director of Latin American scouting.
Gayo will depart when his contract expires next month. (He apparently is suing them in retaliation.)
Citing sources, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Gayo violated MLB's rules by taking a kickback from a Mexican Summer League team several years ago for the sale of at least one player to the Pirates.
The Pirates severed ties with Gayo after learning he was the target of an MLB investigation.
Outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are among the players he scouted and brought into the organization.
The documentary “Pelotero,” released in 2009, cast a shadow on Gayo's recruiting methods as he tried to sign teen-aged slugger Miguel Sano out of the Dominican Republic. The film appeared to show Gayo bullying Sano's family about the player's true age. (They lost him to the Twins.)

Krauthammer is apparently really ill. Had a major surgical procedure and is just out of the ICU.

Mona Charen has a sensible, readable article on Bill Clinton and his implications. First she starts with this observation: 
"In 1983, two congressmen, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, were censured by the House. Both had admitted to having affairs with 17-year-old pages. The Democrat was Gerry Studds, who represented a liberal Massachusetts district. His relationship had been with a young man. He admitted to a "very serious error in judgment," but seemed to imply that he was owed more latitude because he was gay. "It is not a simple task for any of us to meet adequately the obligations of either public office or private life, let alone both," Studds said in an address to the House, "but these challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as I am, both an elected public official and gay." He was reelected six more times and retired voluntarily in 1997. The Republican, Daniel Crane, represented a conservative Illinois district. His constituents sent him packing the following year, despite his apology and request for forgiveness."
Then she says this: "Bill Clinton's shamelessness — and his party's acquiescence in it — corrupted our culture in profound ways. What we choose to shame or overlook determines what kind of society we are. We didn't want to hold him to account, and so we told ourselves convenient lies, such as that it "was just sex." It wasn't. It was classic harassment, and assault, and abuse of power, and perjury. But his worst transgression was refusing to acknowledge our unwritten code of honor. If he had done the right thing and resigned, he would have taken the disgrace on his own back, where it belonged. By brazening it out, he made all of us complicit in it. His refusal to resign said, "I'm an abusive pig, and you are a country of abusive pigs if you permit me to remain in office.""

In 1532, Pizarro caught the Incan king, Atahualpa.  Vicente de Valverde, a friar traveling with Pizarro, met with Atahualpa and 5000 soldiers to persuade him  to convert and accept Charles V as sovereign while Pizarro lay in wait. Atahualpa angrily refused, prompting Valverde to give the signal for Pizarro to open fire. Trapped in tight quarters, the panicking Incan soldiers made easy prey for the Spanish. Pizarro’s men slaughtered the 5,000 Incans in just an hour. The Spanish suffered one hand injury.

AAAAAAaaaaannnnnnndddddd......a graph:

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Bitcoin Fever Might Be Contagious
This month commodity regulators allowed two different US exchanges to launch bitcoin futures contracts. This enables investors to buy and sell bitcoins at different prices in the future. On the surface this seems good. Now people can exert a calming, dampening effect on bitcoins by selling them at a lower price in the future market if they think the price will drop.

But there is more here that is less good.

A regulated futures exchange has some guarantees; one is not making a private bet. The distinction is that the exchange takes on what is called "counterparty risk," that is the two parties have the exchange stand behind the trade. Payment is guaranteed by the exchange, even if one of the parties defaults.
The clearinghouse consists of the exchange’s member brokerage firms. They all pledge their own capital as a backstop to keep the exchange running.

As of now that very same capital also backs up stock index, Treasury bond, and foreign currency futures. So a crisis--which is possible in the bitcoin mania--could conceivably spread to the other markets because they are underwritten by the same people in a common pool.

That is a bad idea.

Monday, December 25, 2017


Today we celebrate God's stepping into Time. In this extraordinary integration, He enters a Middle Eastern family and places Himself in their care, the finite and the Infinite in a simple domestic human scene.

Always responsible to Him, they became responsible for Him.

Imagine that. This is a moment of almost Nordic complexity.

