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The Iron Druid

Whenever I am in a funk, I often dive into reading reams of escapist stuff. During past few days I read the seven books by Kevin Hearne in the Iron Druid series. One cannot get much more escapist than swords and sorcery literature. They operate like a mental laxative.

Anyway, our hero a 2000+ year old Druid the last of his kind is on the lam from the celtic god of love who for some reason or other (I forget why. It actually makes no difference to the story) wants to kill him. I enjoy the books because the author peppers them with obscure quotes and historical ephemera. I especially liked one of the novels where our Druid and his vampire friend talk to each other using obscure quotes from Shakespeare.

Oh, he also has a giant Irish wolfhound that talks only to him and says things like:

“I think life is like a ham bone if you live it right. You enjoy it and then you bury it when you’re finished. If you don’t enjoy it and you let it go to waste, you still have to bury it, so you might as well savor everything you can.”
Hearne, Kevin. Shattered: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Seven (p. 63). Random House Publishing Group.

Not to be outdone on flinging bon mots our 2000+ year old druid (who looks only 21 years old) opines:

“Making a good omelet is like living well: You have to pay attention to the process if you want to enjoy it.”
Hearne, Kevin. Hammered: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Three (p. 93). Random House Publishing Group.

And,

“Corporations might be harder to kill than gods.”
Hearne, Kevin. Tricked: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Four (p. 247). Random House Publishing Group.

And finally:

“A man’s supposed to shit himself after he dies, son, not before. Try to remember that, lad, so that when your time comes, you won’t make a right girly mess of it. Now fuck off and go play in the bog.”
Hearne, Kevin. Tricked: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Four. Random House Publishing Group.

Trenz says check it out.

Free at last?

At about the same time as the US Supreme Court handed down their decision allowing same-sex couples to get married, the highest court in China declared that mutual masturbation among consulting adults even if performed in exchange for money or other incentives, when not accompanied by direct penile to vaginal penetration (fingers, tongues and almost everything else one can think of is ok) is not prostitution as prohibited by Chinese criminal law. (Well,… at long last a happy ending, but maybe not free…)

Speaking of the US Supreme Court, a few days before their historic decision granting homosexuals the freedom to marry the person of their choice, the US Supreme Court took away the right of many black people to vote. So what this means is that now gays can join the Republican Party without shame while a lot of African-Americans…still cannot vote even if they are Republicans.

How the “Mathematics” of Science Really Works.

Sometimes mathematicians and physicists have no idea what their equations really mean at the time they formulate them. That is what is truly freaky about mathematics when applied to physical phenomena. It works even when we do not know it.

One of the clearer expositions of how the “mathematics” of science actually works in practice was penned by the economist Brad DeLong.

 

“Max Planck comes up with an equation that works. In order to do so he has to make a “purely formal assumption.” And it is only half a decade later that Einstein realizes that the little h that appears in Max Planck’s equation is not a formal assumption or an “artifact” but instead tells us what is perhaps the most important thing about the guts of the universe.

For half a decade the first equation of quantum theory was there. But nobody knew how to read it.

It is this “what if we took this equation seriously?” factor that is, to my mind at least, the spookiest thing about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics. Take the h in Max Planck’s equation seriously, and you have the quantum principle–something that was not in Planck’s brain when he wrote the equation down. Take seriously the symmetry in Maxwell’s equations between the force generated when you move a magnet near a wire and the force and the force generated when you move a wire near a magnet, and you have Special Relativity–something that was not in Maxwell’s brain when he wrote down the equation. Take Newton’s gravitational force law’s equivalence between inertial and gravitational mass seriously and you have General Relativity–something never in Newton’s mind. And take the mathematical pathology at r = 2M in the Schwarzchild metric for the space-time metric around a point mass seriously, and you have black holes and event horizons.”
Brad DeLong

Another example is that of Kepler when he proposed the three laws of motion among heavenly bodies that began modern mathematical physics. He believed he was “proving” God created harmonic relations among heavenly bodies. It was Newton years later who realized what Kepler actually proved was how and why things moved in nature. Go figure.

 

News From Thailand : A Murder Most Foul.

For the past week or so, the discovery of sensational murder and the political speculation surrounding it has gripped the media here in Thailand.

