20 Oct 2013
in craziness, healthcare, history, politics
Tags: craziness, healthcare, history, Jeff Jacoby, John F Kennedy, Medicare, politics
Less than a week ago Republicans shut down the government to try to get rid of Obamacare. Let’s look at Jeff Jacoby’s column today:
But Kennedy was no liberal. By any reasonable definition, he was a conservative — and not just by the standards of our era, but by those of his era as well.
Nearly 30 years ago, an essay in Mother Jones magazine asked: “Would JFK Be a Hero Now?” If the answer wasn’t obvious then, it certainly is now. In today’s political environment, a candidate like JFK — a conservative champion of economic growth, tax cuts, limited government, peace through strength — plainly would be a hero. Whether he would be a Democrat is a different matter altogether.
Gee, now what was one of the programs that JFK was pushing? Why Medicare. He wasn’t able to get it passed because conservatives worked so hard to defeat it:
The main course of Operation Coffeecup, however, was an LP record, kept secret until the event and prohibited from being broadcast. The record was called “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.” In his 20-minute polemic, the host of television’s “Death Valley Days” excoriated what he called “the foot-in-the-door” leftist technique that, he noted, was “one of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people … by way of medicine.”
With a know-your-enemy approach, Reagan quoted the American socialist icon, Norman Thomas, who decades earlier had said that while Americans would never knowingly vote socialist, “in the name of liberalism the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program.” Reagan concluded his oration with an ominous warning that unless “big gubament” – a pronunciation that would become a political trademark – was stopped, “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Does that sound familiar? But Jacoby things Kennedy might be a hero to conservatives (and that ignores the rest of the New Frontier). Thanks for the laugh Jeff.
05 Sep 2013
in craziness, Free Markets, history, politics
Tags: craziness, Free Markets, history, politics
Via here, it really does look like the US is going in the direction of the 1800′s. Corporations are being given a freer hand to do what they want and now they’re hiring private armies:
Heavily armed, masked guards from an Arizona-based security company received approval last week to return to the site of a proposed mine in Wisconsin where they have clashed with protesters. However, the district attorney of Iron County, where the site is located, has implied he will take action against the mining company if the guards try to return with their weapons.
The guards, who have been outfitted with camouflage and semiautomatic weapons, are employed by Arizona’s Bulletproof Securities, a company that specializes in “border security” and “executive” protection and is run by an entrepreneur who also is tied to ventures in real estate and payday loans. Bulletproof’s guards were initially ordered to leave the site of the planned mine July 10 after it was found they were operating without a Wisconsin license.
Gogebic Taconite, the company that hopes to operate a mine on the site has argued the heavily-armed guards were necessary because protesters who are concerned about the impact the mining would have on forests had disrupted operations and attacked equipment at the site.
It’s a small step from this to the Pinkertons.
20 Aug 2013
in history, Middle East, politics
Tags: CIA, history, iran, Secrecy
This has been known for a while, but now it’s official:
The CIA has now acknowledged its role in the 1953 coup that deposed Iran’s left-leaning Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. Few Iranians will be surprised. They have always believed Mosaddegh was ousted by U.S. and British interests, and those suspicions are a big part of Iran’s mistrust of the West to this day.
It’s a bit late (this was in 1998):
The agency pledged five years ago to declassify thousands of files on 11 major paramilitary and political operations launched under Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. It said then that records on these secret efforts at foiling Communism and furthering American foreign policy in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean would be released as early as 1994. Two former C.I.A. chiefs, Robert M. Gates and R. James Woolsey Jr., personally promised that the files would be released.
The nine operations constitute a secret history of American power as used against foreign governments by three Presidents. They include efforts to shore up the non-Communist left in France and Italy in the late 1940′s and early 1950′s, guerrilla operations in North and South Korea in the Korean War, efforts including political propaganda and bombing missions in Indonesia in the 1950′s, paramilitary activities in Laos and Tibet in the first years of the American involvement in Vietnam and assassination plots in the Congo and the Dominican Republic in the early 1960′s.