The message of Christianity--that of forgiveness, love, family and community of man--so distilled down in the symbols of this holiday, is so optimistic and hopeful one is always struck by the homicidal, nihilistic, despairing and similarly faith-based philosophies that have risen as alternative explanations of man's condition.

It is hard to believe an active evil force is not present to influence it.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Joseph Has a Dream

In the gospel, Joseph has a dream where he is told the child Mary is carrying is not the product of an illicit relationship, the child is the Son of God. The entire New Testament hinges on this moment. On the meaning of a dream. The divine nature of Christ is brought to the outside world for the first time. The resurrection of  Christ is the edifice of Christianity, the nature of Christ's conception is its foundation. 

Enter Arius.

Arias, an early Christian bishop, argued that Christ had a beginning and therefore could not be God. He was declared a heretic, then absolved, then made a heretic again. But his distress is crucial as it was--and is--the world's distress. The Prophet Mohammad formed his opinion of Christianity through an Arian philosopher and, while he accepted the Jews as monotheists, he thought Christians polytheists.

Logic brought to bear on a being that rises from the dead seems misapplied. If either part of the story is acceptable, then it is hard to limit the rest of the story with petty human concerns. But, strangely, human reaction is the essence of the story. Like all the nativity scenes, humanity is at the center. Christ comes to the world as a vulnerable infant, dependent upon human care. Christ's later claims will mean nothing to the world without the disciples' translation, acceptance and proselytizing. Humanity is the linchpin of the entire story.   After all, human faith--humanity itself--was the basis of it all, for Mary--and Joseph--could have said "No."

Astonishing. And a hell of a dream.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Washington's Resignation

On this day in 1783, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, General George Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army and retired to his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. This is from

Washington addressed the assembled Congress:
“Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven."

Washington’s willingness to return to civilian life was an essential element in the transformation of the War for Independence into a true revolution. During the war, Congress had granted Washington powers equivalent to those of a dictator and he could have easily taken solitary control of the new nation. Indeed, some political factions wanted Washington to become the new nation’s king. His modesty in declining the offer and resigning his military post at the end of the war fortified the republican foundations of the new nation.

Although he asked nothing for himself, Washington did enter a plea on behalf of his officers:
“While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge, in this place, the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress."

The patronage Washington requested seemed most pressing as the army had narrowly survived several mutinies and a near-attempted coup the previous autumn. The veteran officers who had helped to keep the army intact desired western lands in thanks for their service. Their claims would constitute a major issue for the new American government as it attempted to organize the settlement of what had been the colonial backcountry.

Washington concluded:
“Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take any leave of all the employments of public life.”

General Washington’s respite proved extremely brief. He was unanimously elected to the first of two terms as president of the United States in 1788.

Saturnalia December 23

Saturn is the Roman Chronos, an early Titan in the history of the evolution of the gods and man, the son of the Earth and Sky. He defeats his siblings and, in fear of a prophesy that he will be overthrown by a son, eats his children. One child, Zeus, is hidden by his mother and grows to rescue his siblings and overthrow his father.

Saturn is the original fertility symbol in mythology, preceding Persephone in chronology and hierarchy. He does not quite fit the popular notion of a historical evolutionary progression away from female fertility goddesses to the more combative male deities. As the second layer of the gods, supplanted by Zeus and his siblings, he is much less active but had a significant old mythological following.

Saturnalia originated as a farmer's festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season  (satus means sowing). It started as a two day celebration but grew longer and later; it was seven days around the winter solstice in the third century A.D., when numerous archaeological sites demonstrate that the cult of Saturn still survived. The poet Lucian of Samosata (AD 120-180) has the god Cronos (Saturn) say in his poem, Saturnalia:
"During my week the serious is barred: no business is allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, occasional dunking of corked faces in icy water--such are the functions over which I preside."

A public holiday with gifts, masters and slaves swapping clothes, the strange election of a temporary house "monarch." A time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees.

