Sunday, November 30, 2014


Interstellar is a long movie, almost three hours.  Or perhaps, now that THC has absorbed the science that underlies the movie (with the help of the THC Son, the Official Science Advisor of this blog who attended the IMAX screening with his father) it may have been 23 days long or 51 seconds long.  Actually THC's head still hurts thinking about this. That's what happens when you are dealing with a dying Earth, trying to save humanity, shooting through wormholes, falling into black holes and the Singularity all while worrying about the impact of relativity.

The movie is unsteady and erratic at times and the acting is bland with the exception of Matthew McConaughey and MacKenzie Foy (who plays the younger version of McConaughey's daughter) though the other actors include Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck and John Lithgow.  Without McConaughey and Foy the movie would have no emotional center.  Also, the music is so loud at times you can't hear the dialogue.  With all that it is definitely worth seeing.  The story is intriguing and thought provoking, the visuals are striking and it is oddly optimistic about humanity in contrast to the tide of apocalyptic doom mongering movies of the early 21st century.  Plus, you get to see what the inside of a black hole may look like.
The film is directed by Christopher Nolan, whose brother Jonathan wrote the screenplay.  Nolan has made some of the most intricate and interesting films of the past few years including Memento, Inception and the last three Batman movies, of which the second, The Dark Knight is brilliant. 

And, in contrast to Lucy, the THC Son advises that Interstellar does a fairly decent job on getting the science right.  According to Wikipedia, Nolan hired Kip Thorne, retired Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at CalTech, as a consultant "to ensure the depictions of wormholes and relativity were as accurate as possible".  According to Thorne:
 "For the depictions of the wormholes and the black hole we discussed how to go about it, and then I worked out the equations that would enable tracing of light rays as they traveled through a wormhole or around a black hole—so what you see is based on Einstein's general relativity equations."
Wikipedia goes on to say:
"In creating the wormhole and a supermassive rotating black hole . . .  Thorne would provide pages of deeply sourced theoretical equations to the artists, who then wrote new CGI rendering software based on these equations to create accurate computer simulations of the gravitational lensing caused by these phenomena. . .  The resulting visual effect provided Thorne with new insight into the effects of gravitational lensing and accretion disks surrounding black holes, and will lead to the creation of two scientific papers, one for the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Manhattan 1936

Taken from the George Washington Bridge.  If you look closely at the Empire State building you can catch a glimpse of King Kong.  From Twisted Sifter, it's one of 900,000 online photos from the New York City Department of Records which has a website worth browsing for some wonderful pictures of old New York.

Picture of the Day: New York Sunset from the GW Bridge, 1936

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mrs Richards

From my favorite episode of Fawlty Towers starring John Cleese from Monty Python (see also Enormous Savage Rodents); Mrs Richards, about a hard of hearing and hard to satisfy lady who comes to Basil Fawlty's B&B for a peaceful weekend.  Fawlty Towers is located in the lovely beachside town of Torquay in southwestern England.   Here Basil introduces Mrs Richards to her "room with a view".
This linked clip shows Basil and his wife Sybil attempting to calm Mrs Richards down about her loss of 85 pounds and concludes with Basil wistfully recalling the early days of his marriage.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Marching Through Georgia

The last time we caught up with William Tecumseh Sherman he'd just sent a letter to the Mayor of Atlanta explaining why he was forcing civilians to evacuate the city.

On November 15 1864 General Sherman and his army left Atlanta on their March To The Sea, arriving in Savannah on the Atlantic Coast on December 21.  His goal: destruction of the South's economy and forcefully driving home to the civilian population the cost of continuing the war.

In late January 1865, Sherman restarted his destructive march, advancing through South Carolina, where he unleashed even more havoc than in Georgia, and into North Carolina where he accepted the surrender of Confederate forces in mid-April.

Anne Sarah Rubin has just published an account of that long march, Through The Heart Of Dixie: Sherman's March And American Memory along with a new website on which you can follow Sherman's march day by day using the accounts of Federal and Confederate soldiers, civilians and slaves.  Take a look.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nice Catch

THC doesn't know enough about the game to evaluate whether the subtitle of this video "greatest catch in the history of football" is accurate but he does know enough to know it's definitely "not too shabby".  He was watching last night and saw Odell Beckham of the New York Giants make this catch.  If you don't think it's hard have someone throw you a football and try to replicate it, making sure to catch the ball with only three fingers.  Oh, and also have someone mugging you at the same time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

St James Infirmary

Louis Armstrong from 1928.
I went down to St. James Infirmary, saw my baby there
Stretched out on the long white table,
So sweet, so cold, so fair

Let her go, let her go, God bless her
Wherever she may be
She can look this wide world over
She'll never find a sweet man like me

When I die want you to dress me in straight lace shoes

Box-back coat and a Stetson hat
Put a twenty dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So the boys'll know that I died standing pat
You can read a discussion about what a "Box-back" coat refers to here

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Is That A Comet In Your Pocket?

The Rosetta Comet compared to downtown Los Angeles.  Looks a lot bigger than in the earlier post.

In space there is no perspective (from Astronomy Picture of the Day) . . .  and no one can hear you scream:
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Diocletian Has A Very Good Day

THC almost let the 1,730th anniversary of the accession of Diocletian as emperor of the Roman Empire on November 20, 284AD pass by without notice!  Twenty one years later he became the only Roman Emperor to voluntarily retire, an extraordinary accomplishment particularly in light of the violence of the prior fifty years.