A billionaire (Thai baht) Thai business man was reported to have disappeared. The man had been convicted of and served time for fraud and for promoting ponzi-like schemes. He also was a vocal critic of another

English: BANGKOK. President Putin with Thai Pr...

English: BANGKOK. President Putin with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Русский: БАНГКОК. С Премьер-министром Таиланда Таксином Чинаватом. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

convicted felon, the ex-Prime Minister of Thailand who I have referred to in the past as Thaksin the Terrible. Thaksin the Terrible moreover is a fugitive, living in exile and also the brother of the current Prime Minister, Princess LuckyGirl.

Within a day of the billionaire scumbag’s reported disappearance, his driver was arrested. The driver immediately confessed that he murdered the tycoon in order to steal $150,000 that the victim had just withdrawn from his account. In Thai fashion, a massive media event was held starring the confessed killer surrounded by what looked like a thousand cops. The suspect led the hoards of police and trailing reporters and cameramen to the spot where the body was buried. There along with several other men he implicated, he re-enacted the gruesome crime for all the world to see.

As could be expected, the political party out of power led by the military coup installed previous prime minister Abhisit the Unready (and some think the Incapable), members of his party, and the attorney for the deceased scumbag all have suggested that somehow, Thaksin the Terrible, was behind the murder.

Now normally allegations of conspiracy like this I find as believable as Rambo movies. However, there may be more here than meets the eye or perhaps even less. The confessed murderer, obviously someone so dumb as to believe that as the last person to have seen the deceased before he went missing the police somehow would not immediately suspect him, nevertheless had the presence of mind to remove and destroy all the disks in the security cameras. In addition, he carefully arranged for co-conspirators to wait in the car to help him carry the body out of the house and bury it many miles away. Also, how the driver, a slender young man was able to single-handedly subdue and strangle a seemingly fit sixty year old has not been clearly explained. The re-enactment in front of the press was notably unconvincing. Finally, the deceased withdrew the $150,000 from his account only a few hours before he disappeared. No one seems to know why.

Climate Change Follies

English: Ratio of publishing climate scientist...

English: Ratio of publishing climate scientists who believe humans are warming the planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It never ceases to amaze me that I still am inundated by communications from those who, I suspect, decided to disbelieve the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change and search for something, anything, that agrees with their bias usually written by someone with the title of Dr. or Professor before his or her name. I surmise that before distributing the propaganda they never bothered to check to find out if the person is actually an expert in the field or if anyone who is, agrees with him.

One of the most recent missives refers to someone, whose name preceded by Dr. [area of expertise undetermined], who promotes the long discredited claim that vulcanism is responsible for all or most of the elevated carbon found in the earth’s atmosphere today.

The slightest bit of research would reveal that the carbon emitted by every eruption since records have been kept are included in most of the models developed by the scientists upon which the evidence for global warming are based. Did those people who blindly passed on the report without thinking about it actually believe that all the scientists who produced the 50,000 or so peer-reviewed articles confirming climate change just happened to overlook a major carbon source such as volcanos in their calculations?

Now in fairness to all the parties involved in the climate change controversy, I must admit that I have my own conspiracy theory on the matter to promote.

Since the beginning of the 19th Century when accurate meteorological records began to be kept, world population has grown to be more than six times larger than it was then. Today there are six billion more people alive than there were then. Yet the PPM concentration of carbon in the atmosphere [the claimed major factor in global warming.] has increased only by about 50%. Does this mean that had we maintained the population levels of 200 years ago, despite industrialization, the amount of green house gasses in the atmosphere would have remain static and perhaps even decreased? And, if so isn’t birth control the solution now?

If my speculation is accurate, then the mystery is why isn’t the birth control solution at the top of everyone’s agenda? I expect for the environmental community it is because to do so it would threaten to diminish their obsessive focus on industrial regulation. For conservatives it would mean accepting and promoting what to them is morally hateful; birth control, abortion and woman’s liberation. For the business community it means refocusing from supplying existing products to an expanding customer base, to the much more difficult task of creating new wants among existing buyers.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to remind everyone of a quote by the economist Brad DeLong that I included in T&T a few weeks ago:

“Only with the coming of female literacy and artificial means of birth control can a society maintain both a slowly-growing or stable population and a substantial edge in median standard of living over subsistence.” *

And, it is equally appropriate for me to urge once more something I have advocated time and time again here in many T&T posts and in a number of blogs that the sooner the instruments of power in society world-wide are turned over to women, the more likely it is that we can avoid the Armageddon that may be rushing towards us.

