Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Tiding on Tides

What with bright sunshine, on a very cold Nordic sort of morning, illuminating our still standing or hanging Christmas decorations, my mind suggested that soon, thus on or around January 6 of the year that dawns tomorrow, I would have to return this household to its ordinary state. Yes. For me the Christmas season began in childhood on December 6, St. Nicholas day. In Hungary we put our nicely shined shoes into the window on the evening of December 5. By morning Mikulas (as we called him) arrived; he filled our shoes with candies and fruits nicely highlighted with red paper and silver ribbons. Random thought: if a fat man can get down through a small chimney in the U.S., he can certainly breach a pane of glass in Hungary… Now at its other ends, the Christmas season always ended on January 6 for me, the day of the Magi.

Making sure that I still had all this correctly, I checked on the dates. At my age such exercises are recommended; various problems with memory surface as you overstay… In my brief research, I encountered the word “tide” multiple times, as in Christmastide and Yuletide. Very well. In eighty and counting years I’d simply accepted that word; today the question arose: Whence tide? Good question.

If you use a smart-phone as your computer—no need to get up—you rapidly learn that the only tide that seems to exist is that caused by the moon on ocean shores in two kinds of forms, ebb and flood. But in Yuletide the word must has some other root. Upstairs, therefore, to consult a real computer. Online Etymology Dictionary informs me that “tide” comes from proto-Germanic tidiz, or “time division,” thus meaning a period or season. The use of the word for shore tides came late, in the mid-14th century… The word tidings, as in news, shows how a useful concept comes about. It is rooted in the fact that as time changes, things happen. Tidings come from old English tidan, “to happen,” and that word arises from the original tide as well. The Dutch for “newspaper” is tijding pronounced exactly like “tiding”; the German is Zeitung, a word in which the z present in tidiz is prominent still.

Contemplating such mysteries, I might add, refresh one’s mind when the only tidings on TV seemingly center on how in card games one kind, or single card, trumps all the others.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Hour on Earth Day?

Earth Day, which is today, should by definition have 24 earth hours. But as it happens, Earth Hour has already been celebrated in 2017 on March 25. We missed it. And the reason for that is the confusion between the hour and the day. Those two words represent quite different environmental festivals.

During Earth Hour, which extends from 8:30 to 9:30 pm, all unessential lights must be turned off. The festival began in Australia and was first celebrated on March 31, 2007, a Saturday. Since then  Earth Hour is usually on the last Saturday of March. Our first celebration was on March 29, 2008—and we remember it distinctly—the first global celebration, on that day from 8 to 9 pm local time. The day and year was vague in our minds and took a fair amount of research to pin-point—but we were there, at our dining room table, a single candle separating us and doing is feeble best to contribute its carbon dioxide to Global Warming. That evening television brought coverage of lights going out at 8 local time as darkness covered the planet. And the feeling of unity across the earth was almost palpable.

Earth Day, by contrast, is celebrated on April 22. The first year was 1970. These days 193 countries across the planet celebrate the day under the coordination of the Earth Day Network.

Having missed the Earth Hour on March 29, we intend to celebrate it tonight at our house. Lights out at 8:30. We will endure an hour in darkness before rushing back to CNN and MSNBC to see what monstrosities DJT has managed in that hour of darkness: the Invasion of Tibet, perhaps, or the repeal of the U.S. Constitution by next Wednesday? One has to know these things in advance, you know.

Friday, March 31, 2017

When Reading Are You Genre-Neutral?

The word genre is most commonly associated with literature—as in literary genre. Its root is, ultimately, the Latin genus. That word means (per Online Etymology Dictionary) “race, stock, family; kind, rank, order; species, sex.” So it is a kind of something. So far as novels are concerned, historical, romance, and detective are all different in kind. Genre-neutrality (not that I’ve ever seen that phrase used) thus means a total indifference to differences in literature. Poetry is equal to fiction.

But what about another word, gender? Well, it so happens that gender comes from Old French gendre, a variant of genre. It meant the same thing as genre and, pronounced, had the same sort of sound. That sound? Well, take the word jaundice. Forget about the dice part and pronounce the jaun; then add a fain r-sound. “Jaunre”. Both versions of genre have roughly the same sound; in gendre, the r is a little more audible. The meaning of the word in both cases is still the same, thus kind, category, type, or sex.

