This week, I’ll put up a couple of posts with Edward Taylor’s poetry. This is possible because some scholars were willing to put in long hours. Don’t expect criticism here – just appreciation. I’ve known and studied under experts on him, but that was chance and a lifetime ago. I never became a scholar and am even less expert on Taylor; I haven’t read most of his growing body of poems and sermons. You may be drawn to read more, but he and his works are very much those of a 17th century Puritan. Still, if you find the large body resistible, you are likely to find a poem or two attractive – each semester I teach a few and never tire of them. And his body of work demonstrates the value of academic scholars – what we owe them for immersing themselves in another time and place, in puzzling out handwriting and explicating texts. It was under people who approached these works with respect that I (and my generation) were drawn into this discipline. We’re retiring now and it may be a bit late, but this is thanks to those mentors.
Archive for June, 2012
Recently I visited a brand new, multi-story Walgreens in the heart of Chicago. The entire store was bustling with customers purchasing everything from makeup to greeting cards to alcohol to sushi. And the loneliest part of the store… the “newsstand”.
As someone who grew up with the idea that writing, literature, newspapers and discussion of the above was a part of the civic fabric, like exiled writers in twentieth century Paris, the deadness of this scene confirms that these are past dreams gone for good. Today none of these things would happen tied to newspapers or a newsstand; maybe at a Starbucks? I think not.
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A friend of mine took this great picture of a recent storm that hit Chicago.
Cross posted on LITGM
New Harley! Main Street:
Radio on, blasting noise…
Turn that damn thing down
Your lefty neighbor
Emails you Krugman columns
How to be polite?
Menus driving you crazy?
Too late to complain
Frozen soy burgers
Taste OK, better for you
I’d rather have beef
Your online profile
Attracts mainly gay Muslims
Time to change your luck?
For the vast majority who did not pay attention over the past few years, they found out that Obamacare’s individual mandate was a tax with the release of the US Supreme Court decision. That’s just fine for a brick layer or a clerk. It isn’t their job to think about such distinctions. It is the job of those in government. So when did Nancy Pelosi find out? When did President Obama find out? Is the date they found out so late as to consider it a measure of political incompetence that should weigh down their re-election campaign?
Is anybody asking these people these questions?
I didn’t mean to post on that particular issue today, but as I was running through the Daily Brief archives looking for something else entirely, I found this entry from nearly a year ago – which is rendered timeless by today’s events. That’s the trouble with having a huge blog-archive, by the way – one is always finding quite splendid entries that one has forgotten entirely.
(A comment by Xennedy at this thread on Belmont Club which struck me as being particularly perceptive — and histoically apt.)
I’m not thinking of military history for this one. I’m thinking of the various schemes by which the southern states retained political dominance of the United States over the increasingly more numerous and anti-slavery northerners prior to the Civil War. Eventually these schemes became so odious and unpopular that they destroyed the political structure of the Union as it had existed. The response of the South wasn’t to accept demotion or immediate war – it was to engineer a supreme court decision to end the house divided, as Abraham Lincoln put it, and make the whole union slavery friendly. I’m thinking of the Dredd Scott decision, and in my evaluation of that ruling in theory southerners could bring their slaves into (say) New York and compete with free labor unhampered by the free state status of that state. In practice the Civil War intervened before anything like that actually happened, but my point is that the political establishment of the day attempted to rule game over and cement their hold on power in perpetuity regardless of the will of the people.
Seem familiar? In my view similar events are happening today. Cram Obamacare through, hold 40 Senate seats, and it’s extremely difficult to repeal. Issue EPA regulations from the executive branch, and ignore Congress. Re-elect Obama, pick another two or three supreme court justices, and the Constitution means whatever the left wants it to mean.
The problem with this – or perhaps I should say the solution – is that eventually people tire of the rigged game, and lose their willingness to play.
So was Obamacare a new Kansas-Nebraska Act – which preceded the formation of the modern Republican party – or a new Dredd Scott decision – which preceded secession and civil war? Or neither?