The agency also promised six years ago to release records of its coup in Iran in 1954. It belatedly confessed last year that it had destroyed most of those files in the early 1960′s. Mr. Woolsey called that destruction, which remained a secret within the agency, even to him, ”a terrible breach of faith with the American people and their ability to understand their own history.”
It took them five years to realize that they had destroyed most of the files on Iran and another 16 to actually put out some of the records they did have. If they keep going at this rate, they might get out the rest of the documents they promised by the end of the century. The CIA also conceded they had had a file on Noam Chomsky after years of denial–remember this the next time they claim …. well, anything.
Add-on: notice with the Chomsky files that one of two things is very likely: the CIA lied when they said they had no file on him; they destroyed the file they had on him. Since both of these are illegal, I assume there will be an investigation. <–here is where you’re supposed to laugh.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note the main players who convinced President Ford to veto the Privacy Act (which expanded the FOIA):
President Gerald R. Ford wanted to sign the Freedom of Information Act strengthening amendments passed by Congress 30 years ago, but concern about leaks (shared by his chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Richard Cheney) and legal arguments that the bill was unconstitutional (marshaled by government lawyer Antonin Scalia, among others) persuaded Ford to veto the bill, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive to mark the 30th anniversary of the veto override.
And yes, I found it ‘funny’ that the debate about the Privacy Act was classified.
09 Aug 2013
in craziness, Free Markets, history
Tags: banks, Free Markets, history, Rand Paul, US economy
Janet Yellen has done very well in economic forecasting, but she didn’t get everything right:
Yellen’s big error here wasn’t underestimating what a deflating housing bubble would mean for the real economy, but rather what it would mean for the financial one. Back in 2005, she didn’t appreciate how much shadow banks relied on AAA-rated mortgage-backed-securities (MBS) as collateral to fund their day-to-day operations — or how much even this supposedly high-quality collateral could go bust if housing did. Of course, that’s exactly what happened, and it set off a run on the shadow banking system that forced a fire sale of every other kind of asset, and, in the process, nearly ended the financial world as we knew it.
Deregulation had made bank runs, of a different sort, possible again. Yellen did get it somewhat though:
Lehmangeddon turned what might have been a mild recession and a milder recovery — think a worse 1991 — into the worst crisis in 80 years. So what should have been done in, say, 2005 to have avoided this disaster? Well, Yellen is almost certainly right: the Fed should have tried to regulate away, not prick, the housing bubble. Things like cracking down on liar loans, tightening loan-to-value requirements, and toughening leverage ratios probably would have slowed the bubble, and made any subsequent bust less of a financial cataclysm.
Paul Krugman then talks about what happened after the crisis (go read the article to see his supporting graphs):
For the most part, even those who correctly diagnosed a housing bubble failed to notice or at least to acknowledge the importance of the sharp rise in household debt that accompanied the bubble:
And I would argue that this debt overhang has held back spending even though financial markets are operating more or less normally again.
Finally, nobody really anticipated the disastrous response of policy, above all the squeeze on public spending at a time when we needed more government spending to sustain the economy until private balance sheets were repaired.
Luckily we didn’t have someone like Rand Paul in power who thinks we should have cut the federal budget and doesn’t seem to know that the deficit is now well under a trillion dollars and shrinking fast
27 May 2013
in healthcare, history, science
Tags: health, history, science
This is one of those stories that come out of medicine every once in a while that show how little we understand our bodies:
Susannah Cahalan was a young New York Post reporter when she started to forget assignments. She became fixated on the idea that her home was infested with bedbugs. Paranoid and irrational, she laughed and cried inappropriately, moods rocketing from euphoria to intense sadness.
She thought it must be stress, or the flu. One doctor told her she had mono. Her parents suspected she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then she, too, had a seizure.
