___________ LADY GAGA__________ The Bee Cocoon is Perfect for You!

             Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

NPR.ORG recently published a wonderful story about the discovery of cocoons made by bees from the petals of flowers.

Busy Bees Use Flower Petals for Cocoon Building

According to the article, each 1/2 inch cocoon is ” a papier-mache husk surrounding a single egg,  protecting it while it develops into an adult bee.”  Incredibly, these gorgeous cocoons were simultaneously found in Turkey and Iran, and an article about their discovery was published in combination in American Museum Novitates.

The cocoon struck me at once as a dress form fit for a queen – not necessarily a queen bee. 

Lady Gaga came to mind and, well . . .  I just could not resist fitting her in one – of course, a much bigger one.   I just hope that she and Lady Starlight would think that it’s glam.

 

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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BOWLERS? The Middle Class Disappeared. That’s What.

According to Bill Abercrombie in a story he calls Number of Sanctioned Bowlers Dropped, the number of registered bowlers in the United States Bowling Congress has fallen from over 9 million in 1979 to about 2.3 million today.   That’s quite a drop by any measure.  Naturally, the bowling industry tracks these statistics quite closely and has tried to adjust its business model to cope with what seems to be a steady decrease in the popularity of bowling leagues.   Mr. Abercrombie cites that the, “reasons for the decline vary from other sporting venues being available, decline of the Baby Boomers, the amount of entertainment money accessible to the middle class, fragmentation of the family and the current economic climate.”  His citation is one that could have been written 30 years ago, however.   Bowling started in its death throes when:

Ronald Wilson Reagan was elected President of the United States in 1980.

I have fond memories of the explosion in the popularity of bowling in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  In about 1960, I recall my father taking me to see the opening of Rosewood Lanes in North Pekin, Illinois.   I remember that the joint was so packed that we could barely squeeze in the front door.  As a part of their grand opening, the proprietors invited  the most famous bowling team in the world (ever) – the Budweiser team from St. Louis.  It was exciting stuff.  In 1958, this team of bowlers, which included Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson, Tom Hennessey, and Dick Weber scored a team record of 3,858 pins, an America Bowling Congress record that stood for over 30 years.  In bowling circles, these guys were considered the equivalent of the 1927 or 1961 New York Yankees.  Don Carter, a member of that team, would later become the first athlete in any sport to receive an endorsement deal of  1 million dollars (from Ebonite Bowling Balls).   All five of these bowlers had long and successful individual bowling careers as well – and all were eventually  inducted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame. 

 I know that it’s hard to believe it now, but bowling in the 1960’s had a big wow factor.  Most people in any walk of life can probably remember having fun at some point their life bowling with friends or family.   But now, a bowling alley is not the first place, nor even the last, that most people think of when contemplating an enjoyable recreational diversion.  I may or may not be typical,  but I have not been in a bowling establishment for at least 15 years.  The fad, if that’s what it was, is basically – just passe.  

Bowling has long  been linked to the blue-collar man.  Construction and factory workers in fact played a huge part in the rise of its popularity.  As the economy boomed with new construction, new automobiles, and almost everything else new after WWII, men earned enough money to not only support new families, but to take part liberally in leisure activities.  Bowling seemed to hit the spot for “a night out with the boys,” and the bowling alley developers and entrepeneurs caught on quickly.  Thousands of new bowling alleys sprang up everywhere, and bowling quickly developed into family fun with organized leagues for women and, also, children.  I recall a weekend bowling league that I joined as a child with my cousin – we all wanted to be pro bowlers.  Then, over a course of years, it just gradually began to peter out.  So what happened?

First, I am not about to completely blame the demise of bowling on former President Reagan.  For all I know, the amiable dunce may have liked to bowl., and may have been a bowling proponent. 

  However, for 8 consecutive years the Reagan administration  did about everything in its power to cripple the middle class blue-collar worker.  Aside from its notorious union-busting, it decimated (with Democratic Congressional approval) the steep progressiveness of the income tax rates, which had worked so well post-war for the middle class; it unnecessarily began systemic de-regulation, which consolidated corporate entities and  power (which continues to kill consumers); and it leveraged up government debt to fund what was a semblance of prosperity.  The middle class paid a dear price for Reagan’s follies, and the chasm between the bowlers and non-bowlers began a process of widening , which has not yet stopped.

It wasn’t and isn’t all about Ronnie though.  Television coverage hurt the business and popularity of bowling as much as anything.  Bowling is not a spectator sport. Somehow, it just doesn’t translate to an exciting viewer format i.e.  bowler picks up ball, walks, rolls ball toward pins, knocks down pins, and then does it again.  The commentary never was very exciting either, such as, “I wonder why he has a five-step approach and not the conventional four-step?”  I believe it all equates to the definition of viewer monotony.  Without successful TV coverage, other recreational sports managed to push bowling further and further into simply a niche activity.  With lousy TV ratings came almost no big advertising money, and then, no new business.  Hence, fewer and fewer bowlers were attracted to the sport.

