Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ancient Greece and Donald Kagan; Disrupting Academia

Irving Kristol interviews Donald Kagan on the "origins of war and the preservation of peace," the title of Kagan's 1996 book on that subject

Kristol refers in that interview to a series of lectures on Ancient Greece that Kagan gave at Yale and that the university makes freely accessible on the internet as as an "Open Yale Course."  That's a series of lectures I want to attend.

Each lecture has an "assignment."  For example, the introductory lecture assigns: Pomeroy, Burstein, Donlan and Roberts. Ancient Greece. Oxford University Press: New York, 1999, pp. 1-40.  When I went to Amazon for that title, I saw a number of editions, the latest, the 3rd, a $50.48 text book.

Checking on half.com, I found a 2007 paperback edition for $1.00.

Has there been so much new discovered in the last 8 years that an introductory text on Ancient Greece requires an expensive third edition?

See how the internet disrupts the publishing side of academia and how Yale itself, with its open access lectures, similarly disrupts the 20th Century model of the American University. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stay as long as you can.

If you are in a city or a community that is broken, where people are burned out or spiritually lost—stay as long as you can.
This is a quote twittered by Tim Keller, and it sounds like him.  It  has a lot of truth to it, and I get the point, but I am glad he included the qualifier "as long as you can."

Susan Thomas - Ogden Museum in New Orleans and its "Art of the Cup 2014"

Our friend, Susan Thomas, was among those artists invited to show their work at Art of the Cup 2014 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans recently.  We are fortunate to have several of her works at our home and here at the office.  The photo is one of her works that she showed.  Others are among the photos at the link.

She also paints, a gift she discovered and developed only in the last 5 years or so.  We have two of her wonderful paintings at our home.  We love them too.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Mad Max: Fury Road" (Updated)

OK.  Who will go see it with me?


Uh. Never mind:

[I]ts not very good. Its title character is ill-defined. His mission is emotionally muddy. The non-stop car chase action becomes tiresome about 45 minutes in (though I did find myself wondering wistfully if there was a video game to go with it!). The finale is unbelievable even in context. The color palette, I admit, is beautiful but if you’re watching an enormous action sequence and thinking about the color palette…  well, you get the idea.

-from Klavan on Culture and its post "'Mad Max’ — The Critics Are Lying for Political Reasons:

We Send Our Warriors Overseas to Rescue Victims of Natural Disasters

Wreckage of missing US Marine helicopter found in Nepal mountains

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

NASA's X-57 and LEAPTech

NASA’s latest experimental aircraft, the X-57, looks to break all the rules of how planes fly and may pave the way for entirely new aircraft designs.

Code-named LEAPTech (Leading Edge Asynchronous Propellers Technology) the plane will be about the size of a small general aviation aircraft, but instead of a single large propeller, LEAPTech will integrate 18 tiny electrically powered propellers into a narrow wing with a total area of about 5 square meters. A conventional plane of the same size would need three times as much wing area. 

-from World Magazine's May 16, 2015 issue and an article by Michael Cochrane.

The image above is 

only a rendering of the wing mounted to a small X-plane. NASA plans to fly the oddly shaped wing in a few years, but right now the wing is still undergoing testing. This could revolutionize aircraft, but NASA could also be grasping at straws with this model as NASA pushes for electric engines to be used in a significant part of the aircraft industry.

-from a post on Slashgear.com by Lindsey Caldwell.

Flying Magazine reports that

NASA has selected Tecnam's P2006T, more commonly referred to as the Tecnam Twin, as the base platform for a new all-electric program named the Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology project, or LEAPTech for short. Within a few years, NASA hopes to fly a prototype of the airplane modified with a 31-foot wing equipped with 18 electric motors powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. The conceptual airplane project currently goes under the name X-plane.

I was puzzled how NASA would have the time and resources to develop this technology.  Lindsey Caldwell gives the answer: 

LEAPTech was created by a partnership between two private aviation firms, ESAero and Joby Aviation.

ESAero has a website here and Joby Aviation here.  (It is worth clicking the link to Joby to see its opening webpage.  In fact, the entire Joby website is very well done, with some great artwork, photos, and links to other articles on  LEAPTech developments. )

What say you, Sean?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Acts have consequences, large and small.

Yesterday at a funeral at church, I saw a friend I had not seen in several years.  Her sister is a Nurse Practitioner at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins, and a very good one.  As a result of the troubles in that city, the sister is very seriously considering leaving and coming to South Florida.

In yesterday's WSJ, there is an editorial about the Illinois Supreme Court's decision overturning a state law that would modestly cut back on the country's largest unfunded state-employee pension obligation.  The editorial closes with this sentence:

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has floated an alternative [to raising already high taxes and restructuring loans]: a state constitutional amendment allowing pension modifications, which would require a public referendum and two-thirds vote of the legislature. Barring that, Illinois taxpayers may want to start contemplating Indiana or Florida residency.