Diocletian, born Diocles in present-day Croatia and of non-imperial, non-noble family origin, was a product of the turmoil of the third century AD.  About 40 years old in 284, he first comes to notice only a couple of years before as commander of the elite cavalry unit under Emperor Carus (282-3).  In 283 Carus embarked on a successful campaign against the Parthians in Mesopotamia and also named Diocletian to the prestigious, though largely ceremonial, office of Counsel.  When Carus mysteriously died in late 283 at the climax of the campaign the empire passed to his sons, Carinus who was in Gaul, and Numerian with the army in Mesopotamia.

Numerian made his return to the Empire very slowly and by November 284 had only reached Asia Minor (current day Turkey) when the Emperor's Prefect (and father in law) Arrius Aper announced to the legions that Numerian had died of illness.

At the army council called to chose a new emperor, Aper tried to garner support but Diocletian was selected.  During his investment ceremony on November 20 the new emperor sealed the deal by accusing Aper of murdering Numerian and then drawing his sword and stabbing the Prefect to death in front of the assembled troops.  Quite a first day.

The following year, Diocletian fought the forces of Carinus somewhere in modern-day Serbia.  Carinus was defeated and killed leaving Diocletian as the sole ruler of the Empire.

We don't know much about his background or appearance but to have commanded the respect of the legions Diocletian must have been physically impressive, demonstrated personal bravery and leadership and instilled an appropriate measure of fear in those around him.
(Diocletian; would you mess with this dude?  From Wikipedia)

Diocletian's reign was one of the most significant in the history of the Empire.

The Return To Stability   

Diocletian brought to an end the chaos of the period from 235-284  known today as the Third Century Crisis ,which saw the empire's borders collapse under assault from barbarians crossing the Rhine, Danube and Black Sea and by successful attacks from the new Sassanian dynasty of Persia (including the sack of Dura Europos).  Under this pressure Rome abandoned the Agri Decumates area east of the Rhine (southwestern Germany) and the province of Dacia (modern-day Romania) north of the Danube.  The period also saw emperor after emperor acclaimed, overthrown and then murdered.  There were 19 "legitimate" emperors during that half century and at least that number of challengers to the throne.  At the peak of the disruption during the late 260s and early 270s the Empire shattered  into three parts with the West (Britain, Gaul and Spain) having its own Roman Emperor and the East (Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt) ruled by a dynasty from the desert oasis of Palmyra of which the last ruler was Queen Zenobia and the center controlled by the besieged Emperor Gallienus.
(From Wikipedia)
Reunion came in the reign of Emperor Aurelian (270-5), who subdued the Gallic and Palmyrene empires and was then promptly assassinated plunging Rome back into several more years of strife.  When Diocletian came to the throne he found a reunited Empire but one much damaged by barbarian invasions and civil strife along with a debased currency and raging inflation.

A year after he became sole ruler he took an unprecedented step in an attempt to cure the fatal flaw of the empire; it's failure to have clear rules of dynastic succession which led to unending cycles of plotting, murder and civil war.  Diocletian named a fellow general, Maximian as co-Augustus to rule jointly with him.  Maximian would be based in Milan and rule the Western part of the empire while Diocletian would reside in Nicomedia and govern the East.  The two worked in close cooperation for several years before taking the next step.  In 293 two younger men were named as Caesars with the intent that they eventually succeed the two Augustus.  Galerius worked under the tutelage of Diocletian while Constantius was under Maximian but both of them had direct control of provinces and legions, an arrangement known as The Tetrachy.

Diocletian also embarked on a major reform of the army dividing it into mobile and stationary forces and increasing its size substantially to meet the threats from the barbarians and Sassinids.  This in turn required major increases in taxation which in turn led to a large increase in the imperial bureaucracy.

The new Emperor ruled as a distant autocrat in a much more centralized Roman state.  A new imperial regalia was instituted and access to the Emperor became much more restricted.  The currency was restored but Diocletian's attempt to impose price controls was a failure (a failure repeated again many times over the centuries).

(Surviving fragment from Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices, 301AD, from Wikipedia)

This stability was purchased at a heavy cost.  Restrictions were placed on mobility in trades and professions with male children having to follow the same trade as their fathers and peasants were tied directly through the land for generations.

Militarily Diocletian and his associates subdued the barbarians and waged a successful war against the Sassinids bringing about a temporary peace across the empire.

After recovering from a severe illness, Diocletian decided to abdicate his throne which he did on May 1, 305 as did Maximian (though in his case it apparently took much persuading from his co-ruler to make him agree).   Diocletian retired to Spalatum, a town on the Adriatic Coast of his native Dalmatia where he had an enormous palace built for him on the model of a Roman legionary fortress.  Over the centuries the palace became the core of the popular tourist destination known today as Split, Croatia.  Below is an artist's rendition of Diocletian's palace and an aerial photo of Split today in which you can clearly see the outline of the palace.  The picture at the top of the post shows one of the palace's inner courtyards as it still exists today.

Diocletian remained quietly in retirement, raising cabbages until his death in 311.

Diocletian's Tetrachy did not survive his retirement.  Conflict broke out between various claimants to the throne and a series of civil wars broke out which consumed the empire for the next eighteen years.  At one point, in 308 Diocletian was coaxed out of retirement to attend a peace conference near present-day Vienna, Austria at which a temporary truce was arranged but which soon collapsed.  In 324 Constantine became the sole ruler of the empire ending the wars - for a while.

However, while Diocletian could not solve the succession problem his other reforms did provide some longer term stability until the empire, particularly in the west, entered its final crisis at the beginning of the fifth century.