I don’t claim to know. But I do think we are in the opening acts of a much larger story, and the drama over the debt limit is much less important than it appears in the immediacy of the here and now. The welfare state paradigm of American governance is collapsing, and that collapse will continue even if a debt ceiling increase gives it a slightly longer run. To quote that famous Chinese curse we live in interesting times. Alas.
I’ve long been a fan of Wretchard, at Belmont Club – and of Steven den Beste, too, when he was regularly posting, back in the High Middle Ages of blogging. (Which was in the early Oughties, more or less). In a just world, they would have mighty thrones among those who comment upon current events. Wierd that I am the scatter-brained, intuitive humanities major who appreciates the heck out of severely logical IT-engineer types, but there you go. I guess it’s because of the underlying logic about it all.
You can register your opinion re today’s Supreme Court decision on Obamacare by answering the BlogAds poll (“Three quick questions”) in the left margin of this blog. BlodAds says that it will publish the results tomorrow.
(Chicagoboyz is a BlogAds affiliate.)
Miami residential real estate prices are holding firm and even increasing despite the weak economy. The recovery appears to result in significant part from capital inflows from French, Venezuelans and other foreigners whose governments are ramping up their attacks on private wealth. With low interest rates, a weak dollar and relative safety from confiscation, residential property in the more cosmopolitan US cities is a financial haven for Europeans and Latin Americans.
I’m no lawyer – but here’s Instapundit’s take: “The Supreme Court has refused to save us from ourselves. The solution now must be political.” I guess it’s time we didn’t expect those dead white guys to do all the lifting – they must have been getting tired. Still, it was comforting to think they had our backs. And I’d like precedent to limit – well, strong.
But wait! There’s more…
The Boeing 777 was introduced in 1995. Around one thousand of them have been built. Yet no 777 has been involved in a fatal accident.
Recently I had an opportunity to see the beautiful Mercersburg Academy Chapel and campus in Pennsylvania.
Here is a view of the campus library and a great hot rod there for a wedding pickup.
Here is a view of the stained glass inside the chapel.
It is a sign of our era that a wedding is the only time that I sit still without an electronic device of any sort for an hour and a half or so.
Cross posted at LITGM
Delbanco’s The Real American Dream argues American culture/literature narrows focus from God to Nation to Self. Paradoxically, such movement also universalizes – God seen as a 17th century Puritan did; Nation as an Enlightened American did; but the self – ah, going far inward, externals blur. Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” or its opposite, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, are accessible whatever a student’s religious background. Understanding that “Self”, though, is also deepened by understanding the vestiges of history buried in our culture, affecting writers newly come to this continent as well as those who self-consciously reject much of that heritage (as do both Emerson and Hawthorne). So the first fourth of the first half of a chronological survey requires us to enter another world in another time with other beliefs – to appreciate what they considered important, fought wars over, faced a wilderness to express.
Some heritage is general: Puritans brought with them an obsession with the word – written, memorized, analyzed – and a pared down, intense relationship with their God in which little church hierarchy intervenes. Translation of the Bible into the vernacular had powerful consequences. And church governance as they defined it seems to inevitably lead to government of, by and for the people. Of course, the communal remains important. The warmth of the Mayflower contract and agreements on the Arbella led to the great “ur” documents. Separatists like Williams were then, and are likely always to be, a minority. But individualism & self-conscious self-inspection are central to the 19th century. That tendency pulled American culture farther toward individualism as value and libertarianism as policy. To this day, our outlier position is characterized by individualism – a position most cherish, welcoming challenge.
(This is a picture that my father took of the 2003 Paradise Mountain fire coming towards their house – the puff of black smoke is probably from a burning structure, maybe a vehicle. The rest of the pictures on that roll of film were of the house interior – to document for the insurance company.)
Reading the news about the fires burning near Colorado Springs revive memories of what it was like, when I was growing up in the hill country – the hill country of Southern California. Then it would be hot and dry all summer long, the green grass of spring would turn gold, the chaparral – the native brush – would dry out . . . and then . . .
