27 November 2011

Google News: Blast from the past

On October 2, 1941, the Montreal Gazette ran a story with the headline, "Religion Guarantees Worthless in Soviet Constitution, Foes Say."

Hitler had only recently attacked his erstwhile eastern allies, and now the western powers, including the whole of the British Commonwealth, and thus of course including Canada, were trying to make the mental adjustment required to think of Soviet Russia as an ally.  That headline, I submit, reflects the struggles of that moment.

Here's the lead: "WASHINGTON, October 1. -- President Roosevelt's action in calling attention to the Russian Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion brought replies today that the guarantee meant nothing."

That's why old newspapers are cool.  They strip away our own hindsight, and help put us into the world of, say, October 1941.


26 November 2011

"With Held" is two words now?

From my email inbox.

Dear Friend,

I know that this short memo would certainly come to you as a surprise due to the fact that we haven’t had any previous correspondence with each other. In spite of this, I will appreciate it if you will permit me to inform you of my desire to execute a business with you which will certainly be of a mutual benefit to both of us.

I am Dr Mathew Bertin, accountant by profession. I work as an external auditor with my Bank and i discovered an Account that had been dormant for the past seven years.The account belong to a single holder (NAME WITH HELD).I am seeking your assistance at your willing so that we can do this financial transaction together so that you can claim this Funds through your foreign account. You have the absolute right to claim the fund hence you are a foreigner. If you know that you can handle such transaction, get back to me with your ideas alongside with your Direct Contact Phone Number for urgent and more discussion.

Best Regards.
Mathew Bertin

Um.  No thanks Matt.  And "withheld" should be one word.

25 November 2011

The Democratic Party's Nominating Convention: 1896

Once in awhile I give you, dear reader, the dubious benefit of a brief random quotation from my recent reading.  That will be the case today.

I take this from THE TRAGEDY OF WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN, by Gerard N. Magliocca.

The leading obstacle to Bryan's nomination came from 'Gold Democrats,' who backed President Cleveland's policies, but they soon realized that they were outnumbered.  The president opposed Bryan's candidacy and told his supporters that 'a cause worth fighting for is worth fighting for to the end.'  Neverthelss, by 1896, Cleveland did not have much influence with the party faithful.  A Gold Democrat describing the scene in Chicago said that for 'the first time, I can undersand the scenes of the French Revolution.'  The conservative senator David Hill of New York, in a desperate plea to the delegates, said: 'I am a Democrat, but not a revolutionist.  My mission here today is to unite, not to divide -- to build up, not to destroy.'

24 November 2011


With all due respect to the Pilgrims, to the traditional sentiments of harvest time, and to expressions of gratitude, both cosmic and local, Thanksgiving Day for some of us constitutes chiefly the center of the football season -- its culmination for high schools, and a good time for the college games that serve as the natural lead-in to the wonders of the bowl-game season. Have you ever noticed, after all, how much a turkey looks like a football?

Last year at this time (and the year before) I was expressing my own gratitude to the fates for bringing Coach Edsall to the helm of the football program of the University of Connecticut. This year, that might not seem apt, since Edsall is no longer there. Just after the end of last year's (glorious!) season, which brought the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl,  he left for what he called his "dream job," coaching the Maryland Terrapins.  I don't begrudge him upward mobility, but the I have to say I thought the manner of the announcement unnecessarily harsh.

Also, alas, UConn isn't haven't the kind of outstanding season to which I was reacting last year.

Still, think good thoughts!  Though the Huskies lost last weekend to the Louisville Cardinals, 34 to 20, QB Johnny McEntee threw for 253 yards and redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs (of Staten Island, New York) became only the second UConn freshman ever to pass the 1,000 yard mark rushing in a season.

So: good effort guys. And, by the way, Edsall isn't exactly going gangbusters at his new job. Wake Forest just administered a shellacking to them. Edsall's old team has a better record than his new team for the season. Good luck to Coach Paul Pasqualoni, and may he and this team prosper in years to come.

This coming Saturday, UConn plays the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. The Knights' roster includes their sophomore phenom Jawan Jamison and junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Tough opposition, and it would be a worthy notch on the bedpost for UConn to pull out a W there.

The kickoff is set for noon at Rentschler Field, and the game may be covered by ESPN2. If it is, I'll be grateful.

20 November 2011

Who Is Ellen Brown?

Ellen Brown is the author of "Web of Debt," a book about the U.S. monetary system, published in March 2010.

She has only come to my attention quite recently, though.  Apparently, she has both a following within the Tea Party movement and powerful detractors therein. This is intriguing: we need more people who break through the old predictable lines, both where they are right and where they are wrong.

Gary North, of the Specific Answers blog, is clearly among her detractors. 

If I understand the polemical situation rightly, it is this: the Tea Party rank and file is ticked off about the Federal Reserve. They largely (and rightly IMHO) see it as responsible for our screwed-up banking system and, by extension, for our screwed-up economy.