In English, with the tailing re changed to er—thus making the d clearly audible—the word has become almost exclusive a description of a person’s sex, not necessarily or exclusively in the physiological sense but also or predominantly in its sociological or cultural sense (gender roles, gender identity).

I’m not genre-neutral, to be sure. And as for gender-neutrality, I believe that the striving for total equality can go too far. The inspiration for this post was a note from my old friend Phil Cavanaugh which reminded me that, like him, I too have had a vague sense of unease when seeing that word—or not seeing it—on questionnaires when invited to indicate whether I am an M or an F.

A byproduct of the research I conducted to see what gender means was the discovery that in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere the word hijra is in common use to mean a third sex—thus transgender persons who were born but do not feel male. The word—and it has endless variants—goes back to antiquity. It looks as if we here, in the West, are just starting to make peace with the recognition that ambiguity is part even of the sexual experience. The Wikipedia article on the hijra is here and well worth reading.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Health Care Summary

A rather thoughtful, complete, and sober assessment of the health care issue in the United States is presented on Patio Boat (link). If you would like to see this subject properly sorted, please follow the link. Here is a carrot in the form of that post’s initial sentence:
If you’re wondering who socialized medicine in the United States, it wasn’t Barack Obama. It was Ronald Reagan.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Know Thy "Self"

That word is in quotes above because that word is taking on new meanings we hadn’t guessed before. Thus, for instance, we now have self-driving cars. How should we understand the self-part of that automobile. Do cars have selves? Is “self” fundamentally that which makes the body a body? Or does the self arise spontaneously when the body (or car) is complex enough? Or is the car’s self there but then not really there? That is, after all, the meaning of an epi-phenomenon—which our souls are supposed to be. As this new “self” is going viral (to use a modern phrase), we can also anticipate other “self”-defining phenomena. Soon to appear at your front door is the self-wearing suit, the self-coiling dress, the self-walking shoe, and perhaps even the self-smoking cigarette?

The tobacco industry would like that last emergent wonder—if only it could also induce an actual self to fork over the high price for that cigarette first.

Above all, and finally, it is high time to know our “self”—or else that ancient phrase might undergo yet other transformations and become “self”-know thy self. And when that day comes, I for one, an absolute believer in Nicotine, will step in and stuff out that self-smoking cigar—so that I can relight it just to smoke it—all by myself.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Attention Deficit Denial (ADD II)

The New York Times ran a story this morning headlined (in the Times Digest) Secretary of State Leads from Shadows. The essence the article tells that Rex Tillerson has avoided media exposure since becoming Secretary of State. “In the light” means being on TV; “in the shadows” spells obscurity and hence, in the eyes of media, a lack of importance.

Years ago, already, it had occurred to me that celebrity is a curse—indeed a burden. And Tillerson, who will turn 65 on March 23, has spent his life in the shadows. He graduated from college in 1975. That same year he joined Exxon as an engineer, and stayed with that employer until his swearing in as Secretary of State in 2017. If experience forms our habits, it must be difficult to become a creature of the limelight overnight. So Tillerson must be comfortable in being invisible—whereas a political animal, like Donald Trump, must wake every morning wondering what he can do to be the center of the news today—rather than what he must do.

Attention is addictive. Once addicted to attention, it must be painful just to be oneself. No crowds of journalists, no flashing lights, no shouted questions. No cameras when one walks to one’s own plane. No need to point a finger at a person (invisible to the camera). What pain to be just human.

But Fame has its benefits. I remember once reading an historian who said that any person, no matter how obscure, observed in public to hold conversation with Louis XIV, was sure to become rich very soon. For me that told the whole story of celebrity. One can work out how that happens—how contact with power can render one powerful. The mystery (and emptiness) of such derived power also struck me at the time, and I made the resolve to avoid Louis XIV if he ever comes into my view. As for Tillerson, it will be interesting to see if he is still in the shadows when his time has come to fade away...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yellow Water

Donald Trump signed a Congressional resolution, passed February 2, a Thursday, on February 16, another Thursday. This resolution overturns a rule signed by President Obama on December  20, 2016, effective on January 19, 2017. It is known as the Stream Protection Rule†. What did that rule require? The rule required that so-called “excess spoil” (earth material) accumulated to make coal seams accessible, not be deposited near streams and bodies of water.