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The comment thread on this post segued (oddly enough!) into a discussion of supercomputer designer Seymour Cray and a comparison of his multi-million-dollar systems with today’s ordinary personal computers. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a supercomputer from almost 60 years ago–the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC), built by IBM for the US Navy and delivered in 1954, which held the computing speed record for several years.
NORC came only 10 years after the computer age was kicked off by the announcement of the Harvard-IBM Mark I (click here for an interesting contemporary magazine article on that innovation), but it was vastly faster and more powerful. NORC’s arithmetic was done at the rate of about 15,000 additions or 12,000 multiplications per second, and the machine could store 3600 words (16-digit decimal numbers) with a memory cycle time of 8 microseconds. Lots of NORC information and pictures at this site. Applications included hydrodynamics, weather forecasting, logistics simulations, and the motion of celestial bodies. The hydrodynamics problems included studies of torpedo cavitation and of the earth’s liquid core. (Remarks by John von Neumann at the NORC dedication, including audio, here.)
NORC’s circuits used vacuum tubes–9000 of them—and the memory was electrostatic, employing a what were basically TV picture tubes with bits stored on the face as charges and continually refreshed. This technology represented the best speed/cost tradeoff for a high-end computer at the time, but it was very sensitive–apparently, a woman wearing silk stockings walking near the computer would likely cause memory errors because of the static electricity generated. (No doubt leading to much speculation about the correlation between female hotness and computer memory error rate.)
Construction of NORC cost $2.5MM, which equates to about $20MM in 2012 dollars. Some of the cost can probably be attributed to the one-of-a-kind nature of the machine and the pull-out-all-stops-and-make-it-the-fastest spirit of its design. But even a computer intended as a standard commercial product, the roughly contemporaneous IBM 701, went for about $1 million in early 1950s money.At first glance, it seems hard to believe that such a massive investment for such relatively slow and limited machines (by our present-day standards) could have made economic sense. But consider: a calculation taking 30 minutes on NORC might have required something like 30 person-years if done by human beings using the desk calculators of the time. The economics probably did make sense if the workload was appropriate; however, I bet a fair number of these early machines served more as corporate or government-agency status symbols than as paying propositions. (As a side note, I wonder if the awe generated by early computers would have been lessened had the machines not been so physically impressive–say, if they had been about the size of a modern desktop PC?)
NORC, which was in operation through 1968, has of course been surpassed by orders of magnitude by much cheaper and more compact machines. Its computational capabilities are trivial compared with those of the computer on which you are reading this. Yet, strange as it may seem, there are a lot of problems for which today’s computer power is inadequate, and the frontiers of supercomputing continue to be pushed outwards.
While researching this post, I ran across several articles dealing with a particular highly-demanding supercomputer application currently being addressed by computer scientists. This is the modeling of the physical behavior of cloth, which is important both for creation of realistic animated movies and in the textiles/apparel industry. (See for example this paper.) Simulating the movement of a virtual actress’s dress, as she walks down the street in a light breeze, apparently requires far more computer power than did the development of America’s first hydrogen bombs.
Related post: computation and reality
I recently visited the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright house “Fallingwater“. The home is located in rural Pennsylvania and I highly recommend a visit. This “iconic” view was taken from a path after the tour; in most of the photos I’ve seen of Fallingwater on the web this must be the spot for these photos. This spot allows you to capture the two waterfalls and the house which are not visible from other angles.
I recently took a cab ride in an unusual vehicle. I talked to the driver and he told me that it ran on compressed natural gas (CNG). You can see the blue CNG logo below the Ford logo on the right side. The driver said that the vehicle was assembled overseas in Turkey.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Fuel Prices & Performance
Per the driver – he filled up with approximately 8 “gallons” of CNG. This is measured as a “gasoline gallon equivalent” or GGE to try to provide an understandable metric for typical car owners. He said that this took him around 200 miles and cost around $2 per GGE. In Chicago terms this is probably about 1/2 the costs of what a gasoline powered truck would cost per mile (ignoring the higher acquisition costs of this custom SUV). This site shows the range of costs that customers are seeing per GGE. Per this site there are 6 CNG stations in Chicago with costs between $2 and $2.50 per GGE (costs are sometimes out of date by station and it is not always clear if prices are up to date). The driver also said that the power that the engine put out declined as it got emptier; I believe that this is different than how gasoline or diesel engines behave. The city of Chicago has a program to open CNG filling stations and subsidize cab companies to pay the extra up front costs of purchasing these customized vehicles.
