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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Pope Francis Calls 21 Coptic Martyrs "Saints for All Christians"

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2021 / 11:01 am MT (CNA).- Pope Francis has praised the courageous witness of the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians killed by ISIS in 2015, calling them “saints of all Christians.”

In a video message for the “Day of Contemporary Martyrs” Feb. 15, the pope said, “I hold in my heart that baptism of blood, those twenty-one men baptized as Christians with water and the Spirit.”

“I thank God our Father because he gave us these courageous brothers. I thank the Holy Spirit because he gave them the strength and consistency to confess Jesus Christ to the point of shedding blood. I thank the bishops, the priests of the Coptic sister Church which raised them and taught them to grow in the faith. And I thank the mothers of these people, of these 21 men, who ‘nursed’ them in the faith,” he said.

Read the rest here.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The AP take a look at the history of Covid Conspiracy Theories

BRUSSELS (AP) — The rumors began almost as soon as the disease itself. Claims that a foreign adversary had unleashed a bioweapon emerged at the fringes of Chinese social media the same day China first reported the outbreak of a mysterious virus.

“Watch out for Americans!” a Weibo user wrote on Dec. 31, 2019. Today, a year after the World Health Organization warned of an epidemic of COVID-19 misinformation, that conspiracy theory lives on, pushed by Chinese officials eager to cast doubt on the origins of a pandemic that has claimed more than 2 million lives globally.

From Beijing and Washington to Moscow and Tehran, political leaders and allied media effectively functioned as superspreaders, using their stature to amplify politically expedient conspiracies already in circulation. But it was China -- not Russia – that took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19’s origins, as it came under attack for its early handling of the outbreak.

A nine-month Associated Press investigation of state-sponsored disinformation conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, shows how a rumor that the U.S. created the virus that causes COVID-19 was weaponized by the Chinese government, spreading from the dark corners of the Internet to millions across the globe. The analysis was based on a review of millions of social media postings and articles on Twitter, Facebook, VK, Weibo, WeChat, YouTube, Telegram and other platforms.

Chinese officials were reacting to a powerful narrative, nursed by QAnon groups, Fox News, former President Donald Trump and leading Republicans, that the virus was instead manufactured by China.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Beijing has used its expanding megaphone on Western social media to promote friendship and serve facts, while defending itself against hostile forces that seek to politicize the pandemic.

“All parties should firmly say ‘no’ to the dissemination of disinformation,” the ministry said in a statement to AP, but added, “In the face of trumped-up charges, it is justified and proper to bust lies and clarify rumors by setting out the facts.”

Read the rest here.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Lent & Pascha (Easter)

The divergence between the Eastern and Western calendars with respect to Lent and Easter is pretty much at its widest this year. Roman Catholics and those Protestants who observe Lent will mark Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Fast on the 17th instant, whereas on the Orthodox Calendar Lent begins on March 15th. Western Easter is on April 4th and we celebrate the Resurrections on May 2nd. One upside to the late date for us is that the Apostles Fast (no longer kept in the West) will be extremely short, just fourteen days for those on the Old Calendar. For those of us on the New Calendar... if you blink you will miss it. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Queen Mary

Serbian Synod Sets Plans for Election of Next Patriarch

The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church decided that the Assembly, at which a new patriarch will be elected, will be held in the crypt of the Temple of Saint Sava.

This possibility was announced earlier by the Metropolitan of Dabar-Bosnia and the guardian of the patriarchal throne of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Chrysostom, in an interview given to Tanjug a few days ago, when he stated that due to the epidemiological situation, the option of holding the Assembly in the Church of St. Sava is being considered.

As he pointed out at the time, this will be the first time that the Assembly will be held at a location outside the Patriarchate, and he announced that the name of a monk who will pull out one of the three envelopes with the name of the candidate for the new patriarch will be chosen at today's Synod session.

According to the procedure, the archbishops first choose three candidates from among themselves, and then the chosen names are placed in the gospel, from which the envelope with the name is taken out by a monk from a monastery who is considered to be a great clergyman.

After the death of Patriarch Irinej, who died of the consequences of coronavirus infection, until the election of the new leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Chrysostom of Dabar-Bosnia was temporarily appointed in his place.


