Curiosity Over Pride (FYI: To comment, send an e-mail to

Sunday, June 28, 2009


American study of history has been as ruthless in eliminating aspects of history that don't serve the right wing narrative - - the best, the brightest and the most entreprenurial - - as the economics profession has been in eliminating theories that don't serve the narrative, like Keynes.
How many of our colleagues reading these comments know that Socialists and Communists fought Hitler in the streets, were interned with Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and dwarfs and except for the military's last minute demural almost succeeded in organizing a coup against him. How many also know that while the German middle class was voting for Hitler the working classes overwhelmingly voted socialist. American historians pose fascism as a working class phenomenon while it clearly was not. You really need access to foreign language sources in my experience to get the real story of what went on.
The best thing about the possiblity of the ruling class uniting with the lunatics in the country to foster some variant of fascism on us will be the opportunity to rise to the historical occasion again. This same dichotomy occurred in Spain in the war against Franco; Italy in the partisan resistance and France in their resistance and is being played out on the small stage in Europe still today. In England as well elements of the ruling class also supported Hitler but the war got ahead of them and largely but not entirely united the country.
@ Real Person
Thanks for your thoughtful and sincere comments. My own feeling is that Reagan was very instrumental in furthering this agenda. It started as a right wing assault, concerted if not an organized conspiracy - - the monied classes doesn't need to sit down and discuss their common interests to get behind them, they know them all too well - - on what they viewed as the excessive populist gains of the 1960s and 70s, e.g. women's rights, the civil rights movement, student rights, black panther radicalism, union student alliances, environmentalism, etc. One of the first things that occurred was the elimination of progressive economists from campuses around the country --can you believe in that period we even had a few marxist economists in the USA! It wasn't done through conspiratorial efforts and a few survived for a while but the reaction slowly set in through diverse social spheres, endowments given by right wing foundations, right wing think tanks funded, etc. While economics was certainly considered by the well to do a sensitive area to control and one vital to their interest, the assault gained momentum and spilled into many sectors. The assault on Keynes was soon to follow and is the reason for much of the discussion on this blog today as we come to grips with the result of a half century of right wing reaction and empowerment.
In regards to another of a Real Person's questions regarding Obamas plan. I think that the best it will do is gain us a bit of time. I have no doubt that in the circumstance - - both political and economic circumstances have to be taken into account which is something we largely don't do in an economics blog - - the plan is the best anyone could have done.
Buying tims until when and if the economy shows some life is very important because we don't want to force individuals and institutions to take additional losses until the economy picks up.
I do not see criticisms and especially warnings as the one above as "undermining" Obama. On the contrary progressive realism, as that of the socialists in Germany before the war, may be the only thing that will save the middle class from the path the well to do has embarked them on.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Ref.: demeaning the poor

With age I have increasingly been convinced that conservative and some liberal's values of self-worth to be based on being better than others. A reader suggested earlier that liberals envied the rich. The opposite would be closer to the truth as I observe it. Liberals largely ignore the rich while it appears that many wealthy people anchor their whole being in how deserving they are compared to the poor or even middle class. Loose their job or their wealth and they are shattered whereas, we, and especially the poor, usually go on in similar circumstances enjoying life when we can.

This attitude of self-distinction has unfortunately deeper ramifications for society as most weath in a complex modern society is created by complex and interacting systems and very little by individual effort. We have seen that most recently in the stock and asset value collapse. All the most diligent efforts of individuals based on years of saving and prudent investment have gone up in smoke due to the efforts of a few, mostly wealthy individuals. Yet efforts to shore up the collective strength of social systems through prudent regulation better universal education and better health care, among other efforts are routinely undermined by the need of some to feel better than others. So the system creates large swaths of poverty to reinforce our sense of self-worth. This is another and not insignificant reason of why we go to war. I remember like it was yesterday when the Soviet Union imploded. Within days China which had been favorably viewed at the time as a "peaceful" nation which had never sought to expand beyond its borders, suddenly became an aspiring aggresor nation that had to be dealt with. We had the enemy that we needed, manufactured from whole cloth in no time at all.

Unfortunately try as we might liberals have never been able to find a cure for conservatives lack of self-esteem and love of lucre. Perhaps if we turned our attention to getting these children when they are young, sponsor obligatory programs that even the wealthiest children in private schools would have to attend that would teach them that money isn't everything and they don't have to feel bad about themselves if they see someone driving in the same fancy car. 
Maybe than they would grow up to be good citizens at peace with themselves and the world?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Loss of Innocence

This one for Dink, but for all of us too, as loss of innocence is the fate of man.
Once the garden's gates have closed shut on you, you can wander many years, many lives, like Franz, (like Thai ?) before finding the back door that will get you back in. (You can get back in...)

From Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of the 20th century's greatest, almost unknown poets who was unpublished (I think) during his lifetime. Hopkins had an idiosyncratic, intimate relation to language, and he knew where he was going with/in his poetry.

Spring and Fall : to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving ?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you ?
Ah ! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie ;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now, no matter, child, the name :
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed :
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for. (1880)

Thai, an example of metaphor : Hell's neologism "banksties".

