The Madcap Syd Barrett

Syd BarrettWhat we know of the Elizabethan theater world is largely due to Philip Henslowe‘s diaries. He was owner of the Rose in partnership with the greatest actor of the period Edward Alleyn. We don’t know when Henslowe was born, even the exact year. But we know when he died and it was today in 1616.

On this day in 1412, Joan of Arc was most likely born. To me, she’s a cautionary tale. Strong belief in God is dangerous. And it is especially when he starts telling you to do things. Given her age, I assume she was suffering from schizophrenia. She was of that age, as I will discuss more in a bit. But whatever the sources, they got her involved in the conflict between England and France. She supported France regaining its independence. This ended with her being put on trial for heresy by a the Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon, who supported the British. She was found guilty as people pretty much always were. It’s kind of like being accused of “Gribble temporal trending folk bottles.” What do you say in your defense? So she was burned at the stake at the age of 19. Just so you understand: she was a Catholic and she was killed by part of the Catholic Church. Twenty-five years later, the Pope looked at her case and found her innocent. If you are a Christian and believe all its dogma, then that might mean something to you. To me, a young woman was tortured to death because she was born in the wrong country.

Joan of ArcHeinrich Schliemann was born in 1822. He was one of the most important archaeologist of all time. In particular, he was the first person to dig at Hissarlik, which later archaeologists were able to prove was the actual site of the Trojan War, which by the 19th century was thought to be pure myth. Schliemann also, unfortunately, destroyed much of the site because of his belief that old sites had to be deep. And it turned out that seven main cities had been built on top of the site dating from about a thousand years before Troy. The whole story is amazing, and I highly recommend watching In Search of the Trojan War, which you can find links to in my article, Jesus and Troy. For any Homer fan (And Schliemann was definitely that!) it is a joy.

E L Doctorow is 83 today. He is known for his historical fiction in the best sense of that phrase. His books are expansive, even epic. But I have to admit, I’ve only read Ragtime. It’s interesting. Milos Forman made a great film based upon the book. But he only used a tiny slice of the novel. And the movie is pretty complex. So that ought to give you some idea. Both the book and the movie are recommended. I really should read more of Doctorow’s books. There is so little time!

E L DoctorowOther birthdays: co-inventor of the hot air balloon Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier (1745); the great French painter and engraver Gustave Dore (1832); the great Romanian painter Stefan Luchian (1868); poet Carl Sandburg (1878); suprematism painter Aleksandra Ekster (1882); actor Danny Thomas (1912); actor Loretta Young (1913); musician Earl Scruggs (1924); actor Vic Tayback (1930); and comedian Rowan Atkinson (59).

The day, however, belongs to Syd Barrett who was born on this day in 1946. He was, of course, the founder of the band Pink Floyd. He is probably best known for going crazy and having to leave the band. I’m not going to go into it much here, because I discussed it in some length in, Cause We’re the Fishes. But there is a general belief that Barrett became schizophrenic because of his use of the drug LSD. I don’t think that’s true. Barrett, just like Joan of Arc, developed the disease at the age when people develop it: the late teens and early twenties. I just found this very short video of a television interview where Barrett shows himself to be extremely wellspoken and intelligent. Regardless, if you want to know more about him, read the other article. For now, enjoy one of his many great songs of The Madcap Laughs, kind of the title track, “Octopus” (note: a couple of the images are of Pink Floyd without Syd, but mostly they are correct):

Happy birthday Syd Barrett!

2013 Review: Part 5

2013 Review

September 2013

September began the drum beat for war with Syria. It seems that Joe Lieberman has never seen a war he wasn’t in favor of. No wonder he and John McCain are such good friends. It seems that I spent the whole month making the argument if we cared about Syria, we should have done something before 100,000 people were killed in the conflict. I also noted that what all the clamoring for war with Syria was about was providing a backdoor into war with Iran.

