Sentences

Limbaugh, the dominant conservative pundit for three decades, was a dedicated indoorsman, with a physique that celebrated sybaritic contentment.

So says Evan Osnos in a Jan 3 & 10, 2022 New Yorker article about Dan Bongino.

Now that the drama around the CP-KCS merger has finally subsided, the trail market has to occupy itself with more mundane issues, such as the forward trajectory of coal loadings.

so says David Nahass in his Financial Edge column in the Dec 2021 Railway Age.


Warren Buffett on horse race wagering

And when the Buffett family moved to Washington, D.C., Warren just had one request for his dad:

“When we got to Washington, I said, ‘Pop, there’s just one thing I want. I want you to ask the Library of Congress for every book they have on horse handicapping.’ And my dad said, ‘Well, don’t you think they’re going to think it’s a little strange if the first thing a new Congressman asks for is all the books on horse handicapping?’”

But Buffett reminded his father of the help he gave him during the winning campaign, and pledged to be there for him again during his re-election. So Howard got Warren hundreds of books about handicapping horses.

“Then what I would do is read all these books. I sent away to a place in Chicago on North Clark Street where you could get old racing forms, months of them, for very little. They were old, so who wanted them? I would go through them using my handicapping techniques to handicap one day and see the next day how it worked out. I ran tests of my handicapping ability – day after day – all these different systems I had in mind.”

I was looking for someone who’d compiled up every reference Buffett and Munger made to horse race wagering, and I found it here, “DRF Legend Steven Crist on Value Investing and Horse Betting,” by Dillon Jacobs on Vintage Value. (Note that much of that quotes from The Snowball.)

Buffet on Value and DRF

Buffett noted that a bookie actually took action inside Washington’s Old House Office Building.“You could go to the elevator shaft and yell, ‘Sammy!’ or something like that and this kid would come up and take bets.”

Even Buffett himself did some bookmaking for guys who wanted to get down on the big races like the Preakness Stakes. “That’s the end of the game I liked, the 15 percent take with no risk,” Buffett said.

Buffett got along well with his high school golf coach, Bob Dwyer, and the two frequently rode the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad together from Silverspring, MD to Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia. Dwyer taught Buffett how to better understand the Daily Racing Form.“I’d get the Daily Racing Form ahead of time and figure out the probability of each horse winning the race. Then I would compare those percentages to the odds,” said Buffett, who bet from $6 to $10 to win. “Sometimes you would find a horse where the odds were way, way off from the actual probability. You figure the horse has a 10 percent chance of winning, but it’s going off at 15-to-1.”

That last part sounds a lot like Crist on Value, doesn’t it?

This method, looking for overlays, is at the heart of every serious book about horse wagering.

Going broke one day at Charles Town

One day, Buffett went to Charles Town by himself. He lost the first race and his performance went from bad to worse until he was down $175. Feeling depressed, he went to an ice cream shop and bought himself a sundae with the last of his money.

While eating, Buffett thought to himself that he had just lost more money than he made in a week.“And I’d done it for dumb reasons. You’re not supposed to bet every race. I’d committed the worst sin, which is that you get behind and you think you’ve got to break even that day. The first rule is that nobody goes home after the first race, and the second rule is that you don’t have to make it back the way you lost it. That is so fundamental.”

This was an important lesson that definitely influence Buffett’s investing later in life. You’re not supposed to be every race. Instead, just wait for the right pitch.

What Buffett and Munger both discovered is that making money in the stock market is much, much easier than making money at horse betting. For one thing, there’s no 14-25% track takeout. But it’s interesting how both markets teach similar lessons.


Antwerp

Authorities have seized 88 metric tons of cocaine stashed in containers from Latin America this year, nearly 10 times the figure in 2014. It is far more than any other European port, as traffickers flood the continent with so much cocaine that it may now be a bigger market than the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

from “Inside Europe’s Cocaine Gateway: ‘A Repeat of Miami in the 1980s’ Antwerp, now the No. 1 port in Europe for cocaine busts, has seen a rise in gang violence and corruption” by James Marson in the WSJ.

The cash tsunami is distorting Antwerp’s economy, officials say, jacking up prices for real estate and existing businesses.

“Bad money drives out good money,” said Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever. “They will chase out honest people.”