Mining waste goes by many names. Among these are tailings, (leftovers), spoil (earth materials that do not contain but traces of coal or ore), waste, debris, and residues. But the motivation behind Obama’s Stream Protection Rule was not so much dislike of piles of stuff; rather, it was what happens when such piles come into contact with water and are leached, the leachate then running into creeks and ponds. Since mining residues are often rich in sulfur, contact with water forms sulfuric acid; that acid (known as acid mine runoff) can pick up heavy metals that are injurious to living creatures, humans among them, that drink water polluted by mine drainage.

Initially that runoff, being rich in sulfur, forms yellow water. I show a picture of such a stream from an EPA website (link). Now the mere deposit, on the ground, of spoil, tailings, waste, debris, or residues does not directly cause pollution. But where the waste is placed can do so eventually—especially when placed where rain or snow-melt regularly flows. In those locations, the sulfur and heavy metals will be freed, and the water will eventually reach either streams or aquifers. That’s a rather informative photograph, on the right. At this stage few people will be tempted to drink it. But that stream enters a succession of other waters; the color will disappear; the heavy metals will be distributed all over the total water that flows. And such metals don’t have to be present in thick profusion to cause people to fall ill or eventually to die.

Yellow water today. Should I be writing about yellow hair next? The relationship between the two may not be difficult to document.

Acid rain, by the way, is formed from sulfur-containing coal. When it is burned, the off-gases, unless scrubbed clean, will contain the sulfur. The sulfur will combine with water in the atmosphere and, eventually, return to earth as acid rain.
†This is a rule published in the Federal Register, untitled, officially 81 FR 93066; you can examine its 380 pages by following this link. The title assigned to it was taken by journalists and others from the text of the first paragraph of the Executive Summary.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Misleading Old Ideas

Let’s take a fairly simple idea. The one that follows is often heard repeated as the justification for cutting taxes. The idea: cutting taxes leads to investment; investment leads to hiring; therefore cutting taxes creates new jobs. Does this idea have actual merit? Well, it all depends on what you mean by the word “investment.”

Investment can mean buying newly issued stock, the corporation issuing them intent on raising capital for a new factory, say. If that is the “investment,” it may well eventually result in people being hired—for building the factory and then for staffing it. But most purchases of stock are not of this sort. We buy stocks already on the market. The result is that the price of the stock rises or falls.

Another kind of investment is when capital is expended on a merger or acquisition (M&A). When companies merge or acquire each other, the usual motivation is negative. The buyer’s growth or profits has been lagging. It acquires another company to get access to its market. That might restore growth—and also result in higher profits by laying off people who are no longer needed. This is often possible if services common to both organizations can be combined. In most M&A cases, job are lost, not created.

Now let us take a look at these two cases. In 2015, total US M&A activity was valued at $2.413 trillion (link), thus, to underline it, 2+ trillion dollars was spent on companies buying companies.  In the same year, total venture capital expenditures were valued at $77.3 billion (link) in the United States. If we add those two numbers, we get $2.49 trillion; of that total, venture capital expenditures were 3.1 percent.  The net result is that of 100 percent of corporate investment, nearly 97 percent was spent on activities most likely not to change employment at all or to reduce it—the reduction coming from the staff reduction as the two parties to the merger make it more efficient. Only 3 percent went toward activities highly likely to be translated to new jobs.

It’s dangerous to put one’s faith in simple ideas taught in Economics 101. In the age we live in, where M&A activity globally has averaged $3.85 trillion every years since 2007, the concept of “investment” has lost all meaning. And to that large average number must be added the totals of every year’s stock market transaction—which have virtually nothing to do with job creation.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Buster Bunker

The new product that I propose somebody should bring to market would be made of very thick concrete. It would be shaped like a telephone booth, but lower in height. Inside it would consist of a decent light and a comfortable seat. The purpose of this bunker will be to accommodate people over a certain age; it would be wide enough to allow them comfortably to read a newspaper. If, reading the morning papers, the occupant  suddenly burst apart from rage, skin, skull, heart, and lungs all spattering in every direction with enormous force, the thick walls of the Buster Bunker would keep all this bio-debris contained. Upscale models would also come with a built-in CPM (that stands for “corpse collecting module”); it would wash down all this debris with alcohol and burn the whole mess. Fine-tuned automated bottling and sacking machinery would collect gases and solids and prepare them for shipment to one of several Fortune 500 companies pre-selected by the former owner. Yet another special feature would be a flashing light on the outside, green for women, red for men. If the green light flashes, you’ll know that grandma is no more—but the little place where she lived is still as spic and span as it was when she got up that morning to read the paper.