Friday, June 19, 2009

Example 1- "It's not me trying to control things, it's a safety issue."

"It's not me trying to control things, it's a safety issue."

I had to smile as Mrs. Thai angrily shouted this at me this morning. I had just been thinking about what my first example should be for all this mumbo jumbo when she handed it to me on a silver platter.

We were having one of our typical arguments over whether I should use a long piece of climber's rope as a leash to walk our dog Sasha (her photo is included above). I like the rope because it is long and therefore lets Sasha run further and faster before I must pull her back. Sasha loves to run fast, and I mean fast.

But Sasha is a rather particular dog. While great with people- she will let any strange 3 year old child pull her tail hard and simply lick the child's face- Sasha also loves to fight with other dogs. Further Sasha has this almost uncontrollable Tic when it comes to cars, trucks, lawnmowers and vacuums. She is absolutely convinced they are part of an evil creation bent on spoiling the world; they require attacking at all cost.

And we do live in a high density semi-urban environment were cars and trucks are part of the obstacles of the daily walks. Mrs. Thai is convinced Mr. Thai will let his rather spacey attention down for a moment and not so little Sasha will get crushed by a truck.

Mrs. Thai has a point so I usually surrender and use the shorter leash.

So my platonic series of questions to everyone is as follows:

"What is the closed system I have identified here?" or "What is the information structure?"

"Having identified this structure, can you share examples of where a conservation of energy exerts itself for this system?"

We will we continue the platonic dialogue in the comment section.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The irreducibly complex definition of
an unexplainable abstraction
and substituted 
by a pronoun.

There are flaws in the English language. Take the second person plural for example-- it just doesn't exist. As a result, we've all developed tactics to talk about the second person plural without using proper grammar: Deb says "y'all". Others say "yous". I happen to favor "you guys". There's more examples, I'm sure.

There's other quirks as well. Instead of calling the USS SQUIRREL, an "it"-- as would be proper-- sailors and laymen alike refer to the ship as "she" or "her". Same is true with automobiles. So I wonder... why do we feel the need to fudge our pronouns and anthropomorphize these things? Why do we feel the need to animate inanimate objects when it's improper grammar? I assume this particular example has less to do with the English Language, and more to do with human nature, since these same "tactics of anthropomorphization" occur in many (if not all) languages in one form or another.

I mention these two examples specifically (missing grammatical constructs and anthropomorphization) because I believe that the "being" we commonly refer to as "GOD" (or Allah, or Yahweh or Ganesha or Zeus-- i do not discriminate between deities) is nothing more than another "missing" piece of grammar.

In this case of "GOD", the missing grammar would be a pronoun. A very special pronoun, as it does not refer to a He/ She/ It, but an unexplainable feeling or experience which is then anthropomorphized (like ships and cars are) for reasons I can't fully explain. Maybe it has to do with humanity's hard-wiring being centered around psychological connections and not abstract ones? Maybe that makes us feel more comfortable with the feelings/ experiences we can't fully explain?

IF my assertion is based in truth, that would imply that the omnipotent sky dwelling "GOD" does not, and has not ever existed. Instead, all this talk about "GOD" is a personal (and subjective) experience of life's unexplainable occurrences, which have then been appropriated by any number of different religious institutions for reasons of political, social, and cultural power; (ie, fascist domination of the spiritual population.)

(spiritual being defined as those individuals who form a deep and personal attachment to their amazing, unexplainable thoughts, feelings and experiences)

--keep up the good work everyone!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Der Lindenbaum (The Lime Tree)

It is June in France, and all over Europe the linden trees are in bloom.
There are no words to describe the delicate fragrance of the linden trees, and all the ideas in the world could never replace just ONE linden tree. And American linden trees are not as fragrant as European ones...
Two composers who have loved the linden tree : Mahler, and Schubert, of course.
I would like to write out the poem taken from Winterreise in German, but that would be a little fastidious for you.
Here it is in an English translation. And if you ever manage to get your hands on Wolfgang Holzmair's performance of Winterreise, it is worth much more than filthy lucre, or even GOLD.

By the well outside the gate
Stands a lime (linden) tree ;
in its shade I dreamt so many sweet dreams.
In its bark I carved so many tender words ;
In joy and sorrow I was constantly drawn to it.
Tonight once more I had to walk past in pitch blackness,
then in the dark I again shut my eyes.
And its branches rustled as if calling to me :
Come here to me, young fellow, here you will find your rest !

The cold winds blew straight in my face ;
my hat flew off my head.
I did not turn.
Now I am several hours away from that place,
and still I hear it rustling :
You would find rest there ! (Wilhelm Müller)

Yes, dear Franz was a rootless modern too...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Part III- The Tragedy of the Commons Part I

We continue where we left... Specifically, I hope to illustrate how The Tragedy of the Commons is really just a special instance of the more general conservation of energy and conservation of risk.

Originally an article by Garret Hardin for Science in 1968, The Tragedy of the Commons describes a classic game theory dilemma in which multiple individuals, acting independently in their own self-interest, ultimately destroy a limited shared resource even when it is clear that destroying the resource is not in any individual's long term interest.