Another theory about the decline of bowling in the United States involves a strange conspiracy theory about Japan.  In the 1980’s it was difficult to find new maple furniture anywhere in the United States.  The rage in the ’80’s seemed to be country oak or a more formal cherry.  Every piece of furniture that my parents purchased in the 1950’s and 1960’s was hard rock maple.  But when they wanted to add to their repertoire in the 1980’s, they were told that maple was not available. When they asked, “Why?” they were told that the Japanese had cornered the market for maple because of their insatiable appetite for the construction new bowling alleys.  Setting the conspiracy theory aside, it does seem on the face of it that bowling fever raged in Japan concurrently with the rise of their blue-collar workers in the explosion of their auto industry.  This, of course, paralleled America’s decline in the auto industry. 

If I have made any point at all about the relationship between bowling and blue-collar middle class workers, I would like to punctuate it with one last thought.  With the ascendency of Asia, and China in particular, and their determination to create at least some sort of middle class in the near future, I have a recommendation for investors out there.   Buffett, Berkshire, are you listening?  It’s going to be bowling in China.  If not now, then soon.  It might be time to get your money down.

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____CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG____ SHITTY SHITTY BLANKFEIN

Senator Levin: Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal.              

Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (2010)

Caractacus Pott: And after that, Vulgaria became a free country.

                                                Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

I have a weakness for watching special televised hearings conducted by the United States Senate.   I don’t know exactly why.  Maybe it’s because the choreography is so predictable regardless of the dancers.  Maybe it’s because I like feeling in the thick of the great debates in American politics while  just sitting in my robe eating donuts.  Maybe it’s because I truly believe that these shows are the ne plus ultra of caricatured theatrical debate.  Or, maybe, it’s because I continue to have hope that America can work out its problems right in front of my eyes. 

Other than the news media, I don’t really know how many other people share my interest.  After watching a good Senate hearing session, I am usually fired up enough to want to discuss it with somebody – really anybody.  I usually discover, however, that most people I know either didn’t have the time to watch or just plain didn’t care to watch.   Most of my follow-up Socratic dialogues, therefore, are simply my own loud rejoinders directed to the TV commentators.  

The Goldman Sachs hearing was, to my mind, one of the best hearings of all time.  It was delivered in three episodes, all of which occurred in one day (I understand that there is a lot of other work being conducted in the Senate).   For whatever reason, the Senate wanted to get this over in a hurry – a slash, burn, and get out of there sort of thing.  I believe that they had a good reason for this – namely, that the longer they questioned their witnesses, the more that they would show how little they knew about Wall Street and its machinations.  They judged that just about perfect.

One of my favorite portions of the debate was a segment of questioning by Senator McCain.  He went into a dramatic trance, slowed the meter of his voice down to where it just put you on the edge of your chair . . . waiting.   It turned out to be a wait in vain.  While he had some pointed questions that were building suspense about a particular deal, he didn’t have any idea what it was about when the Goldman witness interrupted his line of attack.  McCain, suddenly realizing that he was on the verge of confirming that this line was just a brainless monologue,  awkwardly stopped and yielded back to the Chairman.  It was a pitiful performance from him, but we’ve seen it for years.  Remember when he stopped his presidential campaign just before a scheduled debate to buzz into Washington in the midst of the financial meltdown to intervene in the crisis.  When he arrived at the table, he just sat there like the lightest of the lightweights – without so much as a clue about what was happening and what needed to be done.   

The attention-getting highlights though were provided by the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Carl Levin.  Senate decorum suffered considerably when he repeatedly uttered the “sh” word – over and over again.   I think it was entirely proper for him to use the word once, when he quoted the Goldman email the first time.  But to repeat the word again and again?  I am not sure if there has been a definitive count of the “sh” word that he used in the hearings, but some have said it was 13 times.  I’ve also read 30 to 50.  I listened to most of the hearing and would guess that the count is closer to 13, but it could have been 50.  It was way too many times more than once.