Both Brown and North agree with that.  The problem is this: Brown seems to believe that the big problem with the Federal Reserve is that it is unaccountable, i.e. anti-democratic.  A centrally controlled monetary system that was accountable to the democratic process would be a vast improvement.

North, on the other hand, contends that the problem with the Federal Reserve is simply that it is a central bank. It should not exist because central banks should not exist. The particulars of how it is run don't matter to him and, in his view, should not matter to the grass roots of any populist movement worth supporting.

Accordingly, Brown favorably cited a German researcher who said that interest now composes 40 percent odf the cost of everything one buys at a store. "If the government owned the banks, it could keep the interest and get these projects at half price."

I'll be keeping my eye on Ellen and on the disputes she seems to excite.

19 November 2011

La Quinta

I spent two nights at La Quinta hotel in Stamford, CT last week: Thursday into Friday, and Friday into Saturday. 

I use La Quinta fairly often for my NYC jaunts -- its easier than trying to make the trip down from north of Hartford, take care of your business, and come back all in one day. This time, I stretched that much action out over three days and two nights making a mini-vacation of it.

One thing I like about La Quinta is that each room has a real honest-to-goodness wardrobe, instead of a built-in closet.  A real porthole-to-Narnia wardrobe.  Haven't found my way through the back yet, though.

One thing that annoys me is that they haven't figured out that I'm a repeat customer. I'm supposed to get some sort of discount for being a repeat customer, but there must be some period of time, after the passage of which, my earlier visit drops out of their system.  I must not be sufficiently frequent in my trips there.

Ah well.  In the middle of this life we're bound upon....

18 November 2011


This is the 33th anniversary of the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, of the People's Temple cult.

Give the victims of that masacre a few moments of your thoughts today.

The massacre gave the world the expression, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid."

As it happens, it wasn't really poison-laced Kool-Aid that they were drinking.  It was poison laced Flavor-Aid, described here as a knock-off product.

I'm sure this has been driving the real Kool-Aid's marketing folk to distraction for decades now.

17 November 2011

Fracking: Some Links

I'm just going to link farm today.  Subject, fracking, the propagation of fractures in layers of rock in order to draw through the rock the buried petroleum, natural gas, or other valuable stuff.

According to Schlumberger's oilfield glossary, "engineered fluids are pumped at high pressure and rate into the reservoir interval to be treated, causing a vertical fracture to open." Who is Schlumberger?  The "leading oil field services provider," according to the company webpage.

Some residents in Oklahoma reportedly suspect that recent seismic activity there owes something to the practice, but this article in The Christian Science Monitor takes a skeptical view.

Fracking is a more likely culprit for small earthquakes near Blackpool in England recently though.

Earthquakes aside, the usual complaint against fracking involves the potential for water pollution.

The Oil and Gas Accountability Project says bluntly that "our drinking water [is] at risk" due to the practice.

The OGAP cites a white paper prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory which described "produced water," i.e. the waste products.  "The many chemical constituents found in produced water, when present either individually or collectively in high concentrations, can present a threat to aquatic life when they are discharged or to crops when the water is used for irrigation."

Joseph Nocera is among those who defends the practice of fracking. He said America "needs the Marcellus Shale," which has 500 trillion cubic feet of reserves, so that we ought to "accept the inconvenience that the drilling will bring" and insist that the drilling be done in ways that address the environmental issues.

There is a spirited discussion in the comments under this post in The Volokh Conspiracy.

13 November 2011

Novelization of the Lodz Ghetto II

This will continue and complete the observations I made on October 30,  concerning the novel EMPEROR OF LIES by Sem-Sandburg.

There's a nice touch near the end, as the novelist wants to inform us that the Russian front is getting closer to Lodz. He writes, "Rosa Smolenska could feel the detonations of distantly falling bombs, dull tremors through the walls of the house and up through her own body."

I like that because it seems to be paradoxical, and because in its paradoxical way it states the precise nature of these detonbations as felt by the ghetto inhabitants. They are still "distant" and "dull," yet not so distant nor so dull that they fail to pass as a tremor through one's whole body.

Just a bit later, we get what some might call unnecessary detail about the sort of war related manufacture still taking place in the ghetto.  "Debora worked right at the end of the cold, crowded shed, where she and some other girls stood packing the finished fuses in little square boxes made of card." "Card" sounds like an awkward translation that might better have been "cardboard," but the detail work continues in the next sentence. "Twelve plugs to a box, and then the flaps and the top and bottom of the boxes had rto be tucked into the little diagonal slots on their sides."

12 November 2011

Ron Paul Got This Exactly Right


Two key paragraphs:

The Fed fails to grasp that an interest rate is a price—the price of time—and that attempting to manipulate that price is as destructive as any other government price control. It fails to see that the price of housing was artificially inflated through the Fed's monetary pumping during the early 2000s, and that the only way to restore soundness to the housing sector is to allow prices to return to sustainable market levels. Instead, the Fed's actions have had one aim—to keep prices elevated at bubble levels—thus ensuring that bad debt remains on the books and failing firms remain in business, albatrosses around the market's neck.