The competitiveness of the CNG vehicles depends on several factors, most notably the price of natural gas. Since the price of natural gas is around $2 / MCF, it is at an all-time low. The price of natural gas (pre-fracking) peaked at around $14 / MCF, more than 7x its current price. Assuming that CNG “at the pump” moves with the cost of the underlying commodity, then you would go from about 1/2 the cost of gasoline (today) to up to 3x+ higher, if we had another price swing like that again in the United States, OR if we were exposed to the “market clearing” price of natural gas around the world.
Per this article in Reuters, the gap between the US rates and what foreign buyers (particularly Japan and Korea) are willing to pay is very significant.
The surge in gas output has made companies such as Chesapeake and Exxon Mobil’s XTO victims of their own success, unleashing a surplus of supply that could keep prices — and therefore profits — depressed for decades. For them, selling gas to Japan or Europe — which buys imported LNG at five or six times the domestic price of $2.50 per million British thermal units — is essential to continue expanding their U.S. business, creating jobs in the process. The shale gas boom is on track to support 1.5 million jobs across the United States by 2015, according to an industry-funded study by IHS Global Insight. Export licenses will make big winners out of some firms such as Cheniere, which last year secured the first and, so far, only export permit from the Energy Department.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 26th June 2012 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit -- Egyptian presidency, Mahdist candidate, Center for Millennial Studies, Christ candidate ]
I ran across this reasonably remarkable web image while following a link from the tail end of Tim Furnish‘s comments on the Egyptian presidential election, and can’t really comment on the candidate himself, either as Mahdi-claimant or as (failed) aspirant to the Presidency.
I am, however, put in mind of my days with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and a fellow I met at one of their conferences there called Chris King. But I’ll let another friend of mine from those days make the introduction — here’s Damian Thompson, writing in the Daily Telegraph a while back:
I spent the evening of December 31, 1999, climbing up the Mount of Olives, only to be confronted by a wild-haired messiah figure in a patchwork robe walking down the slope. That was surprising enough, but my jaw really dropped open when he said: “Hi, Damian.” Turned out we’d met a few weeks earlier, at a conference organised by the Center for Millennial Studies in Boston. The “messiah” was a Kiwi maths lecturer called Chris King, which he explained also meant “Christ the King”, though only in a complex esoteric way. (He was a lovely guy, actually.)
Chris King was, as Damian reports, both a likeable guy and an academic, and what I found most appealing about his self-presentation — beyond the very fact of his turning up to attend a conference on Millennial Studies — was that his view, essentially a gnostic one, was that we are all Christs in potentia, if we would but realize it… wait for it…
and his consequent request that his claim to messianic status should be peer-reviewed!
“I have never made but one prayer to God; a very short one: ‘Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God answered it.”
Posted by David McFadden on 26th June 2012 (All posts by David McFadden)
Liberals who are pessimistic about the prospects in the Supreme Court this week for the Affordable (or is it Abominable?) Care Act, known as “ACA,” have been preparing the ground by publicizing surveys measuring the unpopularity of the Court. Liberals who are optimistic, such as former speaker Nancy Pelosi, predict that ACA will be upheld 6-3.
The 6-3 breakdown comes from the result in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005), in which the Supreme Court held that prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana for personal medicinal use was within Congress’s powers under the Interstate Commerce Clause. To the dismay of many conservatives, Justice Antonin Scalia concurred with the majority. His concurring opinion shows how to apply the Commerce Clause to something as far from interstate commerce as ACA’s individual mandate.