Some companies are used to launder money, from restaurants to luxury car dealers. Far more widespread and pernicious are companies that undermine and disrupt the legal economy, said Yve Driesen, director of the Federal Judicial Police in Antwerp.

Drug traffickers buy restaurants or shops to give the impression that their fortunes derive from legal commerce. Front companies also use legal activities to hide their illegal drugs-related work. For example, a transport company that extracts cocaine from shipping containers could also carry out legal transport on behalf of multinationals.

“They will win contracts because their prices are lower than competitors,” said Mr. Driesen.

Other companies have popped up to service the criminals. Resellers of encrypted phones depend on drug gangs who are the only ones able to afford contracts that can cost thousands of dollars a year, officials say. Companies rent out luxury cars for the equivalent of $1,000 a day and more.

My reaction to this is: time to legalize it? It seems clear that Europeans want cocaine really bad. What we’re doing isn’t working. If we imagine legalization causes a massive spike in cocaine use, can that be worse than the warping effect of trying to defy reality? The most urgent cocaine related problem here in Los Angeles at the moment is people dying from cocaine laced with fentanyl. Would that problem be made better or worse with legalization? Honestly some of the high octane coffee people consume around me seems as mind-altering as cocaine.

You can’t put law on people if it’s not in their hearts

as a Florida law enforcement official once put it to me, in a conversation about Key West.

Recalling what former mayor of London Ken Livingstone said during a campaign in 2012:

Equally, because I have been around for a long time, I’ve also learned how much of what you are told is bulllshit. And when I hear so many people in the City say they’re all going to go [because of higher taxes], the simple fact is we really only have one rival, and that is New York. You are not going to have major banks in the City relocate to Shanghai because there’s a degree of political uncertainty, perhaps decades ahead. They are not going to Frankfurt because young men want to go out on the pull and do a load of cocaine and they can’t really do that easily in Frankfurt. So you need to have a dynamic city. Our only real rival is New York.

(Livingstone lost that election, Boris Johnson won.)


action vs adventure

“I have a definition of what I do,” Wolpert told the WGAW in 2008. “If you put a boat on the stormy ocean, you’ve got an action picture. You put somebody on that boat you give a damn about, you’ve got an adventure. I write adventure.”

from this Deadline obituary for writer/producer Jay Wolpert.


Think, think, think

And there were calls to two of the “damn smart men” who had given Jack Kennedy the brilliant concepts and the brilliant words that Johnson admired. “You’re going to have to do some heavy thinking for me,” he said to Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. “I want you to be thinking about what I ought to do … I want you to think … just think in capital letters, and think, think, think. And then – then talk to me tomorrow or the next day.

Pulled down my copy of Caro to check some details on Johnson’s November, 1963 Texas trip (I thought he’d been at the Driskill Hotel in Austin on the night of Nov. 21; incorrect, although the hotel did play a key role in Johnson’s life). Was struck by this demand. Imagine the new president of the United States calling you and demanding you “think, think, think.” (Side note: the notion of a totally apolitical Supreme Court doesn’t seem to have been the accepted wisdom in those days).

A theme of Caro’s work on Johnson is that the Senate is almost designed not to work:

The inefficiency of Congress was nothing new, of course – the only period since the Civil War that the pattern had been broken in the Senate, the principal logjam, was the six years of Lyndon Johnson’s leadership.

Caro even blunter about this in Working, which is a handy cheat guide to Caro’s work:

Not getting stuff through the Senate is nothing new!


John Madden

He had the ability to

describe what was going on and have fun doing it

So said somebody in the Madden documentary, All Madden, streaming on Peacock.

if you even heard his voice in the distance that was a TV to run to.

so said Joe Buck. I hear him in my head saying “Ace is the place.” What a positive, pleasing public figure. The way my cousins laughed at the eight turkey leg turducken! (how much can I trust a memory of a Thanksgiving that might be 30+ years old?)

The rare gift to just be a human being enjoying other human beings, talking to them in an easy way.