The Fed's quantitative easing programs increased the national debt by trillions of dollars. The debt is now so large that if the central bank begins to move away from its zero interest-rate policy, the rise in interest rates will result in the U.S. government having to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in additional interest on the national debt each year. Thus there is significant political pressure being placed on the Fed to keep interest rates low. The Fed has painted itself so far into a corner now that even if it wanted to raise interest rates, as a practical matter it might not be able to do so. But it will do something, we know, because the pressure to "just do something" often outweighs all other considerations.

I should add (since I used the word "exactly" in this entry's headline), that I do have one small nit to pick with the way Paul expresses himself here. Not with the substance of his exposition, which is perfect, but with the jots and tittles.

He defines interest rates briefly as "the price of time." They aren't the price of time. They are defined and measured by time, just as apartment rents are defined and measured by weeks, months, or years. But a rent isn't the price of time, it is the price of occupancy. Likewise, an interest rate is the price of credit, or of the use of the principal, for a specified period of time.

What Paul means is clear enough, and his brief use of the phrase "the price of time" probably does no harm, except ... that in the days of Savonarola and in the glare of Scholasticism one of the most common objections to the charging of interest, one of the reasons given for considering all interest as the sin of usury, was this notion that it is selling time and that time is of God. I would rather not have free-market advocates play into those bad old superstitions, or we'll end up throwing our vanities into a bonfire.

Still, Paul is making sound points. The Fed isn't wrong because of this chairman or that chairman. It isn't wrong in ways that new appointments or some tweaking of the mandating statutes could fix. It is wrong because it is a central bank, and what central banks do is in essence wrong. They are central planners, just as those who would run the auto industry from Washington (and who, these days, essentially do) are central planners.

The point should be not to improve the Fed but to close it down.

In this, perhaps, tea partiers and OWS types can come together.

11 November 2011

Howrey Collapse

Howrey LLP, a once very prominent global law firm that has been around since July 1956, declared bankruptcy earlier this year after the collapse of merger talks with Winston & Strawn, and is still in the process of dissolution.

It is good to see that in the field of the law at least, even the biggest firms are still considered small enough to fail.

It isn't difficult to imagine a situation in which high government offiucials run around wringing their hands about what a disaster the failure of such a multi-national well connected form will be, and asking each other what can be done to save it.

Anyway, for those interested in a proper RIP: the firm is named after  Jack Howrey, who chaired the Federal Trade Commission in the early Eisenhower years.  His first partners were Bill Simon, Hal Baker, and Dave Murchison, and the firm's first focus was on antitrust law. Early on it became associated with the cereal industry, which has long had to fight antitrust battles. 

As it grew, though, it developed other areas of focus, especially in intellectual-property law. The leading light of the firm's Amsterdam office, Willem Hoyng, is the author of a highly regarded textbook on Dutch IP law. 

So they pass into history with a hardy "Cheers!" from me, and best wishes to all the displaced partners (who seem to have long since written lucrative tickets for themselves elsewhere) and the bankruptcy law trustee who has to sort it all out.

06 November 2011

Looking Inside

Anderson Brown has a fascinating post on the "mereological fallacy" and its significance for the philosophy of mind.

I'll just link to it and allow you to find my further comment on it there.

05 November 2011

"Points of light"

I've just been skimming, for no especially good reason, through a conspiratorialist book written in the late 1980s.

You may remember the late 1980s. The elder Bush in the White House. 

Conspiracy theorists of course typically seize on whatever is in the headlines and spin it into a freemason plot or whatever.  When those things drop out of the headlines, these writings can become dated quickly. 

Thus, the conspiracy book in qustion diud what it could with the expression "a thousand points of light" used by George H.W. Bush in his campaign in 1988.  Aha!  similar expressions were used by Masons and Illuminati and so forth.  It's all part of the "New Age New World Order"!

Yes, except, a "point of light" is a quite common expression, likely to have occurred to anyone who has ever looked at the night sky. Not evidence of any link except that we all do live under the night sky.

Phony pointless expressions of erudition don't make for understanding.  Oops, I just used the word "point" as a metaphor didn't I?  I guess the jig is up.

04 November 2011


Now THAT was nasty!

I don't remember a power outage in leafy suburban Enfield lasting as long as did the one initiated by the freak pre-Halloween wintry storm this year.

Don't really want to see another one. 

Indeed, the situation reminds me of the famous poem about a purple cow.

03 November 2011

Clint Eastwood on Gay Marriage

These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage?  I don't give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else. We're making a big deal out of things we shouldn't be making a big deal out of.  They go on and on with all this bullshit about "sanctity." Don't give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.


Thanks Clint.  The next time somebody tries to stop gay people from marrying, ask them whether they think you've still got a bullet in your gun.

"In all this excitement, I've lost track myself...."

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.