Most typically, as Garret himself intended, The Tragedy of The Commons is evoked as metaphor for ecosystems where common resources like land, air and water are at risk of spoilage by a few. Indeed, in this ecosystem context, the metaphor is commonly used by Doomers to describe the problems societies face near the precipice of collapse. Images of a society following the disastrous footsteps of Easter Island in the South Pacific, or Vietnam's Angkor Wat, or Central America'sMaya are common.

But these notions of the metaphor are both too simple and complex at the same time. For at its very core, the Tragedy of the Commons is all about finite or limited resources and this is really just the same thing as the conservation of energy or the conservation of risk. Energy (or risk) can be transferred from one part of the system to the other, but it cannot be created (or destroyed). If one person uses energy from a common source, or reduces their own risk by transferring their own risk to everyone else in the form of increasing system risk, the common resource has that much less energy for everyone else or takes on that much more risk for everyone to mitigate.

And while most people understand this concept for a limited number of things, they tend to have trouble recognizing it applies to everything as everything is actually a limited resource- and I mean everything. It simply matters what manifold or perspective you want to look at an information pattern from.

Indeed, The Tragedy of the Commons metaphor applies to any closed system that contains at least three relatively independent variables (or information patterns, or building blocks or manifolds or whatever else you want to call the sub elements of the system).

Here are but a few of an infinite number of examples:

a. Two men and one woman (or the reverse)
b. Two cars and one parking space
c. Two people and one marriage
d. Two customers and one cashier
e. Two hungry children and one hot dog
g. Two types of school children and one school budget
h. Two "people" (mother and fetus in mother's womb) and one the lifestyle of one woman to live
i. Two religions and one god
j. etc...

The number of examples is infinite because the number of perspective is infinite. And to remind everyone, perspectives can include far more than just three variables (for example, the needs of every child in a school and one school budget or the needs of every individual in a country vs. the need of that country to compete against other countries, etc...).

Yet for every one of these example, the inherent dilemma posed by The tragedy of the Commons, a special instance of the more general law of the conservation of energy, holds true. And this means that for a closed system that contains three or more variables, each variable must have a relationship to every other variable in the system as well as to the system as a whole. Any change that occurs to one variable must transmit that change to every other variables as they take up a position in opposition to this change.

And perhaps the lesson I most want to convey from this entire post: This relationship must hold true from any perspective one looks at the system from. And I mean ANY.

Next posting we will discuss a few examples of what this all means.

... Be forewarned

EXAMPLES of Charlie's Summer Workbook

Mea culpa, I have been putting this off, because translation is SUCH A BITCH, you can't believe, and I happen to belong to that ever narrowing fringe of the population who STILL believes that if you are going to bother doing something, you should make an effort at doing it WELL.
So.... here are some examples from Charlie's summer workbook, which makes mincemeat of our current political scene in a way that makes the religious right look like amateurs...
Don't forget that I warned you it would/could be incredibly vulgar...
And try to IMAGINE all the cartoons (back to that in a minute...) that I can't transmit in this post.

On the subject of Carla, OUR (he he) first lady, who is also a pop rock star (ew, yuckky...) :

Charity :
What charitable foundation does Carla donate her time to :
a) The Raoul Follereau foundation (against leprosy in the world)
b) The Association for the protection of small statured people
c) 30 million animal friends of small stature
d) Cocaine addicts anonymous
e) Cartooning for Peace
f) The Toulouse Stadium

(Sarkozy is under 5 feet 5 inches, and Carla, well Carla is one long legged poodle.)

Carla talks to "Liberation" (translate, Carla talks to the New York Times)
"Nobody has to espouse, or endorse the politics of his/her
a) daddy
b) uncle
c) husband
d) handbag

"I've always had the same.... even if I'm not really all that committed, politically speaking".
a) contradictions
b) convictions
c) constipations
d) methods of contraception

Mammouth (that's the top heavy, centralized educational system, designed to cement the Republic's identity that is leaking water like the Titanic these days...)

Darcos's secondary education reform proposes : (there is an educational reform for EVERY president and prime minister in this country...)
a) Exclusive use of spiral notebooks
b) the elimination of the bic four color pen
c) the restructuration of 10th grade into a 21 hour generalized system
d) mandatory school uniforms
e) the suppression of 13 500 teachers' posts
f) rewriting the words to the Marseillaise (OUR national anthem)

Xavier Darcos's (minister of education, philosopher) last book was :
a) Nietzsche, his moustache is ours
b) Nicholas, his reforms are ours
c) Plato, his cave is ours
d) Tacitus, his truths are ours
e) Spinoza, his axioms are ours

Last but not least, on the subject of prisons, a subject dear to Charlie's (and my) heart :

In order to keep the inmates from hanging themselves with their sheets, the penitentiary administration has decided to :
a) replace the sheets made of fabric with paper sheets
b) replace the sheets with straw
c) give ropes to the prisoners
d) replace the beds with coffins
e) sew a label in the sheets reminding prisoners that it is forbidden to hang themselves under penalty of ulterior prosecution.

That's all for now. Workbooks are a part of a cartoon culture in France which goes way beyond what you imagine in the States. EVERYBODY reads cartoon books in France, kiddies and grown ups too... Not the same content, of course.