Instagram Bans Robert Kennedy Jr

The old lefty is a longtime anti-vaxxer and promoter of debunked pseudoscientific theories and dangerous medical quackery. 


Mexico: Evangelical Protestants are gaining ground

The Catholic majority in Mexico is slipping, as Protestants surpassed 10 percent of the population in the country for the first time ever.

According to recently released data from Mexico’s 2020 census, the Protestant/evangelical movement increased from 7.5 percent in 2010 to 11.2 percent last year.

The Catholic Church has historically dominated the religious landscape across Latin America, but especially in Mexico, which ranks among the most heavily Catholic countries in the region. Today, though an overwhelming majority of Mexicans still identify as Catholic, declines are accelerating.

It took 50 years—from 1950 to 2000—for the proportion of Catholics in Mexico to drop from 98 percent to 88 percent. Now, only two decades later, that percentage has slipped another 10 points to 77.7 percent.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Reuters: Dozens of former Republican officials in talks to form anti-Trump third party

(Reuters) - Dozens of former Republican officials, who view the party as unwilling to stand up to former President Donald Trump and his attempts to undermine U.S. democracy, are in talks to form a center-right breakaway party, four people involved in the discussions told Reuters.

The early stage discussions include former elected Republicans, former officials in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Trump, ex-Republican ambassadors and Republican strategists, the people involved say.

More than 120 of them held a Zoom call last Friday to discuss the breakaway group, which would run on a platform of “principled conservatism,” including adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law - ideas those involved say have been trashed by Trump.

The plan would be to run candidates in some races but also to endorse center-right candidates in others, be they Republicans, independents or Democrats, the people say.

Evan McMullin, who was chief policy director for the House Republican Conference and ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election, told Reuters that he co-hosted the Zoom call with former officials concerned about Trump’s grip on Republicans and the nativist turn the party has taken.

Three other people confirmed to Reuters the call and the discussions for a potential splinter party, but asked not to be identified.

Read the rest here.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Romanian Orthodox Church faces criticism after tragic baptism

In Romania a six week old infant boy recently died shortly after being baptized. Authorities believe the death was directly related to his being baptized by full immersion according to the immemorial rite of the Orthodox Church. The tragedy, not surprisingly, has caused a firestorm of commentary including criticism of the Church's baptismal rite. 

Romania is generally regarded as one of Europe's most religiously observant countries with a little over 80% identifying as members of the Orthodox Church, around 7% as Catholics (mostly Latin Rite but a small number of Eastern Rite), and approximately 5% self identify as some form of Protestant. Somewhere around 2-3% are Muslims or Jews with the rest being either non-believers or having no formally expressed religious beliefs in the latest census. 

And now for something different

I know next to nothing of pre-modern Japanese history but found this fascinating.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Virginia is close to abolishing capital punishment

Since taking control of the state Legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have enacted a run of progressive laws — on gun control, abortion access and the removal of Confederate monuments. Now Virginia is poised to become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, a sign of ascendant liberal political power in a state that has executed more people since the 1970s than any other except Texas.

Read the rest here.

With the exception of intentional murder committed by already life sentenced inmates and a handful of very rare crimes like treason and wartime spying, I am an opponent of capital punishment. So this doesn't particularly bother me. But I must note the hypocrisy of Gov. Northam who bemoans the machinery of death while doing everything in his power to facilitate the legal killing of children by their mothers purely on the basis of their not yet having been born. 

A Papal Jubilee

Some interesting details from the jubilee honoring the 50th anniversary of Leo XIII's episcopal consecration. (page 17 right column)

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Against (re)Baptizing Converts

A cogent argument against the practice of receiving Roman Catholic and Trinitarian Protestant converts by baptism. I have been and remain ambivalent on this subject and am happy to defer to whatever my bishop says. 

P.S. See also this

Lunatic Conspiracy Theories

Are not just a problem on the right. That said, arresting kooks is not the answer. 

How to Win at the Stock Market by Being Lazy

Read it here.

