how . . . ‘flexible’?


Buffett bits (and Munger)

Did not watch, but read a transcript of this year’s Berkshire Annual Meeting. Even though he tends to repeat himself, especially once you’ve gone over a few of his letters, there’s something comforting and eternal about going over the wisdom again, like reading The Bible.

 

Is there simpler investment advice?

I would love to talk to Ajit Jain for a few minutes:

I didn’t know about this event:

from the National Archives:

The morning after was an archivist’s nightmare, with ankle-deep water covering records in many areas. Although the basement vault was considered fireproof and watertight, water seeped through a broken wired-glass panel in the door and under the floor, damaging some earlier and later census schedules on the lower tiers. The 1890 census, however, was stacked outside the vault and was, according to one source, “first in the path of the firemen.”(11)

Could be a good clue in a National Treasure style mystery.

Speculation and rumors about the cause of the blaze ran rampant. Some newspapers claimed, and many suspected, it was caused by a cigarette or a lighted match. Employees were keenly questioned about their smoking habits. Others believed the fire started among shavings in the carpenter shop or was the result of spontaneous combustion. At least one woman from Ohio felt certain the fire was part of a conspiracy to defraud her family of their rightful estate by destroying every vestige of evidence proving heirship.(15) Most seemed to agree that the fire could not have been burning long and had made quick and intense headway; shavings and debris in the carpenter shop, wooden shelving, and the paper records would have made for a fierce blaze. After all, a watchman and engineers had been in the basement as late as 4:35 and not detected any smoke.(16) Others, however, believed the fire had been burning for hours, considering its stubbornness. Although, once the firemen were finished, it was difficult to tell if one spot in the files had burned longer than any other, the fire’s point of origin was determined to have been in the northeastern portion of the file room (also known as the storage room) under the stock and mail room.(17) Despite every investigative effort, Chief Census Clerk E. M. Libbey reported, no conclusion as to the cause was reached.

previous coverage of Buffett and Charlie Munger.

Charlie Munger unfortunately couldn’t be in Omaha, but looks like he had interesting things to say as always at the Daily Journal annual meeting in February:

Question 28: You talk frequently about having the moral imperative to be rational. And yet as humans, we’re constantly carrying this evolutionary baggage which gets in the way of us thinking rationally. Are there any tools or behaviors you embrace to facilitate your rational thinking?

Charlie: The answer is, of course. I hardly do anything else. One of my favorite tricks is the inversion process. I’ll give you an example. When I was a meteorologist in World War II. They told me how to draw weather maps and predict the weather. But what I was actually doing is clearing pilots to take flights.

I just reverse the problem. I inverted. I said, “Suppose I wanted to kill a lot of pilots, what would be the easy way to do it?” And I soon concluded that the only easy way to do it, would be to get the planes into icing the planes couldn’t handle. Or to get the pilot to a place where he’d run out of fuel before he could safely land. So I made up my mind that I was going to stay miles away from killing pilots. By either icing or getting him into (inaudible) conditions when they couldn’t land. I think that helped me be a better meteorologist in World War II. I just reversed the problem.

And if somebody hired me to fix India, I would immediately say, “What could I do if I really want to hurt India?” And I’d figure out all the things that could most easily hurt India and then I’d figure out how to avoid them. Now you’d say it’s the same thing, it’s just in reverse. But it works better to frequently invert the problem. If you’re a meteorologist, it really helps if you really know how to avoid something which is the only thing that’s going to kill your pilot. And you can help India best, if you understand what will really hurt India the easiest and worst.

Algebra works the same way. Every great algebraist inverts all the time because the problems are solved easier. Human beings should do the same thing in the ordinary walks of life. Just constantly invert. You don’t think of what you want. You think what you want to avoid. Or when you’re thinking what you want to avoid, you also think about what you want. And you just go back and forth all the time.

How about this:

Question 30: My question is about electric vehicles and BYD. Why are electric vehicles sales at BYD down 50 to 70 percent while Tesla is growing 50 percent? And what’s the future hold for BYD?

Charlie: Well, I’m not sure I’m the world’s greatest expert on the future of electric vehicles, except I think they’re coming generally and somebody’s going to make them. BYD’s vehicle sales went down because the Chinese reduce the incentives they were giving to the buyers of electric cars. And Telsa’s sales went up because Elon has convinced people that he can cure cancer. (laughter)

And then by Question 33 he really gets going.