There was another word that was repeated ad nauseum during the hearing.  This one did not come from the Senatorial side but, instead, from the Goldman people.  The word “risk” was used by Goldman so often that it got to the point where I though some smart Senator might call them on it.  Over and over again Goldman interjected the word.  They used it euphemistically in every conceivable way.  None of their clients ever lost money – they just assumed too much risk.  Goldman never made any money – they just reduced the risk of their negative positions.  As a market maker, Goldman matched the risk that one client wanted to assume with the risk of another.  And if one client’s risk could not be matched with another client, then Goldman themselves assumed the risk – that is, until they decided to offload the risk and “get closer to home.”  You got the feeling from Goldman that it was a caretaker of  risk for the world, simply caught as an arbitrageur in the midst of an extremely volatile and risky situation.  One of Goldman’s main witnesses was, in fact, their head of their risk management department.  Wow, did the Senate Committee person responsible for that witness selection get suckered in advance by Goldman’s risk rhetoric, or what? 

All and all, Goldman used the word “risk” hundreds of times.  How could anyone not notice this?  Not one of the Senators did.  They were too wrapped up in the scripts prepared by their staffs.  There was not a thoughtful questioner in the entire bunch of Committee members.  If any of them would have just listened carefully to something other than their own babble, they just might have been able to penetrate the digression and repetitive shield that Goldman had erected.  But, not a chance.  The hearing turned out to be a marathon – but a marathon that was unnecessarily run in circles.

Now – don’t you wish you would have watched?

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_________WIND FARMS_________ Seemed like such a great idea until they showed up near my house

 

Actually, they haven’t shown up near my house — but near enough.  And the place where they have shown up has severely strained my sensibilities.

67 of these monster wind towers have shown up on a beautiful stretch of farmland in Logan County, near Lincoln, Illinois, not far from Springfield, and the view to my eye is sickening.

The best that I can describe them is vexatious to the spirit.

You can see the wind turbines littered along either side of Route I-155 on what has always been a stunning, scenic view.  Ordinarily, there is not much aesthetic value in driving along on the roads of central Illinois.  It is usually so flat and monotonous that  driving any distance at all can be quite tedious.  For example, I have always considered the drive on I-72 from Springfield, Illinois to Champaign, Illinois one of the most boring stretches of land in the Midwest.  The 90 mile trip would put a cup of coffee to sleep.  It is a flat corn-and-soybean-scape that can dull the senses in about 30 minutes. 

The drive from Springfield to Lincoln has always been a little different from the typical road trip around here, and a great deal  more interesting.   For example, there is the fairly dramatic landscape feature of the community of Elkhart, Illinois.   The community is built upon a an unusually large hill that has a distinct visual appeal along with a rich history.  It also sits aside old U.S. Route 66, as most of this section of the newer road does.  The most beautiful part of this 30-mile stretch of road from Springfield to Lincoln, however, is the dramatic fall and rise of the land to a vantage point that is just short of spectacular.  As a child, I always dreamed that someday I would be able to buy a piece of land that would be perched atop this vista and it would enable me to see all the storms and tornadoes approaching for miles.  This description is not to mistake this property for the grandiosity of Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, or Sequoia National Park, but for central Illinois, the horizons don’t get any better than this.

So where is this giant wind farm placed?  It is scattered across the very land that is the most spectacular.  For my money, the sheer number of these wind towers has aesthetically ruined this area.

Surprisingly though, many of the people who actually live in this area, including many that were born and raised on this land, do not share my opinion.  Quite the opposite, it seems that their testimonials are by and large positive.  As described  in a very good February 6, 2010 article http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x655690726/So-far-so-good-for-people-near-Logan-County-wind-farm by Chris Dettro in the State Journal Register, most people living on or near these wind turbines find them soothing, almost hypnotizing.  They describe them as more quiet than the wind itself.  Stress reduction, problem-free, good for the community, good for the tax base, and on and on . . .  are their narratives.

These land owners are also quite well compensated with payments for use of their land.  I am not sure to what degree the compensation factor influences their opinions, but if they are happy about their compensation, it would be hard to expect them to be negative about the turbines.  After all, so long as the towers are innocuous or so long as they just eventually became part of their almost invisible world, much as a new barn or silo might, it is probably to hard to argue with them.   It is hard to say when you don’t actually experience it like they might actually experience it on a day-to-day basis.

American people are inventive, innovative, and problem-solving people.  Deep down, I believe that most of us want to manage our energy needs in a smarter way that lessens damage to the planet.  I think American people want to embrace new ideas, new technology, and other measures which will continue to sustain the scarce resources that we have.  It’s unclear for our society about what to do next, however.  Should it be solar, wind power, nuclear again, a judicious combination of what we now have, or some other admixture of current resources along with attempting the novel?  The world is definitely at a crossroads now as to what is the next, best development, and how to pay for it?  Perhaps wind power is part of the solution.  Or, perhaps, it is too early to tell.