And the individual mandate is very far from interstate commerce. An individual is not engaging in interstate commerce merely by refraining from buying health insurance. He is not engaging in commerce. He is not engaging in anything. That puts the individual mandate beyond Congress’s commerce power but not necessarily beyond Congress’s powers.
The Supreme Court has said that Congress has the power to regulate the channels and instrumentalities of interstate commerce as well as activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. Justice Scalia said in his concurring opinion in Raich that the power to regulate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce does not come from the Commerce Clause alone but from the Commerce Clause plus the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Necessary and Proper Clause has extended the Commerce Clause pretty far. Scalia wrote that “Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce.”
As disturbingly vast as that power might be, the Supreme Court would have to extend it even further to reach non-economic local inactivity. That extension may or may not be “necessary” to make ACA effective, but is it “proper”? At oral argument Justice Scalia posed that question to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli:
Necessary does not mean essential, just reasonably adapted. But in addition to being necessary, it has to be proper. And we’ve held in two cases that something that was reasonably adapted was not proper, because it violated the sovereignty of the states, which was implicit in the constitutional structure. The argument here is that this also is — may be necessary, but it’s not proper, because it violates an equally evident principle in the Constitution, which is that the federal government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers; that it’s supposed to be a government of limited powers. And that’s what all this questioning has been about. What — what is left? If the government can do this, what — what else can it not do?
The solicitor general (who didn’t do such a bad job overall) replied that the individual mandate does not invade the sphere of state government but, despite several follow-up questions, did not answer the question of whether the individual mandate improperly invades the sphere of individuals. Justice Kennedy pressed further, saying that “to tell the individual citizen that it must act . . . changes the relationship of the federal government to the individual in a very fundamental way.” General Verilli replied that the individual mandate is predicated on the individual’s unavoidable participation in the health care market.
That appeared to be enough for Justice Breyer, who in the course of rambling questions in search of a defense of the act, asked whether one enters the health care market simply by being born. Four justices seemed to find such a limitless premise for federal regulatory power troubling. They, along with Justice Thomas, may also find it improper.
Should that happen, leftists, with their newfound conviction that judicial review is anti-majoritarian, will switch into their outraged and indignant mode. How dare the Court strike down an act because it isn’t proper after Obama and the Congress decided that it was?
The answer will be that the Court is merely giving meaning to the outermost boundary of congressional power. What hangs in the balance this week is whether the powers of Congress are in theory limited but in practice infinite.
UPDATE: See also.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 25th June 2012 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ Cross-posted from Zenpundit -- this one's a prose poem: it begins with a statement so tight it needs to be unwound, & unwinds it ]
I wrote this urgently starting when it “woke” me at 4am one morning in the late 1990s or 2000, and as soon as it was out, I found myself writing another piece in the series, a game design. Together, the pair of them represent a stage in my games and education thinking intermediate between Myst-like Universities of 1996 and my vision today of games in education. In this posting, I have added the words “figuratively speaking” for absolute clarity: otherwise, the piece remains as written all those years ago.
Trees: Phototropic Simplexities
Trees are phototropic simplexities, no wonder we like them they cowork so well too: copses, see.
Trees we know: I as writer can refer you, reader, safely to them, “trees”, in trust that the word I use will signal to you too — triggering for you, also — pretty much the assortment of branching organic thingies about which I’m hoping to communicate that they are complex entities whose complexity comes from a simplicity of rule — branching — repeated with variations, said variants doing their branching in thirst of light, each trunk rising, limb outpushing, branch diverging, twig evading other twig much as one who seeks in a crowd a clear view of a distant celebrity shifts and cranes and peers — branching, thus, by the finding of light in avoidance of nearby shadow and moving into it, into light as position, that light, that position, growing, and thus in the overall “unified yet various”, we, seekers of the various and unified love them, to see them in greens themselves various in their simplexity is to say “tree” with a quiet warmth; while they themselves also, by the necessity of their branching seeking, if clumped together seek in an avoidance of each other’s seeking, growing, thus space-sharing in ways which as the wind sweeps and conforms them to its own simplex flows, shapes them to a common curve we call aerodynamic, highlit against the sky huddled together as “copse” — this, in the mind’s eyes and in your wanderings, see…
Trees we can talk about. Simplexity is a useful term for forms — like trees — which are neither simple only nor complex only, but as varied as complexity suggests with a manner of variation as simple as simplicity implies.