 Lots of luck if you’re an impulsive person that has to be gratified immediately, you’re probably not going to have a very good life and we can’t fix you. (laughter)

Buffett is like beer, Munger is like whiskey.

(via latticeworkinvesting)


The Economist Digest

Considering converting Helytimes into just a summary of each week’s issue of The Economist.  That would provide a public service.

From this week’s issue

I learn

  • the President of Liberia, George Weah, a former striker for AC Milan, has recorded a song about Coronavirus.  (Learning more about this story led me to the BBC Pidgin page, which will be bookmarked for future return).  Meanwhile the Governor of Nairobi distributed mini bottles of Hennessey, which he calls “throat sanitizer”

 

  • The price to book value of the German DAX Index fell below one?  Must investigate.  The S&P 500 by comparison fell to 2.35 at its lowest (March 23) of 2020.  It was at 1.39 on its lowest day in the 2008-2009 crisis.  Are German companies “cheap”?  Paging Ben Graham!

 

  • Flogging has been banned as a punishment in Saudi Arabia

 

  • “Eating pangolins is illegal in China, but putting their scales into medical concoctions is not.”

 

  • Good piece on the Toyota Hilux as a desired vehicle for warlords: “they can cram 30 people into one and can still climb a sand dune.”  You can’t buy a Toyota Hilux in the USA, which pisses me off.  Why wouldn’t you want a tougher, stronger, truck in a more compact form?  It’s the warlord’s choice!

 

  • Melissa Dell won the John Bates Clark Medal for economists under 40 for work showing that the colonial “mita” system, which between 1573 and 1812 forced indigenous men in Bolivia and Peru to work in silver mines, had negative effects that persist to this day (uh, no shit? just kidding Professor Dell)

 

  • Most US states begin their fiscal year on July 1.  Because they’re obligated by “a combination of constitutional requirement, statute and tradition” to balance their budgets, there are gonna have to be tax increases or layoffs.  (Interesting that The Economist, a very Oxford publication, doesn’t use the Oxford comma).

 

  • I didn’t know Samsung began as “a provincial vegetable and dried fish shop”

 

  • Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is in trouble.  He too, like our president, has a shithead son who’s in the online fake-news business.

 

  • The Economist puts Joe Biden up six points over Donald Trump

 

  • Italy’s foreign minister is 33?

La delegazione dei GRUPPI PARLAMENTARI “MOVIMENTO 5 STELLE” DEL SENATO DELLA REPUBBLICA E DELLA CAMERA DEI DEPUTATI,in occasione delle consultazioni
(foto di Francesco Ammendola – Ufficio per la Stampa e la Comunicazione della Presidenza della Repubblica)

  • An obituary for rock climber Joe Brown, who climbed the south side of the Old Man of Hoy

source: Svrban

Also if any Helytimes readers are looking for work:


More on sound in Nintendo

After we discussed Nintendo soundscapes, a correspondent writes:

         So the simplest reason is that Nintendo a whole are like that, gentle, pleasing in aesthetic with musical rhythms to fit. When making the old games like Donkey Kong in the arcades, where they had wanted to a) get kids hooked to Keep spending quarters b) not sound dark or dangerous to scare off any young kids or parents worried about the new technology and c) being forced to create an earworm that, because of the chip being limited yet the amount of time they want you playing, be a sound loop that keeps it bouncy, happy, and remain in players head so you would think of it after leaving the arcade.
      When they moved home consoles, to the NES there wasn’t anything they could do as music really, the Commodore 64 had only the beeps that the computer chip itself could make, (kind of like what a modem would do). But Nintendo improvised. Say they only had a chip that could make 8 bit tunes, memory space of a few kb which were utilising system itself. No synth or midi or anything like that, 4 channels, because all the memory had to go towards the sprites basically. So you had just a small number or door bell tones basically making the sound effects nd the music at the same time. (Mario bopping a block, grabbing a coin playing along with a tune could go up or down a tiny bit then have to loop back again almost imperceptibly. Staying in c and returning back to the same notes as often as possible in different ways like the song that Never ends til you haven’t even noticed it hasn’t.
They also, seeing as budgets and schedules were tight and with almost no memory for music music conposers werent hired, so the programmers had to do this, a little known tidbit is the origin of the Zelda song came from an all nighter. The developers planned on using a tiny orchestration of Ravel’s Bolero as the title crawl, seeing as the arrangement was so old.  So that was the idea for the mario kinda games. With something like Zelda, still operating under the same rules but wanting a more grand brave adventurous sound they chose an old arrangement, Rachel’s bolero to go with it, they found out like the night before it had to go to print that it was one month before it would go to public domain so the composer made a whole new score in one night to make one of the most memorable and recognisable tunes ever. 49 years and 11 months and if Zelda was delayed by one month it would have rewritten video game history. But I’m getting off track.
The biggest thing to happen after the Nes with the Super Nintendo music was Donkey Kong Country and a fella called David Wise. Nintendo had figured out a way to create a 3D look to a dimensional  platforms, by shading the characters differently and moving them along deceptively deep but static backgrounds (kinda like tv animation) so he worked out a way to do the same thing with the same musical limitations. Rare and Nintendo hired him to make one jungle themed tune, link here,  and he wrote the music along one string, moved the entire string down a few octaves and then just wrote over that with the melody going over it to basically make it one track sounding like multiple instruments rather than a tiny synth out tracking from less than 10 bits. It seems like it might be simple now but it was revolutionary, it sounded live instrument quality but it was tiny in size in reality. so they hired him to do the whole score. So with Koji Kondo creating Zelda and Mario’s basic looping almost gambling sound effects into what couldn’t really be considered a tune to something you can hum thirty years on to DavidWwise creating 2d soundtracks that sounded 3d by keeping music simple they tapped into repetition and psychological depth that you are still nostalgic for these days
Tldr a cartridge has only so many chips back then and so you had to twist the chip to make it repeat the same noise only mildly different to look back to the same chip doorbell which makes it almost 4chord Beatles ish in its genetic simplicity.
They’d also loop say four notes a few times then one loop then go back to those same 4 notes and repeat so it wouldn’t sound the same but it would be … familiar maybe why you have such nostalgic memories of them
Huh!

Pandemic news from around the world

could be worse


South Louisiana Light Sweet

Today was a good day for learning the names of types of crude oil.  Source.


Chukar

The chukar partridge is the national bird of Pakistan and Iraq.

Kasiarunachalam for Wikipedia

A taxidermied specimen in the Auckland museum.

There’s also a population in the United States.

MinoZig for Wikipedia

The chukar population extends to eastern California.

Originally native to southern Eurasia, the chukar (also known as partridge) was brought from Pakistan in 1932 to be a game bird. It is now plentiful in northeastern California (east of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range) and the Mojave Desert. It can be found below sea level in Death Valley, and as high as 12,000 feet in elevation in the White Mountains. A chukar range map is available on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website.

source: CDFW News. More:

Their call is a distinctive chuck-chuck-chuck, from which their name is derived. Skilled hunters who can replicate the call will find this tactic useful.

Gotta get into the desert uplands and try to find one of these guys.

 

 


April 19

We can never let a Patriots’ Day go by without reflecting on the events of April 19, 1775.  How did this happen?

The people of countryside Massachusetts at that time were probably the freest and the least taxed people in the British Empire.  What were they so mad about?

From my hometown of Needham, MA, almost every able bodied man went out.  What motivated people that morning to grab guns and shoot at their own army?

Lately I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s book on the first years of the American Revolution.  It’s interesting that Atkinson titled his book this, because as he himself notes:

Popular lore later credited him with a stirring battle cry – “The British are coming!” – but a witness quoted him as warning, more prosaically, “the regulars are coming out.”

The word would’ve gotten out anyway, because of information sent by light in binary code: one if by land, two if by sea.  (it was two).

Atkinson does a great job of laying out how tensions and feelings and fears and resentments escalated to this point.  George III and his Prime Minister Lord North (they’d grown up together, it’s possible they were half-brothers) miscalculated,  misunderstood, overreacted.

North held a constituency in Banbury with fewer than two dozen eligible voters, who routinely reelected him after being plied with punch and cheese, and who were then rewarded with a haunch of venison.

The image of a stern father disciplining a disobedient child seemed to guide George III/North government thinking.  Violently putting down rebellions was nothing new, even within the island of Britain.  Crushing Scottish revolt had been a big part of George III’s uncle’s career, for example.

From the British side, the disobedience did seem pretty flagrant, the Boston Tea Party being a particularly outrageous and inciting example, from a city known to be full of criminals and assholes.  The London government responded with the “Coercive Acts.”

With this disobedient child, the punishment didn’t go over well.  The mood had gotten very, very tense in Boston when the April 19 expedition was launched.