This month, I also wrote about the atheist religious scholar Robert M. Price, Another Conservative Atheist? I really like him because he knows a lot about the Bible and he’s amusing. But I’ve read him long enough to notice occasional comments that indicate that he’s politically conservative. I talked about it in that article. But then, just two weeks later in his podcast, The Human Bible, he mentioned hypocrisy and gave as an example, people in Congress who didn’t want to have Obamacare apply to them. Well, that was too much! That’s straight out of right-wing radio. The answer is that Obamacare is not supposed to apply to anyone who gets his insurance from his employer. So I was none too happy to hear that. As a result, I commented on the podcast:

Oh my, a bit of Dr. Price’s conservative politics has fallen into his podcast! I wouldn’t mind if it had been something other than a talk radio canard that shows a total lack of understanding of Obamacare.

My advice: more Chuck Heston impersonations, less low information conservatism.

I don’t know if it makes any difference. But I think it’s important to push back against this kind of thing. As I’ve argued a lot lately, atheism is linked not only to libertarianism but to conservatism generally. And I’m sure that all the people Price hangs out with agree with his politics. Well, I want him to know that I don’t listen to his podcast for his political opinions. Even if I agreed with them, when it comes to politics, he’s a low information voter. In the last two podcasts, there have been no political commentary. More than anything, I hope he was embarrassed, because what he said showed a shocking level of ignorance.

After 23 years on death row, I was pleased to pass along the information, Debra Milke Released on Bond. The entire case came down to Detective Armando Saldate’s claim that Milke had confessed to him. Milke claimed she did not. The jury believed Saldate. But since then, it has been shown that he has lied repeatedly under oath and that he abused witnesses and twisted their words. On 18 December 2013, the judge in the new trial against Milke allowed Saldate to plead the 5th Amendment. He is rightly afraid that the defense team will tear him apart on cross examination and open him up to charges of perjury and much else. If he doesn’t testify in this case, the judge has said that the prosecution cannot introduced Milke’s supposed confession into evidence. Without that, they really have nothing. I can’t imagine that they won’t drop the case. But who knows. I didn’t think they would go this far.

The second half of the month brought back the debate of who would be the next Fed Chair. Many insiders really wanted Larry Summers. But as I wrote, after many similar articles, Just Nominate Janet Yellen! Eventually Yellen was nominated, but Obama handled the whole thing badly. It went on and on. She was just confirmed by the Senate.

This was also the month the the chicken came to live with me, Fred Henhouse. At the beginning of the month, she just showed up and wouldn’t go away. Also, I couldn’t find any neighbors who would claim her. But I rather liked her, so I bought feed and started taking care of her. Unfortunately, just as I was making plans for a permanent house for her, she was killed by some local animal. It was very sad because I became very fond of her.

Memorable Articles

The Rich Lack Empathy
Alcoholics Anonymous is Not Like the Washingtonian Movement
Obama Diversity Problem Goes Deep
Pretty Woman Ugly Tweets
GOP Bad Faith Obamacare “Replacement”
Presidential Ideology
Government Policy Led to Inequality
I Was a Middle Class Food Stamp Kid

Enjoy the entire: September 2013 Archive.

October 2013

This was, of course, the month of the government shutdown. The funny thing is that September was filled with articles about how the government shutdown was going to be terrible for the Republicans. And then it was. By the middle of the month, they collapse and learned nothing from the experience. At the same time, the Obamacare website came online and was a disaster. At first, I was an apologist for it. But when the problems became clear, I approached it as a technical issue. There’ll be more about that in November. The main thing is that it was never what the Republicans claimed, “The government can’t do anything!” It was that the proper resources were not given to the project and once they were, the website was fixed. We’re not hearing anymore about it now.

Memorable Articles

Sad Result When Libertarians Get Practical
Nine Month Democratic Super-Majority Destroyed California Film Industry 7 Years Ago!
Why Democrats Aren’t an Extremist Party
In Which I Am Tested for Personality Disorders
No Contradiction in Genesis Eve Creation
The GOP Problem Is Not Messaging
The End of the Bagel Exception
The Power of False Lessons
What’s With “Democrat Party”?
What I Think of George W Bush
Obamacare Is Not Liberal Policy
Truthful Obama Bumper Sticker
New Democrats and the Rightward March
Libertarianism Incompatible With Atheism

Enjoy the entire: October 2013 Archive.

