For Our Gracious Host

As well as for anyone else, who like Grim, split your own wood.

http://www.geek.com/news/physics-exploiting-axe-splits-wood-in-record-time-1591725/

I think this is amazing.  And probably the first real advancement in what is an ancient tool in a very long time.

Warning Order: Bannockburn

It is now exactly two months until the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.



Prepare yourselves with due care.

Admirable brevity

Economist and Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent:
I remember how happy I felt when I graduated from Berkeley many years ago. But I thought the graduation speeches were long. I will economize on words. Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches. 
1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible. 
2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs. 
3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts, and their preferences than you do. 
4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That is why social safety nets don’t always end up working as intended. 
5. There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency. 
6. In an equilibrium of a game or an economy, people are satisfied with their choices. That is why it is difficult for well-meaning outsiders to change things for better or worse. 
7. In the future, you too will respond to incentives. That is why there are some promises that you’d like to make but can’t. No one will believe those promises because they know that later it will not be in your interest to deliver. The lesson here is this: before you make a promise, think about whether you will want to keep it if and when your circumstances change. This is how you earn a reputation. 
8. Governments and voters respond to incentives too. That is why governments sometimes default on loans and other promises that they have made. 
9. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. That is what national government debts and the U.S. social security system do (but not the social security system of Singapore). 
10. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation. 
11. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government transfers (especially transfers to themselves). 
12. Because market prices aggregate traders’ information, it is difficult to forecast stock prices and interest rates and exchange rates.

H/t Maggie's Farm.

At ease

A sense of entitlement from having served in the military?  Really?

Tom Cotton cheerfully swats away Sen. Pryor's absurd criticism:

BLM II: Messing with Texas

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott slammed the federal Bureau of Land Management’s claims that private property within the state now belongs to the federal government.

The BLM says the federal government owns a 90,000 acre piece of land along Texas’s Red River, despite it being maintained and cultivated by private landowners for generations and no law has been passed by Congress giving BLM ownership of the land.

...

“I am deeply concerned about the notion that the Bureau of Land Management believes the federal government has the authority to swoop in and take land that has been owned and cultivated by Texas landowners for generations,” Abbott wrote in a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornz.

"If A President Signs a Bill into Law, Must He Obey It?"

The answer turns out, of course, to be "no."  It is impossible to make the President obey the law.

Brian Boru's March



The Feast of St. George


April 23rd is the feast day of the patron saint of the mounted warrior, the Order of the Garter ("Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense") and many other orders of knighthood.  Here is an article on the life and myth of St. George, patron saint of the cavalry. New Advent has another piece.

The End, The Beginning

How to rebuild civilization, just in case.

Any Stick Will Do To Beat You



At some point, you might as well do it your own way. You're going to take the hit one way or the other.

State of Adventure


After 2,055 miles -- not counting side trips for gas or food -- the long ride has brought me home. I'll be around a bit more often for a while.

Liz Warren

Elizabeth Warren (whom you may recall I dislike far less than most of you guys) insists she's not running for President, but there's no doubt she's just put out a political biography timed to compete directly with the upcoming Hillary!TM production.  Warren's views aren't all quite what you'd expect.  The New Yorker reviewer is horrified to find, for instance, that she supports the immediate imposition of unlimited public school vouchers:  “An all-voucher system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shakeout might be just what the system needs.”  "Yes," the reviewer sniffs, "that would be a shock.  It would also be reckless"--and of course doesn't bother to defend this assertion.

Warren previously wrote a book arguing that the two-income family is an economic trap that leads families to take on dangerous levels of debt.  Her own father died suddenly when she was a child; the family survived only because they were accustomed to living on his single salary, so that her homemaking, child-rearing mother was able to go out and get work to replace his paycheck.  This is not an argument that will endear her to many feminists, no matter how querulously the victim angle is spun.  She also has views on the subject of appropriating "other people's money" that are calculated initially to endear her to me, at least (which is to say, not to her target demographic), though unfortunately the only "OPM" context she seems prepared to analyze is that of greedy bankers who collect and re-invest the deposits of virtuous common people.  Evidently if benevolent congressmen do it it's all good.