And so the market rules and will continue to rule.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Fate of the Tainos

I am reading Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus by Samuel Eliot Morison.  I first met Morison by way of our American History textbook at Duke, Morison and Commager's The Growth of the American Republic (probably the 1962 edition).  Morison was very large in the pantheon of American historians when I was in college.  Morison first published the Columbus biography in 1942, and I had not read it until now.  I am enjoying it, and would recommend it.

Morison admires Columbus, especially as a seaman, but he gives us both the good and the bad.  As to the bad, Morsion writes that "the policies and acts of Columbus for which he alone was responsible began the  the depopulation of the terrestrial paradise that was Hispaniola in 1492. "  Where there may have been as many as 300,000 of the aborigines in 1492, the Tainos, there may not have been as many as 500 remaining by 1548.

Morison wrote his biography as the storm clouds of WWII had gathered and were about to burst.  And so, after he discusses the fate of the Tainos, he immediately adds this little paragraph:

The fate of this gentle and almost defenseless people [the Tainos] offers a terrible example to Americans who fancy they will be allowed to live in peace by people overseas who covet what they have. 

Not so gentle and defenseless, even at this point.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Illinois Supreme Court Overturns State Penion Law Fix

Train wreck ahead.

Local Government at Work

Jose Valladares, 24, Charged with Grand Theft
The lead article on the front page of yesterday's home edition of the Miami Herald has the following headline: "5 employees suspended after inquiry."  The article's synopsis, just under the headline, states, "Investigators found cash and checks 'stashed in drawers' at Miami-Dade's parking operation where one employee faces criminal charges"

How did the investigators stumble onto this fraud?  Here is what the article, by Herald reporter Douglas Hanks, states in part:

A top county official said the misconduct came to light once Miami-Dade launched an automated system for county garages last year, ending the requirement that daily users of the parking garages pay cash in most garages. A week later, the county’s parking revenues had doubled. 

The county garages have been in operation for years and years. Why does Jose take the fall?  Why not the "top county officials" who set up this operation in the first place and allowed it to proceed, year after year?

Go get 'em, Doug.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Marriage Humor (?)

Wife:  Honey, what would you think of our renewing our marriage vows?
Husband (excitedly):  Really?!! I didn't know the marriage had expired!

Wife:  When I met Mr. Right, I really didn't know his first name until much later.  It turned out to be "Always."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What is a Benedictine Oblate?

Our "blogroll," the one that is mainly in our heads, includes The Anchoress written by Elizabeth Scalia.  Her short bio on the home page of the blog states, among other things, she is a "Benedictine Oblate."   What is that? Here is the answer.

Wikipedia's article on oblates defines oblate as follows: 

Currently, oblate has two meanings:
  • Oblates are individuals, either laypersons or clergy, normally living in general society, who, while not professed monks or nuns, have individually affiliated themselves with a monastic community of their choice. They make a formal, private promise (annually renewable or for life, depending on the monastery with which they are affiliated) to follow the Rule of the Order in their private life as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit. Such oblates do not constitute a separate religious order as such, but are considered an extended part of the monastic community, and as such also often have the letters OblSB[1][2] after their names on documents. They are comparable to the tertiaries associated with the various Orders of friars.
  • "Oblate" is also used in the official name of some religious institutes as an indication of their sense of dedication.
 Are there oblates among Protestants?  The Wikipedia article says that there are Anglican and Methodist oblates.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Low-Cost Investing in Marketable Securities

This graphic is from the Sunday Business section of the March 15, 2015, issue of the NY Times, a column by Jeff Sommer entitled How Many Mutual Funds Routinely Rout the Market? Zero. The graphic shows the number of active investment managers who beat the market in 2010.  Then it follows that cohort for the next five years.  As a member of the cohort fails to beat the market in subsequent years, it drops of the graphic.  By 2014, only two are left.  By 2015, those two, however, are not looking like they will survive the cut.  So it looks like none will be left.

A client of mine brought a hard copy of the article to our office yesterday for separate conferences we had set up with advisers from Fidelity and Vanguard, respectively.  The client had been considering whether to move from an "active" manager of the very large portfolio for which the client is responsible to a low-cost index approach.  (The client had also brought in a hard copy of another NYT column by Mr. Sommer, this one entitled Measure for Measure, Index Funds Rule.)

The client decided to fire the active manager, a trust company, tentatively giving about half of it to Vanguard and half to Fidelity.

The Vanguard representative made some points that were new and striking to me.  One is that Vanguard has under management over three trillion dollars of assets.  The economy of scale that Vanguard introduces with such a staggering amount has to be matchless, at least with respect to help that can be accessed by retail investors.

Another point that that Vanguard rep made is the following, a point the Vanguard makes on its website:

At Vanguard, there is no third party. The company is owned by its funds, which in turn are owned by their shareholders—including you, if you're a Vanguard investor.  In other words, Vanguard is structured as a "mutual" mutual fund company. It's the only firm in the industry that works this way. This unique structure aligns our interests with those of our clients and provides benefits to investors worldwide. 