I continue to wonder, “Are we really thinking these things through, or are we in a frantic, semi-contrived survival mode where, not only now but in the future, we risk looking like a decrepit Siberia?  After all the cellphone towers, mega-watt transmission towers, and giant wind turbines have gone by the wayside for improved power-creating and transmission technology, will we be left with nothing but a horrific landscape?

I hope not.  Green needs to be more than that.

                          Montmartre: the Quarry and Windmills
                                           Oil on board, 1886
                               Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Even through the eyes and brush of Van Gogh, windmills are ugly.

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_____ I Got My 3,000th Hit Today_____ Still No Word From The Hall of Fame

 

                                                                                                                                                                           I hung close to my phone all day long – but, in vain. 

I didn’t know if I would be getting a call from the Commissioner or from the Chairman of Veteran’s Committee.  It didn’t matter.  I didn’t get a call from either one.  Instead, I felt what it was like to have been Roger Maris – or, now, poor Ron Santo.

I’m still trying to figure it out.  I’ve heard my whole life that 3,000 hits is definitely the ticket to the Hall – same as 500 homers. 

Maybe, that’s my problem – I haven’t hit enough home runs.   I’ll keep swinging though.

I’m hoping that in a week or so that I’ll pass Pete Rose and his 4,256 hits.  Maybe then I’ll get some recognition.

On the other hand, maybe I’m playing the wrong game, to wit:

Hits by the immortal portal of DRUDGE @ 4/27/10

027,282,856 IN PAST 24 HOURS
770,547,825 IN PAST 31 DAYS
8,173,005,824 IN PAST YEAR

I think he’s just bragging.

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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A STORY OF FASHION CYCLES IN MY FAMILY

One of my late father’s recurring clichés was that “everything runs in cycles.”   From the time I was in about the 5th or 6th grade, he and I would have various debates about the cyclical nature of things and events.  Most of the time our discussions were jovial and agreeable;  other times, a little more contentious.

I recall that many of our more humorous debates over the years centered around clothing style and fashion.   As most young kids do, I always wanted to be wearing the latest – meaning, what all of my most popular classmates were  wearing.  This developed into a mini-obsession that included only wearing particular brands.  I didn’t want to necessarily wear this stuff to be cool, I just wanted to be free from any ridicule.  Typical peer pressure.

 In high school  (the late ’60’s) the rage for guys was “Florsheim” wing-tips , H.I.S. shirts (with little loops on the back, called fruit loops), V-neck sweaters (alpaca, if available), and so on.  My father graciously went along with a lot of this but, being a child of the Depression, he had his limits.   He permitted me to buy, within reason, most of the clothing that I wanted, but there was a rule:  nothing was to be thrown away.  He was of the strong opinion that if you wait, it will come back into fashion.   I really didn’t have a problem with this rule since I knew that by the time it returned to favor, if it ever did, I would be long gone.  As it turned out, and time wore on over the years, I learned that my mother quietly donated most of these clothes-in-waiting to the Salvation Army.  What she didn’t give away disappeared in other mysterious ways to which only she was privy.

There were two items of clothing in our life-long running fashion debate, however,  that lasted far longer than any of the others.  One of the items was a shirt and the other was a coat.  They both provided fodder for endless teasing, ridicule, laughter, criticism, and entertainment for not only the two of us, but for others for whom we would occasionally put on a  performance.

The Tom Jones Shirt

In 1969, while a sophomore at Boston University, I made a date with a girl introduced to me by my roommate’s girlfriend.  I decided that I wanted to impress her, so I made reservations for one of the most exclusive French restaurants in the city.  I had a problem though in that I did not have anything sufficiently new or nice to wear to such a fine eatery.  I decided that I needed to do some quick shopping.  I remember finding a small shop in downtown Boston that had been in business for many years.  Their specialty was hand-made custom shirts.   I discovered from them that they would be delighted to make any shirt, in any style, and with any material that I so desired.  I still don’t know what possessed me at the time (maybe Jimi Hendrix and “Are You Experienced?”), but I requested a Tom Jones style shirt with massively puffed and pleated sleeves, french cuffs, pearl studs and cufflinks, made from an aqua-colored Irish linen with tiny embossed white decorative swirly designs.  It was a strange variation of a tuxedo shirt (think of a Pirate shirt), but without the ruffled front.  I went the whole 9 yards and had it monogrammed, too. The shirt was outrageously expensive for my circumstance  at $ 75.00 ($ 5.00 would last me a week as walking-around money), but I wanted to look good and impress.  So I ordered it up and was properly fitted.