2021 flying away

I guess it’s going to Qatar


Didion on Hollywood/gambling

The place makes everyone a gambler. Its spirit is speedy, obsessive, immaterial. The action itself is the art form, and is described in aesthetic terms: “A very imaginative deal,” they say, or, “He writes the most creative deals in the business.” There is in Hollywood, as in all cultures in which gambling is the central activity, a lowered sexual energy, an inability to devote more than token attention to the preoccupations of the society outside. The action is everything, more consuming than sex, more immediate than politics; more important always than the acquisition of money, which is never, for the gambler, the true point of the exercise.

I think about this one all the time. Source. Nobody was tougher on “critics.”

To recognize that the picture is but the by-product of the action is to make rather more arduous the task of maintaining one’s self-image as (Kauffmann’s own job definition) “a critic of new works.” Making judgments on films is in many ways so peculiarly vaporous an occupation that the only question is why, beyond the obvious opportunities for a few lecture fees and a little careerism at a dispiritingly self-limiting level, anyone does it in the first place.

and:

Perhaps the difficulty of knowing who made which choices in a picture makes this airiness so expedient that it eventually infects any writer who makes a career of reviewing; perhaps the initial error is in making a career of it. Reviewing motion pictures, like reviewing new cars, may or may not be a useful consumer service (since people respond to a lighted screen in a dark room in the same secret and powerfully irrational way they respond to most sensory stimuli, I tend to think most of it beside the point, but never mind that); the review of pictures has been, as well, a traditional diversion for writers whose actual work is somewhere else. Some 400 mornings spent at press screenings in the late 1930s were, for Graham Greene, an “escape,” a way of life “adopted quite voluntarily from a sense of fun.” Perhaps it is only when one inflates this sense of fun into (Kauffmann again) “a continuing relation with an art” that one passes so headily beyond the reality principle.


The guinea and the ETH

The guinea was an English unit of currency, minted as a coin between 1663-1814. Today you won’t find guinea coins or notes, but a guinea still exists as an idea, at least among a certain class.

A guinea is 21 shillings, versus a pound, 20 shillings. Some kinds of high-status bills were reckoned in guineas: solicitor or barrister fees, for example, bespoke tailoring, or gentlemen’s wagers. There is a famous horse race, the 2000 Guineas.

Bids are still made in guineas for the sale of racehorses at auction, at which the purchaser will pay the guinea-equivalent amount but the seller will receive only that number of pounds. The difference (5p in each guinea) is traditionally the auctioneer’s commission (which thus, effectively, amounts to 5% on top of the sales price free from commission). 

The guinea as idea like much distinct and unique in England is mostly vanished now, I’ve never paid a debt in guineas or heard of anyone doing so, it’s from the past. But I thought of the idea of the guinea while trying to understand Ethereum, ETH.

As far as I can tell, ETH is the currency of the NFT market. NFTs, which you’ve probably heard are “non-fungible tokens” or a digital art form, the most desired examples of which are trading at very high prices, at least in ETH, which translates to the dollar at a fluctuating price, currently somewhere around $1=.00024 ETH, or 1 ETH = $4,113.23. I am told that ETH is also somehow “useful,” “you could build a whole economy on it,” it’s a basis for trustless transactions, I don’t understand that. I keep trying to but it involves watching YouTubes of people who seem like they took too many nootropics.

But I am interested in a prestige currency for a niche art market.


Space briefing

A briefing is given by Major Rocco Petrone (off camera) to President John F. Kennedy during a tour of Blockhouse 34 at the Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex. Also seen are NASA administrator James Webb, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, NASA Launch Center director Kurt Heinrich Debus, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and other dignitaries.

(source)


Shooter Corridor

Perhaps you’ve seen this scene in Full Metal Jacket, where R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant connects Charles Whitman’s shooting spree from the UT Austin tower and Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting of JFK to the training they received as Marines.

My mind did some pondering of these incidents as I drove on I-35, which connects the two sites of these incidents, Austin to Dallas.

Since my ultimate destination was Oklahoma City, my mind couldn’t help but turn to another former US military member who perpetuated a freakish, difficult to comprehend outburst of violence. Timothy McVeigh, a washed out failure from Army Ranger school with vague anti-government grievances bombed the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

McVeigh was obsessed with another violent American incident which happened along the route, the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, TX.

Along this route, you’ll also pass Killeen, Texas, where in 1991 there was a mass shooting at a Luby’s cafeteria. Up until that time it was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in the USA (the Virginia Tech massacre would overtake it).