Trees? Their simplexity is conveyed in principle by the word “branching”. Its necessity lies in the need of each “reaching end” of the organism to ascertain from its own position and within the bounds of its possible growing movement, some “available” light — this light-seeking having the name “phototropism”.
Simplexities — and thus by way of example, trees — we like, we call them beautiful.
Clustered together, too, and shaped by the winds’ patterns of flow, these individual simplexities combine on an English hilltop (or where you will) to form yet other beauties.
Trees are phototropic simplexities, no wonder we like them they cowork so well too: copses, see.
I love trees. Want to talk about simplexities, beauty.
I wish to talk about beauty because it is beauty that I love, if I love it, that is beauty: love is kalotropic, a beauty-seeking. I am erotropic, love seeking — you can find in this my own simplexity, my own varieties of seeking, of the growths that are my growth, and clumping me with others under the winds, the pressures that form and conform us, you can find also the mutual shapes that we adopt, beautiful.
Simplexity, then, is a key to beauty, variety, self, character, cohabitation… Tropism, seeking, is the key to simplexity. Love is my tropism. Ours, I propose.
Beauty is one simplexity perceived by another: the eye of the beholder, with optic nerve, “brain”, branching neuron paths that other simplexity, “consciousness” the perceiving.
That all is jostle, striving — a strife for life, in which the outcome overall is for each a “place in the sun” but not without skirmishes, shadows. The overall picture, therefore, beautiful — but this overall beauty hard to perceive when the specific shadow falls in the specific sought place of the moment, the “available” is not available, and the strife of the moment is paramount.
Branching being the order behind simplexity, differentiation…
Differentiation for maximal tropism at all levels — life seeking always the light, honey, beauty, is always and everywhere in conflict also with itself, competitive: and competition the necessary act of the avoidance of shadow, and the shadow creating act.
And beauty — the light, thing sought, implacably necessary food and drink, the honey — thus the drive that would make us kill for life.
I could kill for beauty.
I could kill for honey.
Paradise and Fall, simultaneous, everywhere.
It is at this juncture, at this branching, that we are “expelled from the garden” — can no longer see the beauty that is and remains overall, that can allow us to say also, “we are never outside the garden” — for the dappling of light on and among the leaves has become to us, too closely jostled, shadow.
And shadow for shadow we jostle, and life is strife.
The dappling of light on leaves, beautiful, is for each shadowed leaf, shadow, death-dealing, is for each lit leaf, light, life-giving: a chiaroscuro, beautiful, see.
Roots, too, have their mirror branchings.
Concerns about the state of science education are not limited to the UK. Today, Stuart Schneiderman cites a DOE study on science education in America. He cites Forbes writer Maureen Henderson, who comments on the study:
For example, 75% of high school seniors could successfully use test strips to test water samples for the levels of four pollutants, record the data and interpret whether the results exceeded EPA standards, but only 25% of students were able to design and conduct an investigation using a simulated calorimeter and related patterns in temperature changes in two different metals to determine which metal has the higher specific heat capacity. Results were the same at the lower grade levels, where only 24% and 35% of eighth and fourth graders respectively were able to handle the more difficult experiments. Students also had difficulty in explaining how they arrived at a correct conclusion, with only 27% of twelfth graders able to both select a correct answer and explain why they did so in one section of the test. And in another section, only 11% were able to make a final recommendation that was supported by the data they had worked with in the experiment.
Note that a lot of the test questions, and I’m sure a lot of the topics covered in school “science” courses, have to do with environmental matters.
Basically, it seems that in the American government schools, as in their British equivalents, all subjects whatsoever tend to get converted into “social studies.”
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