The shirt maker did an express job for me, and I picked it up the next day.  Saturday night could not come too soon, or so I thought.  I tried it on when I got back to the dorm and decided to get reassurance from some of the guys on my floor.  The first guy I saw asked me, “Why didn’t you get the matching Harlequin hat?”  The opinions were unanimous.  I was in trouble, and still needed a new shirt for the date.   I ended up wearing an older sport coat and pants with white shirt, and striped tie.  I wasn’t able to impress my date at the restaurant either.  Everything on the menu was, naturally, in French.  All I could read was English and Latin.

I never wore the shirt.  A year or two later I divulged my idiocy to my parents.  My dad surprisingly perked up and asked if I would send the shirt to him.  He said that he could use a shirt like that.  I told him that I would more than oblige him.  Later, I heard from my mother that the debut of the shirt never occurred.  Although dad had planned the perfect occasion for his and the shirt’s joint appearance – just a regular night out with friends for dinner and dancing – she laughed so hard before they got out of the house that the shirt’s inaugural was immediately cancelled.  The shirt continued to stay on the rack.   He continued to threaten to wear it, but I suspected that he knew all along that it was an eternal lost cause.

In later years, long after I had my home and family, I would occasionally ask dad if the old Tom Jones shirt was back in style yet.  “You wait, it will be soon enough, and I’ll be ready,”  he would say.  I recall once hearing him say that maybe it was acquiring collector’s value.  It was a running joke between us off and on for about 20 years    Probably the only reason that the joke didn’t continue was, in the interim, another item superseded it.

The Brown Plaid Coat

In 1978, as a first-time homeowner, I discovered that one of my new duties was to shovel snow from my sidewalks and driveway.  While I had a nice winter dress coat  and a fairly sporty winter coat for leisure, I really didn’t have anything suitable or warm-enough for long periods outdoors.  I decided to do something about buying an everyday work coat.

It must have been buyer’s impulse, or the allure of the soft sheepskin lining , but I decided upon what could best be called a brown plaid woolen car coat.  It didn’t have a hood, but it had a luxurious large roll-up collar and a button-down front.  I didn’t like zippered coats then for some reason.  It’s outstanding feature, however, was its striking plaid.  We’re talking Scottish plaid, but not in Tartan colors, but soft-tones of baby-poop brown.   The coat had to have been unique.  I know that I never have, and hopefully never will, see another one like it.  It was an immediate success functionally.  I was toasty warm, and I didn’t seem to excessively perspire while shoveling or working.  But the coat did have immediate problems.  It got the occasional odd look from people.  I felt that some people who took special notice were thinking, “Who or what  vomited on that guy?”

Since I only wore the coat on ruggedly winter days, primarily in my yard, the coat worked just fine.  After a few years though, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  It went to the closet for good, or so I thought.  Eventually though my father noticed somehow that my colorful coat had disappeared.   I was now wearing a new, trendy, goose down, ski jacket with a detachable hood – nice!  When I told him that the old coat would soon be on its way to the Salvation Army, he decided to intercept it.  I reluctantly agreed but warned him that if he didn’t wear it, I was going to repossess it and donate it as I had originally intended.

Over the next several years, I actually inquired of my mother about the use and/or disposition of the coat.  “Oh, dad wears it all the time.  He loves it,” she would confide to me.   I was pleased and, eventually just let the subject pass. 

During the intervening years, some things had changed in my life and I had moved several times.  Finally, I settled into a new home and again found myself without a work coat.  I think that you have probably figured out by now that I wear a suit to work and, consequently the bulk of my clothing budget is encumbered for dress clothes.  In short, I needed another snow-shoveling coat.

My mistake was that I mentioned this to my dad.  He said, “Why spend the money on another coat now when I could return your brown coat?  It’s still in great shape.”  I now know why I accepted his offer.  Sometimes, I am just plain cheap.  Plus, I really wasn’t inclined to be in the market for  a work coat.  I had other places to spend my money at the time.

So, there I was –  just like old times.  And, good old trusty took me through several more  blustery winters in fine stead.  It was still a nice, serviceable coat – still doing its duty.

But, as before, I eventually tired of it again.  I was starting to feel like an anachronistic, grumpy old man wearing the thing.  So, off it went to the Salvation Army.  In its honor I gave it a rather generous valuation for tax deduction purposes.  It deserved it.

But that’s not the end of the  story.

Two years later, while driving to a work appointment on a very cold, dark, gray day, I noticed something out the driver’s side of my car.  I immediately slowed to take a closer look.  Walking quite briskly with his head down was a man wearing THAT BROWN PLAID COAT.   I hit the brakes to take a closer look without trying to be too obvious.  At that point, he took notice and looked up.  I smiled and waved back at my old friend.  It had been a long friendship.  If the new owner only knew.

Oh, yeah.  I told dad.  He was pleased.