Killeen is home to Fort Hood. In 2009 a US army major and psychiatrist killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in a mass shooting at Fort Hood. The Wikipedia page for that shooting has an amazing American detail:

Fort Hood, set to be renamed sometime in the future, is currently named after John Bell Hood, another renegade US soldier and dramatic personality with visions of violence, who once said to Sherman:

Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your Negro allies.

If you throw the site of the Alamo into the mix, I-35 really pops with scenes of strange fanatic American violence.

The big unmarked portion there in Oklahoma is of course the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, destination for the southeastern Indian removals, themselves an act of American violence, but perhaps beyond the scope of this post.

You could probably take any 400 mile stretch of American interstate and string together a few outbursts of historical violence, but I can’t help but observe this stretch of I-35 feels like an unusually haunted and scarred stretch of our national geopsyche.

Some excellent barbecue, steak and catfish can however be found.

Update: an Oklahoma reader sends us this one

Our suburb of Edmond is sadly another spot you could add to Shooter Corridor: the ‘86 post office shooting that inspired the phrase “going postal” happened here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmond_post_office_shooting

Wild.


Platt National Park

Recently I had occasion to road trip from Austin, TX to Kansas City, MO, so I got out this 1974 National Geographic map to look for any interesting sites along the route. This map was preserved in a family map collection from a time when maps were rare and precious.

This caught my eye:

A national park I’d never heard of?

Turns out, Platt National Park lost its NP designation and was relegated to be part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

“It’s really different from the other national parks because it doesn’t have this grand scenery,” says Heidi Hohmann, a professor of landscape architecture at Iowa State University. She says Platt always struggled to stand out at the national level. Platt was the smallest national park. It had streams but no raging rivers. It had hills but no majestic mountains. And most of what you see today isn’t natural. During the New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs, carved trails and piped spring water to pavilions. Even the bison herd was transplanted.

Platt thrived in the 1950s as war-weary Americans flocked to leisure activities like boating and camping. But the conservation movement in the 1960s saw a push for more inspiring wilderness. In 1976, Platt was demoted. It was combined with a nearby reservoir and rebranded the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

from “In Oklahoma, A National Park That Got Demoted” by Joe Wertz for All Things Considered. Some Oklahomans I spoke with wondered if the the demotion may have been part of a larger reorganization of federal lands in that area, as Native people reclaimed more autonomy and control over public land management in eastern Oklahoma.

The park is quite nice, even late in the afternoon in the dead of winter, but I’d say if we’re being honest it’s more on the county or regional park level. It’d be a generous selection as even a state park.

The nearby town of Sulphur really does smell like sulphur.

I’d say superior sites of interest in Oklahoma for the casual tourist are the Oklahoma City Stockyards (cattle auctions Monday and Tuesday starting ~9am, Monday said to be better, on our particular Monday they were going through 15,000 head)

and the Golden Driller of Tulsa.


The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition by Chris Wilson

Santa Fe is old. Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is older than Boston, older than Plymouth, older than any town in New England, older than any still-existing town in Virginia, older than Williamsburg, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans. Quebec City is only two years older.

Santa Fe was laid out on the prinicples of the Laws of the Indes.

The Laws codified seventy years of Spanish town planning experience in the Americas and drew from a variety of European sources, Roman and Renaissance planning theory from Vitruvius to Alberti, monastic complexes and military encampments, and the siege towns built during the reconquest of Spain from the Moors.

Santa Fe is almost medieval, laid out (like Los Angeles) according to the Laws in a place “in an elevated and healthful location; with means of fortification; fertile soil with plenty of land for farming and pasturage; have fuel, timber and resources; fresh water, a native population.” It’s still has fresh water running right through it, it’s in an elevated and healthful location, timber and resources, a native population. It has the feel of being old, it’s small, it’s at a high, almost intoxicating altitude, it’s surrounded by forest and mountains, it’s charming and special. But in 2021, real estate is incredibly expensive, the buying of second homes is a huge force in the city. Is Santa Fe becoming a tourist attraction of itself? Is there the authentic still there? What even counts as authentic? How does this happen to a city?

This book The Myth of Santa Fe was for sale in Albuquerque, which struck me as funny, since I’d never seen it in Santa Fe. Comical to sell a book about how your rival city is a myth.