A third point he made is that, with respect to its actively managed funds, the management firms that Vanguard employs are third parties.  The client was not interested in "active" management, but I think it is remarkable that, although Vanguard offers actively managed funds, it does not share in the compensation of the subject investment managers.  In fact, it uses its scale to lower the cost of those managers, thus lowering the hurdle that such managers must clear in order to beat the pertinent benchmark or index.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Republican Florida as the Obamacare Capital

Today's Miami Herald, in an article worth reading in full,  reports that

[w]hen Florida racked up impressive enrollment numbers in 2014 for insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act, some healthcare analysts were surprised.

In 2015, the Sunshine State did it again, surpassing enrollment projections and beating out much-larger California and even Texas, a state more populous, more uninsured and with similar Republican opposition to the law.

Florida is one of those states, however, that did not establish its own insurance exchange, and so people have been purchasing their ACA insurance through a federal exchange.  That means that if the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell rules that federal subsidies are only to be paid to state-established exchanges and not to a federal exchange, then there will be a lot of unhappy people in this state.  

It would be too much to hope that the Republicans would have some legislation ready to fix Obamacare in this respect, some legislation that the President would sign (or clearly should sign, if the President refuses to cooperate - I'm thinking that the Republicans might hire that Iranian negotiator to help - not our negotiator, Iran's negotiator).  It would be good to have this effort well underway before the Supreme Court rules, taking the Court off the spot on this one. Then Congress can go to work on reforming the ACA in other respects.  (Forget about abolition.  Just forget about it.)  In 2016 the Republicans may pay the price for failure to "save" the ACA.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article17729108.html#storylink=cpy

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Growth is a Miracle

The two professors who made Duke for me were I. B. ("Bill") Holley of the History Department and Barney Jones in the Religion Department.  Other fine teachers also made college a rich and valuable experience, both those two had, I think, the greatest impact on me.  Dr. Holley now and then expressed his amazement about being where he was in life, that is, as a school teacher.

He said he never expected to live such a comfortable life.  He taught students because that was what he liked to do.  But then, all of a sudden it seemed to him, here he was a tenured professor at Duke, teaching bright kids, living in a beautiful place, being paid far more than he would have ever expected.  All of this by simply doing what he liked to do.  (He did what he liked to do very well, but didn't say so.)

He likened it to what a farmer does.  He goes out, tills his fields, plants, fertilizes ("husbands") what he comes to be in charge of, does something every day, and he works hard and as smart as he can.  Yet he is amazed that the miracle happens, the crops begin to grow as the seed germinates, the rains come and the sunshine and soil do their work.  The crops grow to fruition and upon their harvest the market buys those crops, because other people need them.  They pay the farmer money, from which he can support his family, buy seed and supplies for the next growing season, and perhaps an additional field.  The farmer compares to what has  happened to what he did and then stands amazed.  How could Bill Holley do what he liked to do and then, after a time, find himself in that classroom, expressing his wonder to a class of college seniors and being so well off?  He was humbled by the whole thing.

There was an argument in Washington between the Democrats and the Republicans recently about who is responsible for the prosperity that many Americans enjoy.  (I would say "most" Americans, not just many, if we are going to speak relatively, that is, most Americans when compared to others in other places and at other times.)  The Democrats said to the Republicans, the self-appointed representatives of American individualism, that the national community is responsible for that prosperity.  (What they meant by that is mainly Washington is responsible, that is Washington when it is fortunate enough to be in control of the Democrats.)  With umbrage, Republicans said, "No, I built this," hoping to strike a chord in the heart of every hard-working American.  It was a false argument, one that played into the strategy of polarization that each party employs against the other, much to the detriment of the country.

The miracle of growth takes table-setting, to change the metaphor, by community and individuals both, of course.  But, even then, when the feast comes in from the kitchen, it is God who prepares it and brings it to us for the celebration, all in at his good time.

I'm on the back end of the curve of my career as a lawyer, and it amazes me that writing wills has brought me here, to this place and to this point, with such family, partners, and other friends.  Yes, I have gotten up every day and gone  to school or work, with times off each week for rest.  But as I look at this, I know that my efforts were hardly enough to get me to this place.  It took a lot of people to get me here, one of them Bill Holley, each one of them individually and in community helping to set my table.  But like Dr. Holley, I'm amazed and grateful at this miracle of growth.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day by Day

Carol and I saw the musical Godspell during late 1971 or early 1972 during our year living in New York City.  We loved it.  That is where we first heard the song "Day by Day," one of those songs, like "It's a Small, Small World," that never quite gets out of your head. The off-Broadway version that we had seen of the musical had a record album, and we nearly wore out the disk playing it over the next 20 years or so.  During the 1980s, my friends Nancy Jones and Ralph Wakefield, produced and directed Godspell at our church.  Walter played the fig tree and I played John the Baptist.  Day by Day further embedded itself in our psyche.

I was reminded of it when Carol and I attended the worship service at St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin with Walter and his family during our recent visit.  The lyric is based on a  prayer of Richard of Chichester, the 13th Century Bishop of Sussex, and that prayer was part of the printed the order of service.  (Why do the Episcopalians get to recite those ancient, beautiful prayers, and those passages from the Book of Common Prayer, but we other Protestants do not?  Not fair.)

Here is the prayer of Richard and then the lyric from Godspell's Day by Day:

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

Day by day,
Oh, Dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.