Thursday, April 19, 2018

Little Things by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

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Little Things
by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

Little drops of water,
⁠Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
⁠And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
⁠Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
⁠Of eternity.

It's a treat by Leslie Graff

It's a treat by Leslie Graff

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It is a long being, but perchance a short life

Of a Happy Life by Seneca


In the distribution of human life, we find that a great part of it passes away in evil doing; a greater yet in doing just nothing at all: and effectually the whole in doing things beside our business. Some hours we bestow upon ceremony and servile attendances; some upon our pleasures, and the remainder runs at waste. What a deal of time is it that we spend in hopes and fears, love and revenge, in balls, treats, making of interests, suing for offices, soliciting of causes, and slavish flatteries! The shortness of life, I know, is the common complaint both of fools and philosophers; as if the time we have were not sufficient for our duties. But it is with our lives as with our estates, a good husband makes a little go a great way; whereas, let the revenue of a prince fall into the hands of a prodigal, it is gone in a moment. So that the time allotted us, if it were well employed, were abundantly enough to answer all the ends and purposes of mankind. But we squander it away in avarice, drink, sleep, luxury, ambition, fawning addresses, envy, rambling, voyages, impertinent studies, change of counsels, and the like; and when our portion is spent, we find the258 want of it, though we gave no heed to it in the passage: insomuch, that we have rather made our life short than found it so. You shall have some people perpetually playing with their fingers, whistling, humming, and talking to themselves; and others consume their days in the composing, hearing, or reciting of songs and lampoons. How many precious morning hours do we spend in consultation with barbers, tailors, and tire-women, patching and painting betwixt the comb and the glass! A council must be called upon every hair we cut; and one curl amiss is as much as a body’s life is worth. The truth is, we are more solicitous about our dress than our manners, and about the order of our periwigs than that of the government. At this rate, let us but discount, out of a life of a hundred years, that time which has been spent upon popular negotiations, frivolous amours, domestic brawls, sauntering up and down to no purpose, diseases that we have brought upon ourselves, and this large extent of life will not amount perhaps to the minority of another man. It is a long being, but perchance a short life. And what is the reason of all this? We live as we should never die, and without any thought of human frailty, when yet the very moment we bestow upon this man or thing, may, peradventure, be our last. But the greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our own power; we look forward to that which depends upon Fortune; and so quit a certainty for an uncertainty. We should do by time as we do by a torrent, make use of it while we have it, for it will not last always.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Flag Goes By by Henry Holcomb Bennett

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The Flag Goes By
by Henry Holcomb Bennett

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A dash of color beneath the sky:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
Hats off!
The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State:
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;
March of a strong land's swift increase;
Equal justice, right and law,
Stately honor and reverend awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strong
To ward her people from foreign wrong:
Pride and glory and honor,--all
Live in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

A crying shame

Perhaps reflecting a Scottish heritage, and/or a Calvinist heritage, and/or a family culture, or perhaps simply a personal character trait, I abhor debt. Not as a sin in itself but as a temptation.

It can be, and often is, used for wonderful purposes to smooth out risk and achieve greater long term productivity. But it can also be used to postpone hard decisions and pull in consumption from the future to be achieved today, often in hope that someone else will end up paying.

It is bad enough at the personal level when you choose the appearance of an affluent lifestyle through leasing and zero-down mortgages with balloon payments, hoping, Micawber-like that something will turn up in the future to make the impossible equations work.

It is a national catastrophe when the debt is public because the mob has little self-control and is happy to be the beneficiary of a Wimpy deal, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." Everyone hopes that they can kick the can far enough down the road so that they are not around when the debt comes due. All our politicians do it and voters support them in doing so by never holding them accountable. The closest we came was during the Tea Party movement. A movement so dangerous that the establishment parties, government, media and academia turned their collective fire on the people's movement and drove it underground.

One of the most insidious forms of public debt are unfunded pension obligations. Insidious because they tend to be easy to hide but even more so because they distort the employment market, entail functional corruption, because they abrogate the compact between citizen and state, and because they represent a breach of trust. Government insiders conspire against the tax-paying public so that employees of the state live better than the tax-paying public.

It never ends well. As James Carville, adviser to President Bill Clinton, once said, were he to be reincarnated, he would choose to return as the bond market: he could then intimidate anyone.

The US is not in as bad a shape as many of our OECD colleagues but we are in bad shape. Debt servicing now outstrips the amount we spend on the military. And for all the good promises about investing in the future, the great majority of public spending is consumption, not services or investments.

The states tend to be a little better than the federal government, most of them having balanced-budge constitutions, but there is still a lot of smoke and mirrors and there are some hard falls to come in California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Missouri, etc. States which have buried evidence of vast unfunded pension obligations crowding out all the necessary services which citizens expect from their government - education, policing, road maintenance, etc.

The New York Times has a decent overview - A $76,000 Monthly Pension: Why States and Cities Are Short on Cash by Mary Williams Walsh. Rife with examples where citizens are expected to sacrifice everything for public sector employees.

The Boy, 1950 by Thomas Hart Benton

The Boy, 1950 by Thomas Hart Benton

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Buttercups and Daisies by Mary Howitt

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Buttercups and Daisies
by Mary Howitt

Buttercups and daisies,
⁠Oh, the pretty flowers,
Coming ere the spring time,
⁠To tell of sunny hours.
While the trees are leafless,
⁠While the fields are bare,
Buttercups and daisies
⁠Spring up here and there.

