Sunday, May 31, 2009


Youngest Daughter is graduating from high school next month, and we scheduled her graduation party for this afternoon. She and Eldest Son also held a vocal music recital Saturday, with snacks for that one too. So it has rained drink and snowed food lately.

The recital was my wife's idea; she'd had one when she was young and thought it would be a great milestone for the two as they performed by themselves (well, with an accompanist from the music school), not as part of a school event.

It was a great milestone. Eldest Son concentrated on humor (Gilbert and Sullivan, Weird Al Yankovic, and his own Wiley Coyote version of American Pie), and Youngest Daughter on more romantic and dramatic works; culminating with a joint "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" which had everybody roaring. As is customary, he modified the Gilbert and Sullivan songs to use current events instead of Victorian references, so half the songs bore his creative touch, and he has a good ear.

Youngest Daughter sang strong and clear, with good body language, and a puckish gleam in her eye as she went for the dramatic high note. You could tell she enjoyed the songs, from the pathos of "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel" to the matter-of-fact absurdity of "Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat." The romantic songs in particular strike a note with her, and it shows.

How far they've come. It wasn't that long ago that Eldest Son didn't think he could sing at all, and that Youngest Daughter couldn't speak consecutive sentences in company.

One of my sisters and her husband came up to be there, and I was delighted to have them. The stars were too, though they're still not good at extemporaneous expressions--they still find scripted situations easier to deal with. The other daughters took their aunt and uncle out to show them what Wisconsin was all about--the Arboretum, brats, and beer. And mosquitoes, though that wasn't part of the plan.

A wonderful weekend all around--busy but fun.

This weekend we go down for my youngest sister's wedding, and the next weekend is Youngest Daughter's graduation ceremony, and the next day I head off the Geneva again.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


I am not an economist. However, I'd guess that I can get some ballpark estimates from first principle considerations.

There are several definitions of the money supply: M1, M2, M3. The government apparently doesn't release M3 statistics anymore, but from the Wikipedia article I gather it is the largest one, and one site professes to be able to recalculate it. Their number is between 10 and 15 trillion dollars, which is consistent with the Wikipedia graph. I'll take the largest number as the most conservative estimate for my purposes.

The incremental debt is of order 1.9 trillion dollars (CBO estimate). Since there is an increase in money but no corresponding increase in productivity (in fact there's a decline, but I'll ignore that), that represents a 13% increase in the ratio of money to goods and services, which I interpret as 13% inflation. The CBO average estimate for the next 10 years, ignoring additional spending for nationalized health (which will not provide significant savings and thus may be legitimately considered extra expense), that represents an average of 10% inflation per year for the next decade. An ordinary savings account with 5% interest will lose 40% of its value. The CBO numbers assume that the currently huge deficit will be reduced over the next few years, but that requires a political vision and courage not often found in DC (or pretty much other government). In that case, with a 13% inflation rate, the representative savings account loses more than half its value.

I don't have a good handle on the cumulative effect of these deficits: it seems plausible that the effect of new deficits adds to the previous year's inflation. If this were linear the result would be 100% inflation by 2019, but I suspect my simple models isn't very good for more than a few years.

In any event, existing bonds earning less than inflation should lose value in a big hurry.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Perhaps not the best person to quote after all...

Thanks to one Lord Reiden I have the origin of the motto of this blog:

"Allwissend bin ich nicht, doch viel ist mir bewusst."

Faust I, Vers 1582 said by Mephistopheles

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Scare quotes at BBC

The headline reads Somali 'pirate' pleads not guilty. "Mr Muse's mother has previously told the BBC's Somali service her son is completely innocent." That must explain the scare quotes: mothers never lie about such things; even when the child is caught red-handed.

Exploring Reality The Intertwining of Science and Religion by John Polkinghorne

The book pivots around the realization that randomness and disorder are essential for change and development. This is not solely from quantum physics, but was always present in classical physics as well, as has been demonstrated through chaos theory in recent decades. Armed with this and with clearer understandings of the nature of knowledge Dr Polkinghorne travels through "The Causal Nexus of the World," "Human Nature, the Evolutionary Context," "The Historical Jesus," "Divine Reality," "The Nature of Time," and so on. He claims, and demonstrates, that theology deserves to be considered a research field just as much as chemistry.

Some paragraphs of his seemed to echo things I've said before, even to things like calling most of evolutionary sociology "Just So Stories" (w/ apologies to Kipling, for I enjoy his stories). Quite a bit of the philosophy he discusses I am aware of--but not as familiar with as he is.

Explanations of complex subjects like the nature of causation isn't going to be perfectly lucid to someone who hasn't contemplated the matter before, but it is worth paying attention to them, and going back to rethink things that you don't immediately understand.

I'm not certain if his relics of higher criticism of the Bible are his own or an outreach to the spirit of the age, and we don't see eye to eye on ethical conclusions, but aside from those reservations I recommend the book.

Is it?

Is a spy in the bullpen a pitcher plant?

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Sobbing Kindergarteners Snubbed for Steelers"

That's really the headline for an NBC story about a kindergarten field trip to the White House that arrived 10 minutes too late. Or was it 45? Their bus was stuck in traffic, it seems, and when they arrived at 10:25 they were told it was too late; that the Steelers were due shortly.

Paty Stine said the White House staff should have made an exception. She feels the kindergarteners were snubbed for the Steelers.

"Here we have President Obama and his administration saying, 'Here we are for the common, middle class people,' and here he is not letting 150 5- and 6-year-olds into the White House because he’s throwing a lunch for a bunch of grown millionaires," Stine said.

