Saturday, May 26, 2018

An 8" artillery shell can ruin your whole day

Tim Wolter digs up an unexploded British 8" shell from World War I.  Everybody seemed pretty calm about this, which tells you just how often this happens on the old Western Front lines.

This isn't the shell, it's the fuse:


It seems somewhat poignant this Memorial Day weekend - bringing to light man's inhumanity to man a century after the fact.

Montgomery Gentry - Didn't I?

I usually get a little annoyed at the common feeling that Memorial Day is the start of the Summer barbecue season.  It's no such thing.  It's a holy day, made so by the blood of veterans.  It is a day of reverence, when we should think on their sacrifice and what our society would be like without that sacrifice.

That perhaps makes me a grumpy old fart, I guess.  Don't care.  They earned this day of remembrance, didn't they?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Your Memorial Day smile

A Judge (in Providence, RI no less) dismisses a parking ticket for a Vietnam Veteran who was getting treatment at the VA Hospital.



Bravo Zulu, Your Honor.

Charges in "Swatting" death

The gamer punks that caused a man's death by phoning in a fake 911 hostage situation call are facing federal charges:
Federal prosecutors have unsealed an indictment against three men involved in the December death of a Kansas man, Andrew Finch. Finch was shot by police officers after one of the defendants, Tyler Barriss, made a call to 911 dispatchers about a completely made-up hostage situation at Finch's address. 
County prosecutors in Kansas have already charged Barriss with manslaughter. Now he faces a slew of additional charges at the federal level, including cyberstalking, making threats across state lines, wire fraud, and conspiracy. And while the county charges targeted Barriss alone, the feds are also charging two others involved in the incident. 
According to the indictment, Shane Gaskill, 19, and Casey Viner, 18, were playing Call of Duty: World War II on December 28, when they got into a dispute over events in the game. Viner became so upset that he asked Barriss—who had a reputation for making SWAT calls—to "swat" Gaskill. 
Gaskill wasn't impressed with Viner's threat. Gaskill allegedly told Barriss that he lived at 1033 McCormick in Wichita, daring Barriss to swat him. "Please try some shit. I'll be waiting," Gaskill wrote in an electronic message.
They all also face obstruction charges for deleting messages.  The officer who killed Finch will not face charges.

The "swatting" nonsense needs to stop, and the telecom industry is (slowly) working on technical solutions that seem like they will prevent it.  But in the meantime, police departments need to recognize that some of these 911 calls are punks in their Mom's basement and dial back the SWAT hoopla.

So, if the Second Amendment only applies to flintlocks ...

... what did the British Government consider to be "Assault Rifles"?




I mean, it has a bayonet lug and everything!

No, the Boy Scouts are not handing out condoms

Fake News gonna clickbait.  The Czar of Muscovy lays it out clearly and persuasively.

Catch and Release - A Brigid Guest Post

The river was where it had always been, would always be but for some cataclysmic natural disaster. I noticed it because of the covered bridge. Grayed, weathered, it had been on this earth longer than I have.

This small, hidden river was one where we fished for Steelhead, a place I spent many an afternoon in waders waiting for a fish, miles away from the paparazzi of people in hip boots littering the larger, better known waters. I could smell its sweetness before I even saw it, the curves of the river laying flat and glittering, like broken glass upon the shore. Within its deep mystery lay many things I sought, not the least of which a fish as difficult to understand as it was to hold on to.

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are one of the most elusive species of fish alive. Anglers the world over make their way to lakes, rivers, secluded coves, inlets and bays in the hopes of hooking into that once-in-a-lifetime catch. Steelhead and Rainbow Trout are the same species, but Rainbows are freshwater only, and Steelhead are anadromous (go to sea) Unlike most salmon, Steelhead can survive spawning, to spawn over multiple years.

Like Chinook, Steelhead have two runs, a summer run and a winter run. Winter runs spawn closer to the ocean, and require less travel time.