Answers :

Raoul Follereau, husband, convictions, C + E, Tacitus, A

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chasing The Dragon

(Disclaimer: I just woke up and have not carefully prepared any of what is to follow)

I've secretly always thought the Turing Test of A.I. legend was easy to beat. All you'd have to do to discern whether the other entity was human or machine was ask it "What do you want?".

My image of the mind is an interface between "want" and "how to achieve want". All of our astounding cognitive abilities have been really come into existance merely to better serve our desires.

So millenia on the savannah taught us that being part of a tribe meant life or death. To gauge our inclusion in the tribe and act as a feedback system we evolved egos. Pride felt good and shame felt bad. One would indicate a good job being in the tribe (and therefore safe) while the other meant our place in the tribe was at risk (and therefore in danger). The way I'm using the term "ego" covers both pride and shame as flip sides of the same construct. Tribal inclusion was so critical to survival that "chasing the dragon" was worth risking the energy. Making the ego happy (fulfilling its "wants") became as genetically valuable as eating or lust in terms of viable replicating transmission.

I'm trying to reconcile some evolutionary biology with Dawkins and Hrdy. "The Selfish Gene" blew me away when I read it. It seemed to indicate that love was really just a handy tool in the overall statistics of maximizing genetic transmission. The bastard genes were tricking aunts/uncles into dying for their nieces/nephews using love; manipulating them into serving the gene's need for a new generation with as much of themselves intact as possible. (Side note- I don't know if y'all saw the Dawkin's TED link after Dennett, but he talked about the "middle world" in terms of human perception being a narrow slice of the overall spectra possible. I suppose love is only necessary in the middle world, but I'm still glad for it).

So anyhoo, then I see those Hrdy links. A mother will sacrifice her own offspring if it better sets her place in the new tribe. Doesn't this mean she's told her genetic overlords to #$%* off and that her own existance is more valuable to her than genetic transmission? Doesn't this mean that the ego that evolved has backfired against its intended purpose? No, I guess not. Pragmatically speaking, the sacrificed offspring was going to be killed anyway so best keep the mother around to have create another transmission vehicle. So her seeming self-interest was really still in the gene's best interest still. (Side note- I haven't actually read any of Hrdy's books yet so I apologize if I'm misrepresenting her research).

Hmmm. Looking back this is not exactly a "Swiss Watch" of a post in terms of organization, but everyone in the saloon is SRC so surely they'll understand ;)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Summer vacation (suite)

Actually, I have a rather COHERENT vision of what I want to contribute to this blog, and I'm a little bit disappointed that y'all look on my (excellent) writing as museum pieces, and don't dig in to the meat and potatoes and start discussing.
If there is one thing that the Internet COULD do for us, it is enable us to see how our near and far neighbor is organizing HIS society. What he's doing well, what he's doing not so well, in our minds.
That's why I'm laying at your feet a certain number of my observations on the differences between French and American society, while at the same time trying to give you a feel for the DETAILS that make up a society, details that are very important if you want to get past all those generalizations that we blather over in the form of IDEAS. (And we manage to blather in a very sterile manner, too, in my mind.)
In order to talk about details, you have to SEE them first, and for this, I'm in an excellent position (Cotton too, SS to a lesser degree, sorry SS...) because being an expatriate has sharpened my skill at noticing this kind of detail. Careful, this is not to say that one cannot do these things in one's own country/society, BUT it is much more difficult.
A little story will perhaps illustrate this one : my brother who spent some time in Japan, a very insular society in some respects, mentioned a friend who had gone touristing in a remote area of Japan, and while chatting with an old Japanese man in Japanese no less, was astonished to hear the man exclaim that HE never realized that he could speak... American before meeting the young tourist...
Gives one food for thought, right ?
It just happens that I think that Internet is the "tool" (beurk, an erector set word, lol) of the future, but that it is NOT necessarily by exchanging IDEAS that it will be the most useful (another erector set word...).
Or maybe, ideas, like filthy lucre, have no limits, no boundaries, no countries, no places.
But... textures, perfumes, THEY are ROOTED in PLACES.
And this is important for us.
Summer vacation :
Every summer when the grinding school year finally subsides, you see hitting the newstands, the kiosks, the bookstores, that INFAMOUS FRENCH SUMMER INSTITUTION, the "cahier de vacances". That's French for : summer workbook.
The French are the ONLY European people to sadistically subject their children, after 10 + grueling months of 8-6 indoctrination known as "public education" to summer workbooks to MAKE SURE THAT JUNIOR WILL NOT FORGET ONE COMMA of the passé simple (the literary preterite...) or sixth grade calculus. (By the way, dinky, that was an EXAGGERATION, as far as I know, Blaise Pascal was the only precocious little (French) sod I know who could have done calculus at 11, probably even before...).
Every year over the summer, you will see armadas of French schoolchildren dutifully sharpening pencils in order to dig into the (daily) lessons that are designed to give them NO respite from the joys (lol) of learning.
But this year, the temple merchants have REALLY INNOVATED. (I mean, the workbooks have been around since BEFORE I had children... and by the way, mea culpa, I USED TO BUY THEM TOO for my kids, but since I am an apragmatic lout, WE only managed to do 1/3 of ANY workbook over the summer before ABANDONING the (expensive) object in the bottom of the suitcase in favor of more... pleasurable occupations.)
They have now come out with...
Workbooks for ADULTS.
Some of them are excessively CUCU (a word that you can learn to throw around at the cocktail parties you DON'T have time to go to. Like gnan-gnan. Well, we're going to have to settle for DUMB-ASS unless SS or Cotton have other suggestions.)
But, Charlie Hebdo, ANOTHER FRENCH INSTITUTION that I will talk about later, after fractals, is another story. This year, Charlie has managed to throw together a vacation workbook that is an indictment of 1) summer workbooks themselves 2) multiple choice questions (a major illness in France...) and.... 3) OUR president (OUR, my friends, is an example of that EXCLUSIVE expatriate priviledge of being able to say OUR in two different contexts...)
And, of course, President bashing is also our favorite national, TEAM sport...
Coming up in the next installment : a few excerpts from the Charlie Hebdo summer vacation workbook, translation courtesy of Debra.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Part II- The conservation of Risk