IowaHawk on the President's immigration Executive Order speech.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

President Obama Versus Senator Obama

Tomorrow President Obama will announce a unilateral Executive Order of unprecedented scope on immigration because, in his view, Congress has not arrived at a bipartisan solution (by which he means a solution embracing his proposal).  The President's rationale is particularly noteworthy since in 2007 Senator Barack Obama played a key role in torpedoing a bipartisan immigration bill endorsed by President George W Bush at a time when the Democrats controlled both the Senate and House.

What happened is that then-Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) was able to insert a "poison pill" amendment into the bill by a vote of 49-48, an amendment which undid the delicate compromise negotiated by a group of Republican and Democratic senators including John McCain and Ted Kennedy.  Dorgan's amendment was made at the request of organized labor which, despite its rhetoric, has a more ambivalent position on immigration reform than it publicly acknowledges.  The bipartisan group was stunned and outraged when Senator Obama joined Dorgan in supporting the amendment which passed by one vote.  They were stunned because Obama sat in on one of the meetings of the bipartisan group and, at his insistence, they had included a provision he insisted on.  The group hammered out a compromise under which they agreed to support the proposed bill without further amendment.

So why did Senator Obama kill the compromise?  It was all because of a higher priority; getting the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008 and the support of organized labor would be critical in reaching his goal.  Just keep that in mind as you assess the President's actions.  For more on the 2007 vote you can read this.

The anticipated action by the President is about much more than immigration; in fact, regardless of what one thinks about immigration reform his planned action will damage America.  It strikes at the heart of our Constitutional system and has the potential to wreak long-term havoc on our political system, as the Washington Post points out in its editorial opposing the President's plan.  Ross Douthat made the same points in an eloquent op-ed in the New York Times:
The reality is there is no agreed-upon limit to the scope of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law because no president has attempted anything remotely like what Obama is contemplating. In past cases, presidents used the powers he’s invoking to grant work permits to modest, clearly defined populations facing some obvious impediment (war, persecution, natural disaster) to returning home. None of those moves even approached this plan’s scale, none attempted to transform a major public policy debate, and none were deployed as blackmail against a Congress unwilling to work the president’s will.

No defender of Obama’s proposed move has successfully explained why it wouldn’t be a model for a future president interested in unilateral rewrites of other areas of public policy (the tax code, for instance) where sweeping applications of “discretion” could achieve partisan victories by fiat. No liberal has persuasively explained how, after spending the last Republican administration complaining about presidential “signing statements,” it makes sense for the left to begin applying Cheneyite theories of executive power on domestic policy debates.

Especially debates in which the executive branch is effectively acting in direct defiance of the electoral process. This is where the administration has entered extraordinarily brazen territory, since part of its original case for taking these steps was that they supposedly serve the public will, which only yahoos and congressional Republicans oppose.

This argument was specious before; now it looks ridiculous. The election just past was not, of course, a formal referendum on the president’s proposed amnesty, but it was conducted with the promise of unilateral action in the background, and with immigration as one of the more hotly debated issues. The result was a devastating defeat for Obama and his party, and most polling on unilateral action is pretty terrible for the president.

So there is no public will at work here. There is only the will to power of this White House.
. . .
And make no mistake, the president is free to choose. No immediate crisis forces his hand; no doom awaits the country if he waits. He once campaigned on constitutionalism and executive restraint; he once abjured exactly this power. There is still time for him to respect the limits of his office, the lines of authority established by the Constitution, the outcome of the last election.

Or he can choose the power grab, and the accompanying disgrace.
If the President proceeds with his planned action he will be demonstrating his contempt for the American voter and our Constitution.

President Lays Out Justification For Executive Order On Immigration

President Barack Obama responds to critics, including Barack Obama along with the other Barack Obama, who claim that he does not have the legal authority to issue a planned sweeping Executive Order on immigation.
Oops . . . my mistake, wrong President.  THC seems to be making a lot of mistakes lately.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Feeling Good

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feelin' good
Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Briscusse for the 1965 Broadway musical The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd, this song is owned by Nina Simone who recorded it for her album I Put A Spell On You the same year.  In recent years Simone's version has been sampled by rap artists like Jay Z, Kanye West and Flo Rida.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Verdun A Century Later

THC, accompanied by Mrs THC, was driving from Paris to Alsace sometime in the early 1990s.  As we cruised along the payage we saw an exit for Verdun and decided to take a little diversion from our planned route.

THC has visited many battlefields in the U.S. along with the Normandy beaches and the American Cemetery located on the bluffs above those beaches but the Battle of Verdun was different and will never see a return visit by THC.  The battle was fought from February through December of 1916 between the French and German armies.  During those months somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million soldiers became casualties with 300,000 of them killed (about equal to all U.S. combat deaths in the European and Pacific theatres during WWII).  All this for a struggle where the front lines never varied by as much as ten miles and where, at the end, the combatants ended up near the lines they had started from ten months before.

We saw a landscape still completely pockmarked by shell holes from the battle's devastating artillery barrages the results of which gave birth to the naming of landmarks such as, in its English translation, the Forest of Dead Men.  A quarter century later the scene looks the same as you can see from this recent picture by Michael St Maur Sheil (for more of his pictures go here).
world war i battlefields 100 years later michael st maur sheil (6)
The relentless and murderous artillery and machine gun fire pounded the bodies of dead soldiers into unrecognizable fragments scattered on, and embedded in, the endless mud that covered the entire battlefield.  After the war the Douamont Ossuary was constructed to house the bones recovered from at least 130,000 unidentified combatants of both sides.

The sense of waste, loss and despair at Verdun is overwhelming and we left there depressed.

The Ossuary

Sunday, November 16, 2014


A lot more information has become available since THC's November 12 post on The Truth About the Affordable Care Act so he's decided to update the original post on a continuous basis. You can find it here with six new updates.