The women’s slow unraveling could have been the beginning of a psychotic break, followed by a lifetime of hospitalization and medication.
Instead, they were found to have a newly described disease called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, caused when the body’s immune system goes haywire and attacks a protein in the brain. The protein, the NMDA receptor, helps neurons communicate; it is the same receptor that’s blocked by PCP or ketamine — both drugs that can make a normal person act like someone with schizophrenia.
A long time ago this might have been ascribed to possession, ten years ago it might have been thought to be schizophrenia or some other mental illness. The article speculates that some people who are being treated for schizophrenia might instead have this disease. This is the kind of paradigm shift that happens in medicine at times, the cause and treatment of ulcers is one that I think of. They’re going to start testing with an initial episode of a psychotic episode, it would be great if they found a large percent of these are caused by this disease (they don’t expect this to be true, though).
10 May 2013
in history, science, statistics
Tags: history, Isaac Newton, science, statistics
Ok this is really an excuse to put Isaac Newton in a post, but still this is kind of fun:
Newton did something unusual, and even, as Alan Shapiro notes, “almost [we would say entirely] unprecedented in the 17th century”: he averaged all of the differences….None of this reached print….Newton certainly avoided hinting in print that his law of arithmetical progression was adduced by anything other than the most skillful and precise of measurements.
….Newton’s “mean”—the average—was the weapon with which he slew the invevitable dragons of sensual errors. It was a most paradoxical weapon for the times, because it amounted to a method by which error seems to be reduced by committing it repeatedly. No such method appears elsewhere at the time, and it would certainly have seemed odd, to say the least, to most practitioners of the period.
….We have no contemporary record of the reasoning by which he justified this unusual method….Yet Newton used averages early on; he used them frequently and, it seems, consistently….Why did Molyneux and Flamsteed, a decade or two later, do so as well?….Is there some evidence as to what underpinned the average, decades before statistical notions became widespread?
Apparently the answer to that last question is no. The authors produce a bit of evidence that Newton thought of the average as akin to measuring a center of gravity, but that’s about it. It appears that Newton never explained himself, but just quietly went ahead with his use of averages several decades before anyone else. It was the secret behind his famously accurate observations.
I’m not sure this is true, as Wikipedia says that Tycho Brahe did the same thing. I can’t find any primary source that says that Brahe did (in a Google search), so I don’t know if he did. Anyway …. Isaac Newton.
20 Feb 2013
in civil liberties, history
Tags: civil liberties, free speech, history, Supreme Court
Via here, this is a nice bit of history. We all know that freedom of speech is not absolute, we can not cry fire in a theater if there is no fire. Here’s where that was first used:
Schenck was the general secretary of the Socialist Party in Philadelphia during the First World War. Unlike their sister parties in Western Europe, America’s Socialists firmly opposed the war, even after the United States entered it in April 1917. That summer, Schenck and his Philadelphia comrades launched a campaign against the draft. They composed a two-sided leaflet that attacked the draft as unconstitutional and called for people to join the Socialist Party and persuade their representatives in Congress to repeal it. If the leaflet’s language was strong—“a conscript is little better than a convict…deprived of his liberty and of his right to think and act as a free man”—it was also conventional, couched in a vernacular many would have found familiar. One side proclaimed “Long Live the Constitution of the United States.” The other urged people to “Assert Your Rights!”
Schenck and his comrades made 15,000 leaflets and mailed most of them to men in Philadelphia who had passed their draft board physicals. It’s unclear how many actually received the leaflet—hundreds were intercepted by the government—and no one produced evidence of anyone falling under its influence. Even so, Schenck and four others were arrested and charged with “causing and attempting to cause insubordination…in the military and naval forces of the United States, and to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment services of the United States.” Two of the defendants—Schenck and another party leader—were found guilty. Schenck’s case was argued before the Supreme Court in January 1919, and the Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the conviction, written by Holmes, was delivered in March.