Everything about it went wrong.  Everybody was late, troops were reorganized under new commanders.  Orders were screwed up, the mission was unclear.  It was a show of force?  A search and destroy?  Both?  The experience for the soldiers in on it was awful: started out cold and wet, ended up lucky if you were alive and unmangled.

What the Lexington militia was up to when they formed up opposite the arriving Redcoats is unclear.  Did they intend to have a battle?  Doesn’t seem like it, why would they line up in the middle of a field?  There’d already been an alarm, and then a weird break where a lot of the guys went to the next door tavern and had a few.

Were they intending just kind of an armed protest and demonstration (as is common in the United States to this day)?

A lot of the guys in the Massachusetts militias had fought alongside the British army in the wars against the French and Indians.  Captain Parker of Lexington had been at Louisburg and Quebec.  How much was old simmering resentment of the colonial experience serving with professional British military officers a part of all this?

One way or another, a shot went off, and then it got out of hand very fast.  When it was over eight Lexington guys were dead.

The painting above is by William Barnes Wollen, he painted it in 1910.  Wollen was a painter of military and battle scenes.  He’d been in South Africa during the Boer War, so maybe he knew what an invading army getting shot at by locals was like.

Amos Doolittle was on the scene a few days after the events, interviewed participants, walked the grounds, and rendered the scene like this.

But Doolittle had propaganda motives.

After the massacre at Lexington the British got back into formation and kept moving.

They ran into another fight at Concord Bridge.

Information and misinformation and rumor became a part of the day.  The story spread that the British were burning Concord, maybe murdering people.

By now minutemen from all over were blasting away.  It must’ve been horrific.  Atkinson tells us that the British “Brown Bess” musket fired a lead slug that was nearly .75 of an inch in diameter (compare to, say, a Magnum .45, .45 of an inch).

How would history have been different if the British column had been completely wiped out, like Custer’s last stand?  It almost happened.  The expedition was saved by the timely arrival of reinforcements with two cannons.

The column avoided an ambush at Harvard Square, but several soldiers died in another gunfight near the future Beech and Elm Streets while three rebels who had built a redoubt at Watson’s Corner were encircled and bayoneted.  William Marcy, described as “A simple-minded youth” who thought he was watching a parade, was shot dead while sitting on a wall, cheering.

They were able to get back across the river and into Boston, minus 73 killed, 53 missing, 174 wounded.  A bad day in Massachusetts.

This event looms large in the American imagination: the gun-totin’ freedom lovers fighting off the government intrusion.  But the more you read about it the more it sounds like just a catastrophe for everyone involved.

Back in Needham the Rev. West reported:

In the evening we had intelligence that several of the Needham inhabitants were among the slain, and in the morning it was confirmed that five had fallen in the action and several others had been wounded. It is remarkable that the five who fell all of them had families, and several of them very numerous families so that there were about forty widows and fatherless children made in consequence of their death. I visited these families immediately, and with a sympathetic sense of their affliction I gave to some the first intelligence they had of the dreadful event, the death of a Husband and a Parent.
How about this footnote Clarke’s History Of Needham?

The details.

 

 


Animal Crossing

I’ve never played Animal Crossing, but my wife is playing, and I can hear the sounds from the next room or down the couch.  The sounds are so soothing and pleasant.  Since the NES days, Nintendo always managed to produce nice, soothing sounds.  Some games are exceptions, but when I think of the sounds of Super Mario, or Tetris on GameBoy, or Mario Kart on N64, and now Animal Crossing, I’m impressed at Nintendo’s ability to generate fun, calming sounds.  I believe that’s an under-appreciated part of Nintendo’s appeal and success.


Books I’ve been meaning to review for Helytimes

There’s a big stack of books over here I’ve been meaning to write up.

This book is super good.  Full of vivid detail.

Drums were banned everywhere in North America except French Louisian by the middle of the eighteenth century, and so were horns, which are made from wood or animal horns and played in hocketing ensembles in the slave coast and Congo-Angola regions.

There are excerpts from a long interview with Jim Dockery, of Dockery Farms.  Stories retold and remembered.  Sonny Payne tells of the Helena, Arkansas based radio show King Biscuit Time:

These are well-to-do white women listening.  I listen, every day when I’m doing the show, for the simple reason that there’s something there.  They’re trying to tell you something, and if you think hard enough and listen hard enough, you will understand what it’s all about.

The story this book tells is really about how blues music went from its origin point, where the Southern cross the Dog in the Mississippi Delta, to Chicago and then by record to the UK, where Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and the Rolling Stones heard it and picked up on it. Along the way there’s so much juicy richness about race and America and music and history and everything.  Palmer takes us to a meeting in Chicago where they tried to encourage black migrants to come back to Mississippi.

This book is almost like a response to the fetishizing or the legend-building surrounding the Mississippi Delta and blues music.  Says Wald:

If someone had suggested to the major blues stars that they were old-fashioned folk musicians carrying on a culture handed down from slavery times, most would probably have been insulted.

I didn’t know that Mississippi was dry until 1966.

It is startling to thank that all of the evolution from the first Bessie Smith record to the first Rolling Stones record took only forty years.  When Skip James and John Hurt appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, they were greeted as emissaries from an ancient, vanished world, but it was only three decades since they had first entered a recording studio – that is, they were about as ancient as disco is to us today.

One point both these books make is that the Mississippi Delta at this time was actually kind of a dynamic region, crisscrossed with railroads, you could quit your job and move and get another one.

Wald tells of an anthropological team from Fisk University and the Library of Congress that visited the Delta in 1941 and 1942.  They reported:

There are no memories of slavery in the delta.  This section of the delta has little history prior to the revolution of 1861

The research team asked people what their favorite song was.  What a question!  (My Country Tis of Thee and The Star-Spangled Banner among the answers).

Gotta love a book where this is a footnote.

When I was a kid you couldn’t go to a library book sale or a book store without seeing some paperback Tony Hillerman mysteries, about the Navajo Tribal Police.  I never got into books like that, not sure why.  But when it comes to New Mexico writers, Tony Hillerman is a name to reckon with.  (And there are a lot of New Mexico writers, just see The Spell of New Mexico, edited by Tony Hillerman).

So, as I was gonna be in New Mexico, I got Tony Hillerman’s memoir.

Man.  Tony Hillerman was a combat infantryman in World War II.  Before he was twenty or so he’d fought his way through the Vosges, killed German boys yards away from him, gone on night raids and been shelled in the dead of winter.  Finally he stepped on a landmine, and his war ended in a military hospital.  There was a guy in the hospital, a tank gunner, who was called “Jug” because of the way his injuries had mangled his face.  Jug considered himself lucky compared to what happened to Colonel Delaney.

All this happened to Tony Hillerman when he was a teenager, before he’d ever really had a girlfriend.

When he got back home, he got a job driving a truck in the New Mexico oil fields.  In the Chaco Canyon country, he happened to come across some Navajos on horseback.  They were going to an “Enemy Way” ceremony, a ritual for those returned from war.

The healing power and religious idea of this ceremony impressed Tony Hillerman.  It was just what he needed.  (It sounds like the kind of ceremony Karl Marlantes describes the need for in his book).

Hillerman became a newspaperman in New Mexico, and the rest of the book is mostly funny and interesting stories about that life, and his family, and his decision to attempt some mystery books.  On a writing class he taught at UNM:

my premise was that power to persuade lies in the ability to make people see – sometimes literally – the situation as the writer sees it.  Instead of telling readers the city should improve its maintenance programs, walk them down the street with you and show them those same details that drew you to that conclusion – the roaches around the drains, the trash collecting on the fences, and so forth.  Based on that argument, I’d send them forth.

A good book by a man who seems tough and tender, humble and wise, I read most of it on an overnight train ride.

Speaking of trains, how about Hunter Harrison?  A first ballot Hall of Famer for sure if the Hall of Fame is “railroad CEOs.”  Hell they’ll probably name the hall after him.  Hunter Harrison from the time he was a teenager only ever worked for one kind of company: railroad company.

Harrison’s thing was “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” which apparently revolutionized a kind of sleepy industry.

Harrison created approximately $50 billion in shareholder value in his time as a CEO.

says the book jacket, telling you something about how we’re keeping score.  Harrison was an absolute fanatic about railroading.  He ran Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and died on the job running CSX.

I’m not sure if I’ll finish this book, it’s interesting and I’m learning a lot, but I’m just not sure I’m that interested in this guy.  So far the part that sticks out in my mind is Harrison’s semi-mentor, Thompson.

Thompson was William F. Thompson – a.k.a. “Pisser Bill”

says the book.  I thought the nickname might be kind of a metaphor or something, but no, a few pages later Pisser Bill was at the trainyard and saw something he didn’t like so he pissed all over the place.