THC is paying a lot of attention to this because this is not just about Gruber's deceptions.  He was merely a minion for the White House in this entire process and his role in the passage of the ACA was just part of the overall scheme of lies (or "incorrect promises" as the NY Times likes to say) retailed by the President and his team, including "you can keep your plan, you can keep your doctors, you'll save $2500 a year", lies that were not just for the consumption of the public but also for the purpose of rallying Democratic support in Congress for the bill.  The President's party controlled both houses of Congress in 2009-10 but without these deceptions THC does not believe there would have been enough Democratic votes to enact the ACA.   

As Ron Fournier, a reporter and supporter of the ACA, recently wrote "Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies".

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Great Causes

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” 

- Eric Hoffer



Friday, November 14, 2014

World War I As A Bar Fight

This is simply brilliant.  Came across it via WeaponsMan who didn't know where it came from.  Funny and scarily accurate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Truth About The Affordable Care Act

Did you read about Senator Ted Cruz's latest claim that Obamacare was enacted as part of a scam on the American people?
"This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that.  In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass."
Oops, my mistake.  The statement was actually by Jonathan Gruber, one of the "architects" of Obamacare who then went on to say "I wish . . . we could make it all transparent, but I'd rather have this law than not". 

Noted right wing extremist Howard Dean said of Gruber's remarks:
The problem is not that he said it–the problem is that he thinks it. The core problem under the damn law is it was put together by a bunch of elitists who don’t fundamentally understand the American people. That’s what the problem is.
[UPDATE, Nov 14]  By the way, look at Gruber's reference to the importance of CBO scoring.  Gruber knows what he's talking about since the input data CBO used for its analysis was generated by Gruber's own economic model of the ACA for which he was hired by the White House, a hiring that both Gruber and the White House went out of their way to hide from the public at the time of the debate over the bill!  Keep that in mind the next time Obamacare supporters try to downplay Gruber's role.  Not surprisingly Nancy Pelosi is already playing this card, just yesterday claiming  "I don't know he who is" even though she was citing Gruber as a reputable, supposedly independent expert, in supporter of the ACA back in 2009.

[UPDATE, Nov 16] And here's another example of rewriting history from Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D-Callow Youth) tweeting "It's sad to me that good political journalists are spending so much time on these irrelevant comments by this guy Gruber."  Senator Murphy, who recently whined about how hard it was to do Obamacare since "we were reordering one-sixth of the economy", attempts to deftly separate Democrats from the now six and counting Gruber videos by referring to "this guy Gruber" to which Jake Tapper of CNN responds "respectfully, it's sad to me that some politicians would claim the comments are irrelevant".

[UPDATE, Nov 16]  Don't believe anyone who tells you that Gruber was not integral to the passage of the ACA and the President's strategy for selling it to the American people.  National Review Online links to a 2010 Daily Kos piece(!) pointing out that Gruber was awarded a sole source contract by HHS which used some eyebrow raising language to justify not putting the contract out to bid:
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), intends to negotiate with Jonathan Gruber, Ph.D. on a sole sources basis for technical assistance in evaluating options for national healthcare reform. The basis for restricting competition is the authority of 41 USC 253(c)(1) 106-1(b) because there is only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy DHHS requirements.The anticipated contract period will be eight months. [Emphasis added].
Dr. Gruber is uniquely positioned to provide the analytic work ASPE requires based on over 15 years of experience in health care and health policy. Dr. Gruber is a recognized expert in health policy in economics including being widely published in peer-reviewed academic and health policy literature on the effects of changes in health benefit designs on the cost of enrollment in health insurance. Moreover, in order to estimate the impacts, Dr. Gruber developed a proprietary statistically sophisticated micro-simulation model that has the flexibility to ascertain the distribution of changes in health care spending and public and private sector health care costs due to a large variety of changes in health insurance benefit design, public program eligibility criteria, and tax policy. This model has been used for other health reform proposal. Finally, Dr. Gruber’s ongoing work with ASPE, using these proprietary models to help inform the Office of Health Reform, strongly positions him to meet HHS’ requirements the most efficiently, which is a key requirement in order for well-developed legislative proposals to be put forth for Congressional consideration as soon as possible. 
[UPDATE, Nov 18]  If you're exhausted from watching Gruber videos or just want a quick summary watch this two minute video which THC believes accurately presents the current state of play:

Remember back a year ago when the Democrats called those folks who were having their policies cancelled because of Obamacare "stupid" for having purchased the policies in the first place?  Turns out that the Democrats also believed that their own voters were so "stupid" they could be fooled into supporting the passage of Obamacare!  So apparently everyone is "stupid" except for the brilliant thinkers who put the ACA together and those, like THC, who opposed it.  We may not be "smart" but at least we are "non-stupid"!

Though some desperate Progressive supporters and media reporters (is there a difference?) have been coming up with tortured explanations to rationalize Gruber's statements, for those who actually followed the ACA debate in 2009-10 his statement is no surprise and there is no contextualizing away the three fundamental lies (or, as the NY Times prefers to call them, "incorrect promises") repeatedly told by President Barack Obama and his political supporters:

You can keep your health care plan if you like it!
RealityMillions of Americans have had their plans cancelled against their wishes and the Administration's own Department of Health & Human Services estimates that up to 93 million Americans may lose their insurance ultimately under the ACA.

You can keep your doctors if you like them!
Reality:  As millions of Americans have discovered, when you lose your existing insurance coverage you may also lose the doctors you like.