Hm, it seems to me that this should be a protected right. Anyway, the post goes on to look at this bit from Justice Holmes’ judgement:
But it is said, suppose that was the tendency of this circular, it is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Two of the strongest expressions are said to be quoted respectively from well known public men. It well may be that the prohibition of laws abridging the freedom of speech is not confined to previous restraints, although to prevent them may have been the main purpose, as intimated in Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454,462. We admit that, in many places and in ordinary times, the defendants, in saying all that was said in the circular, would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. Aikens v. Wisconsin, 195 U.S. 194, 205, 206. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 439. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right. It seems to be admitted that, if an actual obstruction of the recruiting service were proved, liability
for words that produced that effect might be enforced.
It seems that Holmes might have been talking about this:
On Christmas Eve many of the striking miners and their families had gathered for a Christmas party sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners. The party was held in the second floor of Calumet’s Italian Hall. A steep stairway was the only way to the second floor, although there was a poorly-marked fire escape on one side of the building and ladders down the back of the building which could only be reached by climbing through the windows.
The tragedy began when there were over four hundred people in the room and someone yelled “Fire!”; there was none. However, people panicked and rushed for the stairs. In the ensuing melee, seventy-three people (including fifty-nine children) were killed. To date there has been much debate about who cried “fire” and why. It is conjectured that “fire” was called out by an anti-union ally of mine management in order to disrupt the party.
The article adds (the group of men was from the Citizens’ Alliance which was a lovely group):
On December 26, a group of fifteen men burst into Moyer’s hotel room. The men “piled on me like a pack of wolves,” he later testified, “kicking and striking and cursing.” A revolver accidentally went off, hitting Moyer in the back and shoulder. The men grabbed Moyer and another union official, dragged them through town to the railroad station, put them on board a train for Chicago, and warned Moyer “if you ever come back to this district again we will hang you.”
The following day, local authorities arrested the editor and several employees of the local radical Finnish newspaper Tyomies, which first publicized the accusation that the Citizens’ Alliance had caused the stampede, and charged them with “conspiracy to publish mis-statements calculated to incite riot.” Two weeks later, on January 15, 1914, the Houghton County Grand Jury indicted Moyer and 37 other unionists for participating in a conspiracy that “instituted a general strike…with the purpose and intent of causing and compelling the employees of the companies…to cease work and to shut down and prevent the operation of the mines.” Nine days after that, the same grand jury refused to indict Moyer’s attackers.
So, Holmes uses the metaphor even though no one was punished for yelling fire. On the other hand, people are punished for striking which was illegal. This also comes up in the opinion of Holmes in Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co where they decided that boycotts were also illegal speech (the case was dismissed because the Bucks Stove president had died).
If you look at these cases together, you might get the idea that Holmes’ idea of Free Speech was that it didn’t apply to socialists or unions.
29 Dec 2012
in craziness, history, politics
Tags: craziness, history, politics
The current state of politics is abysmal, but it’s still better than the 1950s. Here are a couple of examples:
- Files about Marilyn Monroes have been released:
Recently obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, the updated FBI files do show the extent the agency was monitoring Monroe for ties to communism in the years before her death in August 1962.The records reveal that some in Monroe’s inner circle were concerned about her association with Frederick Vanderbilt Field, who was disinherited from his wealthy family over his leftist views.
Monroe’s file begins in 1955 and mostly focuses on her travels and associations, searching for signs of leftist views and possible ties to communism. One entry, which previously had been almost completely redacted, concerned intelligence that Monroe and other entertainers sought visas to visit Russia that year.
And why exactly should the FBI be investigating this? They shouldn’t, but it was common in the 1950s (and through most of Hoover’s time at the FBI).
- It seems NH politicians played for keeps:
The saga began on June 3, 1953, when Lester Hunt Jr., son of a Democratic senator from Wyoming, was arrested in Washington’s Lafayette Park and accused of soliciting an undercover police officer. At the time, the younger Hunt was president of the student body at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge. Since it was a first offense, police declined to prosecute.