We will continue where we left- the conservation of energy means energy can neither be created nor destroyed within a closed system. We will again discuss why this must imply a conservation of risk also exists for a closed system.

ALL life on this planet needs energy to survive. Without it, all life would die. The acquisition of energy for food, warmth, shelter, procreation, etc... is therefore of primary concern to all life forms. If a life form is unable to acquire enough energy to meet its needs, it must either reduce energy consumption or it will die.

This issue therefore creates a kind of risk situation for organisms.

Before I continue I will therefore define a few terms. In particular, I would like to define the term risk, and distinguish it from the term uncertainty. Risk can be defined as the “the threat or probability that an action or event, will adversely or beneficially affect an organisms' or an organization's ability to achieve its objectives”.

The risk situation surrounding an organism's energy requirements is therefore something I shall call energy risk and I will define it the following way: energy Risk is the risk an organism faces when it attempts to create an information structure. Energy risk can be thought of as the risk doing something will cost more energy to produce than it will ultimately pay back to an organism.

... Notice I used the term- "information structure".
I will come back to the idea of information structures in later postings but to give a basic working definition: information structures are basically everything we know or understand. Think of them as the scientific community's equivalent of the linguist's noun. Information structures are things like people, places, "things", networks, society, friendship, literature, love, emotion. Indeed anything you can think of is basically an information structure or almost by definition you couldn't think of it in the first place.

So remember how I defined energy risk and remember the conservation of energy?

Since (for closed systems) energy can only be changed from one form to another, but never created nor destroyed, if an organism were to create an information structure than could lower its energy risk forever, it could in effect create an information structure that would create energy forever. Since energy cannot be created forever, energy risk also implies that risk itself must be conserved. In effect risk can never be created nor destroyed for a closed system- it can only be changed from one form to another... Or as Cotton succinctly put it the other day: "risk can't be destroyed, it can only be mitigated".

It most certainly applies to things like CDO, ABS, etc... but it actually applies to everything else- and I mean everything.

Next posting- Part III, we will describe its relation to that favorite game theory dilemma of mine- The Tragedy of the Commons.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hints of Future Posts

Robert Wright talks on optimism at the 2006 TED conference.

I thought Cotton might particularly enjoy the notion of a moral revolution.


Letter to the Editor : Napoleon Beazley

This is my death penalty post. It will  address NEITHER  the issue of innocence NOR that of cost, which in my mind are secondary... And I will justify this later, as the discussion moves forward. This letter was written to the Houston Times (I think) at the time of Napeoleon Beazley's execution. I have MUCH documentation about the Beazley case if you're interested.

