The Leaning Tower of Pisa

I was delighted to see this bit of outstanding news this morning. Leaning Tower of Pisa is Saved from Collapse. Good show, people. "The tower, which was on the verge of collapse, has been straightened by 18 inches (45 centimetres) returning it to its 1838 position." Setting the clock back 170 years. Not bad. Imagine being in charge of this project, eh? "However, halfway through the project, concerns at the ugliness of the weights led to their removal and the tower lurched dramatically. 'In one night, the tower moved more than it had averaged in an entire year,' said Prof Burland. The weights were hastily reattached. 'As an engineer, I felt confident that we could meet the challenge, but there were times when I really felt we were about to lose it,' Prof Burland admitted." I'll bet that was tough to live through. With something that massive and heavy (it is: I was amazed how big it is in real life) it's not like you can do anything about anything real easy or fast. Screw up big enough and you'll set physics in motion that you just won't be able to do anything about. It's just nearly a year since...


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An Observation

Though I certainly wasn't on hand to witness any of the excitement over the JesusPhone, I do find it some kind of wonderful that so many can be so excited about a product. It's important that it's true that such a thing could only be produced by means of some significant degree of human freedom of thought, action, and disposition of capital. Something like this will never be produced in a Castro's Cuba, a Chavalian Venezuela, anywhere in a kleptocratic Africa, or indeed in any of thousands of lesser places around the globe. America has its problems but just about anyplace else you can think of is worse. When I read Lew Rockwell's thoughts on Apple's iPhone phenomenon this morning my first thought was to wonder how many people would camp out for three days and stand in a line of a thousand people in order to cast a vote in an election. Dammed few, I'd think, and everyone ought to take a moment to reflect on that. Hell, I don't vote at all, for reasons well documented; but even if I did I'd be hard pressed to wait as long to do so as I'd wait any day of...


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It is to Laugh

I just stopped in at the office and was listening to NPR on the way over. After the rather interesting interview with Paul Simon (hey, did you know that he and "Artie" were originally known as "Tom & Jerry" back in '57 when their first recordings were for sale, and it wasn't until 1964 they became known as Simon & Garfunkel?) they were talking about the Immigration Bill and whatnot and issues all peripheral all over the place. They talked with one gentleman who owns a business contracting with the lumber industry to plant trees (it's amazing how many hundreds of thousands of replacement trees get planted when the subject is immigrant work, rather than some environmental issue where the fact is overlooked completely). He's up in arms because he can't "play by the rules" and compete with contractors that don't; namely: hire immigrant labor at the market. Did you hear me? I said: at the market. He wants his competitors to pay their people more than they're willing to work for, so that he can pay his people more than they're willing to work for; because, I guess, he either feels all warm and fuzzy by paying more than...


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Deconstructing the “Good Sounding” (Collectivism)

I recently did a little entry on the subject of "price gouging." Essentially, beyond the core reason that it's simply none of your business what anyone charges anyone else for a product or service -- or indeed, your business what someone else is willing to pay -- there are plenty of practical reason why "price gouging" is just hunky dory and I outline some of them. This morning I have this comment, which, if you can get past the gobbledygook ,is advocating for interdicting in situations where "price gouging" has taken place. Economic systems, like religious or political systems, are imaginary constructions meant to help direct human activities toward a certain goal which provides stability and progress. When they are differential by preference to reward certain groups or persons over others, the comfort of complacency has become the overriding ideology that justifies the system, and idolizes it as the authority. Human empowerment is meant to educated (sic) and accumulate sufficient knowledge to transcend that complacency so that "systems" can be used to maintain a value system that works for all, not just for the few. The ability to alter the dynamics and "mix" of conventions is the utility of human...


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Pros vs. Amateurs

Today offered a great example of how amateurs, either through panic or what they're taught, often do the wrong thing. This chart to the left is roughly the first 15 minutes of play this morning in the S&P 500 cash index derivative market (SPX). Rather than opening at much of a gap down it opened and immediately bled off about 8 points in the first three minutes. Those bars are 3-minute bars, red is down, white is up. Now, what we have to the right is the last 15 minutes of play, yesterday, in the S&P e-mini futures market for the September contract, which is currently the "front month" contract. It's a little complex, but essentially the big institutions have computer setups with very complex algorithms that will buy or sell proportional blocks of all the S&P 500 stocks in a way that sort of tracks the futures, up or down. Essentially, they roughly mirror each other. The thing is, the stock buying and selling stops trading at 4 p.m. EST. Futures trade 24 hours a day, from Sunday at 6 p.m. EST to (I think) 6 p.m. EST on Friday. However, the "normal trading day" for both options and...