Motivation for this invention? Well, today’s headlines are a good example. Today we learned that along with such things as Social Security and Medicare, our newly minted Administration’s budget would also eliminate Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, AmeriCorps (community services), and Legal Services Corporation (legal aid for the poor), and other valuable if small agencies that help those potential green and red lights. We don’t own a Buster Bunker yet, hence we’ve had to contain our rage at these proposals.

Come to think of it, Buster Bunkers ought to be built and distributed, and their operations subsidized by Federal Dollars. That would also help with freeing up a lot of housing and control population growth. The cost of a Buster Bunker should be kept to about $13,130—with an additional $500 for a CPM. Let those who’d have to clean up the mess pay for that additional but obviously useful component.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Unholy Sanction

For what will be obvious reasons today, the word “sanction” caught our attention. To be sure, this piece may be read three or four years from now, its context completely forgotten, so here is the context: General Flynn, Trump’s National Security Adviser, resigned last night, evidently over accusations that he had discussed “sanctions” with the Russian Ambassador. The resignation was announced by the New York Times at 11:06 pm, whereupon the cable media went into a kind of melt-down trying to process the sudden, alarming, and indeed seemingly EXPLOSIVE news. This kept Brigitte and me up later than usually. In three years all this will all seem weird at best.

But back to that word. In a nut shell, the word can have two meanings: (1) it is a decree or ordinance which permits something to be done—as in “You have our sanction to proceed”; and (2) a negative order or laws (along with consequences) which penalizes something that has been done—as in “The United States has passed sanctions against Russia for its Crimean invasion.”

Both meanings are reported by Online Etymology Dictionary. The second (negative) sanction is there said to have been first used in 1956. Nothing more is said. But the date has puzzled many word lovers before it puzzled me this morning. 1956? Come on. So what is the root of that date—never mind the word sanction.

The big global event in 1956 was the Suez Crisis. It began in 1956 when Egypt’s Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. In response, Israel, joined by England and France, invaded Egypt. The United States under Eisenhower, joined by the Soviet Union and the United Nations, opposed this move (or let’s say that they failed to sanction the invasion). This failed sanction may be at the root of dating negative sanctions as first entering the dictionaries of the English language. The history is not cited by linguists; what they have to say is presented at this interesting place (link). In his 1956 State of the Union Message, however, Eisenhower did use the following words:

In all things, change is the inexorable law of life. In much of the world the ferment of change is working strongly; but grave injustices are still uncorrected. We must not, by any sanction of ours, help to perpetuate these wrongs.

Could that be the original framing of a negative sanction made some time before Eisenhower actually used such a sanction against the Israeli-English-French invasion of Egypt?

Sanction derives from the Latin sanctionem meaning “act of decreeing or ordaining” and confirming the enactment of a law. The application of this word in ecclesiastical decrees, not least the bestowal of sainthood on the deserving, gives us the sense that sanction is somehow related to sainthood and the sacred. That sense is more or less correct. We certainly have a holy sanction which makes the saint—and the unholy sanction which can cost a general his job.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Remembering my Etiquette

When you ponder it a little more than superficially, the phrase political correctness is a tautology. Thus the word “political,” by itself, already contains the sense of “correctness.” Deep down the two words mean “the same” (tauto in Greek). But let me extend this by looking at two words that seem to be related: political and polite. Political is rooted in the word “citizen,” polites in Latin; and that last word derives from polis, “city.” At this point “political” is not in any genuine sense equivalent to “correctness,” of course, but let us plow this furrow deeper. One idea might be to check if the words politic and polite both come from the same root; but that turns out to be wrong. Polite comes from the Latin politus; in spelling that word is almost identical to “citizen” (polites) but its meaning is “polished,” refined, hence elegant and  accomplished. The word politic, however, despite its strong linkage to citizen in Latin, had acquired the meaning of “prudent, judicious,” by the 15th century, no doubt because a citizen must have those characteristics in order to get things done. In English, as well, we get the word “civil” from citizen; and civility relies on prudent and judicious behavior. Polite behavior, although derived from polishing rough things until they’re smooth, has functionally the same meaning. A polite person will always be politic, civil, thoughtful, and considerate. Tautology.