Art Laffer’s Economic Model

Art LefferI’ve got my mojo back a bit. And so I’m very eager to write three long and involved articles that need to get done today. But there is so much else to write about. Paul Krugman went on vacation from writing columns for the last week. As I result, I stopped checking his blog. I shouldn’t have. He’s an addict. He just can’t help himself. Anyway, on Friday, he wrote an amazing short post, In Praise of Art Laffer. I am no fan of Laffer. Previously, I wrote of him, “He greatly annoys me, because all he does is smile and babble.” And Krugman doesn’t have a fondness for him either.

But in a recent article in Business Insider, Laffer responded to his 2009 prediction of soaring inflation. For the record: inflation is low: too low, if you ask me or pretty much any reasonable economist. The reason Krugman is praising Laffer is that his response was honest:

Usually when you find the model this far off, you’ve probably got something wrong with the model, not that the world has changed. Inflation does not appear to be monetary base driven.

This is a big deal because most economists and similar types somehow justify their predictions. One big one is that inflation actually is high and that the government is just lying about it. That, of course, is ridiculous. I go shopping every couple of days and I don’t see prices going up. In fact, I see them as being really stable. Another common excuse is that the Federal Reserve is artificially keeping inflation low by keeping interest rates low and through its quantitative easing program. That has been shown not to be true experimentally. But there are many more excuses to choose from, so it shows a decent amount of intellectual integrity on Laffer’s part to admit his error.

Paul KrugmanKrugman asks what I think is an honest question, “I do wonder exactly what model Laffer was using.” I think I have an answer for that. Laffer may have at one time been a real economist. But for decades, all he’s been has been a conservative apologist. I don’t think Laffer had any economic model that predicted that inflation was going to soar. It is just that everyone on the right knew that interest rates were going to soar. Think about all the stuff from Alberto Alesina and Reinhart-Rogoff about how economic austerity would cause growth (or at least stop stagnation). Most conservatives (even the economists) just grabbed onto a plausible sounding excuse to justify what they wanted to believe. Look at Greg Mankiw who believed in stimulus under Bush, didn’t believe in it under Obama, and was laying the groundwork to believe in it under Romney.

So I’d be shocked to find that Laffer actually had a model that predicted inflation and wasn’t just following the pack. He believed inflation would soar because Obama was president. Had McCain been elected and enacted the same policies (and as far as I can tell, he would have), Laffer never would have predicted that high inflation was just around the corner. It’s great that Laffer is admitting straight up that he was wrong. But I’m sure that his next “model” will simply be what all the other conservatives are pointing to as the reason why things always go to hell when a Democrat is in the White House.

60 Minutes Conservative Rampage Continues

60 MinutesLast night I watched the first segment of 60 Minutes. It looked like they were going to do a hit job on the clean energy industry. And I was not disappointed. After all that we’ve been through the last couple of months with the show, I am now convinced that someone is in charge who has a real conservative ax to grind. First we had Benghazi. Then we had the NSA whitewash. And now we’re back to what was effectively a rant about Solyndra going out of business and “wasting” a half billion dollars!

The documentary We’re Not Broke (currently available on Netflix) reports that every year, the federal government loses $70 billion from corporations using offshore tax havens. Yet 60 Minutes is concerned that the government spent a couple billion dollars investing in cutting edge technologies that have not paid off? That’s not reporting. That’s propaganda.

Leslie Stahl listed four clean energy companies that had gone out of business. Then she added, “I’m exhausted.” Four companies exhausted her! No wonder her reporting is so bad. If saying 14 syllables exhaust her, then doing any research would be out of the question. (Note: in the transcript, more was written, but she gave up after the four in the actual interview.) The answer to this from Steven Koonin was, “As I told you at the beginning, the energy business is tough!”

Think Progress published a great article with some informative charts, 60 Minutes Hit Job on Clean Energy Ignores the Facts. It responded:

Memo to CBS: Every business is tough! In 2012, the Wall Street Journal ran an informative piece on just how tough the private sector venture-capital businesses is, headlined, “The Venture Capital Secret: 3 Out of 4 Start-Ups Fail.”