Soon after the arrest, however, an official in the police Morals Division, Roy Blick, apparently was contacted by Bridges, then the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and another GOP senator, Herman Welker of Idaho, who was a close ally of Joseph McCarthy. Bridges and Welker, according to a 1954 column by the influential D.C. journalist Drew Pearson, threatened Blick’s job if he failed to pursue the case. Soon after, there was a trial. Hunt Jr. was found guilty and paid a $100 fine.
The story ran in the conservative Washington Times-Herald, but not in any of 36 papers in Wyoming, where Hunt was a candidate for reelection. “If the opposition brings this up in the Senate race, I shall withdraw,” Hunt is said to have told Drew Pearson. After facing threats that Republicans would do just that, Hunt, a mild-mannered former dentist, agreed to terminate his candidacy. Soon afterward, he shot himself in his Senate office.
The 1950s was a lovely time, wasn’t it?
11 May 2012
in history, pictures
Tags: Germany, history, pictures
I’ve been in Berlin for a week, hence the lack of new posts. I also went to Potsdam where all the Hohenzollern palaces are. First, there’s Sanssouci (the main palace used by Frederick the Great, built from 1745-7):
with its intimate garden:
Of course, you can’t have just the one palace on the grounds so there’s also the Orangery Palace (built for Frederick IV in 1851):
and the Charlottenhof Palace (built for Frederick IV in 1826 when he was crown prince):
and the New Palace (built for showing off from 1763-9):
Then there were trifles such as the Chinese House (built from 1755-64):
There were also palaces in nearby Berlin–one can’t have too many palaces.
19 Feb 2012
in craziness, history, race
Tags: craziness, history, Japanese Americans, racism
Today is the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by FDR, that’s the order that led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. More than 60% of those interned were US citizens and many of the others were not allowed to become citizens. It was not one of the better moments in US history and thus needs to be remembered so it’s not repeated.
19 Feb 2012
in history, race, sports
Tags: gender, history, race, sports
Via Malden’s government site, there’s a post about Louise Fraser who was from Malden and was one of the two first African-American women to go to the Olympics. I’m guessing the story will not stay on the front page for too long, so here’s another site that talks about her:
At the 1932 Olympic Trials in Evanston, Illinois, Louise’s third-place finish in the 100 meters won her a spot on the women’s 400-meter relay team for the Los Angeles Olympic Games, along with Tidye Pickett. Photos of the 1932 Olympic Track team include a determined-looking Stokes in the lineup along with Pickett, but coach George Vreeland selected only white women for the final relay team. Historian A. D. Emerson suggests that “the exclusion of Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes from the 1932 Olympics remains a pivotal point in Olympic history where politics and racial tensions threatened any future possibilities for black female athletes to compete on a world stage in representing the United States in the Olympic games” (Emerson, 9). The exclusion of Stokes was a questionable call, as she had beaten Mary Carew, who was selected, in a majority of races, and they had tied for fourth in the Olympic Trials. Furthermore, when the Olympic team stopped in Denver on the way to Los Angeles, Stokes and Pickett were given a room separate from the rest of the team near a service area on an upper floor, and were served dinner in their rooms rather than at the banquet for the team.
Stokes continued to compete after the 1932 Olympics, winning sprints at distances from 25 to 200 meters, as well as the high jump and broad jump. At the U.S. trials for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, she placed fifth in the 100 meters but once again made the team as a member of the 400-meter relay. In what must have been devastating to Stokes, history repeated itself when at the Berlin games, Stokes found she had been replaced by a white runner.
She not only had to deal with racism, there was also rampant sexism:
In a move that set back the efforts of American sportswomen, the United States Olympic Committee voted in 1914 to formally oppose women’s athletic participation in the Olympic Games.
Despite disparities in Olympic competition caused by World War I and the U.S. ban on female participation, women’s events were added to the 1920 Olympics, and American women gained full status.