The average American family will save $2500 in premiums!
Reality:  At best a half truth.  Some of those who have policies and are now getting subsidized are paying less.  Of course that means someone is either paying more directly for insurance or indirectly via taxes.  Those who are unsubsidized are often paying more, in some cases much more and almost everyone has higher deductibles meaning that even if you are paying less in premiums you will pay more if you are actually sick.

All this goes to prove how "smart" Nancy Pelosi was when she told us we needed to pass the ACA in order to find out what was in it.

[UPDATE, Nov 14]  And who was the vigilant media reporter who uncovered the video?  Actually it was a Philadelphia investment advisor, Rich Weinstein who was motivated by his personal experience with Obamacare:
“When Obama said 'If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period'—frankly, I believed him,” says Weinstein. “He very often speaks with qualifiers. When he said 'period,' there were no qualifiers. You can understand that when I lost my own plan, and the replacement cost twice as much, I wasn’t happy. So I’m watching the news, and at that time I was thinking: Hey, the administration was not telling people the truth, and the media was doing nothing!”
     (Prof Gruber)
Mr Gruber, who is also a tenured professor had MIT, is starting to establish a track record of blurting out the truth, albeit somewhat too late to influence the legislative process.  He was also recently in the headlines because of the litigation challenging the IRS determination that citizens in states that did not establish healthcare exchanges under the ACA were still eligible for federal subsidies despite the clear language in the statute limiting such subsidies for states that did not set up exchanges.  In its briefs government lawyers often cited Prof Gruber for the proposition, based on his extensive involvement in the drafting of the ACA (for which he was paid more than $400,000 by the Administration), that the intent of the law was to extend subsidies in all cases and that for the courts to find otherwise would undermine the purposes of the ACA.  Unfortunately, the government has now disappeared the Professor from its more recent court filings because it turns out that he gave a talk in January 2012 in which he thoroughly laid out the thinking behind differentiating between subsidies for the federal and state exchanges in a way that completely supported the interpretation of those who opposed the IRS determination!  For more detail read this and, by the way, could someone wake Paul Krugman up since just a few days ago he claimed that the entire dispute is about a "typo", an argument that the government isn't even making anymore. This issue is particularly timely since just last week the Supreme Court announced it will take up the challenges the IRS action in its current term.

[UPDATE, Nov 16]  It seems as though healthcare reform has been very, very good for Prof Gruber as he's apparently made at least $5.9 million since 2000 consulting for the Feds and state governments. 

All in all, the edifice of lies, "incorrect promises", and deception deployed in order to pass the ACA along with the arbitrary and illegal changes by the Administration in its implementation puts THC in mind of one of Instapundit's favorite phrases - it's Potemkin Villages all the way down!

[UPDATE, Nov 14] Even Ron Fournier, a reporter for National Journal, who "openly rooted for Obamacare's success" was prompted by the latest revelations to write:
He called you stupid. He admitted that the White House lied to you. Its officials lied to all of us—Republicans, Democrats, and independents; rich and poor; white and brown; men and women.

Liberals should be the angriest. Not only were they personally deceived, but the administration's dishonest approach to health care reform has helped make Obamacare unpopular while undermining the public's faith in an activist government. A double blow to progressives.

And so even I have to admit, as a supporter, that Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies
Professor Gruber also made news when in response to growing concerns about income inequality and in light of his comments denouncing "winners of the genetic lottery" he volunteered to give up his tenure at MIT to be replaced by Boston residents chosen at random from the phone directory on an annual basis (satire alert).

For more on the fiasco of the ACA read THC's prior posts on this topic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


What used to be known commonly as Armistice Day (now Veterans Day in the U.S.) commemorated the end of World War I at 11am on November 11, 1918.   In remembrance of the beginning of World War I in early August 1914 and the sacrifice of those who perished, a display of ceramic red poppies has recently been assembled spilling out from the Tower of London and into its surrounding moat.   There are 888,246 poppies; one for each soldier, sailor and airman of the British Commonwealth who died during the war.

The poppy is the symbol of remembrance for Britain and its Commonwealth.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields was written by Major John McCrae, a surgeon serving with Canada's army in Belgium, in May 1915 in memory of a friend recently killed.  McCrae died of pneumonia in January 1918 while serving as commander of a Canadian field hospital.  For a more jaded soldier's view of the war see Dolce et Docurem Est.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You Make Me Wanna Walk Like A Camel

Sometimes THC gets to feeling a little . . . well you know . . .

Walk Like A Camel (1995) from Southern Culture On The Skids.  The movie scenes in the video are from the very odd and very funny film Flirting With Disaster featuring Ben Stiller, Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, Tea Leoni and Lily Tomlin.
Little Debbie, little Debbie
I'm a coming on home
Cause you make me wanna walk like a camel

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Little Bit Of Italy

On Monday THC was at his dentist's office and things were running late so he was browsing through the magazines.  Imagine his surprise when he pulled out the April 2014 issue of Travel and Leisure Magazine from beneath a rusting pile of periodicals and on the cover was a picture of his favorite place in Italy about which he's written before.  The article was on restaurants with a view and the one featured on the cover was il Pirata located in the Marina Di Prai area of Praiano along Italy's Amalfi Coast.  This picture shows part of the restaurant and above it on the headland the 10th century Saracen tower built to warn the locals about sea-raiders from Sicily and North Africa.

Not pictured but less than 50 feet to the right and up the hill about 25 feet is the Hotel Onda Verde where we've stayed three times in recent years.  Here's a link to the restaurant which features some more pictures of the location.  And yes, it is a nice as it looks.