The fish don't eat as they head up on the spawning run, attacking the lure probably more from irritation than hunger. Why they bite is one of those fundamental questions that neither biologist or jeopardy contestant can tell you. They're surrounded by lures and they either snag themselves or they snap at it like a pit bull. The hook is usually not deep in the mouth, but there in the premaxillary and maxillary bones or in the ethmoid region at the top of their snout, that large area that plows through the water at sea, gathering food from their movement.


Steelhead are not the easiest of fish to catch, especially the winter run Steelhead which are most often caught on a fly. Steelhead fishermen live in a world of universal skepticism, driven on by the mythology of a fish that does not stay in a region for very long, flirting with you and then leaving you for its heart's desire.

Most days we went home empty handed. I wouldn't be the only time I went out to put hoof, fish or fowl on the table and came home to leftovers. But my Dad believes that all good things come from God, it's just that the gifts of God, such as eternal salvation and the Steelhead also come with hard work, sweat, frozen extremities and the moon being aligned just so. Especially when fly fishing.

My dad bought me my own little fishing pole when I was barely big enough to hold on to it and then would watch with loving patience, upon the bank, to make sure I didn't fall in. I can still remember those evenings out fishing on the lake with my Dad, the sun setting, leaving wisps of lavender ribbons across the sky; as the clouds gathered up along the mountain ridges as if watching us.

Now I fish under an open sky, clouds moving up from the Plains, wispy strands through which I could see that which was the last phase of a full moon. The bobber moved slightly, a fish, or the wind? I was tempted to jerk the line, to see what I had, but I waited. This is what patience is all about, being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that's unfolding.


There is no one watching me but the trees, their leaves laid out flat and placid like hands, awaiting the host that would bring salvation. As I waited, the call of a loon brought me back into the moment and I thought about all the things I needed to do at home on a single day off. Iron some clothes, return phone calls, spend some time with Barkley and friends. And I stopped. "Can you hear that?" I whispered to he that sits patiently by my side, tail wagging, poised to strike in case I reeled in a side of bacon. "That" being the sound of a small fish jumping on a small span of water on a planet spinning through space.

The crickets began their chorus to usher in the night, and the note of the sparrow is borne on the wind from over the water. And from the water's edge, a salamander crawled out, that traveler of both the water and the land, equally at home in both. We're all born of water, as we emerge from the watery landscape of the womb, discovering our breath, leaving what is known, to become searchers of the land. What caused that first being to emerge from that water of creation. The hand of God, the pull of nature, or something more primal? There was a Disney movie of a redheaded mermaid, half human, half fish, who gave up the freedom of her watery home for the love of a man. What is that instinctive urging that drives us out and away from that which is comfortable to a shore so foreign? Is it a quest for adventure or do we simply pull our self from the water, seeking our heart's desire?

But such thoughts are fleeting, the only things rippling through my brain now, the sight of the water raised by the evening's wind. As the day pulled out of the sky, taking the wind with it, I cast back out into the now still center of the water, the moment causing me to hold my breath. There it was. Utter and complete stillness. I wanted to hold my breath because even inhaling and exhaling was like a cacophony. The trees were absolutely quiet, the animals of day hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures not yet stirring, there was no breeze, no recognition of air even; it was the sound of nothing and everything. It felt like all life, my future and beyond was contained in this one space, a simple spot of time where everything stands still with the gossamer cast of a line.

Poets talk about "spots of time," that moment where, in an instant, you can see your whole life and a choice is made. You will understand it when your whole horizon is one fish and then the fish is gone. I thought of one Steelhead there on the river by that covered bridge. I will remember that fish when I am taking in my last breath.


The day had dawned austere and chill. Out of the West came a drifting wall of gray light, which, rather than dissolving into rain as is its chosen nature in this place, it disintegrated into minute particles of fog that congealed on the still pools in the river. In long underwear and hip waders, I moved with the lumbering grace of a trained bear. I moved cautiously, for to fall into this icy water, which would rush into my boots, seeking the last of my warmth, could mean death.