To the Editor : May, 2002

An American citizen living abroad, I am writing to extend my public condolences to the many actors involved in the tragedy of Mr John Luttig's murder, and the subsequent execution of Mr Napoleon Beazley.
First and foremost, I offer my condolences to Mr Beazley's family and friends. I am a mother, and can only imagine the horror of losing a child, horror compounded by the fact that state sponsored execution, unlike most violent crime, is terribly premeditated. Premeditated by seconds, minutes, hours, stretching into years. After reading about Mr Beazley, I have the firm conviction that, although guilty, he was a young man who had much to offer to his family, friends, and the larger community of the state. I feel that he had repented of his act, and felt sincere remorse for his wrongdoing. His murder is a tragedy,  one that magnifies, not diminishes, the tragedy of Mr Luttig's murder. 
Second, my condolences to the Luttig family, for whom the State has inextricably compounded the difficulty of coming to terms with the death of their loved one. Napoleon Beazley's execution, far from assuring a bogus closure to the victims (grief does not end magically when murderers are killed) has created a spectre that could haunt the Luttig family for generations. As a mental health professional, I have yet to find one serious professional article that argues convincingly for the benefits of executions in assuring "closure" to victims. On the contrary, my professional experience suggests that executions could be an aggravating factor in the grieving process. Subtle guilt feelings may plague the family, preventing its members from continuing their lives. And finally, consider this fact : an international consensus is moving toward the abolition of the death penalty. International law already prohibits the execution of juveniles, mentally retarded or mentally ill individuals. In the U.S. the death penalty is being heavily criticized, and several states have introduced legislation to limit its scope. Sooner or later, these executions will be considered a barbaric practice of another age. What comfort will the Luttig family have in knowing that Napoleon Beazley was one of the last victims of this barbaric practice ?
Third, my condolences to the individual members of the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons who voted against clemency for this young man, for having missed an extraordinary opportunity of showing mercy, rather than respecting the law, and nothing but, the law. (I am not sure that respecting the law is the strict equivalent of respecting justice...) Here William Shakespeare, in the Merchant of Venice, will express my thought better than I : (Act IV, i; 182-)
"The quality of mercy is not strained ;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest ; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest ; it becomes the thronèd monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings ; But mercy is enthroned in the hearts of kings ; It is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore... Though justice be thy plea ; consider this : That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy."
Do those who voted against clemency feel that they need not pray for mercy ? That they are above praying for it ? Let me remind them of the fate of the character to whom this plea was addressed. Shylock, maintaining hardness of heart, insisted on ALL justice, NOTHING BUT JUSTICE, NOTHING BUT THE LAW. He was subsequently excluded from the human community, and ruined. Doesn't Shakespeare say that he who cannot, will not, show mercy excludes himself, and is excluded from the larger human community ? What a tragedy, and all for the sake of being right...
Last, but not least, my condolences to the Texas people itself. In 1860, towards the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson expressed his foreboding about the racial hatred perpetuated in the institution of slavery : "But the momentous question (slavery), like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union... I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away... and my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it. (Quoted from Strength to Love, The death of evil upon the seashore, Martin Luther King Jr., 1963)
Jefferson's premonitions proved correct. Precipitated by the division between the North and the South over the issue of slavery, the Civil War, of which most American schoolchildren are woefully ignorant, has left deep, unhealed scars on Southern/American political and social life. And racial hatred remains painfully present, as witnesses the growing clamor against racial bias in the criminal justice system. Just as it tore apart the U.S. in 1864, it can tear it apart in the near future, if all of us, blacks, whites, hispanics, or whatever, do not decide to hand in hand build together the society of tomorrow with love. In this sobering backdrop, Napoleon Beazley's state sponsored murder seriously jeopardizes the capacity of Southern/American society to unite all of its members in this vital enterprise.
Love your enemies, said Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the book previously cited. This commandment, far from being the unrealistic pipedream of high-blown idealists, is more than ever a pragmatic necessity in a world where globalization has for better or worse brought us closer together than ever. What are the choices ? Love (and forgive) our enemies or drown in the bottomless maelstrom of hate and vengeance which know no limits. Love our enemies to escape from this suffocating and short-sighted "logic", to heal and forgive OURSELVES.
Thank you for your consideration.

Sorry that was so long... It was a letter, not a blog post. But I COULDN'T edit it...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My summer vacation

Sorry dink, this one is for you. I'm sad to say that when I've finished you (may) be on your knees...

On July 3, my husband and I will head off for our annual vacation. We will come back (home) at the end of August... I will be Internet incommunicado during that time, since I allow myself a yearly detox session to keep things in perspective.

My husband and I are NOT RICH, although we definitely figure in the upper middle class, and that even though I am not contributing any butter to our spinach. (That's a French expression ; you guess what it means ?) He starts work at 7:45 every morning, and sometimes finishes around 8 :00 PM or so, but the really good deal is that he has his office at home, so that when Monsieur is waiting around for a patient to show up (he is a shrink, but affiliated with the Social Security/medical system here, so people get their consultations reimbursed for psychotherapy, not for psychoanalysis), he can just pop out his violin and play while keeping his ear somewhat tuned for the doorbell. So, long hours, but, as summer rolls around, we BOTH get really exhausted, and look forward to closing the shutters, and heading out towards the festival land of milk and honey. (Like the Avignon theater festival, more than 1000 plays all crammed into that one little town, look it up on the map. People doing theater with almost NO filthy lucre. And enjoying what they're doing.) 
I don't know if we'll hit the Côte d'Azur this year (the Riviera for the uninitiated).
Ah, the beaches...
Thirty years ago when I came to France I remember the incredible liberty of TAKING MY TOP OFF, and  showing my gorgeous breasts to all who wanted to see them. (They are not so gorgeous now...)
Can you imagine the liberty ? The kind of liberty that shocked and troubled Henry James in his novels. The kind of liberty that Americans don't really understand. (Most don't, at any rate...)
The liberty of not feeling ashamed about one's body.
In some secluded and rare places on the French coast, you can swim with NOTHING on.
I love it. It makes me feel like Eve before the fall...
But in recent years, fewer and fewer French women are taking their tops off.
That makes me sad, although I am an ardent defender of the right of Maghrebin women here to wear their veils.
And it's not as much fun to take your top off when your breasts are sagging, you guys.
This entire country is organized around the school year.
Businesses close during the summer. Things tend to grind to a halt.
Best not have an emergency in the summer in France. Trying to find somebody to do repairs in August is a little bit like trying to find polar bears in Antartica. You can get very frustrated.
When summer is in the air, a lot of the incredible, unbelievable stress that is eating away at French society for most of the year seems to evaporate.
For those who have filthy lucre, of course.
For the others, it can be a deadly time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

And Another Damn Thing!!!!