Restaurants with a View: Il Pirata          Here's the view from the marina area back towards Il Pirata and just above and to the right, the Hotel Onda Verde.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Common Ground Versus Compromise

THC finds himself amazed to be citing Chris Matthews of MSNBC as a source for wisdom, but credit is due.  After watching the President's post-election press conference he said: 
What bothered me about him [today] he keeps talking about common ground. Damn it, there's very little common ground between left and right, but what there is is compromise. You do something for me on minimum wage, I'll do something for you in corporate tax reform. You give me something on corporate tax reform and I'll get rid of some of the loopholes or I'll do something on trade for you. He never talks about trading and compromising, he always talks about common ground. Well, damn it, you can not run a government on common ground
He misses the main point of politics which is to be a politician and to trade. Okay, you want this? You want to take care of people who have been here illegally for 20, 30 years? Here's what I want. No more illegal hiring, and that's all in the Senate bill. But he won't sell the compromise. There's something in this guy that just plays to his constituency and acts like there is no other room out there. And that's going to be a collision at the end of this year like you have never seen. I do believe it will be like waving a red flag in front of the bull. I think Mitch McConnell is headed for a fight with the president.
The distinction Matthews makes between common ground and trading and compromise is an important one and it is what enables politics to function.  Both parties need to keep this in mind.  Of course the trick is distinguishing between (1) what you can trade to get a compromise and what you can't trade because it is too close to core principles (contra Matthews, if all you do as a politician is trade you end up where we are now) or (2) just plain getting snookered on the trade (see George HW Bush circa 1991 for details). 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Capturing Esmeralda: The Real Jack Aubrey

Cool calculation would make it appear that the attempt to take Valdivia is madness.  This is one reason why the Spaniards will hardly believe us in earnest, even when we commence.  And you will see that a bold onset, and a little perseverance afterwards, will give a complete triumph.
          - Thomas, Lord Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (February 1820)
Lord Dundonald is seventy-nine years of age; and though his energies and faculties are unbroken, and though, with his accustomed courage, he volunteers for the Service, yet, on the whole, there is reason to apprehend that he might deeply commit the Force under his command in some desperate enterprise, where the chance of success would not countervail the risk of failure and of the fatal consequences, which might ensure.  Age has not abated the adventurous spirit of this gallant officer, which no authority could restrain; and being uncontrollable it might lead to the most unfortunate results.  The Cabinet, on the most careful review of the entire question, decided that the appointment of Lord Dundonald was not expedient.

- Sir James Graham, First Lord of the Admiralty on Lord Dundonald's request for appointment as Commander in Chief of Britain's Baltic Fleet during the Crimean War (February 1854). 
(Cochrane in 1807 from Wikipedia)

Thomas, Lord Cochrane, Vice-Admiral of Chile, and Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Forces of the Republic of Chile succeeded in taking the well-fortified Spanish stronghold of Valdivia in support of the Chilean War of Independence against the Spanish Empire, employing, as he often did, a combination of audacity, daring, deception and bluff to triumph against a superior force.

Several months later Cochrane found himself outside Callao, Peru one of the remaining Spanish strongholds along South America's Pacific Coast, leading a small force from his ship the O'Higgins, named after Bernardo O'Higgins, one of the leaders of the Chilean revolutionaries.  Callao was defended by 300 shore cannon, a strong boom across the harbor entrance, twenty seven gunboats and several armed block-ships (as described in Donald Thomas' entertaining biography Cochrane: Britannia's Last Sea-King (1978)).  More importantly, Callao harbor contained the 44 gun frigate Esmeralda, the most powerful ship in Spain's South American fleet.  Typically, Cochrane decided  to capture or "cut out", in naval parlance, the Esmeralda rather than destroy it. Chilean Stamp issued on 200th anniversary of Cochrane's birth)

In the late night hours of November 5, 1820, fourteen small boats set off from the O'Higgins with Cochrane in the lead boat and each sailor armed with a pistol and cutlass.  Cochrane's boat reached Esmeralda undetected but as he raised himself up to deck level he was clubbed by a sentry's musket falling into the boat below, landing on a wooden pin anchoring an oar and puncturing his back near the spine.  Despite this he quickly climbed to the Esmeralda and shot the same sentry.  A vicious fight ensued as the sailors from O'Higgins stormed Esmeralda and Cochrane was injured yet again, shot in the thigh, but ultimately the Spanish captain surrendered.  By this time the Spanish shore batteries and ships in the harbor were alerted and began firing at the Esmeralda as Cochrane and his crew sailed the ship out of the harbor.  He made it out using a clever stratagem involving the two neutral British and American warships hovering near the entrance to the harbor, ordering his crew to hoist night lights like those of the neutral ships and confusing the Spanish gunners who, worried about triggering an international incident, ceased firing.  With the addition of the Esmeralda to the Chilean Navy the balance of sea-power on the Pacific Coast was drastically altered, Spain was left impotent at sea and Chilean independence assured.

All in all it was not a particularly extraordinary incident in Cochrane's career.

Lord Cochrane (1775-1860) was the inspiration for "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, the hero of Patrick O'Brian's magnificent Aubrey-Maturin novels (see Master And Commander).  Cochrane's adventures, daring, recklessness and courage, usually against overwhelming odds along with his resurrection from political disgrace to become an honored figure at Queen Victoria's court is like something from the perfect Victorian boy's novel and indeed he was a quite well-known figure in 19th century Britain.  It's why the 1854 letter from Sir Graham about the 79-year old petitioner is concerned not with whether the elderly gentleman is "up to the job" but rather that despite his age, his energy and impetuousness remain the same and that he is no more controllable than he was 50 years before.  Cochrane became much forgotten in the 20th century when Nelsonian heroics became unfashionable, until rescued by O'Brian's novels and the Thomas biography.  O'Brian's novels, the first of which was published in 1970 only attained widespread acclaim with the republication of the early books in 1989.  Since then they have sold several million copies worldwide.  Written in a style much closer to Jane Austin than Horatio Hornblower they place the reader back in the Britain of Napoleonic times without a hint of any anachronisms.