For it was cold, really cold, where the hair in my nostrils turns to Brillo with the first breath, but I don't want to breathe through my mouth because to do would be like breathing in a room full of searing smoke. I was fly fishing, best for the winter run off of the Grey's river. I had a good fly, with the delicate beauty of an angel and the penetrative power of a fire and brimstone preacher. I had fire in my soul and fingers that felt like frozen fish sticks in my gloves.

After what seemed like hours, standing in that chilly repentance of river, I finally felt that knowing tug within my soul. A Steelhead, intercepting the fly near the end of the drift, as the fly rose up and picked up speed. As the hook sunk deep, I could sense the immense weight on my line waiting to fight back, and my breath rushed involuntarily through my mouth, a huge inhale of wonder that seared my chest like pending heartache, where I held it in, afraid to breathe.

As he broke water in the jump, the sun slanted off of his 30 pound back, sparkling jewels of light that put any ring I had ever owned to shame. He hung there in the light with that unmistakable air of defiant and impending challenge that all things of worth have. You've heard of "buck fever"? This was "Steelhead stupor", for in that moment I was so enamored of him I couldn't take action, my eagerness frozen within me, hesitate to move, the thirst in me inarticulate, not knowing yet it is thirst.

My breath exploded in a cloud of steam, as in my wonder I let the line go slack, a bad mistake with a Steelhead that's making a long run upstream. The fish toppled downward, gaining an advantage with weight and movement, crashing back down into the water that sprayed up around him like a thin nimbus of glass.

Fool, oh you fool, why did you not stop him before it was too late.


I had lost him, the fish disappearing even as I stood listening for it, trying to capture a haunting tune in a dense void. A wafer of moon stood watch over the covered bridge surviving the cold morning and the disappearing splash of water. The water swirls as if the fish had never existed, making the day run backward. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now down that river, bestowing with complete remoteness, the figure of a tall girl in an enormous pair of waders. She stands silently in the cold water, on her face a look at that is both fatalistic and that of a child's astonished disappointment, her hand held up in an inexorable gesture that is both disbelief and farewell.

Catch and release.

I thought back to fly fishing in Gunnison for the first time, watching the fly fisherman standing, rod in hand, in the rushing water making the most beautiful movements, a ballet of line and wind and hook, form and flow. The line forms a thin clean curve between hand and fluid need. A ritual of the chase, the cast like a tease to the unsuspecting trout, placid in their world, until he pulled them into his. As the trout took the bait, the man would smile, that quick, knowing smile, and pull with a quick flick of his fingers and hands, like light strokes on a keyboard, to plant the hook. Then after reeling the trout in, he gently pulled the hook from the mouth, no longer smiling, but with a look of quiet contemplation that spoke of everything and absolutely nothing. I watched as he cradled the fish in his hand and with a quick unemotional stroke of her belly, released her back to the water, his eyes empty of emotion, as if they too would forever hold their breath.


Catch and release. Life begins and ends in the waters, flowing over stone and bend, old fears, old desires, old anguish. If you stand out in it long enough, it all eventually flows past, downstream, into the cool eternal dark.

There is no Steelhead in the water here, and the nearest covered bridge it exists far away, where it houses both the dreams and the still young heart of a girl. With the cold fading into shadow, darkness falling, it's time to head back to home. I didn't catch anything, my true catch was as intangible and indescribable as the twilight playing on the water. I think of what Thoreau said, "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after".

We flirt with the water, and what it holds within it, we cast that line, dancing with fate. Icy water and warm lips, we thirst, we reach with that last translucent breath, closing our eyes to softly bite the secret barb. We are drawn in with a soft gasp of breath, chest softly heaving, as we look into the unknown, up into the eyes that desired us.

As we let ourselves be drawn to shore.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Smoosh-Up with Folsom Prison Blues

I'm not sure words can describe it. It's a musician, in clown make-up, singing The Who's Pinball Wizard to the instrumentation and tone of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. 

He does the reverse as well. Equally odd.

It's a beautiful day to dig up some mortar rounds

Tim Woler excavates some World War I munitions.  I can see why construction crews call in the archaeologists before building on what was the Western Front.