The women’s 800-meter run at the 1928 Olympics, after which two untrained women lay down on the field in understandable exhaustion after their run, was the basis for a movement by the International Olympic Committee in 1929 to remove women’s track and field from the 1932 Olympics.
It’s always good to remember the people who helped bring about change and Louise Stokes was one of them. She isn’t known, because she wasn’t allowed to compete but it was a start.
23 Nov 2010
in history, Math
Tags: Babylon, history, Math, Sumeria
NYU has an exhibit on Babylonian math (from the NY Times, which refers to it as Sumerian math since it was written in that language). I like the example they give:
YBC 7289 is a small clay disc containing a rough sketch of a square and its diagonals. Across one of the diagonals is scrawled 1,24,51,10 — a sexagesimal number that corresponds to the decimal number 1.41421296. Yes, you recognized it at once — the square root of 2. In fact it’s an approximation, a very good one, to the true value, 1.41421356.
You can see that this is very accurate, but even this understates it–it is the answer to four decimal places in base 60, so perhaps they could calculate it more accurately but just rounded.
I also like this:
Other tablets bear lists of practical problems, like calculating the width of a canal, given information about its other dimensions, the cost of digging it and a worker’s daily wage.
With some tablets the answers are stated without any explanation, giving the impression that they were for show, a possession designed to make the owner seem an academic.
Imagine a society where people displayed mathematical equations to show status. Heaven.
The Times also has a slideshow of images of the tablets. I like this one which shows an incomplete calculation–I’m picturing it as the work of a student who didn’t know how to do the problem (I imagine students were much less likely to put in random stuff to try to get points when they had to put it on a tablet).
19 Nov 2010
in history, Math
Tags: history, Math, xkcd
xkcd has another comic with math in it:
What I like about it, is that the math joke isn’t obvious until you look at the title of the comic. I’ll put that below the fold, if you want to try to guess: More
20 Sep 2010
in history, miscellaneous
Tags: art, Kafka, writing
Letters of Note has a letter by Franz Kafka that was intended for his father trying to explain their estrangement. Its totality nicely encapsulates his writing:
- The letter was 104 pages long.
- He gave the letter to his mother to pass on to his father, but it was never given to his father.
- The letter basically says that the reason for their problems was the fault of neither of them, it was caused by their basic natures. Also, Franz’ basic nature meant that he wanted to escape from his father and at the same time his nature held him to his father
20 Aug 2010
in education, history, miscellaneous
Tags: education, Japan, miscellaneous
In reading today’s letter of note by a kamikaze pilot (which is interesting), I went to this site which has a lot of information about the kamikaze movement. The bit that I learned was this:
Many former students from Japan’s elite universities died as kamikaze pilots. In October 1943, military draft deferment ended for students in liberal arts and law, although the deferment continued for students in such fields as engineering and natural sciences. Many of these former students entered Navy or Army pilot training programs, and they later joined special attack force units to carry out suicide attacks. An estimated one thousand student soldiers died as kamikaze pilots.
I was a bit surprised that college students had a military deferment in Japan until 1943. I always thought of the Japan of this era as very militaristic but even then education must have been considered important.
And since it’s Friday, a poem:
The world is not
And I am not
Designed to be
Still you are free.
18 May 2010
in craziness, economy, history, politics
Tags: banks, craziness, economy
One of the many reasons we need to regulate institutions is that they don’t care about what happened in the past (via here):
Standard & Poor’s cut to junk the ratings on certain securities, backed by U.S. mortgage bonds, that it granted AAA grades when they were created last year by Credit Suisse Group, Jefferies Group Inc. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.
The reductions were among downgrades to 308 classes of so- called re-remics, or re-securitizations, created from 2005 through 2009, the New York-based ratings company said today in a statement. About $150 million of the debt issued last year, as recently as July, with top rankings were lowered below investment grades, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
One of the reasons there was a crisis is that institutions packaged credit and then overvalued it and here we find that they’re still doing it–less than a year later!