The New Deal populists of the 1930s sought to balance the myth of Santa Fe between the economic necessity of tourism and the use of its symbols to promote more broadly conceived social objectives such as public education and local economic self-sufficiency. Progressive regionalism peaked again in the early 1970s, with the counterculture and the Chicano and environmental movements.

But in the 1980s, this balance tilted almost completely toward the manipulation of the myth as a tourism marketing image. Simultaneously Ronald Reagan led a reallocation of resources from social programs to the military and from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy. Some of those with conspicuous new wealth were attracted to the city by the upsurge of international publicity that projected Santa Fe as a Tahiti in the desert, bathed in rosy sunsets, and elevated it (or reduced it, depending on your point of view) to a chic style of interior design and a world-class tourist destination.

The book is great, it functions as an informative and readable history of the city, as well as a catalogue of cultural shifts in self-understanding, belief, feelings towards that history which took form in architecture. Here’s a great summary of the book from 99% Invisible. Roughly the story told is how Santa Fe tried to be not Santa Fe, then stopped not being Santa Fe and switched to being more Santa Fe than ever (or at least an idea of Santa Fe, which may or may not have ever been the “real” Santa Fe) maybe to the point that it became so “Santa Fe” it risks not being Santa Fe any longer.

What is authentic, really?


Oroville

(William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources – California Department of Water Resources, source)

In August, the state had to take the hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville, the second-biggest reservoir in California, off line for the first time since it was built in 1967 because the water level in the lake was too low.

California Will Curtail Water to Farms and Cities Next Year as Drought Worsens” by Michael B Marois over in Bloomberg. Imagine taking a power plant offline. Who makes that call? Did the engineers kind of enjoy the challenge?

The shutdown isn’t even what’s referred to when we talk about the Oroville Dam Crisis. Had a chance to drive through Oroville last summer, there are many beautiful old houses, and the downtown has a lost in time feel. If you want to see what Steinbeck’s California might’ve been like, Oroville might be a better main street time capsule than Salinas.

On August 7, 1881, pioneer Jack Crum was allegedly stomped to death by local bully Tom Noacks in Chico, California. The young Noacks was feared by the locals of Butte County, not only because of his size and strength, but allegedly because he was mentally unbalanced and enjoyed punching oxen in the head.

Noacks was arrested and jailed in the Chico jail. Once word got out that the old pioneer had been murdered, the authorities moved Noacks to the Butte County county jail in Oroville for his safety. Crum’s friends, knowing that Noacks was in the county jail, made their way to Oroville with rope in hand. Knocking on the jail door, the men told the jailer that they had a prisoner from the town of Biggs, California. Once inside the jail, they overpowered the jailer and dragged Noacks from his cell. They took Noacks to Crum’s former farm and hanged him from an old cottonwood tree. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the lynching.


Boswell’s Life of Johnson

Finally read this one, and it’s a lot of fun! Well, by read I mean skimmed, there are a lot of details of dinners and discussions of particular plays of the period that didn’t hold my attention. Still, sift through the slag and there’s many a jewel here. Boswell was a young lawyer from Scotland when he met Johnson (Johnson never misses a chance to roast Scotland). He reconstructed the life of Johnson previous to meeting him, and then picks up, more or less writing down any witty or interesting things Johnson had to say, which were many.

On Johnson’s college years:

Dr Adams told me that Johnson, while he was at Pembroke College, ‘was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life.”  But this is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little any of us know of the real interna state eveon of those whom we see most frequently; for the truth is, that he was then depressed by poverty, and irritated by disease.  When I mentioned to him this acocunt as given me by Dr Adams, he said, “Ah, Sir, I was mad and violent.  I twas bitterness which they mistook for frolick.  I was miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my literature and my wit; so I disregarded all power and all authority.”  

Johnson recounts to Boswell what happened on the way to his wedding:

Sir, she had read the old romances, and had got into her hear head the fantastical notion that a woman of spirit should use her lover like a dog.  So, Sir, at first she told me that I rode too fast, and she could not keep up with me; and, when I rode a little slower, she passed me, and complained that I lagged behind.  I was not to be made the slave of caprice; and I resolved to begin as I meant to end.  I therefore pushed on briskly, till I was fairly out of her sight.  The road lay between two hedges, so I was sure she could not miss it and I contrived that she should soon come up with me.  When she did, I observed her to be in tears.