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Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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My Tribute to the Philosopher, C. D. Broad My Tribute to the Philosopher, C. D. Broad

  Charlie Dunbar Broad                   Charlie Dunbar Broad

According to The Strangest Man ,  a biography about the great theoretical physicist, Paul Dirac, one of Dirac’s greatest early teachers was the philosopher, C.D. Broad.  According to  The Strangest Man , a biography about the great theoretical physicist, Paul Dirac, one of Dirac’s greatest early teachers was the philosopher, C.D. Broad.

Aside from being a fairly influential philospher, Broad was, and is, known as a extremely lucid writer.  Aside from being a fairly influential philospher, Broad was, and is, known as an extremely lucid writer.

According to Dirac’s biographer, Graham Farmelo, “C. D. Broad was a wonderfully idiosyncratic lecturer.    According to Dirac’s biographer, Graham Farmelo, “C. D. Broad was a wonderfully idiosyncratic lecturer.  He always appeared with a carefully prepared script, and he read every sentence twice, except for the jokes, which he delivered three times.  He always appeared with a carefully prepared script, and he read every sentence twice, except for the jokes, which he delivered three times. . . .  Trenchency was one of his strongest suits.  Trenchency was one of his strongest suits.”

For those of you not familiar with Broad, I would like to quote, what I consider, some of his more precious statements.  For those of you not familiar with Broad, I would like to quote, what I consider, some of his more precious statements.

I have an extreme dislike for vague, and oracular writing; and I have very little patience with authors who express themselves in this style.  I have an extreme dislike for vague, and oracular writing; and I have very little patience with authors who express themselves in this style.  I believe that what can be said at all can be said simply and clearly in any civilized language or in a suitable system of symbols, and that verbal obscurity is almost always a sign of mental confusion.  I believe that what can be said at all can be said simply and clearly in any civilized language or in a suitable system of symbols, and that verbal obscurity is almost always a sign of mental confusion.

I tend naturally to take a somewhat gloomy view of the world and its inhabitants; and I have a particular horror of all attempts to argue from what ought to be, or what we should like to be, to what is or will be.  I tend naturally to take a somewhat gloomy view of the world and its inhabitants; and I have a particular horror of all attempts to argue from what ought to be, or what we should like to be, to what is or will be.

I also intensely dislike and profoundly distrust all strong group emotions. (I think that this may be an excessive reaction against an unacknowledged tendency to feel them rather strongly.)  I also intensely dislike and profoundly distrust all strong group emotions. (I think that this may be an excessive reaction against an unacknowledged tendency to feel them rather strongly.)

I am fundamentally sceptical, and I feel no confidence in any elaborately reasoned system of metaphysics.  I am fundamentally sceptical, and I feel no confidence in any elaborately reasoned system of metaphysics.  Even when I cannot put my finger on any definite flaw in it, there is a still small voice within me which whispers “Bosh!”  Even when I cannot put my finger on any definite flaw in it, there is a still small voice within me which whispers “Bosh!”  A great deal of so-called sccpticism is simply a particular kind of dogmatism which leads men to reject all alleged facts which do not come within the sphere of recognized science.  A great deal of so-called sccpticism is simply a particular kind of dogmatism which leads men to reject all alleged facts which do not come within the sphere of recognized science.

I am almost wholly devoid of religious or mystical experience.  I am almost wholly devoid of religious or mystical experience.  This is combined with a great interest in such experiences and a belief that they are probably of extreme importance in any theoretical interpretation of the world.  This is combined with a great interest in such experiences and a belief that they are probably of extreme importance in any theoretical interpretation of the world.

Is there is joke here somewhere?  Is there a joke here somewhere?  Is there a joke here somewhere?

No. No. No.

 

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—– SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN —– JUST CALL ME MR. PERFECT 36

  

Mr. Perfect "36"

 “By a ‘silly’ theory I mean one which may be held at the time when one is talking or writing professionally, but which only an inmate of a lunatic asylum would think of carrying into daily life….It must not be supposed that the men who maintain these theories and beliefs are ‘silly’ people. Only very acute and learned men could have thought of anything so odd or defended anything so preposterous against the continual protests of common sense.”       C.D. Broad

I woke up fresh today, grabbed the early morning newspaper, started sipping my orange juice and nibbling my lightly buttered toast, when I was startled, not by a knock on the door, but by a story about Senator Richard Durbin’s news conference yesterday.  The article  in the Senator’s hometown newspaper, The State Journal Register in Springfield, Illinois, stunned me.  In it, 

 http://www.sj-r.com/top-stories/x1042540416/Durbin-to-introduce-bill-aimed-at-banks                                                                                                                                                                                  

 Senator Durbin said that he has introduced language into an amendment on a financial reform bill that would put a ceiling on interest rates.  He is quoted as saying, “I tried to take a number I considered to be so high that even the biggest banks couldn’t argue with it.  I said we couldn’t have an interest rate over 36 percent. . . . I think we ought to have an absolute limit.” 