The reviewer made the surprising admission that it's a bit ticklish for a wealthy U.S. Senator to write an autobiography about how tough the powers-that-be have made her life: "An argument that the system is rigged tends to be somewhat undermined, for instance, by the success of the person pointing that out."

It's a shame that Warren's shabby politics interfere with her considerable analytical skills.  I will never understand how people persuade themselves that other people force them to take on more debt than they can service.  Warren is unusual in her skepticism about debt as an engine of growth for the economy, a stance shared (in my experience) by many people who've made bankruptcy law their specialty, but she seems to think that more regulations on bankers will cure the problem.  Or possibly she believes people would borrow less if they were given more generous handouts, though how that can be squared with the experience of any culture in history is a deep mystery to your humble correspondent.

The $10K degree

Texas Governor Rick Perry is enjoying more irritating success with his troglodyte philosophy:
[W]ith his 2011 state of the state address, . . . Perry challenged Texas's public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000 in tuition, fees, and books, and to achieve the necessary cost reductions by teaching students online and awarding degrees based on competency. 
The idea met with skepticism. . . . Peter Hugill, a Texas A&M professor who at the time was president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors, posed the rhetorical question: "Do you really want a stripped-down, bare-bones degree?" .  .  . 
If these reactions suggested Perry was out of step with the higher-education establishment, the public's reaction suggested that defenders of the status quo had fallen out of step with students, their parents, and taxpayers. Baselice and Associates conducted a public-opinion survey commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, finding that 81 percent of Texas voters believed public universities could be run more efficiently.  Nationally, a 2011 Pew study found that 57 percent of prospective students believed a college degree no longer carries a value worth the cost.
Now that the program is solidly launched, showing some success, and being emulated in other states, critics fume that the degrees are substandard "applied science" affairs, as if that were a bad thing. Myself, I look forward to the trend gaining traction in a broader field of academia. My own college degree would have cost about $10K if my folks had had to pay cash (instead, it was a perk that reflected in part my father's modest salary). Admittedly, it was a diffuse liberal-arts kind of degree that left me ill-prepared to earn a living, but it got me into law school, where my subsequent degree cost only a few hundred dollars for each of three years, being, presumably, heavily subsidized by the backward state of Texas. Once I had that one, it was no problem earning a living.

It's true that this was thirty years ago and that there has been inflation since then, but inflation doesn't account for a 440% increase in tuition over the last quarter century, and anyway my university was expensive in comparison with state schools, even if it was a bargain next to the Ivy League. Nor am I persuaded that today's youth are receiving fabulous educations that are 4-1/2 times as valuable as my cut-rate affair, either from an intrinsic point or view or in terms of being able to get and stay employed.  Wherever the extra money is going, it's not making the difference between a good education and a "stripped-down degree."

As for where tomorrow's students are going to receive their essential political indoctrination, well, if the public primary education complex and the media can't find some way to pull that off, then there must be some progressive foundations that can cough up the necessary funding.

On a related subject, I'm enjoying Amanda Ripley's "The Smartest Kids in the World," about Finland's astounding success in catapulting its education success to the top of the world in only a few years. Did they do it by spending a bunch of money? Did their kids suddenly get smarter? Did they implement more and better tests and national curricula?  No, they started hiring teachers only out of the top quarter or so of their classes, then gave them a lot of autonomy. Magic.

Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right

An article about driving a Sriracha factory out of California and into the arms of Texas mentioned a book called "Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right," about the success of the Texas small-government model, which was surprising for two reasons.  First, it's written by Erica Grieder, who is identified as a "senior editor" at Texas Monthly, and I didn't think those people were allowed to entertain suspect political or socio-economic philosophy.  Second, my husband points out that it's on our shelf, where it's sat since he bought it some time ago, though neither of us has read it.  Another book to add to my pile!