Despite this, it appears to have been a happy, if short marriage. Johnson’s was a love marriage to a woman significantly older than him. On marriage in general Johnson muses:

I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due consideration of characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter.  

When Boswell met Johnson, he was a widower, who’s often with his friends the Thrales or other people who take him in for his charm. For his dictionary Johnson got paid 1575 pounds, and “when the expense of amanuenses and paper and other articles are deducted, his clear profit was very inconsiderable.” As for money:

He frequently gave all the silver in his pocket to the poor, who watched him, between his house and the tavern where he dined.  He walked the streets at all hours, and said he was never robbed, for the rogues knew he had little money, nor had the appearance of having much.

I liked this:

In 1761 Johnson appears to have done little. 

Johnson has much advice about drinking and melancholy:

Against melancholy he recommended constant occupation of mind, a great deal of exercise, moderation in eating and drinking, and especially to shun drinking at night.  He said melancholy people were apt to fly to intemperance for relief, but that it sunk them much deeper in misery.  He observed, that labouring men who work hard, and live sparingly, are seldom or never troubled with low spirits.    

I heard him once give a very judicious practical advice upon this subject: “A man, who has been drinking wine at all freely, should never go into a new company.  With those who have partaken of wine with him, he may be pretty well in unison; but he will probably be offensive, or appear ridiculous, to other people.”

Boswell goes with Johnson to his hometown, Lichfield, and observes not much work going on:

“Surely, Sir, (said I,) you are an idle set of people.’  Sir, (said Johnson,) we are a city of philosophers: we work with our heads, and make the boobies of Birmingham work for us with their hands.”

Johnson chastises Boswell for using the phrase “to make money.” 

Don’t you see (said he,) the impropriety of it?  To make money is to coin it : you should say get money.  

I feel like rappers are on to this one. On fame:

Talking of fame, for which there is so great a desire, I observed how little there is of it in reality, compared with the other objects of human attention.  “Let every man recollect, and he will be sensible how small a part of his time is employed in talking or thinking of Shakespeare, Voltaire, or any of the most celebrated men that have ever lived, or are now supposed to occupy the attention and admiration of the world.  Let this be extracted and compressed: into what a narrow space will it go!

War:

We talked of war.  JOHNSON: Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.  BOSWELL: Lord Mansfield does not.  JOHNSON:  Sir, if Lord Mansfield were in a company of General Officers and Admirals who have been in service, he would shrink; he’d wish to creep under the table.  Were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, “Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;” and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, “Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;” a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates.  Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange.

(I feel this is often misquoted, leaving out the “having been at sea” part, and the part about Socrates vs. Charles The Twelfth. Of course, if Socrates was in the Peloponnesian Wars like Plato claims, he could handle both).

Travel:

He talked with an uncommon animation of travelling into distant countries; that the mind was enlarged by it, and that an acquisition of dignity of character was derived from it.  He expressed a particular enthusiasm with respect to visiting the wall of China.  I catched it for the moment, and said I really believed I should go and see the wall of China had I not children, of whom it was my duty to take care.  “Sir, (said he,) by doing so, you would do what would be of importance in raising your children to eminence.  There would be a lustre reflected upon them from your spirit and curiosity.  They would be at all times regarded as the children of a man who had gone to view the wall of China.  I am serious, Sir.  

Johnson was not a fan of America:

From this pleasing subject [Jesus] he, I know not how or why, made a sudden transition to one upon which he was a violent aggressor; for he said, “I am willing to love all mankind, except an American: and his inflammable corruption bursting into horrid fire, he breathed out threatenings and slaughter, calling them, Rascals – Robbers – Pirates; and exclaiming, he’d burn and destroy them.  

Later, Boswell tries to put this in context:

Notwithstanding occasional explosions of violence, we were all delighted upon the whole with Johnson.  I compared him at this time to a warm West-Indian climate, where you have a bright sun, quick vegetation, luxuriant foliage, luscious fruits; but where the same heat sometimes produces thunder, lightning, earthquakes, in a terrible degree.

