How many kangaroos do you think live in Australia?

Learned this the other day reading The Economist.

 

Are you ready?

 

47 million.

Mate that’s nearly two roos per person!


Watching the news

 


Cowpens

Believe me, it killed me to drive across South Carolina and not have time to stop and make a study of the battlefield at Cowpens.

Cowpens is an American story about local amateurs beating foreign professionals, with an A+ villain in Banastre Tarleton.

Tarleton painted by (who else?) Joshua Reynolds

How satisfying must it been to have kicked this guy’s ass?!  Tarleton, a rich boy dandy, was in command at age 25.  Very cocky.  At Cowpens he charged right into a trap.

The Americans:

 conducted a double envelopment of Tarleton’s force, and suffered casualties of only 12 killed and 61 wounded…  Morgan’s army took 712 prisoners, which included 200 wounded. Even worse for the British, the forces lost (especially the British Legion and the dragoons) constituted the cream of Cornwallis’ army. Additionally, 110 British soldiers were killed in action, and every artilleryman was either killed or incapacitated by wounds. Tarleton suffered an 86 percent casualty rate, and his brigade had been all but wiped out as a fighting force.

But don’t worry!

Tarleton was one of around 160 British troops to escape.

Tarleton went on, of course, to a career in politics.

He is especially noted for supporting the slave trade, which was highly important to the port of Liverpool. Its ships were deeply involved in slave trading. Tarleton was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas, and he became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists.

His romantic life?

For 15 years, he had a relationship with the actress and writer Mary Robinson (Perdita), whom he initially seduced on a bet.

LOL this guy.  What?  Mary Robinson was at the time a notorious babe and former mistress of the King:

Prior to [Tarleton], Robinson had been having an affair with a man named Lord Malden. According to one account, Malden and Tarleton were betting men, and Malden was so confident in Robinson’s loyalty to him, and believed that no man could ever take her from him. As such, he made a bet of a thousand guineas that none of the men in his circle could seduce her. Unfortunately for Malden, Tarleton accepted the bet and swooped in to not only seduce Robinson, but establish a relationship that would last the next 15 years.

Tarleton was famous for killing prisoners trying to surrender — “Tarleton’s Quarter” – after the Battle of Waxhaws.  In Tarleton’s version of the story this was because his guys were so upset that he was hurt:

Colonel Tarleton’s account, published in 1787, said that his horse had been shot from under him, and that his soldiers, thinking him dead, engaged in “a vindictive asperity not easily restrained”.

Then came Cowpens.

via Wikipedia via the US Military Academy history department

The charts and diagrams that are used to explain battles have always interested me but they have some real problems.  In a word they are bloodless.

What we’re talking about here didn’t look like a bunch of tidy arrows and lines.  It was violent chaos, a bunch of guys murdering each other in fire and smoke.

But a little more reading suggests Daniel Morgan, the Continental commander, with the benefit of some time to plan, made some good moves.

Daniel Morgan turned to his advantage the landscape of Cowpens, the varying reliability of his troops, his opponent’s expectations, and the time available before Tarleton’s arrival. He knew untrained militiamen, which composed a large portion of his force, were generally unreliable in battle, and in the past had routed at the first hint of defeat and abandoned the regulars. (The Battle of Camden had ended in disaster when the militia, which was half of the American force, broke and ran as soon as the shooting started.) To eliminate that possibility, he defied convention by placing his army between the Broad and Pacolet rivers, thus making escape impossible if the army was routed.

More:

Morgan asked the militia to fire two volleys, something they could achieve, and then withdraw to the left, to re-form in the rear

Tarleton meanwhile drove his foodless, sleepless men all night in a damn hurry to get another victory.

 

John Eager Howard quoted Maj. McArthur of the 71st Highlanders, now a prisoner of the Americans, as saying that “he was an officer before Tarleton was born; that the best troops in the service were put under ‘that boy’ to be sacrificed.”

This detail:

An American prisoner later told that when Tarleton reached Cornwallis and reported the disaster, Cornwallis placed his sword tip on the ground and leaned on it until the blade snapped.

 


Hunters In The Snow

Always thought this picture was cool but only just learned it was one of a series of six (or maybe twelve?).  Five survive.

Hunters in the Snow shows December-January.

The Gloomy Day shows February or March.

Here one is missing?

Hay Harvest shows June / July.

The Harvesters is for August / September.

Return of the Herd shows October / November.

Michael Frayn, in his novel Headlong, imagines a lost panel from the 1565 Months series resurfacing unrecognised, which triggers a mad conflict between an art (and money) lover and the boor who possesses it. Much thought is spent on Bruegel’s secret motives for painting it.

Cool.


Loved this comparison

As Zinoman puts it, “His smirking tone was so consistently knowing that he seemed as if he must know something.”  This was an attitude fit for the cynical mood of the 1980s, and Zinoman emphasizes Letterman’s significance as an avatar of cool noncommitment, a figure of his time.  In that, Letterman resembled that other pop-cultural phenomenon of the era, Jim Davis’s Garfield – the rotund cartoon feline also riven by self-doubt and haunted by grandiose fantasies of domination while projecting an aloofness that often verged on the cruel.

from Naomi Fry’s review of Jason Zinoman’s Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night in the Summer 2017 issue of BookForum.  (A little behind on my Bookforum).


Hallucinogens and Shamanism (1973)

This collection of essays from 1973 gets an A+ on cover alone.