By that time, with Christianity well established, it is difficult to determine which gave and took. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Yes, Virginia

One of the most famous Letters to the Editor ever to appear in a newspaper was this query from an 8-year-old girl. It was first printed in the New York Sun in 1897, along with a response by editor Francis P. Church. It proved so popular that it was reprinted every year until the Sun went out of business in 1949. 
The Question

Dear Editor:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
The Answer

"Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

"Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

"You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

"No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story
A Christmas story about a Christmas icon:

 For its December 1963 issue, Esquire Magazine's managing editor Harold Hayes let his cover designer George Lois pick the cover. The cover became a close-up of boxer Sonny Liston in a Santa Claus hat. Esquire's advertising director would eventually estimate that the magazine lost $750,000 due to the cover. According to Vanity Fair, "Hayes lit the fuse, and Sonny Liston exploded a ragged hole in the country's Norman Rockwell preconceptions of Christmas." An art-history professor at Hunter College proclaimed the cover "one of the greatest social statements of the plastic arts since Picasso's Guernica." For Hayes, Liston-as-Santa was "the perfect magazine cover," he wrote in a 1981 article in Adweek magazine, "a single, textless image that measured our lives and the time we lived them in quite precisely to the moment." Published in a national climate "thick with racial fear," he explained, "Lois' angry icon insisted on several things: the split in our culture was showing; the notion of racial equality was a bad joke; the felicitations of this season—goodwill to all men, etc.—carried irony more than sentiment."
"Norman Rockwell preconceptions?" "one of the greatest social statements..?" ".. image that measured our lives..?"
Wait a minute here. Race trumps everything in this culture but.....Liston was a criminal and was mob connected. He knocked out the extremely popular Floyd Patterson in 1962, a fight that was opposed by the NAACP because of damage they thought the fight would do to the Civil Rights Movement. And Liston threw a championship fight against Ali. Liston told a sports writer later, “That guy [Ali] was crazy. I didn’t want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn’t hit.”
Liston was terribly unpopular for a lot of good reasons.
Can this race monster ever get sedated? And is it possible these media types might be taking themselves a little too seriously?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900) 
Re. the size distribution of income and wealth. This knowledge serves no good purpose; it is wholly unnecessary for defensible government policy or action. It serves only as fuel for economic misunderstanding and demagoguery. It feeds envy and provokes public mischief. If such knowledge were completely unknown, no decent project would be harmed, and a multitude of destructive policies and actions would be rendered more difficult to initiate or carry out.--Higgs

Today, the top 1 percent of taxpayers, who earn just under 20 percent of total individual income, also pay just under 40 percent of all individual income taxes. So ironically, redistribution programs depend on continued successes at the top.

Who is....the Denisovan?

The foreign-born vote overwhelmingly, by about 80 percent, for Democrats. They always have and they always will -- especially now that our immigration policies aggressively discriminate in favor of the poorest, least-educated, most unskilled people on Earth. They arrive in need of a LOT of government services.
According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of Hispanic immigrants and 55 percent of Asian immigrants support bigger government, compared to just over 40 percent of the general public. Even third-generation Hispanics support bigger government by 58 percent.--from an article by Coulter

Corporate taxes might be a subtle economic test for the economic intelligence of the community. It is a disguised tax, a tax on all consumers but appears to be a tax on the abstract corporation. The higher the tax the culture allows, the less the culture must understand it.

Law enforcement officials and medical professionals say counterfeit opioid pills “have been flooding the illicit drug market and have been sickening — and killing — those who are seeking out powerful prescription drugs amid a worsening national opioid crisis.” According to the Post, there is “widespread fear that users who believe the prescription drugs are safe — because they are quality-controlled products of a regulated industry — could now unwittingly end up ingesting potent cocktails of unknown substances.”

One interesting question in the development of the New World was the success of the Dutch and the failure of Spain. Spain had the resources of the Americas with tons of gold and silver, the Netherlands was under Spanish control--and usually under water. Yet the Dutch revolted, threw off Spanish control and became the major New World explorer while the Spanish slowly declined. How did that happen? The Dutch invented efficient credit and used capital. The Spanish sank their incredible wealth into war. The essence seems to be the difference between capital and wealth, expansion and stasis, exploration and defense.