Now we could take this even further (always true where language is involved). The hardnosed critic of political correctness will point out that “correctness,” as used in that phrase, does not mean adherence to truth, necessarily; rather, it means obedience to a ideology, whether that ideology is true or not. And that’s also true. The phrase came into use for that reason, I think: to enforce an ideology. An alternative was already available when it was introduced: it was  etiquette. Etiquette retains, to this day, the meaning of “correct behavior” whether in politics or other spheres of life.

Etiquette literally means a small slip of paper, a ticket, you might say. It comes from Old French estiquette, which simply meant a label. Etiquette, in the sense of “prescribed behavior” (notice behavior, not belief in anything) developed from “label” because people visiting courts (be they in France (étiquette), Italy (etichetta), or Spain (etiquette) were handed little cards on which the basic right behavior was printed to be learned. Similarly, soldiers assigned to be lodged in a village, temporarily, were issued a similar ticket with similar instructions on how to behave.

Etiquette is about such things as rising when a lady or elderly person needs a seat, which spoon to use, when to bow, when to speak, who goes first, what words may or may not be used (and here we are approaching but not reaching political correctness)—and never mind what you would rather do—like putting your muddy boots up on that beautifully laid Downton Abbey dinner table.

By combining “right behavior” with “prudent and judicious” speech, we might get political etiquette, a nice correction in the course on which we are now headed—a rough beaching on some arid sandbank or worse. No one possesses etiquette automatically; I remember my childhood. To do so you have to be brought up right. One has to have acquired manners—and education enough to understand the meaning of correct behavior until it becomes instinctive. And it doesn’t harm you if you read and study a fair amount to discover that you’re not born wise.

My source for etymologies and historical precedents comes, as always, from Oonline Etymology Dictionary (link).

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Sun is Shining!

The good Lord has decided to do the unusual. He waved a finger ever so slightly so that something we haven’t experienced in what seems like a month, but was surely at least three weeks, the grey skies have vanished and a bright sun shines this morning in celebration of Brigitte’s birthday. Not a cloud in sight—and it now seems that Folklore, which asserts that the sky is blue, must be true after all. Yes, even here in Mordor. Thank you, Lord. We know you love us. And a little hint of that will let us endure a lot for a long time to come.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Catholic Vote Revisited

My use of the word “revisited” above is a nod to an earlier entry on my (these days) much-neglected economics blog called LaMarotte. There I had a posting in February 2012 on the subject. The post showed the Catholic vote from 1948 through 2008. Today I thought I’d revisit the subject. The result, obtained from Wikipedia (here) follows:

According to CARA† the Catholic population (self-identified Catholics) was 74.2 million in 2016, still a substantial block of people, but evidently declining: in 2011 CARA had the figure at 77.7, in 2010 at 74.6 million. In  the 18-year period that I’m showing, the Catholic vote went to the winner in 14 out of 18 elections, thus 78 percent of the time. In that same period, democrats won office eight times, republicans ten times. The majority of Catholics voted for democrats in each year the democrats won but also four times when they lost. Catholics voted for republicans six times when they won but deserted that party the four other times the GOP was successful.  Catholics in the 1948-2016 period never voted for the GOP when it lost. On the whole, therefore, one infers, the Catholic vote is more likely to go democratic than the other way unless something rubs that collective the wrong way. In 2016, alas, the Catholic vote deserted Hilary Clinton and went with Donald Trump. Well, maybe the next time.
†Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, link.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Thin Water

Thin water (call it that) but it is everywhere,
Insistently covering, coating everything—
Pebbles, grass, swaths of concrete, tracks of tar, the trees—
Soaking the air invisibly, dripping, puddling,
Wet, wet, wet. Shivers run down my back. I pull my
Skin close to the bones. A big breath—and out I go
To haul the garbage bag out to the distant curb
Navigating petty lakes across the ocean
Of thin water; then back again to fetch that blue
Recycling Bin full of its humid cargo of
Spent bottles, cans, and plastics sacked to save the world.

