Thursday, April 18, 2024

Kyrill and the Babylonian Captivity of the Russian Orthodox Church

Obviously, I would not presume to judge any individual's relationship with God. But as an institution, it is becoming clearer, almost by the day, that the Russian Church has gone dangerously off the rails. To which end I find myself substantially in agreement with this short blog post

Lord have mercy.

New York City (what's wrong)

This is a really good video explaining what's wrong with New York from somebody who is obviously not hard right in their politics.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ben Bernanke Takes Aim at Central Bank Forecasts

Central banks the world over failed to predict the surge in inflation that started three years ago. Now they’re trying to learn from their mistakes.

For the Bank of England, that meant commissioning former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to write a review of the U.K. monetary authority’s forecasting system. The implications of the findings, published Friday, could reverberate far beyond Britain.

To be fair to the BOE, it didn’t do particularly worse than others in failing to see that supply-chain problems, energy-price spikes, and geopolitical tensions would generate the worst bout of inflation in a generation. Bernanke, who guided the U.S. through the 2008-09 financial crisis and won the Nobel Prize in 2022 for his work on the impact of bank runs in markets, notes the shocks were difficult to forecast.

“The forecasting and policy challenges faced by the Bank of England in recent years were hardly unique,” said Bernanke, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The Bank, like other central banks and policy institutions, will be working to draw the appropriate lessons from this experience.”

Read the rest here.

Latest Polls: Election is a toss up

An averaging of recent national polls show President Biden has significantly reduced Donald Trump's once formidable lead in the polls to a de facto draw. Real Clear Politics average of polls from the last few weeks show Trump's lead has narrowed to .02 percent in a straight match up between him and Biden. That is a statistical tie. In a five way race with RFK Jr and the two far left independents thrown in, Trump holds a 2 point advantage. However, that is well within the customary margin of error. And with most polls showing around 8% of voters undecided, the election is currently wide open. One point on which Americans are in overwhelming agreement is their dislike of both Trump and Biden, with a super majority of voters expressing deep dissatisfaction with the choice between the two men. Thus far however, this has not translated into any serious support for the third party candidates. All of whom collectively are polling only in the low single digits. (Kennedy's polling numbers have recently fallen off a cliff.) It seems increasingly likely that the election will be decided by uncommitted independents and political moderates.

Recent polling data can be found here

Patriarch of the West

Francis has revived the title renounced by Benedict XVI.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Now this is depressing

I've never seen the point in an automatic transmission. Where is the fun? Sure, it will get you from point A to point B. But so will a bus.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The US Stock Market is shrinking. Should we be worried?

The number of publicly traded companies in the United States is shrinking. Jamie Dimon, one of the world’s most influential business leaders, is worried.

At their peak in 1996, there were 7,300 publicly traded companies in the US. Today there are about 4,300.

It’s not that America has 40% fewer companies than it did 30 years ago, it’s that companies are increasingly staying private, largely outside the scrutiny of the public eye.

“The total should have grown dramatically, not shrunk,” wrote Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in his annual shareholder letter on Monday.

The PE boom: The shrinking public market has private equity to blame — funds that pool money from investors to acquire or invest in companies.

When a PE fund buys a public company, it takes that company private. When it buys a company that isn’t yet public, it is kept that way. That means these funds have complete control over their companies and can encourage them to boost their profits as quickly as possible for a quick sale later down the line.

The number of private companies in the US backed by PE firms has grown from 1,900 to 11,200 over the last two decades, according to JPMorgan data.

Publicly listed companies are subject to regulatory oversight and disclosure requirements, which help ensure transparency and maintain investor confidence. With fewer companies listed, there may be a decrease in overall transparency and investor trust in the market, said Matthew Kennedy, head of data and content at Renaissance Capital.

Additionally, a company owned by PE can obfuscate ownership, what the company actually does and its profit the public and from regulators.

Dimon’s company, of course, makes a huge amount of money from taking companies public, so he’s not exactly an impartial observer. But Dimon said his concerns are broader than JPMorgan’s bottom line: If this trend continues, our understanding of the US economy could become hazier, he argued.

Read the rest here.

Monday, April 08, 2024

The Vatican Says "NO" to Gender Ideology

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Monday declared gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy as grave violations of human dignity, putting them on par with abortion and euthanasia as practices that it said reject God’s plan for human life.

The Vatican’s doctrine office issued “Infinite Dignity,” a 20-page declaration that has been in the works for five years. After substantial revision in recent months, it was approved March 25 by Pope Francis, who ordered its publication.

From a pope who has made outreach to the LGBTQ+ community a hallmark of his papacy, the document was received as a setback, albeit predictable, by trans Catholics. But its message was also consistent with the Argentine Jesuit’s long-standing belief that while trans people should be welcomed in the church, so-called “gender ideologies” should not.

In its most eagerly anticipated section, the Vatican repeated its rejection of “gender theory,” or the idea that one’s biological sex can change. It said God created man and woman as biologically different, separate beings, and said people must not tinker with that or try to “make oneself God.”

Read the rest here.