It was such a frustrating time for me. I was a lone uber-liberal who called for the impeachment of Clinton. I explained that I believed he should be impeached because he lied; under oath no less. The other liberals rolled their eyes and called me a prude. I tried to explain that it had nothing to do with the act that he lied about, it was the fact the he lied that he needed to be punished for. But they didn't believe me. No amount of explaining would convince them otherwise.

So now I have this issue of Yoyomo becoming an asshole. He has basically been insinuating that I'm a child-like moron and/or a coward to the Israeli mafia and/or that I somehow went back in time to collaborate with Nazis. And I want it to stop. Now. Towards all of us I want it to stop. Now .I am assuming that he will blast me and make further assaults upon my character. He will say that it is because the issue is too much for my small mind or some such thing. He will never believe it is because his behavior is unpleasant and poisonous to The Commons. No amount of explaining will convince him otherwise. It is the Clinton episode all over again.

But in the last post he said it was his last comment on the subject. But then he added additional comments on the topic. Plus, I technically don't know how to ban people or delete comments. So.

Yoyomo, please either comment in a way that doesn't continually call the rest of assholes or do not comment anymore. If you do try the first way, it can no longer be about your pet subject.

"It is what it is", fractals and other mumbo jumbo, OR, why we will always see different vision of exactly the same thing

Imagine a little ball spinning in space. It is a beautiful little ball, mostly blue, with some brown and green. It also has a clear varnish speckled with whisks of white. We will call this little spinning blue ball Earth.

Now also imagine someone shines a very bright light on Earth- we will call this light source the Sun. And just to keep our story simple- but of course we know the story is really never simple- we will also assume the Sun’s light intensity to be constant, e.g. never fluctuate.

As a little reminder to our regular readers, e.g. all six of us, we people of the science cloth have a sacred commandment in our first Talmudic book of physics known as the commandment of the first law of thermodynamics. Others popularly refer to this commandment as “the conservation of energy”.

As a second reminder, Talmudic interpretive scholars called scientists tell us the basic idea behind this this commandment is that “energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but it can neither be created nor destroyed”.

They do remind us of a little caveat: the conservation of energy is only true for closed systems.

As a third reminder, a closed system is a system with impermeable boundaries which NOTHING can either enter or escape. A closed system is a perfect garden or perfect prison so to speak- depending on ones interpretation of the same thing.

Now if you think about it, as long as the sun’s light is constant, our beautiful little ball called earth is a closed system. It is the perfect garden (or prison).

And IF the conservation of energy applies to earth, as our great scientific scholars tell us it must, then “energy can be transformed from one form to another within the little ball called earth, but it can neither be created nor destroyed.”

There can be lots of change within that little ball, but the energy in it will remain constant.

Now most people know this stuff; it is rare to get much disagreement over ideas like perpetual motion machines are impossible, etc…

What is much harder for most people to accept is the idea that such concepts have relevance to society, to social order, to evolution, to the family, to sexuality, to friendship, to cooperation, to social networks, to politics, to love, to everything- but they do.

Indeed, to many people, the idea is bizarre and unnatural and is even seen as heretical amongst many of the scientific Magesterium itself.

Yet I am a scientific scholar of our scientific Talmud, I am in search of truth. And as such, it is my job to read our most sacred Talmudic texts and see if there is undiscovered wisdom.

We shall start this journey in our next post.

But as you breathlessly wait for my next post, I would like you to consider the following issue...

If the conservation of energy is real (e.g. you have faith in our scientific Talmud) AND we are talking about a closed system (such as earth) then the conservation of energy within this closed system must also mean the conservation of risk within the same system. For if risk were not conserved, energy would not be conserved either and one could build a device where we could trade one risk for another and in the process lower our risk perpetually- creating a “perpetual risk reduction machine”. In effect we would be creating energy out of nothing. If you believe perpetual motion machines are impossible, then perpetual risk reduction machines are similarly impossible as well.

The conservation of energy ALWAYS means the conservation of risk.

Link to Part II- The Conservation of Risk

Saturday, June 6, 2009


The more I listen to the debate the more convinced I become that single payer is the only option which will reduce costs and provide better medical care. We could easily see the option voted down in the Congress but in the long run as the private insurance system has become totally unserviceable and unwieldy we should stake this out as our position instead of, for ostensibly political purposes, ceding to our adversaries 90% of what they want at the end of the process.

It was nice of insurers to join with others in pledging to reduce costs, unfortunately we instantaneously saw how flimsy this pledge was. They will not digitize and especially not harmonize medical records - they consider patients they acquire at cost their property - nor are they able to negotiate effectively for lower prices a situation which could become worse with interlocking ownership.

If, as we well might, we lose the fight for single payer we should not accept a dubious compromise but come back to the public with an explanation of how they are being sold out by the current system. While it probably won't resonate at first given the marketing dollars of the health industry as time goes by and the situation continues to degrade, the public will begin to understand the reasons of a political approach which has been consistent and forthright.