There are these times when for a week of Sundays, seems,
The sun must hide behind a massive grey or fog
So thick thin water turns quite visible and white, and
The faint light only hints at what I cannot see:
Houses across the street, the lake between, the docks
Down there where in some distant future yachty things
Will moor and white swans will seem to move without the
Locomotion of webbed feet thanks to thick water
That carries them darkly, but glitters as it
Reflects the light that, in some future, shall be back.
Will it dry out? Or will fake January last?

I Pray not. Sick of thin water and obscuring
Fog, sick of fake news and fake months that should be cold
Instead—and brilliant—the Sun in charge again!

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Left Bank

Say you’re at the middle of a bridge—say it is the Seine River in Paris. You’re looking upriver, meaning that the water is approaching you. Which bank of the river is which? It seems to you then, from your orientation, that the bank on your right is rive droite and the bank on your left is the rive gauche—what with rive meaning “bank”. But suppose then you decide to go to the other side of the bridge, this time seeing the water flowing away from you, the two banks have changed names. So which is the left bank of the river? This left or the other?

Left and right in (call it) riverese (and possibly also in other contexts) is relative to your point of view. Now left and right in dictionary definition means that the bank on the left of the direction of flow is left, the bank on the right of the direction of flow is right. The Seine flow roughly east to west through Paris. Therefore the Rive Gauche is to the south, the Rive Droite is to the north. This method of naming is formalized in the geological science of orography, the study of topography of hills and mountains. Thus rivers as seen from their source (which is topographically highest). As seen from the source downward, the banks remain always to left or right of the water.

Why this question? Well, I’m studying the brief life of St. Joan of Arc—which will appear here by-and-bye. In Joan of Arc’s life the city of Orléans plays a major role. Up-to-date accounts (e.g. Wikipedia), refer to crucial events on the south bank of the Loire—which is the dominant river in the northern part of France. In older accounts (e.g., my dated Encyclopedia Britannica), the references are to the Left Bank of the Loire. But how could the left be the south when, staring at a map, left is West and right is East. I had to sort that out quickly—given that, just looking at a section of a river on a map, I’d no idea which way the river flowed. I know the way the Rhine flows, or the Danube, but the Loire is largely aqua incognita…

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

That Cross of Gold

In the wake of the Great Recession, I had been charting employment growth/decline monthly on LaMarotte. I’d started in March 2011. For years after that, I used to wonder why I saw almost no sign of a popular upheaval over the sluggishly-performing economy. But the upheaval did finally came with the nomination/election of Donald Trump in 2016. And suddenly everyone is using the word populism.

To be sure, it is a euphemism. In a country where one may only refer to the population as “middle class,” it is painful for pundits to speak of the lower class. To call something a “populist revolt” is more acceptable than calling it a “lower class revolt.” But one thing is certain. William Jennings Bryan’s famous Cross of Gold plays a major role every time that populism rises to the surface. If you ask Google NGram (the word-usage application) to chart “populism” and, say, “tea party,” you’ll discover that until 1962 “populism” was much less used than “tea party”; beginning that year, however, “populism” began to soar in printed mentions so that by 2008 it was used five times more often than “tea party”; and since then (NGram only goes up to ‘08), it must have had an even more sharply rising usage.

I note that until 1962 indices of productivity and real hourly compensation were essentially the same (since 1947). They begin to diverge in 1962, with productivity higher (and higher, and higher) as time advances. The 1960s mark the start of an economic divide—which grows and grows…and grows. And so does the use of the word populism.

Bryan said, in a speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, “you shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” The context here was monetary policy, specifically money supply. The United States, operating on the gold standard, had an insufficiency of money. Bryan advocated bimetallism, meaning the use of silver along with gold to increase the supply—which would have benefitted the agricultural producers, a vastly larger segment of the population then than it is today. The subject of bimetallism deserves its own entry; for now, let’s just say that the gold standard favored East Coast money interests; bimetallism would have helped (let’s call it) the middle class.

Many parallels mark the 2016 and the 1896 elections. Little-known Bryan emerged as a very popular figure and won the Democratic nomination. But he lost the election (no Putin helped him, I suppose; Nicholas II ran Russia then). The gold standard was kept in place. William McKinley won the election. (We disclose here voluntarily that our last address was 259 McKinley.) Another parallel was that a large but little-heard portion of the population—the red states of that time—were disaffected but not as successful as the voters of the same type that managed to capture the presidency in 2016.