Quite a change from Hadrian's Wall, Tim.  I expect that if the Legionnaires on the Rhine Limes in 406 had some of these the whole history of the West might have been different.

It's dirty commies everywhere




Well, some of us have been saying it for a while.  Today seems to be shaping up as "Commie Bastard" day for some reason.


The time Ernest Hemingway took George Plimpton to watch Che execute a bunch of prisoners

Gee, I wonder why I had never heard this story before?
"It was right after the revolution," George continued. One afternoon, Hemingway told him, "There's something you should see." The nature of the expedition was a mystery; Hemingway made a shaker of drinks, daiquiris or whatever. They got in the car with a few others and drove some way out of town. They got out, set up chairs and took out the drinks, as if they were going to watch the sunset. Soon, a truck arrived. This, explained George, was what they'd been waiting for. It came, as Hemingway knew, the same time each day. It stopped and some men with guns got out of it. In the back were a couple of dozen others who were tied up. Prisoners.

The men with guns hustled the others out of the back of the truck, and lined them up. Then they shot them. They put the bodies back into the truck. I said to George something to the effect of "Oh my God."
I knew that Che was a cold blooded psychopath, but had only suspected that of Papa.  Blech.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I'll drink to that




What is it when the Intelligence Community lies to Congress?

A day ending in "-day":
The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000, The Washington Post has learned. 
Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls “Going Dark” — the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators’ access to digital data even with a court order.
In other news, General Clapper has not been prosecuted for perjury.


Surprisingly, the WaPo cuts right to the chase:
The acknowledgment comes at a perilous time for the FBI, whose credibility is being challenged by President Trump and his supporters over the ongoing investigation into whether any Trump associates helped Russia interfere with the 2016 election. The bureau has also been under pressure for other mistakes, including its failure to act on a tip that a Florida teen was likely to carry out a school shooting which police said he did weeks later, killing 17.
Gee, ya think?  I must confess that I am beginning to wonder whether we can believe everything the Government tells us ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

20 things never to say (or not say) to your wife.

LOL.

But there's a lot of good advice there for our young Gentlemen Readers.

Excavating Ypres

Tim Woler takes a break from excavating Hadrian's Wall to help uncover the trenches of Ypres.  As you'd expect, he's digging up all sorts of century old munitions.  Interesting series of posts.

The battle (a short overview)

The town

The Dig (hey, look at the ammo!)

What happens when the autopilot goes haywire?

It happened on Quantas flight 72:
Circling Learmonth, the pilots run through a checklist. The plane's two engines are functioning. But they do not know if the landing gear can be lowered or wing flaps extended for landing. And if they can extend the flaps, they have no idea how the plane will react. As much as they can, the pilots try to assert control over the A330 while the computer system operates. It cannot be fully disengaged. Turning off the three flight control computers could trigger unintended consequences. They may fail or fault.

Pulling paper charts out for Learmonth, the pilots make more inputs into the system, to no avail. It means they will have to conduct a visual approach. The precariousness of their situation is laid bare in a lengthy summary of faults on their screens. They include the loss of automatic braking and spoilers to prevent lift once the plane is on the runway. The pilots do not know whether they can use the nose-wheel to steer the plane until it is on the ground.
Over 100 people were injured, a dozen seriously when the plane pitched down and the cabin experienced negative 0.8g.

This is what the nose dives did to the cabin
Airbus has a long history of "issues" with the computerized control in their aircraft.  Post incident investigations typically blame the pilots (usually unconvincingly, at least for me) but this incident from 2008 shows that when everything is controlled by (or through) a computer, the computer can kill you.  The report said that one of the flight computers corrupted the avionics data, and the computer wasn't smart enough to realize that the data were whacky.

The way that I would rephrase that is that the software designers don't really understand how the software works, at least not all the time.  They can't say for certain whether the software will kill everyone onboard.

And this is the most sophisticated autopilot software ever built.  What's gone into self-driving cars is primitive by comparison.  There are millions of man-hours of development in the Airbus software, and what it is trying to do is arguably easier than what cars have to deal with - for example, there is no need for the sort of obstacle detection and avoidance that a self-driving car experiences.

RTWT.  I'm nowhere near comfortable entrusting my life to one of these experimental cars.

"Hold mah beer", Talladega edition

This guy set the bar high for a "hold mah beer" moment:
In one of NASCAR’s most bizarre episodes, Darren Crowder, a Birmingham local, found his way into the ceremonial Pontiac Trans Am before the May 1986 race. The car had apparently been left unattended near the front grandstand. Crowder, at the time age 20, pulled onto the famed oval and started turning laps. Since the race was minutes from its scheduled starting time, NASCAR only noticed something amiss when Crowder passed an official who correctly identified him as, uh, not the pace car driver. (The call, via team radio: "Who's that f***** in the pace car?")
Did a whole lap, at 100 mph.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Words in the Wind - A Brigid Guest Post

A young woman walks out to an old rural mailbox and pulls out a couple of letters, standing in the cold as she looks through them, for in her haste, she wears no coat. Her eyes are alight with hope, as she scans the postmarks, almost naked in their pleading.  But there is no letter from him today, no news that he is still safe.  Her eyes grow quiet, two shining gloves in which a world at war lurks in profoundly small scale.  The mailbox shuts and her hope draws itself in, like measured string being rewound into a spool

Thirty later, her children, one at the edge of the field, one away in a straight line about 30 yards away, connected only by two paper cups and a taut piece of kite string. One speaks, the other listens, and hears  "there are 4 of them to our two. But we have the water balloons!" The words are simple but they are personal, shared between brothers in arms, even if one is a sister.

Another thirty years later, miles apart, a simple message  "hi, it's me just landed, I'll call after I get to Dad's, stay strong."
How our methods of communication have changed over the years.  Not long ago, sitting behind me in a Thai restaurant, four 20-somethings in casual business attire, all texting or surfing, the server unacknowledged but for an order made without consulting the menu, not a single word between them as invisible food was consumed with invisible fingers and invisible thoughts.

Just the other day, I sat in the airport reading a classic novel, on paper, no e-reader, while all around me people are texting. Now there are times that a text is better than silence, a quick stop to let someone know you are safe, or that you care, but too often people are doing it at the expense of the actual written word.

What would the books on my shelves, or the one in the hand of the young lady seated across from me be, if simply summed up in text?

Deliverance - tourists XperENs local hospitality

Frankenstein - Science progress big FAIL w genRL public. Ptchforks say STBU.

War of the Worlds - LEgl aliens wnt evrtng 4 frE

Twilight -  join d undead az alternative 2 college

Pride and Prejudice -i longed 4 him i married him crp

Soylent Green - locals hav isUz w regional cuisine

Romeo and Juliet -  Dny thy fathR n refUZ thy name, o if thou wilt nt, b bt swrn my luv, I'll n lngr be a cpult,

The Manhattan Project -sum of aL fears comin 2 a rogue n8tN near U

The Audacity of Hope - DBEYR srsly

Bridge on the River Kwai - brits cn whistle despite stiff uppr lips

The whole way the world interacts, communicates, and connects has changed since our parent's age. In a trunk in Dad's attic I found those letters my Mom wrote my Dad during WWII, carefully tired with still taut ribbon, the handwriting faded, words that traveled thousands of miles to England and back, carried by mailman and ship, to gather dust that gets in his eyes when he talks of her. In those letters she is still with him, still young, more than just a shadow-bound to him with a shadow of ribbon.

Now, we instant message, we Skype, there's Facebook and web-mail and blogs, wherein the means of communication are many and the word "friend" has oft been reduced to an anonymous sign of popularity from total strangers.  ("Hi,  I'm Kim Jong-un, please LIKE me on Facebook!").  Maybe I'm alone in this, but to me, friendship is not something granted to random strangers simply because they wish to claim it, but to those who, through shared experience, through laughter and listening and time, become part of a complex life, on and off a computer.
,
Yet, this mass means of communication has its advantages, we know more of decisions being made that impact us, that threaten our way of life, even if much of it is twisted by the media.  We have to dig, dig hard for the truth, but at least the words flow mostly free, our view of the world, not just one radio show, or one newspaper dictating how we should think. From the lies, we have to glean the truth, but there are still so many avenues to get to the truth that previously were simply withheld.  There's also the sheer learning of it, so many things at our fingertips to explore, to share.

But in a world where we are constantly chirping and texting, too often,  very little is actually being said, reducing human emotions to punctuations as if somehow a smiley could convey the nuance of a heart.  I look at Dad's letters, then, and his letters now, the degradation of the handwriting a sign, painfully clear, that he is declining, soon to leave me.  But his words are still as sharp as his mind, even as his hand sometimes fails him.

He writes of the family and the "steelhead that got away",  words of humor, of inspiration, of compelling faith. Sheets of paper that over 30 years have charted a course for me through adulthood,  abiding strength still radiating from his descriptions of love and loss, the papers having a weight to them of his life. A weight that will keep me anchored.
He first started writing them when I went off college.   I'd read them on a train, for that is how I got back and forth to my home on the occasional weekend, not being able to afford a car and tuition.  As I traveled, I penned my letters back, my fears, my thanks for Dad's support.   How could I have imagined this world today, where such things are expressed in acronyms and emoticons.   How do you explain what it feels to live, to breathe, to fear, to fly, in exchanges briefer than epitaphs, as personal as commands?

All those years ago,  I'd sit in that car and write my trains of thought,  words flowing in sturdy motion and time, their spaces containing the heavy load of pride and longing,  fear and desire. The train barrels forward in steady progressions as moving clouds fly overhead and shafts of sunlight peer through sliding cars, into their depth. As others transmit through satellites and space, I watch the landscape from the viewpoint of the train. Structures of iron lace, the suddenness of buildings, clouds of morning mist all crossing my line of sight, my muscles straining with the curves through fog-shrouded landscapes, moving with the train, thundering through empty fields of past loss into meadows washed with light.

But now, 30 years later, I am writing these words on a computer, miles away from the one I'd most want to read them, the mailman driving past as I sip my coffee, no longer a troubadour for distant lovers, but simply the carrier of pizza coupons, junk mail, and bills. The computer sits in front of me, framed in the window like a stage, the words in my head now, like the beginning of thunder, as loud as a whisper, and as electric.

There are still paper and pen, solitary objects of unspoken promise, of thoughts that flow, but I do not have them here.  I have this, and whether short words or long, I'm speaking my heart.  As my fingers clatter against keys, the words pick up speed, splaying themselves out along the tracks going forward.  I am back on a train, running into the rain as the cars gain speed, waters cleaning the windows on which I look out on life.  I hurl words into the darkness of an upcoming tunnel and wait for their echo.
 - Brigid

Awesome retro Tech Pr0n

This is sweet:
The PiDP-11 is a modern replica of the PDP-11/70. 

Introduced in 1975, the 11/70 was top of the line in the famed PDP-11 range, and the very last system with a proper front panel. Tragically, DEC field service often removed the front panel in a later upgrade, leaving us staring at dull blank panels ever since..
The PiDP-11 wants to bring back the experience of PDP-11 Blinkenlights, with its pretty 1970s Magenta/Red color scheme. On a more modest (living room compatible) scale 6:10, with faithfully reproduced case and switches.
Awesome - using a Raspberry Pi to make a PDP 11.


Me, I want a VAX.

Washington Post catches up to Borepatch in 2012

Study: Authoritarian countries overstate their economic growth rates:
"I find that a 10 percent increase in nighttime lights is associated with a 2.4 percent increase in GDP in the most democratic countries and with a 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent increase in GDP in the most authoritarian ones," Martinez said. The most obvious explanation is that those countries are the most likely to fudge their GDP figures to make their political leaders look good.
It's a clever study, using nighttime lighting as observed from space as a proxy for economic activity.  Of course, we've know this for ages:
The most spectacular Intelligence failure of the Cold War was the failure to recognize the impending collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989, and the Soviet Union in 1991.  The CIA certainly reported on plenty of problems as the 1980s wound on towards International Socialism's rendezvous with destiny - as highlighted in this self-serving and mostly missing-the-point analysisfrom the CIA on its own reporting.  This analysis is entirely unsatisfactory, because it completely fails to account for how the USSR was ranked third or forth on the list of the largest World economies.