The pope is (mostly) right. Now there is a sentence I haven't written in a long time. I think I need to lie down for a few minutes. 

Gold Hits Record Highs

Gold prices hit a record high for a seventh straight session on Monday, fueled by central bank purchases and geopolitical tensions, while strong economic data failed to dull bullion’s allure.

U.S. gold futures gained less than 0.1% to $2,346.90. Spot gold was just below flat at $2,328.28 per ounce, after hitting a record high of $2,353.79 earlier in the session.

China’s central bank added 160,000 troy ounces of gold to its reserves in March, it said. Turkey, India, Kazakhstan, and some eastern European countries have also been buying gold this year.

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Francis and the ‘empty chair’ phase of his pontificate

ROME — Such is the frenetic nature of the Pope Francis papacy that even though Good Friday was less than a week ago, just a few days later it was hard to remember that it actually produced news. In the meantime, of course, we’ve had not only the pontiff’s traditional Easter activity but his latest tell-all interview book, once again, for a moment, transforming the papacy into a species of reality TV.

In this instance, Francis lifted the veil on the inner workings of two conclaves, those of 2005 and 2013, and also dished on his predecessor’s top aide, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, claiming that he lacks “nobility and humanity” for the way in which he allegedly tried to pit Pope Benedict XVI against Francis.

As Italian journalist Massimo Gramellini put it, “At bottom, Bergoglio [the pope’s given name] is no more than a man of his times. We live in an era in which, some more and some less, we’re all exhibitionists, devoured by an insatiable need to make our lives public, in the hope of being appreciated and understood.”

Despite all that, it’s still worth returning to Good Friday for a moment, because it produced an iconic image of the late stages of the Francis papacy: An empty white chair at Rome’s Colosseum, where the pontiff had been scheduled to preside over the traditional Way of the Cross procession, but where he ended up being a no-show at the last minute due to health concerns.

In a way, it was odd that anyone ever seriously entertained the idea that the 87-year-old pope would physically attend the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) on a chilly yet humid Roman evening, exactly the wrong conditions for someone struggling to kick the after-effects of a series of colds, flu, and bronchitis. In all probability, it was likely Francis’ determination that kept the possibility alive until the very last moment, and which led to the specter of his empty chair having to be carted away in front of live TV cameras.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Quote of the day...

"If Republicans want to name something after him, I’d suggest they find a federal prison.” -Gerry Connolly (D VA) responding to a Republican proposal to rename Dulles International Airport after Donald Trump. 

This would be hysterically funny if they weren't serious. Trumpism is a cult. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Before Computers

Checking train reservations at Union Station in 1942. From here. (Click the link for full sized image.)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Memory Eternal

Lou Conter has reposed at 102. He was the last living survivor of the USS Arizona sunk at Pear Harbor.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Israeli High Court Ends Public Subsidies for Ultra-Orthodox Men Who Refuse Military Service

In a step that could have deep political and societal ramifications, the High Court of Justice issued an interim order Thursday evening barring the government from providing funds to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for students eligible for IDF enlistment — as the legal framework for deferring their military service will no longer exist.

A government resolution from June 2023 instructing the IDF to temporarily not draft Haredi students despite the expiration of a law governing the matter will itself expire at midnight on March 31.

The court decision, which goes into effect April 1, comes after the government delayed for days the submission of a proposal to the court for plans to increase ultra-Orthodox military enlistment, and constitutes a sharp indication from the judges that their patience with repeated attempts to put off decisions on the matter is finally running out.

The political battle over enlistment has thrown Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition into disarray, with National Unity’s Benny Gantz threatening to bolt if the Knesset passes a bill allowing blanket exemptions to remain — even if it does satisfy the court — while the Haredim have said they will quit if the government fails to pass legislation to prevent the draft.

Haredi parties lambasted the High Court’s decision, with the head of United Torah Judaism, Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, describing it as constituting “severe harm to those who toil in Torah” and “a stain and a disgrace.”

Read the rest here.

In 1948 when the original exemption from the draft was put in place there were approximately 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel. Most Haredi had been murdered by Hitler and the Nazis during the world war and there was a serious fear that a significant part of Jewish culture, history, religious thought and study was on the brink of being lost. Today, the ultra-Orthodox make up more than 10% of the country's population. The men generally spend their days praying and studying Torah and other religious texts. Most do not work, but subsist off public stipends, welfare and what income their wives bring in. This, coupled with their refusal to serve in the army in a nation where military service is compulsory for most men, has become a source of not inconsiderable resentment. The Haredi tend to live apart from most of society and often follow the direction of their rabbis with astonishing strictness, including in how they vote. This makes them an extremely powerful political block in Israel due to the country's system of proportionate representation in the Knesset (parliament). The current government is partly dependent on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties for its majority, and they have threatened to bring down the government if their legal privileges are not extended.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Sam Bankman-Fried Gets 25 Years

Meanwhile the great crypto-con continues. As of this post, people are spending near $70,000 a piece for imaginary money called bitcoin. Stulti et pecunia eorum cito separantur. 

If I ever feel some overwhelming urge to play with fake money, I will grab the Monopoly board in the closet.