I gather the Stines didn't read the memo. The White House schedule is booked pretty tightly quite some time in advance. I'm sorry for the school kids, but this isn't the zoo.

I wonder if the reporter (Anne Reynolds) is responsible for the headline. If so, maybe somebody should explain the facts of life to her too.


There's a new poster on the back of Madison buses. The silhouettes of a young man and a woman (who looks vaguely like a geisha, with her head bowed submissively) show in a door against a lighted room. The bold slogan is "Consent Should Never be Blurry," and the second line reads "Get consent every time."

Rape is an ugly crime, of violence and power, and this almost seems too trivial a response.

And the counterproposal ("get consent every time") is also wrong on several levels.

The couple are evidently not married--they certainly don't know each other well enough to know if consent is likely. So what business have they in bed together?

And what the man wants is (assuming he's not a creep) not so much consent as enthusiasm. Maybe he enjoys the challenge of seduction, but the goal in mind is her eager participation, not mere "consent." (That's what the "men's magazines" trade on: women undressed to seem eager and ready.)

I hope this helps reduce the rate of date rape, but I detest the ad.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Detroit from your finest news source

Once again, The Onion hits a long ball in an article about Detroit. You may remember how baleful the influence of the mayor and city council has been over the years--or perhaps not; it wasn't always widely reported. If not, enjoy the irony of getting pointers to real news from The Onion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

All Shook Up

A friend of youngest daughter was in the play and invited her to come see it. Turned out she knew several people in the play, and I knew a few people in the orchestra pit.

The musical was a vehicle for a number of Elvis songs, involving a motorcycle musician coming to a 50's town whose mayor was on a tear about public morality; involving interracial dating and marriage, love quadrangles, and so forth. The drums and brass were too loud for the small venue, but the performances went off well. The dumpy nerd becoming the "bad boy's" sidekick worked nicely.

By intermission I was starting to feel a little creeped-out--well before the gratuitous subtext equivalencing homosexual with interracial marriage. Just about every relationship focussed on romantic love (usually puppy love type), every conflict looked to be resolved by romantic love one way or another, and there was only the vaguest hint that romantic love might not be enough to deal with struggles down the road. Romance was magic, and there was no sense of tomorrow, or raising children, or adventure. It wouldn't have been hard to add them; but I guess there weren't songs available. Kentucky Rain wouldn't quite fit the story line either--though maybe the authors should have tried.

To be accurate, Natalie makes a non-standard decision at the end, but I'm talking of the broad sweep of the show.

Out with the crowd

Our Bible study group decided to go out for an inexpensive evening of recreation--we went bowling. Several of us hadn't been bowling in over 30 years. (Some of us aren't 30 years old.) Three sets (\$4.50 for all--big spenders we!) told on us, and some of us knew by the sore shoulders and fingers that we'd been bowling for dolors.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Chicago Style

This sounds very "Chicago." Not that there's now a brand new "Caesar" running things Mayor Daley (Sr) style, but that there's a pervasive culture of this sort of thing. I think the seeds of this were planted long ago and have been growing steadily in departments and the legislature all along, along with their increasing power.

Hot pennies

A blogger who recently moved to England and married calls herself S.Weasel, and sometimes writes delightful and insightful posts on the strangeness of life in the US and England. This one is about making a mayor, and an odd form of charity.

One World The interaction of science and theology by John C Polkinghorne

I’ve been meaning to get around to his books for a while now: he’s a high energy physicist who became an Anglican priest.

My impression is that scientists are as likely to be religious believers as any other section of the community. Nevertheless, there is a feeling abroad that somehow science and religion are opposed to each other. Someone like myself, who is an Anglican priest and a (now honorary) Professor of Theoretical Physics, is sometimes regarded either with the amazement appropriate to the strange mixture of the centaur or with the wariness appropriate to the sleight-of-hand artist. Neither image is, I think, just. In fact, science and theology seem to me to have in common that they are both exploring aspects of reality.

He goes on in this short book to explore what about science and theology are similar (both searching for reality, iterative, dealing with things outside everyday experience, ultimately both rely on experience of one form or another, etc).

He’s not very enthused by the “proofs of God’s existence” as proofs. Anselm’s “proof” (the greatest imaginable thing must have existence as one of its properties) never struck me as convincing either. However, he finds them useful as sources of insight into the way the world works—a fruitful way of looking at them.

He is fair: describing the various interpretations of quantum mechanics and explaining why he is a “realist.” He is also lucid.

Many of his examples I had already contemplated, and in fact written about myself, but I think he does it better.

Go read it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Green grilling

Some days ago the local newspaper reported the "new baby" of a new company: disks of ethanol jell to burn in your grill to replace charcoal. The report is fairly straightforward: the selling points for the product seem to be convenience and "safety." The editor is scientifically illiterate, though: He gave it the headline "A Greener Way To Grill Out." Greener than charcoal?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Spring Concert

Sun Prairie High School's Spring Concert is generally held in St. Albert's, since the school auditorium doesn't quite hold the numbers. 4 choirs perform, and given Sun Prairie's history of music emphasis, they're worth attending, even if your daughter isn't one of the singers. The concert is generally sacred music, and this year it was all Christian, including some well-done choruses from the Messiah, shaped note songs, and gospel; except for a piece called "We Are" which I predict (not having Googled it yet) will not actually be African despite ancestor references and an African drum. (I was right: From Sweet Honey in the Rock, an American group)

Donations are voluntary. Pay the concert a visit if you can.