This book was worth the price for that alone.

 

 

 


Forest roads

If anyone needs to borrow this one you can.  Picked up in San Luis Obispo.


Tigertail (2020)

If you are a Helytimes reader who hasn’t heard about Tigertail, Alan Yang’s directorial debut, which is NOW on Netflix, Heaven help you.  Very proud of my former roomie on this tremendous achievement, will be watching tonight.


Good Friday

For the first three centuries after his death, this Renaissance artist [Matthias Grünewald] did not attract much attention. But around 1900 the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans made a passionate plea for the relevance and modernity of Grünewald. In his description of the altar at Isenheim, Huysmans called attention to Grünewald’s shocking insistence on the physical details of Christ’s suffering, alerting its beholder to the disgusting marks of torture and the signs of dying and decomposing flesh (figs. 1a and 1b). Such a Christ, Huysmans observed, is no longer the well-groomed, handsome man who has been venerated by the rich and powerful throughout the ages. Grünewald’s Christ is rather the “God of the Poor. The one who chose the company of those in misery and of those who had been rejected, of all those for whose ugliness and need the world could only feel contempt.”3 And it was exactly this approach to pain and suffering highlighted by Huysmans that subsequently became a point of reference for many artists who invoked Grünewald’s work, especially when they cited the triptych from the Isenheim altarpiece or The Mockery of Christ (fig. 2)from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich

source for all that.


Does anybody else get this ad?

It’s always for James Suckling!  Literally the last thing I need a class in is appreciating wine more.  I’m already at a high level of appreciating, I appreciate it a ton, probably too much.

Imagine being like “hmm I hate wine, maybe I’ll pay $80 to learn how to like it from the computer!”

Although Suckling is a noted supporter of Bordeaux wine, as illustrated by his blog response to a Bordeaux-critical article by Eric Asimov,[27][28] he also has affinity for Italian wines, having stated that he feels Italian grape varieties such as Sangiovese, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo are thoroughly unique.[26] Conversely he has on occasion spoken dismissively of New World wines, applying the term “jam juice”.[13]

Get outta here with that, Suckling!


The goal: being in power

Baffled by politics in the last four years or so, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this Bagehot column in The Economist from 21 Dec 2019.

It’s probably behind a paywall for non-subscribers, but I’ll try and give the jist.  In the 20th and (so far) 21st centuries the Conservatives have been in power for longer than any other party.  Why?

It’s because the Conservative Party views their job as being in power.  That’s it.  That’s their meaning and their purpose.  The Conservative Party is not guided by any principles or beliefs or philosophies.  It may pretend to be, individual members may be, that might be part of the whole stew, but the job of the party is to be in power.

Evelyn Waugh once complained that the Tories had never succeeded in turning the clock back for a single minute. But this is exactly why they have been so successful. The party has demonstrated a genius for anticipating what Harold Macmillan once called “the winds of change”, and harnessing those winds to its own purposes.

They keep their eyes on the mission:

The Conservatives have always been quick to dump people or principles when they become obstacles to the successful pursuit of power. Theresa May immediately sacked her two chief advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, after the party’s poor performance in 2017, whereas Jeremy Corbyn is still clinging on to Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne after Labour’s devastating failure last week.

Mr. Johnson keeps with this tradition:

He succeeded in this where Mrs May failed because he possessed the other great Tory weapons. He has been willing to sacrifice anything in the pursuit of office. Beneath the bumbling exterior lies a ruthless, power-seeking machine. His withdrawal of the whip from 21 colleagues (some of them close friends) in September made Macmillan’s “night of the long knives” in 1962 look tame.

When I try to think about American politics, it helps to imagine that the Republican Party understands its job: getting power, keeping power, staying in power.  The issues are irrelevant as long as they serve this goal.  That’s why various attacks about the absolute hypocrisy of “pro life”ideas, or pretend deficit hawkishness, or “small government” –> enormous bailouts whenever necessary, etc etc just don’t stick or have any meaning.  You’re falling for the game if you fall for that.

Now, what the point of the Democratic Party is I’m not sure.  It might be “losing nobly,” or something, as evidenced by the career of this longtime Democratic operative and summed up by this speech.  Or maybe it’s “not appearing too extreme.”  Or “making people feel ok about themselves.”  In any case, it’s not as focused a mission, and it’s not gonna be as successful until it gets figured out.