"The most important fact to understand about the economics of communism is that communist revolutions triumphed only in heavily agricultural societies. Government ownership of the means of production could not, therefore, be achieved by expropriating a few industrialists. Lenin recognized that the government would have to seize the land of tens of millions of peasants, who surely would resist. He tried during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920), but retreated in the face of chaos and five million famine deaths. Lenin's successor, Joseph Stalin, finished the job a decade later, sending millions of the more affluent peasants ("kulaks") to Siberian slave labor camps to forestall organized resistance and starving the rest into submission."

This is in the definition of Communism from The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. It raises an interesting question as to whether or not the government ownership of production is a foolishness limited to the agricultural world, a tool limited by its time, like the buggy whip. 

"The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'" This was one of Freud's famous quotes--and problems. His explorations into the human psyche had a significantly masculine bent so perhaps this question was more rhetorical than sincere. But apparently it is a more pervading problem than we knew. What do these abusing men think their female victims want? What was Charlie Rose thinking? And what did he think these girls were thinking?
The powerful--whether hereditary nobles or consecrated priests or self-appointed or acclaimed cultural leaders--will always take the opportunity to have their way. Regardless of how you shuffle the human deck, the top card will always act the same.

According to a survey of 20,185 people in 20 countries conducted this past July:
. . . global perception of the United States saw a substantial decline over the past year, causing the U.S. to drop from first to sixth place in Anholt-GfK’s annual Nation Brands Index (NBI).
Germany moved from second to first place; France rose to second place from fifth; and the U.K., which lost some ground after the Brexit vote, improved its score and maintained its third-place ranking.
Japan saw a large (2.12-point) jump in its score and made the top 10 ranking for the first time since 2011, tying with Canada for fourth place. Italy rose to sixth place, from seventh.
Switzerland, Austria and Sweden maintained their eighth, ninth and tenth places, respectively.
There has been a lot of criticism about the decline of American influence and it seems o be Trump's fault. But does "leading from behind" fit into this?

Golden oldie:
The U.S. government is getting interested in influencing the behavior of citizens in a more direct way than information management. En...

An opinion I heard: We are a family and social contract species. Individualism is a conspiracy of the State to undermine those basics and offer itself as a surrogate.

This is the anniversary of Kennedy's assassination. This event--and the War--defined--and to some extent "ruined"--this generation.
Stephen King's sci-fi book 11/22/63 is a surprisingly good book about it.

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the use of race in Harvard University’s admissions practices and has accused the university of failing to cooperate, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. (wsj) Now this could be interesting. It is an open secret that Harvard limits Asian acceptances. I doubt anyone thinks this has origins in bigotry but rather demographics. There are a lot of good students who are Asians and there are a lot of Asians. What will the meddling and ill-informed government do? 

The von Mises quote above raises the NPR question: What will save the country from the bad taste of capitalism? This is a serious misunderstanding of capitalism--or a purposeful dodging of the question. Capitalism has no creed; it is the result of liberty, the free community that allows the individual to pursue his interests, in this instance, commercially. The idea that the pursuit of one's individual free interests will benefit the community, that is a creed. Freedom does not create bad taste; bad taste is in the people. If you want to improve the taste of the people, raise the level of the culture. Who were the most cultured people of the early last century? The Germans.

The FBI is investigating Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Bob Brady for conspiracy, and false statements and his campaign in relation to payments his campaign allegedly made to 2012 primary opponent Jimmie Moore in order to persuade him to drop out of the race.

An interesting little graphic about current theory about homo cross- breeding. (Only species can breed for fertile offspring.) This map assumes some commonality among the entire genus homo. How they would know is only a guess. This is a notion that a lot of people fear as it raises the possibility of sub-species intellectual diversity.

Russian authorities on Tuesday confirmed reports of a spike in radioactivity in the air over the Ural Mountains, however it denied the Rosatom's Mayak plant for spent nuclear fuel in the Urals  was the source.

TIME (11/21, Park) reports that investigators “analyzed national cancer data and calculated how much of cancer cases and deaths can be attributed to factors that people can change.” The researchers found that “among more than 1.5 million cancers in 2014, 42% were traced to these factors, as well as 45% of deaths in that year.”

AAAAAAnnnnnnddddddd.......a graph: