Sunday, March 07, 2021

When we remember Zion

Remember William Sulzer?

Probably not, and it's OK. I never heard of the guy until I checked to see when, if ever, New York has impeached a governor before. As it happens "plain Bill" Sulzer has the dubious distinction of being the one and only New York Governor to be impeached and removed from office. 

In a nutshell he was a reform minded Democrat back when political machines ran both parties. He won the office in the 1912 election and promptly announced his support for bills to require open primaries that would determine the nominees for public office. The practice hitherto was that party bosses typically met over drinks and cigars to decide who their candidates would be. He also told Tammany Hall (the Democratic machine from downstate) where they could go when they sent him a list of party hacks they wanted given state jobs. Once the Democratic bosses figured out that Bill really meant the things he had promised in his campaign and that he was not in fact their boy, things got ugly. Suddenly, claims were made that he had lied under oath about some campaign finance money which it was said he actually used to buy stock for himself. And there were assertions he had been sued for "breach of promise" back in the 90s by some woman from Philadelphia among other salacious claims. Evidence supporting at least some of these claims appeared rather mysteriously with efforts to question or challenge said evidence being disallowed.

In short, historians largely agree that the whole thing was a frame up and the resulting impeachment and trial were a farce. The machine boys wanted him gone and they made it happen. He was governor for just over nine months. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Pope Francis to begin historic Iraq visit despite virus and security risks

Pope Francis will fly to Iraq on Friday for the first ever papal visit to the country and his first international trip since the start of the pandemic.

The four-day trip is meant to reassure Iraq's dwindling Christian community and foster inter-religious dialogue.

The Pope will meet Iraq's most revered Shia Muslim cleric, say a prayer in Mosul and celebrate Mass at a stadium.

He has insisted on travelling despite a new spike in Covid-19 infections in Iraq and concerns over his security.

Hours after a rocket attack on a base hosting US troops on Wednesday, the Pope said Iraqi Christians could not be "let down for a second time".

Pope John Paul II cancelled plans for a trip at the end of 1999 after talks with then-President Saddam Hussein's government broke down.

In the two decades since then, one of the world's oldest Christian communities has seen its numbers plummet from 1.4 million to about 250,000.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

100 years ago

Harding Is made President in Simple Ceremony; No League, Ample Tariff and Prosperity His Creed

  • Usual Pomp Absent From Ceremony
  • Wilson a Pathetic Figure as He Retires in An Atmosphere of Deep Sympathy
  • New Cabinet is Confirmed in Ten Minutes
  • 3 Generations of Coolidges See Calvin Sworn in as Vice President


Traveling in Europe in the 1930s

A series of home movies shot while traveling in Europe. The nature and sequence of the footage suggests it was likely shot over more than one trip and visual evidence strongly points to the second half of the 1930s as the approximate time frame. (appx 1 hr with AI clean up and coloring added)

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Miami's new plan for climate change and rising sea levels

It looks like a lot of crossed fingers and hoping for a best case scenario. I live in south Florida, on the other coast, about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Given my age, I doubt I will live long enough to see it. But I am more or less resigned that my home and a lot of this end of the state is going to be underwater by the 2050s. Most people are in serious denial about how much of the coastal US is in danger. 

Here's Miami's plan

Israeli Says Converts to Non-Orthodox Judaism Can Claim Citizenship

JERUSALEM — The question of who is and isn’t a Jew has always been a subject of debate within Israel. Since the state was founded, the government has largely deferred to Orthodox Jewish authorities, who do not view converts to more liberal forms of Judaism as Jewish.

But on Monday, the Israeli Supreme Court struck a symbolic blow for a more pluralistic vision of Jewish identity: It granted the right to automatic citizenship to foreigners who convert within the state of Israel to Conservative, also known as Masorti, or Reform Judaism.

The decision was mainly symbolic because typically, only 30 or 40 foreigners convert to Reform or Masorti Judaism in Israel every year, according to the Israel Religious Action Center, the rights group that led efforts to obtain the court ruling.

But the ruling chips away some of the monopoly Orthodox rabbis have held over questions of religious identity that are central to frictions within Israeli society. It also inflames a long-running debate about the relationship between Israel’s civil and religious authorities — and particularly the role of the Supreme Court.

The Israeli right has portrayed the court as a bastion of the country’s secular and liberal elite, acting without democratic legitimacy. And though the court delayed ruling in this case for years, hoping Parliament would vote on it instead, the court’s critics were already making political capital from the decision on Monday night.

The party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a regular antagonist of the Israeli courts who is on trial on corruption charges, swiftly cited the decision as a reason to vote for the party and “ensure a stable right-wing government that will restore sovereignty to the people.”

Israel’s “Law of Return” gives foreign-born Jews, or anyone with a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse, the automatic right to claim Israeli citizenship. Those who convert to non-Orthodox Judaism in another country have been able to gain Israeli citizenship for decades.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Parish church discovers its painting of Last Supper linked to Titian

A vast painting of The Last Supper that has hung in a parish church in Herefordshire since the turn of the last century is being seen in a new light following the discovery of crucial evidence that links it to the workshop of Titian, one of the 16th-century’s greatest masters.  

A 12.5-foot-long painting in St Michael and All Angels church in Ledbury, was long assumed to be a much later copy. Hanging high on a wall, in a dark and dirty state, its potential had been missed. 

Ronald Moore, a conservator and art historian, removed centuries of discoloured varnish and was astonished to discover Titian’s inscribed name, a bold under-drawing worthy of Titian himself and an apostle that must be a portrait of him as the facial features precisely match his self-portrait.

In a three-year study, he linked it to a 1775 letter in which its former owner, John Skippe, an Oxford-educated artist and noted collector, wrote of buying “a most capital and well-preserved picture by Titian” from a wealthy Venetian family, adding that it was commissioned by a Venetian convent. It was donated to the Ledbury church in 1909 by one of Skippe’s descendants.

“It’s so big and nobody’s taken any notice of it for 110 years,” Mr Moore said. “Anything coming from Titian’s workshop is very important indeed.”

Read the rest here.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

WSJ: The Achilles Heel of the Electric Car Revolution- Poor Charging Infrastructure

Bradley Wilkinson is the owner of a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, and the kind of electric-vehicle diehard who knows how to squeeze every last mile of range out of his vehicle.

Even so, during his most recent road trip, from Tampa, Fla., back home to Fort Carson, Colo., he spent about 58 hours on the road. In a gasoline-powered vehicle, on average, the 1,900-mile journey would take about 30. His relatively sluggish pace was due to his need to regularly power up the Bolt’s battery at a “fast” charger—so called because they’re many times faster than typical home chargers.

Less experienced EV owners report far bigger inconveniences than Mr. Wilkinson’s. Those include: too few charging stations, too much demand at the stations that are available, broken chargers, confusing payment systems, exorbitant electricity rates, and uncertainty over how long their cars need to charge.

While EVs can be powered up at home, industry analysts and academics believe that a fast-charging infrastructure is essential to getting beyond their current limited adoption. This next wave of slightly-less-early adopters is critical to a global automotive industry betting heavily on battery power.

Yet so far, only one carmaker has offered a reassuring pitch about conveniently and reliably recharging on the go: Tesla. And Tesla’s fast-charging technology doesn’t work on non-Tesla cars.

Building the requisite charging infrastructure for the rest of the EV universe will be expensive. The Biden administration has proposed building a network of 500,000 chargers in the next five years, which would cost billions. The fact that many believe such a government investment is required shows just how little faith many industry insiders have in the ability of private enterprise to solve this problem. One issue: Building out the nation’s charging infrastructure might not be profitable.

Read the rest here.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: The Fed has lost control of bond markets

Wild moves in the $21 trillion US Treasury market have become disorderly. Shockwaves are pulsating through the international financial system and threaten to snuff out Europe’s economic recovery before it has even begun.

Central bankers have long been fretting over what might happen if incipient inflation and gargantuan debt issuance starts to set off an exodus from global bond markets. They had their first real taste late on Thursday. The cost of borrowing rocketed. 

The US Federal Reserve in particular must navigate a narrow strait between the opposite perils of Scylla and Charybdis: damned if it does nothing, and allows the turmoil to continue; but equally damned it capitulates again, opts for easy stimulus to suppress yields, and falls even further behind the curve (in the eyes of bond vigilantes). 

As matters now stand, the Fed has lost control over US monetary policy. Investors are betting that the overhang of excess M3 money created since Covid began will combine with the Biden Administration’s war economy stimulus  - 13pc of GDP, including the pre-Christmas package - to lift the economy rapidly out of its long deflationary malaise.

Rightly or wrongly they are pulling forward an inflationary implication. Futures markets have priced in a full rate rise in 2022 and two more rises in 2023. This is self-fulfilling and will soon start rippling through financial contracts unless corrected.

Put another way, bond traders are dictating policy. They are tightening long before the Fed is ready or thinks that the coast is clear. So much for the charming idea of “running the economy hot”.

Nobody was spared on Thursday after investors shunned what was supposed to be a routine auction of seven-year US Treasury bonds, but instead sparked the worst bid-cover ratio on record (2.04) and a violent intraday spike of 30 basis points. 

The spillover smashed into the vast Japanese bond market, where 10-year yields blew through the upper band of the Bank of Japan’s yield control regime.

Australia’s Reserve Bank had to intervene with emergency QE to hit its yield target. Junk bonds fell out of bed, giving up almost all the gains since vaccination euphoria began last year. 

Equities have stopped rising in lockstep with bond yields for the first since the pandemic began. The Nasdaq bloodbath on Thursday was a sight to behold.

Ark Invest, the momentum ETF, is down 18pc over the past two days and is fast becoming a systemic threat in its own right, epicentre of a nexus of leverage. Saxo Bank warned that the “Tesla-Bitcoin-Ark risk cluster” could set off a toxic feedback loop that sucks other interlinked tech stocks into a downward vortex.

Read the rest here.

Bond Markets Take a Hit on Inflation Worries

LONDON (Reuters) - From the United States to Germany and Australia, government borrowing costs on Friday were set to end February with their biggest monthly rises in years as expectations for a post-pandemic ignition of inflation gained a life of their own.

Australia’s 10-year bond yield and Britain’s 30-year yields were set for their biggest monthly jump since the 2009 global financial crisis. Long-dated New Zealand yields were flirting with their biggest monthly surge since 1994.

The move, which began in the U.S. Treasury market at the start of the year on prospects for a huge fiscal boost and economic recovery, has spread globally.

Even after a Friday respite from this week’s brutal drubbing, Australia’s 10-year yield is up 70 basis points in February and New Zealand’s 10-year yield is up almost 77 bps.

Australia’s 10-year bond yield has soared almost 40 bps this week alone to 1.8%, its biggest weekly jump since 2013 .

And as three-year bond yields moved above their 0.1% target, the Reserve Bank of Australia on Friday made an unscheduled offer to buy A$3 billion ($2.35 billion) of three-year bonds, on top of a similar amount on Thursday, to calm markets.

“Given how expensive bonds have been, meaning yields have been depressed, it was expected that when the selloff came it would move at great speed,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

America's Lost Classical Architecture

Rod Dreher has been on a tear

Four pieces, all recent, are well worth a read... 

The Queering Of Young America

Smith College Hates The Working Class

No Escaping The Eyes Of God

Rand Paul Blasts Levine’s Trans Radicalism

The Southern Baptists Sever Ties with Four Churches

The Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee voted on Tuesday to expel four of its member churches, ousting two for policies that “affirm homosexual behavior” and the others for employing pastors who are convicted sex offenders.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Charlie Munger doesn’t know what’s worse: Tesla at $1 trillion or bitcoin at $50,000

I do. It's Bitcoin. 

Tesla is probably the most overpriced stock out there. But Tesla is real. Tesla is an actual company with assets, employees and manufactured products. They make electric cars and other interesting things. Tesla has intrinsic value. Its stock may go down in value. It probably should. But it's not going to zero. 

Bitcoin is a fantasy, a shadow, a technological myth. It's not real. It has no intrinsic value or pragmatic function. You cannot build anything with a Bitcoin. It does not conduct electricity. You can't cook with it. You can't make jewelry or dental work with it. You cannot put a Bitcoin in my hand. I cannot take possession of a bag full of Bitcoin and lock it in my safe deposit box at the bank or bury it in my backyard. It pays no dividend or yield. As a currency it is not backed or recognized by any government and is incredibly volatile. Its brief history is full of shady characters and contains lots of unpleasant words and phrases, like money laundering, gangsters, drug trafficking, tax evasion and so on.

Bitcoin is a racket.

It reminds me of some clever fellow back in the 1970s who made a fortune by selling... pet rocks. The difference between Bitcoin and the pet rocks, is that back in the day if you sent this man a check or money order, you actually got a rock in return.

Anyway, here is the story

NRA sues New York attorney general, alleging politically motivated abuse of power

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Rifle Association filed a countersuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James, saying she lacks authority to invoke state laws governing nonprofits in her zeal to destroy the gun rights group.

In a Tuesday night court filing, the NRA, which filed for bankruptcy last month, accused James of “weaponizing” her powers to pursuing a “blatant and malicious retaliation campaign” against it because she dislikes what it stands for.

James’ office did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment.

The attorney general had sued the NRA and Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre last August, saying the nonprofit diverted millions of dollars to fund luxurious trips for officials, no-show contracts for associates, and other questionable expenses.

“James commenced her investigations and this action against the NRA with the sole purpose of seeking to dissolve a political enemy,” the NRA said.

The NRA said the Democrat’s “selective enforcement” of state not-for-profit laws violated its constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection, warranting the lawsuit’s dismissal.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

200 Years Ago

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness -John Keats

He knew he was dying for at least a year before the end came. The first time he coughed up blood he told a friend that it was his death warrant. He suffered repeated hemorrhages in his lungs as the consumption took hold. In response his doctors bled him. In September of 1820 he took leave of his fiancé Fanny Brawne and on the advice of his doctor left England for the more hospitable climate of Italy. His health continued to decline and he was in great misery during the voyage. Joseph Severn, his friend and traveling companion, tended to him as best he could. After a brief stay in Naples, which Keats did not find congenial, they moved to Rome and took up residence in a villa next to the Spanish Steps. It still stands today. There his condition deteriorated as he was placed on a diet of a single anchovy and piece of bread per day in the hopes of stopping the flow of blood to his stomach. The doctor also continued to bleed him. Fearing he might commit suicide, Keats was denied laudanum, the only thing which had eased his pain. Towards the end he slipped in and out of consciousness and was often gripped by fever and delirium. Severn wrote that the agony was so great that when Keats would wake he often broke down and wept with the realization that he was still alive. At length John Keats died on February 23, 1821. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.

When word of his death reached Fanny Brawne she was inconsolable and remained in deep mourning for six years. In the end she did marry, twelve years after Keats death, and she outlived him by forty years. Dying at just 25, Keats joined many of the other tragic figures of the English Romantics who also died young. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Ecumenical Patriarchate: Holy cow!

 Words fail.

T- Secretary Yellen Takes a Shot at Bitcoin

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued a warning Monday about the dangers that bitcoin poses both to investors and the public.

Despite a sharp slide in price to start the week, the cryptocurrency continues to trade above $53,000 as it has received boosts from various sources. Elon Musk’s Tesla recently made a substantial purchase and has said it will accept bitcoin for transactions.

However, Yellen said there remain important questions about legitimacy and stability.

“I don’t think that bitcoin … is widely used as a transaction mechanism,” she told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times’ “DealBook” conference. “To the extent it is used I fear it’s often for illicit finance. It’s an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions, and the amount of energy that’s consumed in processing those transactions is staggering.”

Mining bitcoin requires users to solve complex mathematical equations using high-powered computer setups. The electric consumption used in the process leaves an annual carbon footprint equal to the nation of New Zealand, according to Digiconomist.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Boulevard on a Rainy Day

Upper Broadway 1899. Click here for full size.

From Beyond the Gilded Age

Cardinal Sarah- One of the Last Conservatives in the Vatican- is Retired

ROME— Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah as head of the Vatican’s office for liturgy, removing an outspoken conservative and possible future pope from the ranks of Vatican leadership.

The Holy See Press Office announced Saturday that Cardinal Sarah had stepped down. No successor has been named.

The cardinal submitted his resignation as required by church law when he turned 75 on June 15 of last year. But the pope frequently lets cardinals serve two or three years past that age, though not past 80. Last June, the cardinal wrote on Twitter: “For my part, I am happy to continue my work” at the Vatican.

In accepting Cardinal Sarah’s resignation, the pope has removed a subordinate out of step with his approach to liturgy, homosexuality and relations with the Muslim world. The cardinal is a hero to many conservative Catholics, some of whom see him as a future pontiff. He will still be able to vote in a conclave to elect a pope until he turns 80.

Last year, the cardinal raised controversy with a book widely interpreted as an attempt to influence Pope Francis’ decision on whether to allow the ordination of married men as priests. The episode led to embarrassment for the cardinal when retired Pope Benedict XVI asked to have his name removed as the book’s co-author.

The Guinean cardinal’s retirement leaves only one African as the head of a Vatican department: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which focuses on issues of social justice.

Cardinal Sarah didn’t reply to a request for comment on Saturday. Shortly after the announcement, he tweeted: “I am in God’s hands. The only rock is Christ. We will meet again very soon in Rome and elsewhere.”

The cardinal was born in the small village of Ourous, Guinea, in West Africa, where his father was a farmer and a convert to Catholicism. At the age of 11 he was sent to a seminary in Ivory Coast. Pope John Paul II made him archbishop of the Guinean capital of Conakry at the age of 34, and he was the youngest archbishop in the world at the time.

Read the rest here.

Friday, February 19, 2021

New York's Governor is in Trouble

A Democratic New York state lawmaker who accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of threatening him over his criticism of the handling of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths said Friday that support is building within the state legislature to begin an impeachment investigation.

“It will take a little time to build that consensus, but every day we are inching toward the impeachment process,” Assemblyman Ronald Kim, a Democrat from Queens, said in an interview with the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” He estimated that, along with “virtually all” Republicans, between 25 and 30 Democratic legislators currently support an impeachment inquiry into Cuomo — a number he suggested is growing steadily.

Kim, who considers himself a progressive socialist, made the comments after recounting how Cuomo called him up at home and “berated” him, threatening to destroy his career if the lawmaker didn’t immediately retract his comments accusing Cuomo’s administration of withholding evidence about nursing home deaths. Kim said Cuomo’s comments “traumatized” his wife and prompted him to hire a lawyer.

Cuomo has adamantly denied Kim’s account, and during a news conference in Albany on Friday he pushed back on the accusations against him, charging that his critics are spreading “lies” and “misinformation” about nursing home deaths.

Read the rest here.

New York is effectively a one party state, so this is going nowhere without Democrats onboard. That said Cuomo is not well liked within his own party and he has a long track record of stepping on toes and trying to push people around. So who knows.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Fox News vs Wikipedia

They don't like each other. Certain elements in the Wiki community have made a regular, bordering on tendentious habit of trying to get Fox News deprecated as a reliable source. Translated into plain language that means that the Wikipedia Reliable Sources Noticeboard (WP:RSN) routinely sees editors opening discussions trying to get the community to declare that Fox News is not a reliable source and may not be cited in support of claims of fact in the encyclopedia's articles. This happens to a lot of conservative news outlets. And in fairness, some really are pretty shoddy with a history of lousy fact checking or just making stuff up. Of course one rarely if ever sees similar concerns raised about nakedly biased websites from the left.

Well today Fox shot back with an article accusing Wikipedia of blatant leftwing bias, especially in articles dealing with sensitive subjects like Communism and Socialism. Their article on Communism is actually a good example. It is an open secret that there is a cadre of left leaning editors who carefully guard the article and mobilize to ensure "consensus" is against anything too negative getting into it. Bluntly that article has been so thoroughly sanitized you could use it for a surgical ward.  

Full Disclosure: I spent a good part of ten years working on the encyclopedia (close to four as an admin) before I resigned, in large part over the naked bias and hostility to conservative editors. I still think that if your looking for information on non-controversial/political subjects, it's a good resource. But the hostility towards conservatives and conservative view points is very real. 


 Serbians have a new patriarch. 

US Life Expectancy Sees Sharpest Decline Since WWII

Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting.

Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”

Other health experts say it shows the profound impact of COVID-19, not just on deaths directly due to infection but also from heart disease, cancer and other conditions.

“What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year ... I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco.

This is the first time the CDC has reported on life expectancy from early, partial records; more death certificates from that period may yet come in. It’s already known that 2020 was the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths topping 3 million for the first time.

Read the rest here.

Trump's grip on GOP grows as exodus continues

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A surge of Republicans quitting the party to renounce Donald Trump after the deadly Capitol riot could hurt moderates in next year’s primaries, adding a capstone to Trump’s legacy as president: A potentially lasting rightward push on the party.

More than 68,000 Republicans have left the party in recent weeks in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, crucial states for Democrats’ hopes of keeping control of Congress in the mid-term elections in 2022, state voter data shows.

That’s about three times the roughly 23,000 Democrats who left their party in the same states over the same time period.

Compared to the Republicans who stayed put, those who fled were more concentrated in the left-leaning counties around big cities, which political analysts said suggested moderate Republicans could be leading the defections.

If the exodus is sustained, it will be to the advantage of candidates in the Republican Party’s nomination contests who espouse views that play well with its Trump-supporting base but not with a broader electorate.

That could make it harder for Republican candidates to beat Democrats in November, said Morris Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford University.

“If these voters are leaving the party permanently, it’s really bad news for Republicans,” Fiorina said.

Read the rest here.