Executive Summary: Low cost broad based index funds or near equivalent ETFs are very hard to beat. Even the so called professional money managers, who often charge scandalous fees, rarely beat the dirt cheap fund that just tracks the S&P 500. 

Pope Francis: Vatican II must be taught as part of church teaching, or ‘you are not with the church’

 VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Religious education must focus on leading people to a personal relationship with Christ and building a community of believers where the talents of each person are valued and where all go out to share the Gospel and serve the poor, Pope Francis said.

"The first protagonists of catechesis are those messengers of the Gospel, often laypeople, who generously get involved to share the beauty of having encountered Jesus," the pope said Jan. 30 to participants in a meeting organized by the Italian bishops' National Catechetical Office.

Catechesis must "express God's saving love, which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part," he said. "'You are loved, you are loved' -- this comes first; this is the gateway."

Catechesis does "not impose the truth but appeals to freedom, like Jesus did," he said, and "it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical."

However, he said, a catechist always must teach what the church teaches and that includes the vision and teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

"This is magisterium: the council is the magisterium of the church," he said. "Either you are with the church and therefore you follow the council, or if you do not follow the council or you interpret it in your own way, as you wish, you are not with the church."

Read the rest here.

HT: Blog reader John L.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Beware of Amazon Product Reviews

A huge percentage of reviews are fake. That applies to both the positive and negative reviews.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Wall Street: Silver jumps as retail investors pile in (Updated)

The same crowd that drove up GameStop stock by 1600% while inflicting huge losses on several hedge funds in a coordinated short squeeze have turned their attention to the silver market. Silver has long been the subject of conspiracy theories about mysterious but powerful entities short selling it. The metal was up more than 10% in overnight trading.

Silver is both an industrial and precious metal and its movements can be hard to predict. But unlike GME it is not a stock and the market for silver is huge with multiple avenues for investors to gain exposure. These include stock in silver miners, the bullion backed ETF SLV, physical bullion that can be purchased in bulk on the COMEX or in smaller quantities from local coin shops and online bullion dealers. Also unlike GME, most Wall Street analysts have been bullish on silver (and gold) for a while and silver was already at multi-year highs before the arrival of the #silversqueeze crowd. 

It will be interesting to see where this goes. But one indicator is that I checked my two favorite online bullion dealers this morning to see what they had in stock and what they were charging in premiums (the mark up above spot price for retail oriented bullion). Both of them look like the toilet paper aisle at Walmart did last March. They have been almost completely wiped out of their silver inventory and the little that's left is being sold at extortionist premiums. I would be careful about reading too much into that though. Only a small percentage of silver is refined/minted with ordinary investors in mind so whenever precious metals spike there is often a near term shortage in the small bars and rounds popular with retail investors or collectors. 

Disclosure: I have had a smallish position in silver for several years and do not have any plans to add to or sell any of it in the immediate future. But if the price goes nuts... 

Update: No surprise. The rally fizzled as silver has given up almost all of its gains. And in related news GameStop is also falling like a rock as the short squeeze ends and people realize they were paying hundreds of dollars for a company whose stock is probably worth no more than $25 a share in fair market valuation. A few people made a ton of money. but a lot of the folks late to that trade and those who didn't realize that it was already over, are getting hosed. They can join the hedge fund guys in licking their wounds. 

Wall Street is a rough neighborhood. 

Reuters: Some Prominent Republicans Are Leaving the GOP

(Reuters) - Dozens of Republicans in former President George W. Bush’s administration are leaving the party, dismayed by a failure of many elected Republicans to disown Donald Trump after his false claims of election fraud sparked a deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol last month.

These officials, some who served in the highest echelons of the Bush administration, said they had hoped that a Trump defeat would lead party leaders to move on from the former president and denounce his baseless claims that the November presidential election was stolen.

But with most Republican lawmakers sticking to Trump, these officials say they no longer recognize the party they served. Some have ended their membership, others are letting it lapse while a few are newly registered as independents, according to a dozen former Bush officials who spoke with Reuters.

“The Republican Party as I knew it no longer exists. I’d call it the cult of Trump,” said Jimmy Gurulé, who was Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the Bush administration.

Read the rest here.