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Exactly

Sam Harris delivers a creative little piece that pretty much exactly frames my usual utter hostility to literal religious belief. I go in waves, of course, more tolerant at some times than at others. But even at my most tolerant, I still see the thing pretty much as utterly ridiculous as he lays it out. In the following essay, I present excerpts from actual reviews of recent atheist bestsellers, replacing terms like "religion," "God," and "atheist" with terms like "witchcraft," "the Devil," and "skeptic." Observe how much intellectual progress we have made in the last five hundred years[.] That is how preposterously delusional --indeed stupid -- it all sounds to me at any invocation whatsoever of literal religious belief, regardless of how how self-fooling fervent or touching it all feels. It's all just the casting of magic spells and that's all there is to know or think about it. Furthermore, I think all you literal believers would simply have to acknowledge it if you were honest about it in the context of the entire human history of supernatural belief. This is just the next in the series and it's no more true that the last set of delusions. Then, of...


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Peacemakers

Let me be clear: I am neither amoral nor relativistic when it comes to war and the moral issues surrounding it (that's well documented here). Thus, I don't look at the following in a particularly cognitive manner, which is to say that it's kind of like listening to a piece of music composed expressly for the purpose of evoking human emotion at a level of depth that motivates contemplation and reflection -- reflection on the value of what it ideally means to be a human being. I could pick at this, here and there, but that would miss the point.


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Civil Disobedience

Here's the last paragraph of a long email from Billy, sent 1:30 a.m. his time. > I'm probably going to try to blog this. I'm not going > to put your name on it. You can jump in if you want > to, if I get it up. This morning, I replied. "I appreciate the courtesy, but it's always my policy to hang myself out there so I think twice next time I start to go and say something stupid." Yep, that's right. I was Billy's "interlocutor" in this exchange. You can go read the gory details, but in short, he's right and I'm wrong. I had a flash of thought and put my fingers in gear without really thinking it through. Had I stopped to think this through, I might have recalled why I've never had the slightest interest in the "medical marijuana" movement. Whether or not there's medicinal value is beside the point. The point is, it's nobody's business if you do. Period. Those behind that movement are, as Billy points out, simply trying to fix the problem of having to evade the law. They aren't trying to do away with the law because it's wrong, i.e., immoral....


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Made in China

A marvelous streaming slide show by James Fallows. Unlike some, I just don't see the real downside in any of this. Essentially, China had no place to go but up and they recognized that for some time. Considering the gross evil of the past (which was far worse than any you find today), the near meltdown of Russia post-USSR, and more than a billion mouths to feed I can't help but consider that a gradual pace is socially and culturally called for, and I'll continue to make that assessment so long as I see evidence that more and more Chinese are becoming more and more free, wealthy, and generally better off. I think it's indisputable that's the case. That slide show tells me that China wants to be part of the rest of the world and doesn't want to screw it up like Russia has (if indeed there was even an effort beyond putting new clothes on old thugs). (link: rockwell)


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Land of the Free Update

Now I hope this guy didn't ambush these sweethearts without them being aware and in on it. Allow them at least a few years of ignorant bliss, please, before they have no choice but to understand what it means to live in the "Land of the Free." On the other hand, I doubt the real "authorities" would spare them the shock of what real life for true pioneers and producers in Amerika is all about: so-called "Americans" no longer value pioneers. They value rule followers. (link: griffus)


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Have a little Heart

I've been waiting for two or three years to catch them when they blow through, but always foiled. Until now. So the venue is really great. Small winery amphitheater, but as I recall, really nicely raked; such that, essentially every seat is a great seat. I was only there once before, about a dozen years ago and very spur of the moment thing (like: grab the keys and go) for a jazz deal of no particular notoriety. What can I say about Heart, the band? I've been loving their music since I was in high school in the 70s. I've got their albums and some DVDs; and of those DVDs, The Road Home is hands down the best (that Amazon page gives you a performance of "These Dreams" from the DVD). It starts off with mostly acoustic arrangements and gets louder and more electric as it goes. It also shows off what depth as musicians these sisters possess. They both play multiple musical instruments and, of course, Ann Wilson is just a power house in vocals -- to me, totally reminiscent of Grace Slick in her Jefferson Airplane days. Alright, thanks to YouTube, I've dug up some goodies for you....


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Weekend Food Blogging – Sunday Cabin Breakfast

A quick throw together. Scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh cantaloupe from one of the fabulous fruit & vegetable stands we stopped at on the way up (also were we got the salad ingredients for the dish below). The egg scramble is chopped tomatoes and onions sautéed in a bit of olive oil. Once most of the juice from the tomato has evaporated away, remove them to the egg mixture, add some butter (unsalted, please!) to the skillet and scramble the eggs with some salt & pepper. For this sort of thing, I like to do it on about medium heat. Someday I'll blog about doing plain scrambled eggs on low heat (low low). They don't taste like any scrambled eggs you've ever had, but I'll save that for another time. Just look at that beautiful avocado. Enough said. The bacon is from the butcher's counter here in Arnold, you get it by the (thick) slice, and it's my favorite bacon anywhere. Be patient and cook bacon on medium low. JBC ("just before crispy") is what you're after if your taste is in any way parallel to mine. I like to eat cantaloupe on the rind, as opposed to peeling and...