You might say this is just one instance but you can see it more obviously here (I talk about it here). The savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s lead to more than 1000 banks going under. The Resolution Trust Corporation (under the FIRREA legislation) was formed to help resolve the crisis and close the banks and the RTC was closed in 1995. Starting in 1996 the FDIC collected no premiums:
But James Chessen, chief economist of the American Bankers Association, said that it made sense at the time to stop collecting most premiums because “the fund became so large that interest income on the fund was covering the premiums for almost a decade.” There were relatively few bank failures and no projection of the current economic collapse, he said.
“Obviously hindsight is 20-20,” Chessen said.
So, the RTC finished cleaning up a huge banking crisis in 1995 and in 1996 the banks couldn’t conceive of a large crisis. Really.
17 May 2010
in history, politics
Tags: George Washington, history, politics, The Constitution
Reading this letter by George Washington in support of the Constitution, you note a few things. First, politics, in some ways, hasn’t changed very much:
The opponents, I expected, (for it has ever been, that the adversaries to a measure are more active than its friends) would endeavour to give it an unfavourable complexion, with a view to biass the public mind. This, evidently, is the case with the writers in opposition; for their objections are better calculated to alarm the fears, than to convince the judgment of their readers. They build them upon principles which do not exist in the Constitution—which the known & litteral sense of it, does not support them in; and this too, after being flatly told that they are treading on untenable ground and after an appeal has been made to the letter, & spirit thereof, for proof: and then, as if the doctrine was uncontrovertable, draw such consequences as are necessary to rouse the apprehensions of the ignorant, & unthinking.
And you see that here also:
The warmest friends to and the best supporters of the Constitution, do not contend that it is free from imperfections; but these were not to be avoided, and they are convinced if evils are likely to flow from them, that the remedy must come thereafter; because, in the present moment it is not to be obtained. And as there is a Constitutional door open for it, I think the people (for it is with them to judge) can, as they will have the aid of experience on their side, decide with as much propriety on the alterations and amendments wch shall be found necessary, as ourselves; for I do not conceive that we are more inspired—have more wisdem—or possess more virtue than those who will come after us.
That’s right, George Washington did not think that the Constitution was perfect. He knew, even then, that any legislation in a democratic society would contain compromises to ensure passage and that’s why there was a need to be able to change legislation. He also did not believe that the writers were anything other than ordinary humans. Politicians take note.
26 Feb 2010
in history, poetry, technology
Tags: nasa, pictures, poetry, space shuttle
There was the passing of an era yesterday:
NASA’s Space Shuttle Program conducted the final test firing of a reusable solid rocket motor Feb. 25 in Promontory, Utah.
The test — the 52nd conducted for NASA by ATK – marks the closure of a test program that has spanned more than three decades. The first test was in July 1977. The ATK-built motors have successfully launched the space shuttle into orbit 129 times.
Here it is (Credit: NASA):
There are four remaining shuttle missions.
And here’s a poem:
Falling on my head
Makes me realize
That nothing exists
Pass me a tall tree
And I’ll look out.
16 Feb 2010
in Free Markets, history, World
Tags: Congo, history, Peru, Roger Casement, rubber
The Boston Globe has a review on ‘The Devil and Mr. Casement: One Man’s Battle for Human Rights in South America’s Heart of Darkness’ by Jordan Goodman. It’s a book about Roger Casement, Julio César Arana, and rubber operations in Peru.
I had heard about the atrocities committed in the DR Congo by King Leopold, but had not heard about those in Peru. The atrocities in Peru were not nearly as widespread or horrific as those in the Congo, but they were pretty bad:
A typical method of punishment was: “Whole families could be held in the stocks for any amount of time, each confined in all the imaginable ways that the design of such an instrument of torture allowed.’’ Indians were made to carry backbreaking loads of rubber over long distances; were commonly beaten and tortured, and women were raped.
nearly 30,000 Indians had died to produce 4,000 tons of rubber. When Casement’s 700-page report of the violence was published in London in 1912, it set off reverberations throughout the world.