Single payer will necessitate addressing the problems of unemployment in the medical insurance and administrative sectors. While I have seen estimates of savings here of up to 1/3 of total medical costs, in the short term, with the economy in shambles, the problem of unemployment in the insurance and administrative sectors created by single payer will have to be addressed.

A two pronged attack can help to this end. Phase in the single payer system over several years and provide retraining for insurance and administrative personal who want to work in an expanded National Health Service. This service could have as one of its core goals in addition to administration of a single payer system, expanded out reach to communities and preventive care. If even a small dent is made in problems like obesity and diabetes as a result of the outreach program National Health Service will have done much good.

The problem of medical school costs will also need to be addressed. Partnership with the Medical Schools and the public health system would need to be implemented to address this problem.

For those who prefer the current system to one whose focus is the patient rather than the money, I would suggest having your sanity checked but be prepared, it might cost more than you are able to pay as the extent of coverage for mental illness in most insurance schemes is very low.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Farmers' Market and You

Drum roll...
You guys asked for it, and you're getting it.
Although I'm really intimidated because y'all just MAY have built up some unrealistic expectations about me.
Some profile things about me before I get down and into this post.
I've lived in France for 30 years now. I am an emigrant, and NOT an expatriate... There is a difference in my eyes, and surely in the govt's eyes too, while we're at it.
It has taken me mucho years to understand WHY I left the mother country, but I've got some pretty clear ideas about the issue, for the time being.
One of the things that I immediately fell in love with in France was the farmers' markets.
There is an enormous one in the Rue de Buci, in the Latin quarter in Paris, the Latin quarter where there is 24 hour activity, where the lights never go out, the beautiful, wild Latin Quarter that I always go back to whenever I go to Paris.
There is an enormous farmers' market on the hills of Lyon, at La Croix Rousse, where at this time of year, it stretches out for maybe a mile, down an entire street, and on a Saturday/Sunday morning you can leisurely shop at small, individual producers and find at least 4 or 5 different kinds of strawberries, all from France (at this time of year...). The teeny tiny ones that EXPLODE into your mouth, they have THAT MUCH FLAVOR.
The farmers' markets are what will stop France from tripping gaily down the path that the U.S. has taken.
3 : 00 AM : while Hell is padding around in his slippers, (I cheated, the time difference is no good on this one...), the revendeurs (people who go to a big market to buy their produce in the aim of reselling it on a smaller market with a profit) are already stirring and have hit the big Grenoble market to get their produce.
5 -6 :00 AM : I THINK that it's about this time that everybody starts arriving at my local farmers' market that sets up twice a week. They all have regular spots, and they pay a monthly fee to the local municipality for electricity, and their spot. Some of them are revendeurs. Some are small local producers who have been on the market for years. They gather around the local pizza guy where everybody hangs out. When it's hot, people down little plastic cups of white wine. When it's cold, coffee is more appreciated. Lots of white wine gets handed out.
Facing the pizza guy is a man who shows up on the market pretty regularly, but not all the time. He sells goat's milk cheese. Goats do NOT produce milk all the time, so for part of the year, he holes up in the mountains, and takes care of his goats. When the new ones arrive, he doesn't have time to come to the market...
I buy my meat from a woman who will have a short life. She has animals : cows, sheep, pigs ; she has an arrangement with her neighbors to slaughter THEIR animals, and they will slaughter hers. She cuts it all up, and manages to hit the farmers' markets to sell it too. Next week she has invited her clientele to her biannual transhumance : it is time to take the ewes and the newborn lambs up to pasture for the summer. She will bring them back down at the end of the summer...
12 : 30. Everybody breaks camp. The market is over. The municipality crew steps in to clean up.

One or two comments : doing business on the farmers' market is NOT like doing business at the supermarket. For one thing, most producers don't have those fancy credit card thingees, and they don't have fancy cash registers either. They will occasionally tell you to forget the 5 or 10 cents that you don't have on you, or to give it to them later. They will also occasionally give you FREE produce when they like you. (And many of them like ME...)
Lots of business gets done on the farmers' market. Lots of REAL business....
Maybe that's what we're missing in the States these days ?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Home Depot Manifold and Various Nietzsche Quotes

So I had to run to Home Depot last for a thermocouple. In past years the place was always bustling with activity, even late on a "school night". But it was a ghost town yesterday. No carts filled with flowers or people arguing over paint chips. My initial reaction was one of mourning. Which makes sense since what was once "alive" had passed. But then I remembered that this is what I've been snarling at for years.....and that I should be happy that wasteful consumption is finally coming to an end. You can't win along all the manifolds.

I can't quickly find the Nietzsche quote about why women shouldn't vote...something about once they have a taste of power they'll have their heels on men's throats. So Deb, why no posting yet? ;)

And the classic "Character is Destiny". Yoyomo, religion isn't the main influence of character. Probably not even in the top twenty factors unless a kid grows up in an extremely religious community. Sigh, how is it that the alpha-atheist has become the defender of some silly sky-man people? I guess its like my great-great-grandmother (nee Meyer) used to say....wait, I have no idea what she used to say. Apparently ancestry isn't destiny either.

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits