Odds and Ends Vol 18

Odds and EndsRight now, my other job involves rewriting all the pages of an old website that was rather tedious in its prime. A lot of the work I do does not involve tech, but most of it does. And I have found that one thing tech writers most lack is a sense of narrative — the idea that they are telling a story. Trying to create a narrative by rewriting the pages from scratch is rather easy to do; trying to do it through editing is difficult indeed. So I thought I would take a break and quickly write an Odds and Ends.

Ironic Political Ad

After last week’s Republican presidential debate, most of the sane viewers laughed when Jeb Bush said, “There’s one thing I’ll tell you about my brother: he kept us safe!” I just assumed this would be forgotten by the next day, or at least that Jeb would try to bury it. But no! He made a political ad out of it:

Jeb Bush Ironic Political Ad

This is bizarre. Here is George W Bush, standing on the rubble of the worst foreign attack on American soil ever. It was an attack that happened while Bush was president. It was an attack that he did not keep us safe from. Is irony dead? Or are Republicans just that ignorant? Or are they just so convinced that they are “strong” that George Bush protecting us is axiomatic: George Bush protected us because he was a Republican and they protect us?

Chicken Hawk Dick Cheney

Speaking of Bush, I found this somewhere. It was probably over at Job’s Anger — but I’m not going to go over there and find the exact link — especially given I’m not sure. This does sum up Cheney. The thing is, Cheney and Trump are about the same in terms of doing whatever they want and feeling no culpability whatsoever. I do wonder if they aren’t both psychopaths — in the technical sense.

Dick Cheney: Chicken Hawk

Hats for Sale

This is an image from Esphyr Slobodkina’s excellent children’s book, Caps for Sale. I find it so charming now. But when I was a kid, I thought this odd little peddler with all those hats on his head was evil. Slobodkina wrote a sequel to the book that is not quite as good, but still very charming, Circus Caps for Sale. My friend Andrea tells me this style of image is an example of foreshortening. What that means is that all the perspective is screwed up. That’s something I’ve come to greatly admire as I’ve gotten older. Regardless, you should really check these books out. I’m sure they are in your local library. My library has 20 copies of the first book, but only four of the second.

Hats for Sale

Real Life Facebook

I don’t know where this came from, but it is very amusing. It shows how bizarre Facebook behavior is. I was having lunch with a friend of mine last week. She told me she had been feeling great, but then she went on Facebook and saw all the great things her “friends” were doing and got really depressed about her life. I thought that was interesting because this is a known phenomenon. I tried to explain that people don’t post the bad things that happen in their lives. It’s all about mythologizing what your life is. None of this made her feel better.

Real Life Facebook

That’s all for today kiddos. I’ve got to get back to the grind. Talk to you later!

The Recent Development of Public Religion

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian AmericaThis history reminds us that our public religion is, in large measure, an invention of the modern era. The ceremonies and symbols that breathe life into the belief that we are “one nation under God” were not, as many Americans believe, created alongside the nation itself. Their parentage stems not from founding fathers but from an era much closer to our own, the era of our own fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers. This fact need not diminish their importance; fresh traditions can be more powerful than older ones adhered to out of habit. Nevertheless, we do violence to our past if we treat certain phrases — “one nation under God,” “In God We Trust” — as sacred texts handed down to us from the nation’s founding. Instead, we are better served if we understand these utterances for what they are: political slogans that speak not to the origins of our nation but to the specific point in its not-so-distant past. If they are to mean anything to us now, we should understand what they meant then.

—Keven Kruse
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

On a Very Bad No Good Donut Trend

Donut TrutherI have been desperate to find something non-political to write about. So I was thrilled to find this article by Phil Edwards, Have Donut Holes Gotten Smaller? This Compelling Vintage Chart Says Yes. But I guess I should be clear: we are no talking about “donut holes” — the delicious spherical pastry that is cheekily said to be the part missing from a regular donut. We are talking about the entire shape of the donut. In the image on the left, you will see that a donut looked more along the lines of a pretzel in surface to volume ratio in 1927, and more like a bagel just two decades later.

This is an important issue. Why? Because I’m not that fond of donuts. And this all comes back to the surface to volume ratio. I like more surface area. The less surface area in a sweet, the more gummy and the less delicious. One of the few Seinfeld episodes I’ve seen is “The Muffin Tops.” In it, Elaine opens a bakery that only sells muffin tops, because that is the best part. It’s true: that is the best part. But the episode made no sense because they were baking whole muffins and then throwing the rest of it away. But clearly: I am not alone in wanting a high surface to volume ratio in my sweets.

So why is this happening? No one really knows. People have their theories, of course. But in order to understand what is going on, you have to understand why donuts have holes in them at all. It’s all about even cooking. If they didn’t holes, there would just be a muck of uncooked dough in the center. Over time, as processes became better, the hole wasn’t as necessary. And I suspect that the manufacturers liked the idea that they could create more donuts in the same amount of space.

But I think the best bet for why donuts changed can be seen in the 1934 classic, It Happened One Night. In it, Peter (Clark Gable) shows Ellie (Claudette Colbert) how to dunk a donut in a cup of coffee. And it requires breaking the donut in half. So I suspect that it really all does come down to the way that donuts were consumed. As Edwards noted, “As donuts became a treat, their shape may have changed to accommodate that, making them less about holding coffee and more about holding sugar, jelly, and even chocolate.”