While Cochrane was the clear inspiration for many of the events in the O'Brian novels, the author was careful to distinguish between the characters of Cochrane and Aubrey, writing in the third novel, H.M.S. Surprise, when Aubrey's great friend Dr Stephen Maturin reflects on the captain's outstanding characteristics and to whom he might be compared:
Off-hand, he could not think of more than a dozen out of the hundreds he had met: Dundas, Riou, Seumour, Jack, perhaps Cochrane; but no, Cochrane ashore was too flamboyant to be typical, too full of himself, too conscious of his own value, too much affected by that Scottish love of a grievance, and there was that unfortunate title handing around his neck, a beloved millstone.  There was something of Cochrane in Jack, a restless impatience of authority, a strong persuasion of being in the right; but not enough to disqualify him, not nearly enough . . . 
What makes Cochrane's career fascinating was that as brilliant, innovative and successful as he was in single ship actions he never achieved higher command in the British Navy because of his outspokenness and independence which, combined with his political views and naivete, created powerful enemies in both the Royal Navy and in politics who eventually stalled and then destroyed his career.   His son later characterized his father's difficulties in temperament; "He made enemies where a cautious man might have made friends" and an acquaintance spoke of Cochrane's "unfortunate readiness to convert the championship of a cause into a personal enmity".

Even a brief list of the highlights of Cochrane's career make it sound like he was invented by, rather than an inspiration to, a writer (and THC assures the reader this is only a limited selection of highlights):

Born into a Scottish noble family his father squandered a fortune pursuing eccentric inventions.

Entered the Navy over his father's objections as an 18 year-old in 1793.

Court-martialed in 1798 for showing disrespect to a superior officer, a trait which was to continue throughout his career and earn him many enemies in the senior ranks of the British Admiralty.

Given command of the small sloop HMS Speedy in 1800 he avoids capture by a French frigate by flying the Danish flag and informing them the plague has broken out onboard.  Later on he escapes from another French ship at night by placing a ship's lantern on a barrel floating away from the Speedy (an episode recreated in the movie Master And Commander you can watch it here, dubbed in French).

Later that year the 14-gun Speedy with a 48-man crew takes on the 32 gun Spanish frigate El Gamo with 300 sailors.  Cochrane gains victory by charging the Gamo and getting in so close that the Spanish ship can not depress its guns enough hit the much smaller Speedy.  Cochrane leads his crew in a boarding action and captures the Spanish ships resulting in one of the most renowned single ship actions of the Napoleonic Wars, and another episode recreated in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

(Capture of El Gamo from Wikipedia)

During its 13 month cruise the Speedy captured, burned or drove ashore 53 enemy ships.

Elected to Parliament in 1806 as a reformer his attacks on corruption in the government and particularly the Admiralty gain him many powerful enemies.  The corruption and venality of the British Admiralty of this era is so astounding that it is almost miraculous that its Navy could defeat the French fleet so thoroughly.

Sailing the HMS Pallas near Bordeaux (1806), Cochrane attacks and defeats six enemy ships, sinking three and capturing one.

Occupying the fortress of Mongat on the Spanish Coast with a small force he delays an entire French army for a month.

At the town of Rosas and its nearby Fort Trinidad along the Catalonian coast of Spain in late 1808, Cochrane and a small force fight an astounding delaying action on land against a much larger French force, an episode which deserves its own THC post which will happen next month.

In command of the HMS Imperieuse at the Battle of Basque Roads in 1809, Cochrane leads, at the request of the Admiralty, a dangerous fire ship attack on a French fleet anchored near La Rochelle on the French Atlantic Coast.  Despite the refusal of British Admiral Gambier to commit his fleet in support, Cochrane's attack shatters the enemy squadron, sinking or ground nine warships but the opportunity to destroy the entire French force is lost.  Cochrane brings charges resulting in a court-martial proceeding against the Gambier who is acquitted using tampered evidence and Cochrane's Royal Navy career ends.
Battle of the Basque Roads by MalteBlom
(Basque Roads)

In 1812 he elopes to Scotland with 16-year old Katherine (Kitty) Barnes where they are married in a civil ceremony over the objection of his rich uncle who disinherits him.  Because he and Kitty go through two other marriage ceremonies (Anglican in 1818 and Church of Scotland in 1825) confusion over the right of his eldest son to inherit the Earldom is not resolved until the 1860s.  Kitty accompanies him on all his adventures outside of Britain, including being on deck during sea battles in South America.,-katherine-barnes-cochrane.jpg(Kitty Barnes Cochrane from artnet)

His enemies finally bring him down as part of the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814.  While relatives of Cochrane were certainly involved, the consensus of historians is that Thomas was innocent and the account of his trial is appalling in its lack of fairness.  After his conviction he is expelled from Parliament, stripped of his Knighthood in a ceremony in Westminster Abbey which culminated in his banner being ripped down and kicked down the steps of the Abbey.