* Note: Recent archeological evidence seems to indicate that it is overpopulation within certain pockets of hunter gatherers that led to the discovery of farming and that the resulting agricultural communities suffered a substantial decline in their caloric intake and general health as compared to the hunter gatherers that remained in the area.

According to Jared Diamond:

“There are at least three sets of reasons to explain the findings that agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet, while early farmers obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy crops… Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease…

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing élite set itself above the disease-ridden masses…

Farming could support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer quality of life. (Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over on person per ten square miles, while farmers average 100 times that.) Partly, this is because a field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a forest with scattered edible plants. Partly, too, it’s because nomadic hunter-gatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it’s old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don’t have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years…”

 

The Federal Budget Deficit

Contrary to popular belief, at least since the Korean War US Federal Government spending [including welfare and Social Security], like budget deficits and the national debt, generally increased during Republican Administrations [except during the Eisenhower Administration] and usually fell during Democratic ones. The reasons for this vary and are often highly political. For example, during their periods in power Republicans generally lower certain taxes [most often on the wealthy and for rent seeking activities], while increasing governmental expenditures [usually by large increases in defense spending or in expanding direct transfers of federal revenue to states]. This produces a temporary appearance of prosperity, but over the long run the lowering of revenue and the maintenance or increase in expenditures leads inevitably to larger deficits and debts especially during those periods of prosperity when debts and deficits should be reduced.

Democrats, however, inheriting these increased deficits and debts, as well as criticism from the Party that created them that the promised expenditures upon which the Democrats ran for office would further increase those debt obligations, generally begin their administrations attempting to increase revenue [usually from those who benefitted from the other Party's largess] or by cutting programs, usually those favored by the other Party [like Defense]. Proving once again that Democrats are wusses.

In any event, that’s not the problem. There is plenty of tax money received by the federal government to pay for the ever shrinking share of governmental revenues dedicated to things like defense and other discretionary expenses that the politicians like to fight over. It is the growth of transfer payments and not the shrinking share of revenue dedicated to general federal government operations, that appears at first to be a potentially serious problem.

Three of the largest components of the transfer payment or non-discretionary portion of the federal budget are, Social Security disbursements, transfers to state and local governments and various costs associated with health care.

Since 1970, US real GDP has grown a little more than three times more than it was then. Social Security payments, perhaps the largest component of transfer payments during this same time have increased more or less by the same amount [meaning its percentage of GDP has remained relatively stable].

Transfers to state and local governments on the other hand have exploded from almost nothing in 1965 to become, next to SS and Defense, the largest component of federal spending not included in the discretionary portion of the budget [The red, blue and green lines].

A major source of this huge growth occurred when the Nixon and Reagan Administration packaged many existing federal programs [such as housing and many welfare programs] into automatic transfers of tax revenues back to the states and local governments [this is partially why the poorly run State governments, primarily in the South, receive so much more federal revenue than they contribute in taxes]. This effectively put that money outside of the budget cutting debate, because no elected official likes to cut money received by his state; entitlements, if you will, that allow the state to balance its budget without raising taxes. [That Democrats went along with this dodge to fund state governments from federal revenue, further cements their reputation as the wuss party.]

The last major component of the non-discretionary spending that has grown significantly has been in health care. Independent of the issue of who is covered to receive health care and who is not, it is to try to control these costs that comprise a major goal of Obamacare. It is these cost control provisions and not the coverage provisions that those who can afford to directly oppose the program really most object to. Recall that the medicare drug program passed by the Bush administration was a direct redistribution of taxpayer funds to the drug industry without any cost controls. Obamacare thanks to the efforts of both Republican and Democratic legislators ended some of the most egregious aspects of that legislation.

Republicans are especially hesitant to curtail or eliminate transfer payments to their states [after all this was a tremendous victory for political expediency over policy]. Democrats feel the same way about Social Security. They both, until Obamacare came along, have been reluctant to take on the Health Services industry.