Maybe the Democrats need to remember what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s supposed mentor, Saul Alinsky, put bluntly:

Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!

Source on that.


The quar

Says Science Friday:

Officials in the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik, Croatia) passed a law establishing trentino, or a 30-day period of isolation for ships arriving from plague-affected areas. No one from Ragusa was allowed to visit those ships under trentino, and if someone broke the law, they too would be isolated for the mandatory 30 days. The law caught on. Over the next 80 years, Marseilles, Pisa, and various other cities adopted similar measures.

Within a century, cities extended the isolation period from 30 to 40 days, and the term changed from trentino to quarantino—the root of the English word quarantine that we use today.

By my count today, Sunday, is day 22.

Halftime?

It took me this long to lock into some good habits and practices.  The first weeks were decadent and messy.  A key rule for me: must something positive before I’m allowed to pick up at my phone and chug horrific news and takes.

Some changes and observations from Hunker Down Times:

  • really appreciating and being careful with my use of paper products.  Paper towels.  Used to be really free with the paper towels, I hope I’m learning paper towel discipline that will last.  In years to come, perhaps some psychology will be done on why people seemed to be so focused on toilet paper.  Freudian?

 

 

  • Part of the Zoom revolution.  Why is Zoom so good when Facetime and Skype I bristle at?  I don’t know.  Easy to use I guess, not forcing me to link it with my Facebook or whatnot.  Zoom, in my opinion, is really good for work but bad for socializing.  We’ve been achieving great results – efficient with time, focused – with four or so person Zoom work meetings.  But a Zoom hang feels oppressive.  There’s no breaking off into and reforming from small groups, the organic flow that drives a larger social gathering.

 

  • Before this all happened, I’d had some conversations re: a possible movie about Bob Hope.  Why did they love Bob Hope enough to name the airport after him?  By the time I was alive Bob Hope was beyong a relic. A lot of aspects of his personal character were unpleasant.  He was cheap, mean, selfish, self-absorbed, an off-the-charts womanizer and #MeToo bad guy.  His later USO tours were really just an elaborate way to avoid his wife and score poon and work in front of an easy audience when no one was paying.  His comedy doesn’t stand up.  But during ‘rona times, I’m understanding (a bit) why Bob Hope was so important at the time.

If anyone could consistently make me laugh right now I’d be into it.

If anyone could consistently make me laugh right now I’d be into it.

  • Loving the DJ sets of D-Nice.  (We watch by screenmirroring Instagram story onto Apple TV?).  Dancing and plagues go together.  What about the tarantella, which you were supposed to dance to cure yourself of a tarantula bite?

In the Italian province of Taranto, Apulia, the bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula” after the region, was popularly believed to be highly venomous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. This became known as the Tarantella. R. Lowe Thompson proposed that the dance is a survival from a “Dianic or Dionysiac cult”, driven underground. John Compton later proposed that the Roman Senate had suppressed these ancient Bacchanalian rites. In 186 BC the tarantella went underground, reappearing under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims.

What was going on with the dancing plague of 1518?

When I read about it it sounds like maybe we’re misunderstanding anti-dance party propaganda?

Bruegel was a good dance painter:

  • I liked the Queen’s speech:

I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.

And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.

That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.

The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

I like when leaders comprehend that tone, cheer, humor, is part of the job.  All the greats knew that.  If your guy has a nasty, sarcastic, unpleasant tone, you’ve got the wrong guy.

  • In other news, I found this to be a cool friendship:

Hope all Helytimes readers are keeping it chill.


Fire In The Lake

The photos of refrigerated trucks ready for bodies in New York City reminded me of this memorable passage in Fire In The Lake by Frances Fitzgerald:

The sight of the coffins reassured the soldiers because it showed them not only that the Front cared about their future, but that it could fulfill its promises. The provision of the coffins was, after all, a logistical triumph, and, as such, a sign that the Front had the power to reweave the society and restore its continuity through past, present and future.

Seeing refrigerated morgue trucks on the news does not reassure me, nor does it convince me that the authorities can fulfill their promises!

Dark stuff, we’ll return to more whimsical subject matter soon, we know no one is coming to Helytimes to get bummed out!

 


House on Hely Road

Can’t abandon my mandate to be the #1 source of Hely news on the Internet.  There’s a lovely house on 24 Hely Road in Port Elizabeth, South Africa for sale.  2.2 mill rands (about $122,602 USD?)