Engineering two escapes from jail; in 1812 after being jailed for "insulting" the Admiralty Court in Malta, he files through the bars of his third story cell and climbs down a rope making way to his ship and returning to Britain and denouncing the Court in the House of Commons; and on March 6, 1815 from the upper floors of King's Bench State House in London where he is serving a one -year sentence for his conviction in the Stock Exchange Fraud Case, an escape described by Thomas in his biography:

Then he coiled the rope and climbed out of the window, scaling upward to the roof of the State House building . . . To one who was so accustomed to ropes and climbing, it was not too difficult, even by night, to throw a running noose over the spikes which topped the outer wall.  Far more dangerous was the journey, hand over hand, handing from the thin rope between the State House roof and the wall, with the dark and lethal drop below him . . . Cochrane reached the outer wall . . . paid out another length of rope outside the wall and made it fast at the top.  He began his descent, but he was still 20 feet above the ground when the thin rope snapped in his hands and he fell heavily on his back, knocking himself unconscious  . . . . Though there were no bones broken, he was badly bruised and sprained, managing only to crawl to the house of a former servant of the family before daybreak.
 It should come as no surprise that having made his escape, two weeks later Cochrane appeared in the House of Commons, to which his Westminster constituents had reelected him despite his conviction, demanding his right to speak and from which he was forcibly removed by the King's Constables who carried him out of Commons and into a windowless, unventilated punishment cell at the King's Bench prison where he served the remainder of his sentence.

Disgraced in England he accepts an invitation to support the Chilean rebels and becomes commander of the new nation's navy from 1818 to 1822 winning victories at Valdivia and Callao.

Though he spent many years opposing Napoleon (who referred to Cochrane as "The Sea Wolf") remains an admirer of the man and may have hatched a plot to spring the deposed Emperor from his lonely captivity on St Helena in the South Atlantic and install him as Emperor of a new South American kingdom, a scheme thwarted only by Napoleon's death in 1821.

Leaving Chile, he accepts an invitation to command Brazil's navy in its independence struggle with Portugal.  During his command he again takes a very small naval force and with bluff and skill drives the Portuguese fleet and army out of the northern coastal provinces and preserving Brazil's independence.

After a brief return to England he goes to Greece in 1827 to command its navy in its fight of freedom against the Ottoman Empire.  Though the Greeks win their independence it is the only adventure in which he does not have striking success.

In 1831 his father dies and Thomas Cochrane becomes 10th Earl of Dundonald.  A year later he is granted a pardon regarding his 1814 conviction, reinstated as a Rear-Admiral and in 1847 his Knighthood is personally restored by Queen Victoria over the objections of senior British politicians.

From 1848 to 1851 Lord Cochrane serves as Commander-in-Chief of the British fleet in the North Atlantic and West Indies.

In 1859 and 1860 his books, Narrative of Services in the Liberation of Chile, Peru and Brazil and Autobiography of a Seaman, become best sellers and complete the rehabilitation of his reputation for the duration of the Victorian era.

On the day before his funeral at Westminster Abbey in 1860, Queen Victoria orders, over the objection of Prime Minister Palmerston, that Cochrane's banner and insignia be restored to the Abbey.  Representatives from Chile, Brazil and Greece along with a throng of English admirers jam the building but no Cabinet members attend the service.

In 1876 the House of Commons votes to give his grandson 40,000 pounds in compensation for his grandfather's unjust conviction.,_Culross,_Fife.JPG


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

White House: Electoral Reform Announcement

Associated Press  - Surrounded by Democratic party leaders along with an inclusive and diverse coalition of leading political activists, President Barack Obama today announced a bold new initiative to "get big money out of politics".  The President declared "Let me be clear, it's time to end the corrupt influence of special interests in our electoral system and it's time for the people's will to prevail".

Under the proposal, the President would name a special commission of the most highly regarded political science professors from leading American universities, assisted by volunteers from Google and Facebook, to develop an algorithm based upon a voter's ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and class characteristics, designed to ascertain how each voter should vote in their best interests.  Votes would then be cast electronically on behalf of each voter, based upon how they really should have voted, as determined by the expert-developed algorithm.  The President went on to say that such a system would eliminate the need for campaign ads and expenditures and finally end "the reign of big money.  And Koch Brothers".

Questioned by reporters, the President insisted that the proposal was not prompted by the results of the mid-term elections, instead being driven by the urgent need for change to "get the American people on the right side of history".

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bigger Things

While we go through the mundane task of voting today let's take a moment to contemplate THE BIGGER PICTURE with a couple of photos courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day.

First up is a SELFIE taken by the Rosetta spacecraft, currently about 300 million miles from earth and 10 miles from Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko on which it will attempt to land on November 12.  The dual comet can be seen at the center top of the picture along with its surrounding gaseous cloud.
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.The next picture shows the Titan, the large moon of Saturn trying to hide behind the planet's rings.  The small rock orbiting above the rings is the tiny moon Epimetheus.
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Postmodernism Generator

Postpatriarchialist Marxism and capitalist discourse

If one examines subtextual modern theory, one is faced with a choice: either accept conceptualist appropriation or conclude that class, perhaps surprisingly, has significance, but only if language is distinct from art; if that is not the case, context is created by the masses. If subtextual modern theory holds, we have to choose between conceptualist appropriation and the presemioticist paradigm of expression. 
For those of you who have children in college, or if you are pursuing a degree in higher education, here's a handy tool that will help them thrive in their liberal arts studies - the Postmodernism Essay Generator!   The Generator allows you to create random clusters of meaningless words and phrases using pre-approved jargon.  Since post-modernist theory consists of providing a conceptual structure that allows the practitioner to reduce anything of value in Western Civilization to gibberish why spend a lot of your valuable time on essays when the Generator can magically do its work in seconds!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


November is THC's least favorite month.  All of a sudden it's getting dark really early.  By the end of the month the trees are barren and it's becoming colder and bleaker with a long, unending winter looming ahead. or, as Bill Murray put it in Groundhog Day, "It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life".  Now that THC has depressed himself (and possibly his readers) perhaps it's time for a song and there was no one better at depressing music than Nirvana.