A third reason for surprise, of course, is that the author uses the serial comma (a/k/a the Oxford or Harvard comma) in her title.  I'm a serial comma type myself, from way back, but in a decided minority.

In the linked article, Grieder addresses the familiar divide between libertarian and social conservatives in Texas politics, an issue of inexhaustible interest for me.

Somebody didn't get the memo

Intrepid researchers charged the feds $500,000 for an analysis of cellulosic-biofuel production and concluded that it's a net loss from the point of view of the carbon footprint.  Cellulosic biofuel is produced from corn husks rather than corn kernels, and has been favored for its lighter impact on the food supply, especially in the wake of the global food shortages that were attributed to biofuel agriculture a few years ago.  Unfortunately, the new study concluded that removing all the husks and converting them to fuel only exacerbates the problem of failing to re-sequester the carbon in the soil.  It's not great for the soil quality, either.

Quite a spectacle.  Somewhere, someone's pounding his desk and demanding to know whose idea it was to let a bunch of researchers go out there and follow their professional consciences.  Now we have a study that shows that cellulosic biofuels don't decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide.  They also degrade the soil and cost taxpayers a bundle, so they wouldn't make that much sense even if atmospheric carbon dioxide were credibly linked to inimical climate change, which it's not.  Somebody forgot to write a check and/or send an appropriate memo of instruction to the research team, which is no way to keep the science settled.

Worms!

Every year about this time, we get invaded by what we call "woolly worms," which I think are really tussock moth caterpillars:  either Orgyia leucostigma or Orgyia detrita.  The Internet tells me that some people call them "longhorn caterpillars," which makes sense, even if I've never heard it around here.



They arrive in huge numbers, covering every surface to a density of at least several per square foot. Although bug websites say they occasionally cause "defoliating events," we don't see much of that; the problem with cut-leaf ants is far worse.  The main problem is that you can't put a hand or foot anywhere without encountering them.  They don't sting, but their hairs do raise a mild allergic reaction in some people's skin.  The infestation lasts for several weeks.

Right behind them come the indigo buntings, which seem to enjoy eating them.  Lots of sightings right now of indigo buntings and red-breasted grosbeaks:




The indigo bunting is a real treat, because we don't have bluebirds or blue jays, so the bunting is just about it in the bright-blue department.

There is even the occasional remarkable painted bunting:


Some of these shouldn't be tried at home . . .

. . . even though they look like a lot of fun.

Easter morning





The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  I Cor. 15:26

Incompatible formats

I'm no spring chicken or cutting-edge technology adapter, but I seem like one next to my mother-in-law, who lacks a working computer or Internet connection.  She used to have one, but never really got the hang of it.  She's definitely not going to start now, when she's pushing 90.

Last night, Megyn Kelly of Fox News played a clip from a viral YouTube video featuring a wedding in which the Irish tenor priest Fr. Ray Kelly sings a so-so version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."  This excellent song had been covered by all kinds of artists for years, and used in the movie "Shrek," before contemporary churches got hold of it and started incorporating it in services--after ditching the original, interesting lyrics and replacing them with anodyne sentiments framing the essential chorus of "Hallelujah."
I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this: The fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift:
The baffled king composing Hallelujah. 
Your faith was strong but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof;
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair,
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair,
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah. 
Baby I've been here before,
I know this room, I've walked this floor;
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch;
Love is not a victory march,
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah. 
There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below,
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you?
The holy dove was moving too,
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah. 
Maybe there’s a God above,
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
It’s not a cry you can hear at night;
It’s not somebody who has seen the light;
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah. 
You say I took the name in vain.
I don't even know the name,
But if I did, well, really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word;
It doesn't matter which you heard;
The holy or the broken Hallelujah. 
I did my best, it wasn't much.
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
Does my mother-in-law want a nice, easy CD with a copy of one of the good covers of this song that are available commercially?  No, she likes Father Kelly's voice on the wedding video.  (So does everyone; the YouTube video has gotten 30 million hits in a few days.)  Probably she also gets a kick out of the unexpected sight of a priest breaking into song from the altar, and the delighted couple smiling shyly.  Sigh.  There's no question that we'll do whatever it takes to provide her with this small pleasure; she's ill and in constant discomfort these days.  But it turns out to be unexpectedly complicated to put a YouTube video into a format that one's TV can play, because absolutely no one does that any more.