Ere the snowdrop peepeth,
⁠Ere the crocus bold,
Ere the early primrose
⁠Opes its paly gold,
Somewhere on the sunny bank
⁠Buttercups are bright;
Somewhere 'mong the frozen grass
⁠Peeps the daisy white.

Little hardy flowers,
⁠Like to children poor,
Playing in their sturdy health
⁠By their mother's door,
Purple with the north wind,
⁠Yet alert and bold;
Fearing not, and caring not,
⁠Though they be a-cold!

What to them is winter!
⁠What are stormy showers!
Buttercups and daisies
⁠Are these human flowers!
He who gave them hardships
⁠And a life of care,
Gave them likewise hardy strength
⁠And patient hearts to bear.

Gils Maricopa – CA HIGHWAY by Jeff Brouws

Gils Maricopa – CA HIGHWAY by Jeff Brouws

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Confirming the obvious can be progress

The question is interesting and this research contributes at the margin to our still emerging understanding. The question might be something on the order of "What are the circumstances which help drive greater levels of innovation?"

Who hasn't been puzzled by the clusters of innovation in the past? The sudden explosion of knowledge and philosophy in Greece circa 500BC. The astonishing experiment hatched by the incredible conglomeration of knowledge and talent of the Founding Fathers from Richmond to Boston in the mid-to-late 1700s in the America. The astonishing concentration of applied knowledge in Britain in the 1700s (the industrial revolution) and the separate knowledge generation in the 1800s. The incredible density of scientific discovery from Paris to Warsaw in the late 1800s. The Renaissance of Italy in the 1500s.

Such incredible explosions of knowledge, discovery and innovation in brief periods of time, in constrained geographies, involving small groups of extraordinary individuals. Why? What are the causal factors?

How important are local inventive milieus: The role of birthplace, high school and university education by Olof Ejermoa and Høgni Kalsø Hansen doesn't really answer those questions but it has a stab at some aspects.
• We find that the geography of inventors is uneven in Sweden.

• The location history of inventors indicate that local milieus matters.

• Parents educational has an effects on whether a person becomes an inventor.

• Place of higher education has strong effect on whether a person becomes an inventor.

• Birthplace has a strong effects on whether a person becomes an inventor.
Well, yeah. Family matters, education matters, milieu matters. Seems kind of obvious. However, in an environment of cognitive uncertainty, even confirming the obvious is progress.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning

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Rabbi Ben Ezra
by Robert Browning

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''

Not that, amassing flowers,
Youth sighed "Which rose make ours,
Which lily leave and then as best recall?"
Not that, admiring stars,
It yearned "Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!"

Not for such hopes and fears
Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark!
Rather I prize the doubt
Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.

Poor vaunt of life indeed,
Were man but formed to feed
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast:
Such feasting ended, then
As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

Rejoice we are allied
To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive!
A spark disturbs our clod;
Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.

Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!

For thence,—a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks,—
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale.

What is he but a brute
Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play?
To man, propose this test—
Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?

Yet gifts should prove their use:
I own the Past profuse
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
Eyes, ears took in their dole,
Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once "How good to live and learn?"

Not once beat "Praise be Thine!
I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:
Perfect I call Thy plan:
Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou shalt do!"

For pleasant is this flesh;
Our soul, in its rose-mesh
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest;
Would we some prize might hold
To match those manifold
Possessions of the brute,—gain most, as we did best!

Let us not always say,
"Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!"
As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry "All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!"

Therefore I summon age
To grant youth's heritage,
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
Thence shall I pass, approved
A man, for aye removed
From the developed brute; a god though in the germ.

And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.

Youth ended, I shall try
My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
And I shall weigh the same,
Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.

For note, when evening shuts,
A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the grey:
A whisper from the west
Shoots—"Add this to the rest,
Take it and try its worth: here dies another day."

So, still within this life,
Though lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last,
This rage was right i' the main,
That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now I have proved the Past."

For more is not reserved
To man, with soul just nerved
To act to-morrow what he learns to-day:
Here, work enough to watch
The Master work, and catch
Hints of the proper craft, tricks of the tool's true play.

As it was better, youth
Should strive, through acts uncouth,
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
So, better, age, exempt
From strife, should know, than tempt
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death nor be afraid!

Enough now, if the Right
And Good and Infinite
Be named here, as thou callest thy hand thine own
With knowledge absolute,
Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel alone.

Be there, for once and all,
Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past!
Was I, the world arraigned,
Were they, my soul disdained,
Right? Let age speak the truth and give us peace at last!

Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
Ten, who in ears and eyes
Match me: we all surmise,
They this thing, and I that: whom shall my soul believe?

Not on the vulgar mass
Called "work," must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
O'er which, from level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

But all, the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount:

Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped;
All I could never be,
All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.

Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
That metaphor! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay,—
Thou, to whom fools propound,
When the wine makes its round,
"Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!"

Fool! All that is, at all,
Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee,
That was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure.

He fixed thee mid this dance
Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
Machinery just meant
To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

What though the earlier grooves,
Which ran the laughing loves
Around thy base, no longer pause and press?
What though, about thy rim,
Skull-things in order grim
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress?

Look not thou down but up!
To uses of a cup,
The festal board, lamp's flash and trumpet's peal,
The new wine's foaming flow,
The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what need'st thou with earth's wheel?

But I need, now as then,
Thee, God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
Did I,—to the wheel of life
With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily,—mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:

So, take and use Thy work:
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!