That wasn't just wrong, it was spectacularly wrong, and had enormous policy implications all throughout the 1980s.  All Western policy makers who used the CIA's analysis as the basis for policy found that they were equally (and equally spectacularly) wrong.

So how did the CIA get into this position?  By being very good at collecting data, but not so good at collecting the right data.  As near as we can tell from unclassified reports, the Agency had a decent grasp of the summary economic data as presented to the Central Committee.  The problem was that the data was bogus.

The Soviet economy was regimented, a rigid command and control system where those at the top set the direction and goals, and those in the factories tried to execute to the 5 year plan.  Factory managers who didn't execute to plan had troubles, and so there was a built in incentive to cheat.  Corners were cut, output was trimmed to where the plan was met with sub-standard, shoddy goods.  Or the numbers were simply made up, and the fraudulent data was sent up the chain.

Further massaging was done in mid level bureaus, because nobody wanted to be the guy who brought the bad news.  Essentially, the data deteriorated its way up the chain to the top, and nobody was very interested in double checking to see if the data as reported matched what had originally been collected.  You see, it wasn't in anyone's interest to do so, and it was very much in everyone's interest not to do so.
Sadly, the WaPo hasn't caught up to Borepatch from 2011, which has the really disturbing take on all of this monkey business:
China is building ten (!) brand new cities each year.  However, it's built with borrowed (leveraged) money, and so rents are high - so high that the cities are deserted.  The Great Mall Of China has 1 - that's one - store open.  There are 64 Million empty Chinese apartments.

It's not just city construction: China's much touted (by Thomas Friedman, and even Barack Obama) High Speed Rail network is supposedly an example of a "moon shot" project.  We have to "keep up with the Chinese".  Except the trains are ghost trains:
Here’s the latest from the South China Morning Post on the dismissal of the nation’s Railways Minister and the engineer in charge of the system’s R&D. Seems there were “severe violations of discipline,” which is usually code for corruption. The larger issue with the vast (16,000 kilometers planned by 2020) endeavor is that it isn’t, in fact, so appropriate to China’s needs. Rather, it may be another symptom of a bubble economy in which vast sums are misspent on underutilized assets. 
The high speed trains are wildly expensive, because the (Chinese government owned) rail network had to issue $300 Billion in bonds to build the network.  And so fares are very high, and people take the slower (but much less expensive) old trains.

But that $300 Billion gets added to China's GDP score.
Remember the $Trillion "Stimulus" program that didn't stimulate anything?  Does anyone know what we got for that money?  Can anyone name a single thing that was built with that money?  But a Trillion dollars got added to the GDP figures.

Economic data are mostly untrustworthy.  A little less so in the West, a little more so in other places.  We can speculate on an algorithm to describe this, based on the finding s of the study reported in the WaPo: the more central control over an economy that a state has, the less reliable the economic data will be.

Now think about how much control the Fed.Gov had over the economy in 1960, and how much control it has today.  What does out algorithm suggest for the veracity of the reported economic data?


To ask the question is to answer it.  Or you can check here - there are many ways to game the data, if the state is motivated.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Clara Schumann - Piano Trio Op. 17

Image from Der Wik
Most composers throughout history have been men.  Clara Schumann's story tells us why.  She was the wife of composer Robert Schumann.

As you would expect from those times, he was better known than she, even though she was a musical prodigy from an young age.  But they had eight children together (only four of whom survived to adulthood), and she was the primary caregiver for them.  Her husband fell ill (perhaps bipolar disorder) and she became the family's primary caregiver, especially after his death in an asylum.

This left little time for composing.  As her husband wrote about her:
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Nevertheless, she ended producing a fair number of compositions.  You wonder what she might have created had she had a less hectic family life.