Not the Van Gogh painting I would’ve stolen

A bit dreary?  But you take what you can get I guess!


Plague Lit

Have only gotten through the introduction to this one, big daddy of ’em all.  Am now on the cusp of chapter One (“I – Man The Hunter”).

Disease and parasitism play a pervasive role in all of life.  A successful search for food on the part of one organism becomes for its host a nasty infection or disease.  All animals depend on other living things for food, and human beings are no exception.  Problems of finding food and the changing ways human communities have done so are familiar enough in economic histories.  The problems of avoiding becoming food for some other organism are less familiar, largely because from very early times human beings ceased to have much to fear from large-bodied animal predators like lions or wolves.  Nevertheless, one can properly think of most human lives as caught in a precarious equilibrium between the microparasitism of disease organisms and the macroparasitism of large-bodied predators, chief among which have been other human beings.
Humans, virusing on each other!
Later, when food production became a way of life for some human communities, a modulated macroparasitism became possible.  A conquerer could seize food from those who produced it, and by consuming it himself become a parasite of a new sort on those who did the work… Early civilizations, in fact, were built upon the possibility of taking only a part of the harvest from subjected communities, leaving enough behind to allow the plundered community to survive indefinitely, year after year.
I might treat this book more like as a longterm project.

Defoe! Now he’s fun at least.

In 1685 he joined the rebel army of the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II… the revolt failed, but Defoe managed to escape unscathed and unidentified – riding to greet the new King William III and Queen Mary II in 1688, becoming a sort of informal adviser to them.  Then things get rocky.

Switching sides!  How did he pull that off?  That’s from the intro by Cynthia Wall.  I usually don’t read the introductions until after diving in, often never, but this is a good one.  Defoe, a wine merchant, pampleteer, always in debt, Robison Crusoe, Moll Flanders.  He died “of a lethargy” (what a way to go!  although I’m told it probably meant “stroke”) while hiding from people he owed huge amounts of money to.

Defoe was already a prolific and well-known author by the time he wrote A Journal of the Plague Year.  At the age of sixty-two he had had careers as a merchant, a spy, a political journalist, a religious and social satirist, a poet, a travel writer, an economist, an author of conduct books, and a novelist.

Journal of the Plague Year (the year was 1665, the book was written in 1720) is a kind of narrative non-fiction (half fiction?  that’s the whole joke with Defoe) narrated (sometimes?) by H. F., who’s probably based on Defoe’s uncle.
This is like a collection of horror stories, a little hard to read, but spicy.

I have heard also of some, who on the Death of their Relations, have grown stupid with the insupportable Sorrow, and of one in particular; who was so absolutely overcome with the Pressure upon his Spirirts, that by Degrees, his Head sunk into his Body, so between his Shoulders, that the Crown of his Head was very little seen above the Bones of his Shoulders; and by Degrees, loseing both Voice and Sense, his Face looking forward, lay against his Collar-Bone; and cou’d not be kept up any otherwise, unless held up by the Hands of other People; and the poor Man never came to himself again, but languished near a Year in that Condition and Died

Anthony Burgess in his 1966 introduction, included in this edition:

This is what it reads like and is meant to read like – a rapid, colloquial, sometimes clumsy setting-down of reminiscences of a great historical event… in reality it is a rather cunning work of art, a confidence trick of the imagination.

OK here we go!  The summer of 1348, ten young people flee Florence, go to the countryside, and tell one hundred stories, some of them funny, some of them sexy.

Trying to learn storytelling a few years ago, I dove into this one, but now I couldn’t find my copy.  This book is impressive for the sheer number of storytelling twists and plots:

but this go, can’t say I found it all that compelling.

Not to put it down, this is obviously an incredible achievement.

At the end Boccaccio has an epilogue that’s like a pre-attack on any possible criticisms.  Maybe more books should have that.

My favorite story remains the tenth story of the third day, about a virgin who is taught by a monk how to put the Devil back in Hell.

Don’t have a copy of this one in my house.  It sounds good!

Joseph Grand: Joseph Grand is a fifty-year-old clerk for the city government. He is tall and thin. Poorly paid, he lives an austere life, but he is capable of deep affection. In his spare time, Grand polishes up his Latin, and he is also writing a book, but he is such a perfectionist that he continually rewrites the first sentence and can get no further.

Hope to get to it eventually, but right now looking for something more amusing.

When I remember this era, will surely associate the early period more with Tiger King on Netflix.