Both the Congo and Peruvian atrocities were mainly in the pursuit of rubber and, in both cases, Casement wrote up the main reports in England. What makes Casement’s life even more interesting is that he then moved on to working for Irish independence–including trying to get Germany to send weapons to Ireland … during WWI. Not surprisingly, he was executed in England as a traitor (you can see some of his sentiments about England here where he writes about the causes of WWI, mainly blaming England).
01 Feb 2010
in craziness, history, justice, religion
Tags: craziness, history, justice, religion
This is one of the silliest ideas I’ve ever seen:
These trials were called “ordeals.” They reached their height between the 9th and 13th centuries, and the methods varied. In one variant, a piece of iron was heated until it was red hot. The defendant picked it up and carried it with her bare hand. In another, the defendant was stripped naked, his hands and feet bound, and he was pushed into a pool of holy water. If the defendant sank, he was acquitted. If he floated, he was condemned.
Modern observers have roundly condemned ordeals for being cruel and arbitrary. Ordeals seem to reflect everything that was wrong with the Dark Ages. They’re an icon of medieval barbarism and backwardness.
But a closer look suggests something very different: The ordeal system worked surprisingly well. It accurately determined who was guilty and who was innocent, sorting genuine criminals from those who had been wrongly accused. Stranger still, the ordeal system suggests that pervasive superstition can be good for society. Medieval legal systems leveraged citizens’ superstitious beliefs through ordeals, making it possible to secure criminal justice where it would have otherwise been impossible to do so. Some superstitions, at least, may evolve and persist for a good reason: They help us accomplish goals we couldn’t otherwise accomplish, or accomplish them more cheaply.
How does he claim they might work?
First, consider the reasoning of the defendants. Guilty believers expected God to reveal their guilt by harming them in the ordeal. They anticipated being boiled and convicted. Innocent believers, meanwhile, expected God to protect them in the ordeal. They anticipated escaping unscathed, and being exonerated.
The only defendants who would have been willing to go through with the ordeal were therefore the innocent ones. Guilty defendants would have preferred to avoid the ordeal – by confessing their crimes, settling with their accusers, or fleeing the realm.
So, if anyone had a different belief system they were screwed (so if they were Jewish or Roma or …). They were also screwed if they didn’t believe strongly enough. Ah well, that’s partly what this system was all about … submit to the will of the Catholic Church (and the lords).
The next thing to understand is that clerics administrated ordeals and adjudged their outcomes – and did so under elaborate sets of rules that gave them wide latitude to manipulate the process. Priests knew that only innocent defendants would be willing to plunge their hands in boiling water. So priests could simply rig trials to exonerate defendants who were willing to go through with the ordeal. The rituals around the ordeals gave them plenty of cover to ensure the water wasn’t boiling, or the iron wasn’t burning, and so on. If rigging failed, a priest could interpret the ordeal’s outcome to exculpate the defendant nonetheless (“His arm is healing well!”).
There are two big problems here. First, some of the leading crimes of the day were religious: you weren’t devout enough; you were a heretic; you were a witch. Was it justice to kill someone if the priest really believed that they had used the evil eye? The second is that one person controlled the justice system–what do you think happened if a person didn’t get along with the priest (remember that many or even most priests were from the upper classes, the youngest son of a lord for example)? The concept of ordeals is tyrannical because one or a few people from a firmly hierarchical system (the Catholic Church and the systems of lords) judge everyone else. It should also be noted that this system did not control the interaction between the ruling and lower classes–a lord would never be punished for anything they did to a peasant (if a lord killed a peasant: nothing, if a starving peasant killed a rabbit in the lord’s forest: death).
I can’t believe anyone thought this idea was good enough to put in a newspaper.