Undoubtedly one of the major reasons that anthropologists for so long underestimated the importance of hallucinogenic substances in shamanism and religious experience was that very few had partaken themselves of the native psychotropic materials (other than peyote) or had undergone the resulting subjective experiences so critical, perhaps paradoxically, to an empirical understanding of their meaning to the peoples they studied.  Most, although not all, of the authors in the present book are an exception…

I’ll say!  From Michael J. Harner’s essay “The Sound Of Rushing Water”:

When I first undertook research among the Jívaro in 1956-57, I did not fully appreciate the psychological impact of the Banisteriopsis drink upon the native view of reality, but in 1961 I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe.  For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams.  I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world.  I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy.  Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology.  Therefore, in 1964 I returned to the Jívaro to give particular attention to the drug’s use by the Jívaro shaman.

South American shamanism and hallucinogens is one of the topics explored in

Yet the essay our reader found of most interest in this volume was was “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,”  also by Harner. The topic of witchcraft, European and American, has been of great interest to Helytimes.

What was going on with the wild bursts of witchcraft persecution in medieval Europe and early colonial America?

A prevalent attitude among present-day historians and scholars of religion (e.g. Henningsen, 1969: 105-6; Trevor-Roper, 1969:90, 192) is that late medieval and Renaissance witchcraft was essentially a fiction created by the Church.

says Harner.  But what this essay presupposes is: what if it wasn’t?

Probably the single most important group of plants used by mankind to contact the supernatural belongs to the order Solanacæe (the potato family)… each of these plants contains varying quantities of atropine and the other closely related tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolomine, all of which have hallucinogenic effects (Claus and Tyler, 1965: 273-85; Henry, ,1949: 64092; Hoffer and Osmund, 1967:525-28; Lewin, 1964: 129-140; Sollmann, 1957: 381-98).

From here, Harner goes on to suggest:

As is familiar to every child in our culture, the witch is fantasized as flying through the air on a broomstick.  This symbol actually represents a very serious and central aspect of European witchcraft, involving the use of solanceaous hallucinogenic plants.  The European witches rubbed their bodies with a hallucinogenic ointment containing such plants as Atropa belladonna, Mandragora, and henbane, whose content of atropine was absorbable through the skin.  The witch then indeed took a “trip”: the witch on the broomstick is a representation of that imagined aerial journey to a rendezvous with spirits and demons, which was called a Sabbat.

Wild claim!  More:

The use of a staff or broom was undoubtedly more than a symbolic Freudian act, serving as an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed

Historical evidence seems thin.  Harner presents a case from 1325, when a Lady Alice Kyteler was investigated in Ireland:

…in rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a Pile of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed.

Kyteler fled the country, but her servant was  flogged and burned to death.  Her house is now a pub:

We ran this idea by one of our female editors, who pointed out that if you were going to apply some salve to your vaginal membranes, you’d probably use something a little softer than a broomstick, perhaps a vegetable.  The biodegradable nature of such an applicator perhaps explains why archaeological evidence is so scant.

Thought-provoking, in any case.

 

 


Highlights from Warren Buffett’s 2018 letter

Another good one drops from Warren Buffett and the Berkshire Hathaway team.

In America, equity investors have the wind at their back.

We’ve learned a great deal here at Helytimes from studying Buffett’s writings.  Here’s a writeup on the 2017 letter and on the 2016 letter and from a book of quotes from his letter.

A highlight from this year, worth noting:

The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real – rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.

Did not know about the stake in Pilot Flying J:

How did Warren Buffett get so rich?  Some answers he will tell you.

  • By gathering money, eventually including the enormous pools of money (“float”) collected by insurance companies like GEICO
  • Using the money to buy shares of businesses with a durable competitive advantage (here’s a critical take on what that can mean)
  • Never selling anything so that he’s never taxed on the gains and the results compound and compound.

For the last 53 years, the company has built value by reinvesting its earnings and letting compound interest work its magic.

(Also he just seems to have an intuitive and unusually focused mind for business:

As a teenager, he took odd jobs, from washing cars to delivering newspapers, using his savings to purchase several pinball machines that he placed in local businesses.

Also he did some arbitrage things I don’t understand.)

In this letter, he discusses the result of a bet he made that an unmanaged index fund would beat selected hedge funds over a ten year period:

I made the bet for two reasons: (1) to leverage my outlay of $318,250 into a disproportionately larger sum that – if things turned out as I expected – would be distributed in early 2018 to Girls Inc. of Omaha; and (2) to publicize my conviction that my pick – a virtually cost-free investment in an unmanaged S&P 500 index fund – would, over time, deliver better results than those achieved by most investment professionals, however well-regarded and incentivized those “helpers” may be.

Addressing this question is of enormous importance. American investors pay staggering sums annually to advisors, often incurring several layers of consequential costs. In the aggregate, do these investors get their money’s worth? Indeed, again in the aggregate, do investors get anything for their outlays?

More:

A final lesson from our bet: Stick with big, “easy” decisions and eschew activity. During the ten-year bet, the 200-plus hedge-fund managers that were involved almost certainly made tens of thousands of buy and sell decisions. Most of those managers undoubtedly thought hard about their decisions, each of which they believed would prove advantageous. In the process of investing, they studied 10-Ks, interviewed managements, read trade journals and conferred with Wall Street analysts. 13 Protégé and I, meanwhile, leaning neither on research, insights nor brilliance, made only one investment decision during the ten years. We simply decided to sell our bond investment at a price of more than 100 times earnings (95.7 sale price/.88 yield), those being “earnings” that could not increase during the ensuing five years. We made the sale in order to move our money into a single security – Berkshire – that, in turn, owned a diversified group of solid businesses. Fueled by retained earnings, Berkshire’s growth in value was unlikely to be less than 8% annually, even if we were to experience a so-so economy.

Fewer good jokes this year, in our opinion, but also fewer dire warnings.