 

The Battle of Chapultepec Hill

1847: The US Marine Corps Hymn begins with the words, “From the Halls of Montezuma..,” Those words commemorate the Corps’ participation in a battle in one of our country’s earliest imperialistic wars. The Corps suffered 90% casualties in the struggle for Mexico’s capitol city.

 

English: Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexi...

English: Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War, painting by Carl Nebel. Español: Representación de la Batalla de Chapultepec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In that battle the US troops overran a badly undermanned Mexican garrison in the so-called “castle” on Chapultepec Hill that guarded the entrance into Mexico City. A large portion of the defenders were made up of the students at the military academy (equivalent to an US high school) located at the site, some of whom were only 13 years old. The defenders, about 400 in all including about 100 teenage students from the academy, faced over 4000 battle hardened American soldiers. As the Mexican troops retreated when the assault rolled over them, six of these young men from the academy bravely but foolishly stayed behind to defend the Mexican flag. They were slaughtered by the American troops. Obviously, playing capture the flag was more important than the lives of a few teenage greasers.

 

Among the participants in this same battle was John Riley the leader of the Batallón San Patricio, a group of Irish immigrants forced into service by the U.S. Government during the Mexican-American War. Being Catholics, they were treated terribly by their Protestant superiors. They got fed up and decided to desert and join their fellow Catholics on the Mexican side. By all accounts, they fought valiantly throughout the war, but during the battle for Mexico City the Batallón San Patricio’s positions were overrun. As Chapultepec Castle fell, every last one of John Riley’s men was hung in front of him. The US commander waited to execute the Irishmen until the moment that the Mexican flag that the kids were shot for defending was lowered so that they could watch as they died. It has been reported that the U.S. generals didn’t kill John Riley along with his troops. They supposedly branded both of his cheeks with D’s for desertion, lashed him for a full day in front of his dangling men, and then handed him back to Mexico.*

 

Storming of Chapultepec – Quitman's atta...

Storming of Chapultepec – Quitman’s attack (September 13, 1847) in the Mexican-American War. Hand-colored lithograph; original size of painted area: 42×27.5 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Remember, only 14 years later many of the same American officers involved at Chapultepec, who so mercilessly executed the Irish Catholic deserters and the Mexican adolescents, themselves rebelled against the United States. And, following a war that saw the greatest percentage of the American population killed in any war in the nation’s history, not one of these men were executed for treason or spent significant time in prison. Many are now listed as among our nations greatest heroes.

 

Ulysses S. Grant, a legitimate hero at the Battle of Chapultepec,** as well as in the subsequent war to suppress a rebellion against the United States instigated by the slave-owning aristocracy and who later was elected President of the United States, stated in his memoirs that in his opinion the Mexican-American War was “one of the most unjust wars ever waged on a weaker nation by a stronger one.”

 

On March 5, 1947, a few months before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec, another U.S. President, Harry S. Truman, traveling in Mexico at the time, placed a wreath at the monument to the six students and stood for a few moments of silent reverence. Asked by American reporters why he had gone to the monument, Truman said, “Brave men don’t belong to any one country. I respect bravery wherever I see it.”

 

* Note: one of the major purposes of the war with Mexico was to acquire additional territory in which to expand slavery in order to balance the votes in the US Senate of the more abolitionist inclined tier of newly created northern states carved out of the Louisiana Purchase. Mexico, by the way, at that time prohibited slavery which was one of the main reasons that a few years before the white Protestant Texans who had recently immigrated there sought independence from Mexico.

 

Finally as long as I started on the slavery issue, the argument often posed by many southern apologists that if we had only waited a few years the “peculiar” institution of slavery would disappear simply as a result of economic pressure on that inefficient system (the invisible hand again), begs the question of why then was it the South that seceded and attacked first when the rest of the nation, except for the somewhat disturbed John Brown, had done little more than make speeches about the immorality of slavery, hide a few escaped slaves and and elect a guy who, although he did not like slavery, admitted that he was not going to be able to do much more about it other than support prohibition of its extension into new territories, such as those taken from Mexico a decade or so before?

 

** Grant climbed up the bell tower, single-handedly captured a howitzer located there and then used it to fire on the Mexican troops below. Yes, in America even Rambo can become an US President, although not a very good one.

 

 

 

 

 

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