Populism? The lower classes in revolt against elites—after long stagnation and suffering. The Golden Cross just got too heavy. Amazing how much 1% can weigh. The ultimate outcome? Who can foretell the future?  One of the interesting observations for me is that the “rage” you expect to see by studying statistics is not necessarily visible until some voice starts shouting it to mobs. Then we have populism. And it can win even without the majority of the popular vote.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Truth Is…

…well, the truth is, at root (thus from the view of etymology), strongly anchored in such concepts as faith, adherence, and loyalty. It came as a small shock to me to realize this morning that underneath it is the Old English word treowe, which I recognize as the German word die Treue, a word I understand deep in the gut. That word, in turn, according to my Cassell’s dictionary, is defined as “fidelity, faithfulness, constancy, loyalty; sincerity, honesty; accuracy.”

Based on its roots, “the truth” is best described—except for the last word in that list above—as a quality or feeling resident in my internal reaction to something; it has a definite emotional quality—again, with the exception of that last word, accuracy. I do not think that most of us have a very strong emotional reaction to accuracy. We’re cool about accuracy but warm about the truth.

Now the problem with “the truth” arises when the truth of some vast collective phenomenon needs to be assessed—and therefore the personal feelings of large masses of people are involved—as in public opinion. There we’re dealing with there is vast clouds of facts we cannot check in person—and our own view of promises which will require months and years to check.
 The truth for us, in such a situation, is a judgment based pretty much on a gut-level reaction to the values that some collective phenomenon may or may not represent.

How close to the “truth” are the fidelity, faithfulness, constancy, and loyalty of millions of voters? How much do they collectively know, how deeply, and how accurate are they on the whole. The truth is we can’t know. The truth is that the truth is as elusive in practice as the meaning of life. All we know is what it is for us, individually. I know in my heart. Not collectively.

If we define truth as “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality” (as Google does), means, when applied to collective facts, that these can only be checked approximately.  None of us knows reality.

I sense that this subject is endless, so here an abrupt end. In that long list above in Cassell’s, one word is obviously inconsistent: accuracy. All the other definitions suggest that truth is “good”; why else those positive reactions of adherence to it; accuracy, however, captures today’s common usage. True is that which agrees with what we see. If what we see is “evil,” rejection, repugnance, revulsion, flight, and aggression would be the negative reactions truth engenders. The content it hides in that single syllable is what really matters. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Notes on the New Random: Head Gear

What with Trump embracing Netanyahu, I noticed an odd fact about Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice as the new Secretary of State. Tillerson has quite gray hair, but the graying has not been uniform. The back of his head, when seen in profile, indicates black hair. And at certain times and from certain angles, he seems to be wearing a yarmulke. Was that fact one, or perhaps even the most important, reason for his choice as Secretary? To be pleasing to Israel? Or was it Mr. Tillerson’s friendship for a man who rarely wears a hat at all?

Concerning headgear, I have not been privileged to read the classified portions of the Intelligence Establishment’s report on alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. election process. Therefore I cannot confirm a rumor that is said to be “in the air” (or is that just “fake news”?)—namely that the color of Mr. Trump’s favorite electioneering baseball cap was chosen by Mr. Putin, the color red being, as it were in Mr. Putin’s background.

Image credit is Wikipedia (link).

Friday, January 6, 2017

How Long Does It Take to Build a House?

Our own Wolverine Drive follows the shoreline of Wolverine Lake, lake-side properties on one, inland-properties on its other side. Wolverine Lake came about when a doctor, Howard Stuart, succeeded in damming up the flow of water from six little lakes (Spring, Mayie, Pork Barrel, Bickling, Taylor, and Bradley) to form a single body of water. This took place 1919-1920. Our village, therefore, is old—and mostly looks its age. In recent decades, however, the lakeshore has been gentrifying. The humble little “summer houses” along the lake have been gradually replaced by ever more impressive mansions.

In direct view of our “backlot” house (backlot meaning that we’re on the wrong side of the “drive”) two of the lakeside houses were razed to the ground late in September, one directly opposite us, the second some houses to the right. The second (right, below) was rebuilt at competent speed—up with finished roofs and some stone facing on some of its outer walls. But then construction stopped abruptly. It stands there now, attractive enough but obviously unfinished. The house across the street (left, below) began going up a month after its demolition. By November 10 it was also more or less up, complete with walls, a tower, covered roofs, and windows installed—but visibly unfinished still today, Three Kings Day, 2017.