How about:

Depend upon it, said he, that if a man talks of his misfortunes, there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery, there never is any recourse to the mention of it.  

Medicine:

On Sunday, March 23, I breakfasted with Dr. Johnson, who seemed much relieved, having taken opium the night before.  He however protested against it, as a remedy that should be given with the utmost reluctance, and only in extreme necessity.  

The idea comes up a few times that Johnson might be considered something of an underachiever, or at least that his position in the world doesn’t match his brilliance:

Mrs Desmoulins made tea; and she and I talked before him upon a topic which he had once borne patiently from me when we were by ourselves – his not complaining of the world, because he was not called to some great office, nor had attained great wealth.  He flew into a violent passion, I confess with some justice, and commanded us to have done.  Nobody (said he) has a right to talk in this manner, to bring before a man his own character, and the events of his life, when he does not choose it should be done.  I never have sought the world; the world was not to seek me.  It is rather wonderful that so much has been done for me.  All the complaints which are made of the world are unjust.  I never knew a man of merit neglected; it was generally by his own fault that he failed of success.  A man may hide his head in a hole: he may go into the country, and publish a book now and then, which nobody readys, and then complain he is neglected.  There is no reason why any person should exert himself for a man who has written a good book: he has not written it for any individual.  I may as well make a present to the postman who brings me a letter.  

A zinger on Adam Smith:

I once reminded him that when Dr Adam Smith was expatiating on the beauty of Glasgow, he had cut him short by saying, “Pray, Sir, Have you seen Brentford?”  and I took the liberty to add, “My dear Sir, surely that was shocking,”  “Why then, Sir (he replied,) YOU have not seen Brentford.” 

Animals:

I shall never forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters

(Boswell doesn’t really like Hodge, but tolerates him)

Mrs Thrale, while supping very heartily upon larks, laid down her knife and fork, and abruptly exclaimed, “O, my dear Mr Johnson, do you know what has happened?  The last letters from abroad have brought us an account that our poor cousin’s head was taken off by a cannon-ball.”  Johnson, who was shocked both at the fact, and her light unfeeling manner of mentioning it, replied, “Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and drest for Presto’s supper.”

(Presto being a dog who was present). 

One of Johnson’s good buds was the painter Joshua Reynolds.


Marines vs ravens

from the Hi-Desert Star, Nov 18, 2021:

Members of the public have been invited to comment on an environmental assessment of plans to kill thousands of ravens at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and five other military installations in the California desert.

The assessment, examines two alternative plans, the first calling for a continued use of primarily non-lethal raven management actions, including flushing of individuals, increasing levels of stress and disrupting of nesting opportunities.

That’s the first plan, stress out the ravens. The second plan?

The second calls for the lethal removal of 11,830 to 13,293 ravens initially and 1,477 to 1,715 ravens annually.

The reasoning?

“The overpopulation of ravens in both the built and undeveloped areas of the California desert has had several detrimental impacts on the DoD installations within the region,” the report states.

“For instance, increased raven numbers result in higher incidences of predation on juvenile desert tortoises. The desert tortoise is the only federally listed species that occurs within the boundaries of all six DoD installations in the California desert, and the DoD is legally obligated by federal law to ensure the species is protected.

“Ravens are also causing property damage and pose a human health hazard in the built environment, particularly in and around areas where vehicles and aircraft are parked and where DoD personnel must work directly underneath high-use roosting sites.”

I’d be careful here, ravens are pretty smart. The crow can be a nuisance bird for sure (although also said to be quite smart) but the raven I would be hesitant to mess with. They have powers.


Down with the brioche bun!

Longtime readers will know I don’t like to get political on this site, but sometimes you’ve just got to speak up: I’ve HAD it with the brioche buns every upscale restaurant is using for their burgers! I’m eating a freakin’ cheeseburger, I don’t need it served between two pieces of cake! Just give me like a chill old regular bun, such as any successful fast food franchise might use.

Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to go on an angry rant here. But it’s an aspect of society’s decadence where I must take a stand. I expect to get quite a few letters on this – you know where to find me!

From brioche Wikipedia:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his autobiography Confessions, relates that “a great princess” is said to have advised, with regard to peasants who had no bread, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, commonly translated as “Let them eat cake”. This saying is commonly misattributed to Queen Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI.