This site offers advice about two separate pieces of freeware, one to download the video and another to burn the DVD.  The very first comment notes that the freeware doesn't work, but recommends two other programs that do.  Succeeding comments complain that the second recommendations bristle with malware; others disagree; and others point out that they don't work on Macs.

It would almost be easier to buy her a computer and an Internet connection, but it's all she can do to operate the TV, so that's not in the cards.  I'm hoping some of you will know better than I how to pull this off.  Or that, in the meantime, my delightful husband figures it out.  I can hear him cussing in the other room right now.

What we do

My Holy Week reading has included that old standby, "The Screwtape Letters."  The senior tempter Screwtape explains to his feckless nephew that the "Enemy" wants men to be concerned with what they do, while the tempter should try to distract his subject with what will happen to him.

All our recent talk about insurrection brought to mind this clip from the fine movie "Matewan."  Most of the townspeople were uneasily watching an eviction, thinking about what was happening to them and their neighbors.  The sheriff thinks about what he will do.



Holy Saturday is Jailbreak Day.  The suffering of the Crucifixion is over.  Christ has descended into Hell, opened all the cell doors, and showed everyone the way out.  "Follow Me," He says.  "You know how to put one foot in front of the other."  It's about what we do, not what happens to us.

The Brian Battle

A thousand years ago, Brian Boru died at the Battle of Clontarf. For a long time Irish historians taught Clontarf as the victory by which the Irish freed themselves from the Vikings (as, this being the real point of the lesson for their students, one might hope the Irish might someday free themselves from a more recent ship-borne foreign invader). Thus Brian Boru was a major historical figure in Ireland, a patriotic icon of significant standing.

In fact, of course, there were nearly as many Vikings on Boru's side as against him. What he was really doing was entering into Viking politics, with the result that an alliance was formed that improved outcomes for his side. The Irish were more important, and better off, but they didn't push the Vikings into the sea.

Nevertheless, he was a revolutionary figure. Before him the Ui Neill -- the family, that is, of the same Neil of the Nine Hostages who once enslaved Saint Patrick -- had dominated the High Kingship of Ireland. After him comes one of the most famous family names in Ireland: the O'Brians.

"Sequestration Babies"

Children are gifts from God, but this time it appears that the inability of Congress to craft a budget may have had some influence.

Friday Night AMV



Teenager.
Secret talisman.
Giant robot.
Sidekicks.
Villans.
Pretty teenage girl to rescue.
More giant robots.

You can never have enough giant robots.

Disparate petards

It would take a heart of stone not to chuckle at the White House's recent squirming over the results of having "disparate impact" reasoning used against them in re their practice of underpaying female staffers.  Now the same amusing spectacle is playing itself out in a lawsuit by the EEOC against Kaplan, Inc., the private test-prep and for-profit education company.  The Sixth Circuit recently poured out the EEOC's complaint that Kaplan was using the same background checks on prospective employees that the EEOC itself uses.  The EEOC had argued that criminal record and credit checks had a disparate impact on minority applicants.

Can you imagine Kaplan trying to defend itself against a suit by customers whose financial information was stolen by Kaplan employees with access to their student loan records?  "Yes, we could have run routine background checks, but that might have been unfair to minority applicants."  How can anyone even argue with a straight face that it's racially discriminatory to consider criminal and credit records for prospective employees?  What mental gymnastics are required to ignore the implications of that assumption?