Please tell me that I’m dreaming. 

After I caught my breath, I sat down to think about interest rates a bit.  That’s not a fun thing to do on an early Monday morning.  For starters, any discussion of interest rates leads directly into the abyss of laws covering the subject.  And, of course, laws covering interest rates can be complicated state or federal ones, depending.  Suffice it to say that I am not a lawyer and immediately disclaim anything here that might be construed as legal advice.  I neither offer nor suggest any legal advice, and recommend that you consult with a licensed attorney if you need or want such services. 

Now, back to just after my morning orange juice.  On the face of it, I think it fair to say that, in the United States, interest rates can vary from ZERO to, say, (um, Senator Durbin) 36%.  If you toss into the interest rate computations the rates of the pay-day loan outfits, pawn shops, and the title loan gang, you most assuredly have situations where the APY is higher than 36%.   Whatever the Senator’s legislative intent, to offer interest rate ceiling legislation to which no bank would object is, to put it mildly, surely usurping the voices of his constituents.  I mean, who in the world can conceive such a thing other than someone almost incomprehensibly out-of touch.  To me, his premise is just staggering. 

What if one begins the discussion of interest rates with the premise of “fairness” and not the premise that “no bank can to object to a ceiling of 36%”?  How then does the dialogue proceed if reasonable people of all ilk can begin with an attempt to decide what a fair interest rate might mean?  Might that be the place to start a discussion?  Surely that is a better alternative than what the Senate Majority Whip has pulled from his hollow hat? 

So, what is fair?  I doubt that there is an answer to that.  Maybe “fair” is a just place to start a discussion.  Or maybe, it’s just a concept to keep in the background when discussing rate ceilings because, after all, aren’t loan arrangements entered into voluntarily?  Well, of course, they are; but that spirit of volunteerism can lead to bad places. 

When I was a much younger man, I picked up a copy of a personal financial management sort of book.  I do not recall the author.  I seriously doubt that it was a best-seller.  I recall it being a patronizing thing – warning one away from the financial dangers-that-be out there in the cruel world.  At the time, I imagined that this book was written by a very boring person with a very boring life – a classic nerd, if you will.  However, there was one bit of advice he gave which jumped off the page and seemed directly aimed at me.  He wrote, “Don’t ever buy a consumable item with anything other than cash.  That way, you’ll never end up paying for something long after it has been used.”   That made perfect sense to me.   Maybe you, too? 

Don’t we all wish that we all followed that advice?  Well, no.  Life wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun – or dreadful, at times.  Let’s just move on here and admit that we are a consumer-driven society in a consumer-driven world and what makes the wheels of innovation and progress go round is the ability for the consumer to borrow.  Take away credit, the wheels come off, the cart crashes, and we all are trapped under a big immoveable object with total loss of all mass and momentum.  The United States has about 2.5 trillion in outstanding consumer debt.  Consider, too, that Americans charge over 2 trillion dollars per year on the over 180,000,000 million credit cards out there.  Whew! that’s a lot of plastic.  Take that away and I don’t think anyone knows what would happen other than total economic collapse. 

So, we’re all stuck with credit.  Consumers are stuck with the lenders.  The lenders are stuck with the legislators.  And the legislators are stuck with the consumers.   That is, the legislators are supposed to be stuck with the consumers.  Unfortunately, Senator Durbin, it looks like we’re stuck with you instead of the other way around.  Maybe something is amiss here. 

Let’s discuss real interest rate ceilings for a bit.  As a citizen of Illinois, if I were to loan money to a friend or a neighbor, or some other entity, I would be subject to my state’s usury laws.  According to information provided at http://www.usurylaw.com/state/ the interest rate ceiling that I would be permitted to charge is 9%.   If I were to charge more than that, I would be violating the State law.  Further, if I engaged in practices in which I had established a pattern of charging more than twice my State’s limit of 9%, in other words 18%, I might be subject to Federal RICO statutes, and that might very well be a felony.  In street vernacular, I would be considered a loan shark if I charged more than 18% to my neighbor or friend. 

Ah, but Senator Durbin wants a Federal law for financial institutions, apparently of all types, to be subject to an interest rate ceiling of double what would be a Federal felony in his own state for a person or other entity regulated by his own State’s usury laws.  I read that the Illinois usury laws also are applicable to amounts owed in civil judgments.  But the Senator wants to legislate by Federal law an interest rate ceiling for financial institutions that is 4 times the amount permitted by his own state for civil judgments.  Apples and oranges, the Senator might say.  I say not. 