It seems at first that this is a secret 60 Minutes is unaware of, since the show focuses almost entirely on the failures. But CBS explains that “the venture capital model is that for every ten startups, nine go under”—except that CBS appears to see that as a bug, not a feature, failing to understand that the successes more than pay for the failures.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of start-ups go bankrupt, the government’s investments do far better. Even with the half billion given to Solyndra and Abound, the “DOE Loan Guarantee Program has a whopping 97 percent success rate.” Now I’ll admit, if 60 Minutes had presented the story accurately, it would have been a puff piece, “Government Program Really Successful in Clean Energy Funding!” But why not a puff piece? The show was more than willing to present a puff piece to justify NSA spying.

According to Media Matters, one of the people 60 Minutes interviewed for the segment, energy expert Robert Rapier, tweeted after the the show that he gave them a list of successes and told them that solar energy was the future. But that conflicted with the narrative that Leslie Stahl and company wanted to present. So that information didn’t make the cut.

Perhaps the most egregious (but hardly shocking) fact about the story was that global warming was not mentioned once. In fact, about half way through the story, it became clear to me who was really behind it: the fracking industry. Stahl dutifully noted that that natural gas was “relatively clean.” Well, in terms of local pollution it is quite clean. And in terms of global warming, it is a hell of a lot better than other hydrocarbons. So in that regard, I guess it is “relatively clean” in the sense that eating off the floor is “relatively clean” compared to eating out of a dirty toilet.

Also not mentioned were the huge subsidies that traditional energy supplies get. When Vinod Khosla said there was no down side to gas made from trees, Stahl responded in voice-over, “Well there is: first off, his clean green gasoline costs much more than what you pay at the pump.” (BTW: there was no “second off.” That was her only complaint about it as an energy source.) I guess that Stahl and her producers have never heard of externalities: costs that we all pay for that isn’t factored into the price. You know: like global warming and oil spills. And then there are all those tax subsidies that Exxon-Mobile gets by keeping all their profits off shore. And there is much more. The price we pay at the pump is not the price we pay. The real price we pay is much higher. Higher than Khosla’s gas? I don’t know. He might be a charlatan for all I know. But the fact is that even with all its unfair advantages, soon the fossil fuel industry will be beaten by solar.

But Leslie Stahl and 60 Minutes are doing everything they can to push that day off as far as possible.

Stopping Kaleidoscopic Optical Illusions

Moving Optical Illusion

This is a common optical illusion that I have seen in any number of books. It was tweeted out this morning by Brain Games. Normally, I wouldn’t present it to you because it really isn’t that interesting. I mean, some optical illusions are more interesting to certain kinds of people than others. Personally, I most like optical issues that look different depending upon how you approach them (eg two faces and a vase). So in the past, I’ve passed it (and similar ones) off as, “Oh, it disorients the eye.” But I noticed something different this morning.

For the record, this is not an animated gif or anything like that. It is one stagnant image. How it seems to work (and I have done no research whatsoever) is by confusing our binocular vision. Try this. Don’t look at the image generally. Stare are one spot in the image. It will stop moving. It is quite interesting to see what happens when you move your focus to another spot on the image. It starts to move and then again stops. This also happens if you focus on a spot outside the image. The same thing happens if you focus your gaze at infinity, the image stops moving. But that is effectively doing the same thing: you are focusing on a single place.

What is most interesting to me is how my perception of the image has changed. When I first looked it, the image moved so much that it was dizzying—and annoying in the extreme. But now, I have a real hard time getting the image to move at all. About the only way I can get it to move is by focusing on a spot in one corner and then moving my focus to another corner. And even then, it moves in fits and starts. It has lost all of its kaleidoscopic charm.

It will be interesting to see if I stop looking at it for a day or so, if the original dizzying quality will come back. Or even more interesting, if other types of these optical illusions would now have the same problems for me. My guess is that they are all ruined for me right now, but that within a day or even an hour my brain will be back to normal.