It’s also true that donuts themselves seem to have changed. Now they are less often the cake donuts of old and these weird “glazed” and “sugar” and “chocolate” donuts that don’t even taste good apart from their coverings. If you ask me, the best donut is the plain old fashioned. And you will noted of them that the holes are still quite big.

Afterword

Recently, I was buying some ice cream. I’m pretty picky about ice cream and usually stick to Häagen-Dazs or, when I can find a flavor that isn’t totally bizarre, Ben & Jerry’s. Well, I grabbed a pint of Dulce De Leche, but I noticed something. You see: I’m pretty blind and generally out of it when it comes to interacting with the real world. But my sense of touch is very great. And I noticed this “pint” was small. And sure enough, I looked on the label and it said “14 ounces.” What a con! Luckily, Ben & Jerry’s is still producing proper 16 ounce pints. So I purchased a pint of Americone Dream, which is delicious.

Why Some Always Want to Raise Fed Rate

Paul KrugmanOver the weekend, Dean Baker wrote, Fed Fails to Raise Rates in Timely Manner, End of the World Is Imminent. For normal people, hearing that the Federal Reserve didn’t raise interest rates last week would be like being told we weren’t invaded by space aliens: it hadn’t occurred to them that such a thing might have happened. But for economists and financial types, the last month was spent speculating whether the Fed would raise interest rates to head off inflation.

The weird thing about it is that it would have made no sense. Analysts have to turn themselves into intellectual contortionists in order to justify raising rates. But that didn’t mean that the Fed was not going to raise rates. There are always those who want the Fed to raise rates because they can make (even more) money from the move. But mostly, the argument is incredibly selfish for a certain class a people. Inflation is way below where even the Fed wants it — much less where I think it should be. But these people argue that we must raise rates because even the prospect of a little inflation is far worse than putting real people out of work.

Also this weekend, Paul Krugman wrote, The Creativity of the Permahawks. In this context, a “hawk” is someone who wants to raise interest rates — thus slowing the economy — because she is afraid of inflation or something. But a “permahawk” is someone who always wants to raise interest rates. And the point that he was making in the article is that the permahawks are very creative: they can always find a justification for why we absolutely have to raise interest rates now now now!

The thing is that all of these people were screaming about inflation back in 2010. And they kept saying it year after year. Well, now they just sound silly. So they can’t reasonably claim that unless the Fed raises interest rates, we are going to turn into Zimbabwe. But they always find some excuse to push for higher interest rates from the Fed. And this is so because they want higher interest rates because it benefits them — not because they are worried about inflation or financial vulnerabilities or anything else that they claim. It’s like Republicans running around claiming we must cut Social Security benefits because they are worried about its long-term finances, when they really just want to cut Social Security benefits because they want to destroy all of the New Deal and Great Society programs.

But Krugman brought up a great comparison. The truth is that the people who always and forever want to raise interest rates are treated seriously by economists and the media. This is the way, is it not? When people are spouting nonsense that will hurt workers, then it is Very Serious. But the same thing coming in support of workers is a very different matter:

Or put it this way: if, say, Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders were to invent whole new, dubious economic theories to justify the policies they clearly want for other reasons, everyone would be coming down on them hard for being flaky and irresponsible. Yet when the BIS [Bank for International Settlements] — which was, once again, dead wrong on inflation — does the same thing, it’s taken very seriously.

In another article, Krugman provided an analytical reason why it is that the finance types are always screaming for interest rate increases. It’s a bit technical, but it turns out that the lower the interest rate the the Fed sets, the smaller the difference between the the amount of money that banks borrow and lend at. Thus: low Fed rate means lower profits for banks.

None of this would probably matter if we lived in a democracy. But we don’t. Those of us who risk losing our jobs aren’t listened to at all. Those who own banks are listened to a great deal.

Anniversary Post: Mormon Religion

Joseph SmithOn this day in 1828, the 22 year old Joseph Smith was supposedly given the Golden plates by the Angel Moroni, effectively starting the Mormon Church. Given that it is the anniversary of this exciting day, I thought I would reprint some of what I wrote two years ago, Joseph Smith and the LDS Ossification. Unlike most of my fellow atheists, I try to take religion seriously and not just discard it as an irrational activity. Because here’s the secret: all human activity is irrational.

Was Joseph Smith a religious visionary or a charlatan? You know, I really think that he was both. And I think that’s true of most religious leaders. Of course, that’s the best way that I can put it. A less charitable person would say, he bought his own nonsense. I mean, his story is amazing with golden plates and the “seer stones” and all that. But I suspect that if he told the truth — he had a mystical or at least creative experience — no one would have cared. It probably didn’t hurt that he told men they could have multiple wives. (I’ve never quite gotten that myself; I always though one wife was too much; I’d be more into a wife that just spends Tuesdays with me.)

And that name! Could there be a more white bread name for a white bread religion? Why, yes; yes there could: John Smith. But still: it’s second in line. But you gotta give the man credit; he was continuing to expand the religion to the end. And if there is one thing that religious people don’t like it’s uncertainty. And that really did lead to his death. And like most of the founders of religions, death was a great career move. I doubt very seriously that the Mormon Church would have become the colossus that it is today without his untimely death.

There is no doubting that he is a very important figure in the history of the United States. In general, I would say he’s been a net harm. But I’m not sure that’s true during his lifetime. That period of spiritual awakening in America was authentic. It is sad to see how religions like the LDS and the JW have ossified into what they are today. Certainly their founders didn’t want that.

But it sure is powerful today. I mean that in a political and economic sense. I’m not sure it adds anything at all to the theological diversity of the world.