Europe relative to USA

Cheers to whoever it was on Twitter that put me on to Scale-A-Tron, latest map overlay tech. My post on how big UK/Ireland are compared to California is one of my most popular.

Here’s some fun with California:

A good comp for Italy, in climate as well as size.

Compared to Korea:

Good reminder on how vast Australia is:

A fellow I met in Brisbane once shook his head about foolish tourist who thought he could drive to Cairns in one day.

Chile:

Namibia:

The US Midwest:

In Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam reports that General Max Taylor introduced a note of ice cold realism by presenting a map of Cuba overlaid over the United States, shaking the stupid assumption that this was a rinkydink little island, invasion of which would be a minor matter:

Maybe they should’ve done this one:

Or:


Out and about

Ships waiting to dock at Port of LA – Long Beach, seen from Seal Beach. The whole world is backed up! Seal Beach is an interesting town. Most of the acreage is used to store ammunition for the US Navy, and yet there’s a Whole Foods and a Peloton store. On Electric Avenue you can see what remains of the old streetcar route. It could’ve looked like New Orleans down there. Maybe the vastness of LA could never have supported the length of streetcar routes required, but you can’t help but mourn.

After viewing the vessels, we went for pho at Pho 79 in Little Saigon. Fantastic, cheap, a great richness of flavor, although was it really more than 20% better than my local pho place? Still, some people live for that 20%.

Las Vegas remains itself. Mask enforcement in casinos is diligent, to my surprise. Back in May it was a maskless wilderness, but Delta seems to have put the fear out there. We were present in the Bellagio sportsbook for one of the more wrenching communal emotions you can feel in a sportsbook, when a team (the Chicago Bears, in this case) covers the spread (against Pittsburgh) but fails to win. Thus Pittsburgh fans/bettors disappointed, Bears fans disappointed and bettors mildly satisfied? A mingling of disappointment and emotional anticlimax, felt in the air.

At least one occasion of dudes attempting to start the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant in the bathroom. Permission to be obnoxious was always an appeal of Las Vegas I suppose, but it does seem like obnoxiousness in general is on the rise.

It was a great pleasure to attend the Pro Bull Riding World Finals. I was not bored! Brave dudes: the safety team/ bullfighters who lure away the bull after the rider is thrown. I had the opportunity to ask one of these dudes what I should do in the event I had to fill in for him: “don’t run in straight lines. Four legs is gonna outrun two.” Sometimes these guys have to cut out a cowboy who’s caught under a rope. Doing knifework on a bucking bull, not an easy job. They’re brave like the banderilleros in a traditional Spanish bullfight, who also don’t get enough credit.

So far as I could tell, despite rumors of testicle electrocuting, no real harm is done to the bulls. It’s the humans who are getting damaged. Eli Vastbinder won the final round despite a dislocated shoulder and several broken ribs.

Human/bull sport has a long history, I was reminded of the bull leapers depicted in the Great Palace of Knossos, 1450 or so BCE.

source


Two Ports

I was checking on some ships and saw them traveling through the ship channel in Port Sulfur, Louisiana.

The town is 8 feet (2.4 m) above sea level and had not flooded during Hurricane Betsy nor Hurricane Camille. Before Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita about 3,000 people lived in Port Sulphur. Nevertheless, during Hurricane Katrina, the federal levees failed and around 22 feet (6.7 m) of water engulfed the town. Almost all single-family homes in the town were destroyed, many of which were moved off their foundations by as much as 100 feet. In the months following Katrina, some residents moved back to Port Sulphur in trailers and modular homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But many residents relocated to other parts of Louisiana, the Southeast, and Texas.

The New York Times has been all over the case of the precarious communities of Plaquemines Parish. I’d like to visit sometime. Would I feel weird staying at Woodland Plantation? Yes, but I’m prepared to do it in my role as a journalist.

Here’s the Subway in Port Sulphur. Get a sandwich and sit on that levee watching the ships go by?

A port closer to home, Port Hueneme, came up in some recent discussion of the huge backup at Port of Los Angeles / Long Beach.

I learn that 3.3 billion bananas come through Port Hueneme each year. One of these days I’m gonna go up there and get a banana right off the boat.