I have my own hollow hat and my idea on what is a fair interest rate ceiling.  I think the big banks might not like my number, and might want to argue with it. 

My number is 12% APY 

What do you think? 

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———— The TRIP to NOWHERE ———— on the TEA PARTY EXPRESS

The Tea Party Movement is neither a political party nor a political movement.  It is essentially a political tool of the Republican Party to run a series of anti-Administration trial balloons to judge each balloon’s political viability.

To-date,  the Tea Party has existed to promote events that have been exclusively, or some combination of:

1)  Anti-TARP

2) Anti-Tax

3) Anti Health Care Reform

                 or, flag-waving, quasi-patriotic celebrations, such as:

4)  July 4th events

5)  Tax Day events

6)  9/11 commemorative events

Protesting and waving flags seem to be the common denominator.  Screaming and outrageous signage is popular, too.

What is quite interesting is that prominent Republican, Sarah Palin, has jumped on the Tea Party Express.  One cannot help but wonder why.  I suspect that it is for one of two reasons.

 The first reason is that she continues to be shunted aside by the formal Republican establishment powers-that-be and is getting a little commupance.   I am quite certain that she is bitter about her treatment.  She has, of course, loudly complained of her rough handling by the Republican Presidential team during the 2008 election.    Quite to the chagrin of the Republican establishment, she continues to maintain considerable popularity among people of similar sentiment in spite of her bumbling, missteps, and lack of perceived political gravitas.  She, like most of the Tea Party people, feels that she has a score to settle with the establishment – Democrats, Republicans, and the corporate media alike.  This battle will probably not fare well.

The second reason, slightly at-odds with the first,  is that Palin wants to rehabilitate herself with the Republican Party by demonstrating that she can be out there in the midst of large groups of unhappy people and convert them to her cause and, thereby, the Republican Party.  In this way, by assisting the Republicans, she can be in-line for some sort of influential position somewhere down road.

I suspect that the Democrats are hoping that the Tea Party matures somewhat and develops its own identity.  If it does develop some sort of mature structure, one of two things will inevitably happen:  either the Party will disintegrate or be absorbed in some fashion by the Republicans.   The history of third parties and third-party movements in the United States has not been a good one.  The two-party system is so deeply politically and financially entrenched in American culture that it would take an unforeseen, almost cataclysmic, event to enable a third-party to take permanent hold.  And if that highly unlikely event or series of events would happen to occur, a more likely result would be the replacement of one party for another – a sort of dramatic substitution, rather than an addition.  A very nice history along with a wonderful little chart showing the disposition of third parties in the United States elaborates on this quite well at:

http://www.thisnation.com/question/042.html

At this point, the best case scenario for Democrats is that by the time of the 2012 elections the Tea Party will have matured; and, that it and Sarah Palin do for the Republican Presidential candidate  what Ralph Nader and the Reform party did to Al Gore in 2000.

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The 17th Green at Augusta National Looks Like It’s Been Bikini-Waxed for the Masters Golf Tournament

 

It’s been a full 15 years since Gary McCord uttered that famous line (above) while doing the commentary for the Masters Golf Tournament.  Unfortunately, for the viewers of the Masters, Gary McCord is still blackballed by Augusta’s powers-that-be from providing his glib and colorful commentary for CBS Sports.   Being out of the loop, as most of us are, I’m not sure why Gary has not been rehabilitated and allowed to provide his popular color.  Is it because he won’t tell the big boys that he was sorry (because he wasn’t).  Or, was it because he offended the delicate sensibilities of one of the sponsors, none of whom still back the tournament?  As I recall, Cadillac and Travelers Insurance were the sole sponsors back then, but they have been long gone for many years.

Maybe McCord wasn’t invited to hold a “rehabilitation press conference,” followed by an “official press conference”, by an esteemed long-time Augusta Gold club member,  saying how disappointed everyone was in his behavior.  Or was it because McCord has not gone into therapy for his misspoken ways?  Whatever. 

 OK, it was probably the money.  It usually is.

As I understand it, the Masters Golf Tournament is by invitation only.  I am surprised that I’ve never even heard a whisper of a discussion about Tiger Woods not being invited to the tournament this year – let alone being banned for life.  Why not?  Because the Masters Golf Tournament Committee members are about as disingenuous as they come.  But, since they own the tournament, I guess they can make their own rules.  Nothing novel about that.

My unsolicited advice to the Augusta National Golf Club is to stop the sanctimonious pretense, and invite Gary McCord back to the tournament.   I am sure the entire viewing audience would be more than pleased to give him a second chance.

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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