So I got to wondering. How long does it take to build a house? We’ve seen activity ranging from furious to rather token at both of these mansion some days—then absolutely nothing for days and days on end.

Well, the Bureau of the Census conducts an annual Survey of Construction. It reports on the average completion time of buildings. The answer to the question I pose is that, on average, a house takes 7 months to finish. But, as with all things collective, “average” is just another word for “approximately” or “you hope.” If you live in our region (East North Central), the average is 8 months. If you live in Middle Atlantic (Virginia up to Delaware), the period is 9.5 months. The shortest period, 6.5 months, is experienced in the Mountain States.

Based on such data—and assuming that construction began at both our houses on October 21—we can expect that the buildings shown will be done by June of this year. For a while, around here, we were joking that they will be done in May. Well, June may be the earliest. When we first moved here in July 2014, three other houses were in the same “half-finished” state further south on the lakeside of Wolverine Drive. One of them is still not finished; two others are—but no one has as yet moved in. Construction equipment takes up their drive-ways still

Thursday, January 5, 2017


If our family has a patron saint, it must be St. Martin of Tours, in France. Who, by the way, selects one’s patron saint? Must happen at a higher level than down here… To be sure St. Martin was born in what is Hungary today. My ancestors chose his name to supplement their own, calling the family Szentmartoni Darnay, or Darnay of St. Martin. Then our youngest, Michelle, went to Tours as an exchange student and later settled there to go to school and lived just blocks from the St. Martin Cathedral. Before Michelle was born we lived near Trier in Germany, one of the places where Martin served as a soldier on his slow journey toward France. Links upon links.

Michelle did some travelling around Christmas and visited a place about 39 miles south-west of Tours called Candes-Saint-Martin, a tiny village now of under 300 people but with a bishop’s palace where St. Martin was once the episcopus. She sent Brigitte and me each a little lapel pin of a view of Candes-Sain-Martin. A much-enlarged image of that place is shown below.

The picture is the work of Manfred Heyde accessible on Wikipedia (here). The view of Candes is from the eastern shore of the Loire at the point where one of the Loire’s tributaries, the Vienne, enters the larger river. Candes, incidentally, is thought to be a Gallic term meaning “confluence.”

St. Martin was born either in 316 or 336 AD; both years have some support, but controversy surrounds both. I prefer 336. It would mean that I was born 1600 years after St. Martin. He died in 397 either at 61 or 81 years of age. Martin is best remembered in the image of a soldier who, meeting a freezing beggar along a road near Amiens in France cut his own cloak in half so that the beggar could be covered. Life is all about simple acts of kindness. Some will never to be forgotten.

The image above is from Wikipedia (link) by Eva Kröcher, Frankfurt am Main.

Monday, January 2, 2017

White Christmas in Glens Falls

Monique and John spent Christmas in Glens Falls, NY with the East Coast branch of the extended family. It snowed tons there while here a warm spell cleared most of the grass of white. Above a rather nice photo (one of several) that Monique took and sent us by e-mail. Her own colorful portrait taken in the same scene is also inserted; her new hat is but partially visible.

As best as I can make out, the above is a view of Christ Church United Methodist near Notre Dame Street where Monique and John were staying. Vast amounts of snow this year, but both ends of the trip passed uneventfully, with the great northern not interfering in the least in what was a long journey in a very new truck.

Today’s weather, here at Wolverine Lake, makes us think that Spring's already here. My new Christmas-gift blue jeans, with red-felt inner lining, guaranteed to defeat even -15 temperatures, was too warm to wear...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Radicalized Octogenarian

A radicalized octogenarian?
That sounds like a contrarian description—
Given that most octomen or octodames
Can’t even walk without a pair of canes.

But reading what old Mitch McConnell says,
As he’s about to set brave Medicare ablaze,
And sharpening his axe to hew down SSA,
Octos must start to weigh a radical response.

The suicide wheelchair’s next in line
Of terrorist weapons to break your spine.
The TNT cane set off by a weak tap
Awaits your kidnap in an old folks home.

But who was the perp? A laid-off librarian?
Not this time: an octo-Hungarian.