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Weekend Food Blogging – Saturday Cabin Surf & Turf

A hearty but light meal, if that makes any sense. That's one sizable New York steak cut in half (well, almost...) and one king crab legs from the wonderful butcher's counter at Big Trees Market here in Arnold. The steaks are simply seasoned with salt & pepper and grilled outside to medium rare perfection (and I do mean perfection: I got it exactly right this time -- even Bea said so). Dealing with an actual butcher's counter, I was able to locate the perfect cut and it was the most marbled of the bunch. I don't think I've ever had a New York cut so juicy by virtue of the heavy marbling that's normally reserved for the ribeye cut -- my hands-down favorite grilling cut. (Sorry for the photo quality. If forgot my good camera, so this is off the phone and lighting was less than optimal.) The crab legs were previously frozen (normally the case with king crab), and to heat them, I simply placed them on the inside top shelf of the grill while I pre-heated the grill and cooked the steaks. Drawn butter and lemon. Now, let me tell you what I learned this time. First, you...


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Real words to really live by

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. - Richard P. Feynman That's from Feynman's Caltech 1974 Commencement Address (Beck: it's a PDF, eh.) "Cargo Cult Science." (link: maner)


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Cabin Tour

Though I haven't talked about it in a while, long-time readers know I can't shut up about our cabin in Arnold, CA. Continue on for the inside tour. We kind of came up spur of the moment yesterday and I didn't bring my regular camera, so there are with my phone, but really not too bad. This is what you'll see upon entry, the great room and loft where I have my office. Yea, you'll see what I mean as we go along but this place is a regular Cabela's catalog thanks to the wife (not that I mind -- it's fun). And here's the loft. I'm showing off with the tech setup, but that's what it'll be like at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow when the market opens. The DSL connection really screams up here, and I've got WiFi set up to the constant joy of all visitors. Here's the master bedroom, upstairs and just down from the loft. Here's the view of the great room from the loft, at the head of the stairs. Note the railing on the far wall. That's where we cut a hole and finished the "basement" beginning about a year ago, completed right before Christmas....


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How Times Change

Ulysses S. Grant, from his first inaugural address. A great debt has been contracted in securing to us and our posterity the Union. The payment of this, principal and interest, as well as the return to a specie basis as soon as it can be accomplished without material detriment to the debtor class or to the country at large, must be provided for. To protect the national honor, every dollar of Government indebtedness should be paid in gold, unless otherwise expressly stipulated in the contract. Let it be understood that no repudiator of one farthing of our public debt will be trusted in public place, and it will go far toward strengthening a credit which ought to be the best in the world, and will ultimately enable us to replace the debt with bonds bearing less interest than we now pay. To this should be added a faithful collection of the revenue, a strict accountability to the Treasury for every dollar collected, and the greatest practicable retrenchment in expenditure in every department of Government." My how they change. (link: jovanovich)


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Point of Order

Can I please stop hearing the jabber and seeing the gibberish that identify companies as "public companies," or, "publicly held?" There's no such thing, anymore than there's such thing as "the public trust." Gobbledygook; floating abstractions. They are publicly traded companies, meaning: that generally any member of the public may, if they so freely choose, buy and sell shares representing a fractional ownership of that company. They are not companies in which, literally, everyone owns a legitimate stake. That's all.


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About a Million to Three

That feels like the score surrounding stuff I've read here and there about Paris Hilton: a million méchant assholes to three people who get what this is really all about: Karen DeCoster, Christopher Hitchens, and of course me (here and here). But Hitch is in a category all his own. I'm typing with my thumbs and working through a lobotomy by comparison. ...Not content with seeing her undressed and variously penetrated, it seems to be assumed that we need to watch her being punished and humiliated as well. The supposedly "broad-minded" culture turns out to be as prurient and salacious as the elders in The Scarlet Letter. Hilton is legally an adult but the treatment she is receiving stinks—indeed it reeks—of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse. I cannot imagine what it might be like, while awaiting a prison sentence for a tiny infraction, to see dumb-ass TV-addicted crowds howling with easy, complicit laughter as Sarah Silverman (a culpably unfunny person) describes your cell bars being painted to look like penises and jokes heavily about your teeth being at risk because you might gnaw on them. And this on prime time, and unrebuked. Lynching parties...


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