Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I see no past, I see no future

This is a crass discussion of making money through investments, by a blogger who not infrequently natters on about spiritual growth. If you think the two subjects have nothing to do with one another, you are an Enlightened Being or a trust fund baby.

Money can't buy happiness, but to a certain extent it can buy time. Not necessarily by lengthening your lifespan (although sometimes it is a factor there), but by allowing you more often to put aside worries about getting and spending  and instead meditating, praying, or following whatever spiritual practice you choose.

This is the moment that comes each year when the financial media -- all the way from relatively sophisticated ones like Barron's to simplistic fodder for the masses like Money -- try to tell you (a) what happened to investments this past year and (b) what will happen to them next year. Both are equally pointless.

If you've been paying attention, you know (at least in a general way) what happened to money, especially yours, in 2014. If not, why read about it now?

But that's not too important. Subject (b) is important because it can set you on a wrong course and thin your purse.

Virtually all these articles are based on predictions. After many years of following the markets, I'm inclined to say nothing is as malevolent toward your wealth as predictions.

Everyone is in on the game, from callow financial journalists to supposedly all-star fund and hedge managers. The predictions are most often based on the trend-is-your-friend, or straight-line, fallacy: what will happen next is what is happening now, only more so.

But nothing is as dead sure in the investment world as trends changing, with mind-bending speed sometimes. Financial gurus who should know better tend to reduce investment trends to analogues of the laws of physics. On a macro level, at least, physical laws are calculable because they always work. Gravity doesn't change its mind. When you see a video of astronauts in a space capsule floating around like fish in a tank, it's not because gravity is on holiday, but because they are beyond its influence from the Earth.

Interest rates, the price of oil and other commodities, new technology, and every other factor affecting prices of your investments aren't subject to laws. Or, to be more precise, they're subject to so many laws that the variables are for practical purposes infinite.

Right now the investment world is bouncing off the walls trying to predict the fallout from oil prices, which have sunk 40 percent from their last high point. Petro prices have always been cyclical, although this time it's a little steep. But Howard Marks, who runs the hedge fund Oaktree Capital, tries to do the near-impossible and inject some good sense into the discussion (in a letter to his shareholders reproduced at Market Folly):
The usual starting point for forecasting something is its current level. Most forecasts extrapolate, perhaps making modest adjustments up or down. In other words, most forecasting is done incrementally, and few predictors contemplate order-of-magnitude changes. Thus I imagine that with Brent crude around $110 six months ago, the bulls were probably predicting $115 or $120 and the bears $105 or $100.
Forecasters usually stick too closely to the current level, and on those rare occasions when they call for change, they often underestimate the potential magnitude. Very few people predicted oil would decline significantly, and fewer still mentioned the possibility that we would see $60 within six months.
Turning to the second aspect of “the failure of imagination” and going beyond the inability of most people to imagine extreme outcomes, the current situation with oil also illustrates how difficult it is to understand the full range of potential ramifications.
Most people easily grasp the immediate impact of developments, but few understand the “second-order” consequences . . . as well as the third and fourth. When these latter factors come to be reflected in asset prices, this is often referred to as “contagion.”
Everyone knew in 2007 that the sub-prime crisis would affect mortgage-backed securities and home builders, but it took until 2008 for them to worry equally about banks and the rest of the economy. ...
Further, it’s hard for most people to understand the self-correcting aspects of economic events. 
o A decline in the price of gasoline induces people to drive more, increasing the demand for oil.
o A decline in the price of oil negatively impacts the economics of drilling, reducing additions to supply.
o A decline in the price of oil causes producers to cut production and leave oil in the ground to be sold later at higher prices. 
In all these ways, lower prices either increase the demand for oil or reduce the supply, causing the price of oil to rise (all else being equal). In other words, lower oil prices – in and of themselves – eventually make for higher oil prices. This illustrates the dynamic nature of economics.
If you can't foresee limitless factors weighing on the price of your holdings, or potential holdings, what can you do to tip the odds in your favor? I don't believe anyone has a perfect answer to that. The best I know of is to have a wide range of asset classes in your book. I'd also tend to avoid putting much money on individual companies, whose future is determined by even more unpredictable factors than market sectors. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

I'd been looking forward to A Most Wanted Man, based on the John le Carré novel of post–Cold War espionage. I like the spy genre and le Carré, for all his sour attitude about the trade (understandable, since he himself used to practice it), usually writes a good story.

But a bunch of things have gone wrong with the film version, including that it's impossible to watch without knowing uncomfortably that it was Philip Seymour Hoffman's last role before he died of a lethal mixture of heroin and prescription drugs. We might as well get that aspect of the review out of the way first, since it appears in the lead of almost every article about the picture.

I haven't seen all his films, but it's obvious that he was one of the handful of actors working at any given time who is more than technically proficient. (Acting craftsmanship is quite an achievement and I'm not damning it with faint praise, but theatrical schools these days must be doing something right, since they turn out lots of players who are up to the job.) But Hoffman had, besides technique, a special haunting presence that drew you in, made you identify with him even if you hated the character.

I'm mad at him -- the person, now in the afterlife. He doesn't seem to have intended to kill himself, but he was surely smart enough to know heroin is dangerous, let alone in combination with other drugs. He not only cheated himself out of what would have included other exceptional roles, but deprived the profession and the public of them as well.

All right, the movie. It's almost needless to say Hoffman is the sun around which everything revolves. As usual, he's compelling, although I think he has one overplayed moment at the climax. Otherwise the casting is a mixed bag, and no mistake. Nina Hoss, Willem Dafoe, and Robin Wright are good. But Rachel McAdams, the female lead, supplies nothing but attitude spinning.

The yarn concerns Issa, an illegal Muslim Chechen refugee who shows up in Hamburg to give away a huge financial legacy from his father, a brutal and corrupt military man. Maybe my mind was wandering, but I never got why he had to sneak into Germany, a country that for years has welcomed immigrants unrestrictedly with such generosity that lately street demos in Dresden have begun to bust out.

Grigoriy Dobrygin (Issa) is so inexpressive that he disappears before the scenes he's in are over. He does have one moment of character development: he shaves off his beard. Homayoun Ershadi, as a respectable, supposedly charity-supporting money launderer for terrorists who wants to bag Issa's treasury, seems to be trying to make an art form out of boredom.

Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), a German intelligence officer operating outside the official agencies so he can do things they aren't allowed to, is forced to try to convince various bureaucrats of the other intelligence services of his plan to trap the big-time money launderer. Naturally they are all portrayed as gray, inhuman functionaries -- a standard le Carré theme. It may be realistic but this is supposed to be a drama, not a wax museum.

A Most Wanted Man must have had a fairly big budget to include well-known actors, but you wouldn't know it from Anton Corbijn's direction. With most of Hamburg available, the whole movie looks like it takes place in five or six locations, including that contemporary cliché the spies in a trailer full of listening and recording instruments. 

Other settings, too, lack originality. All we see is that this city seems sleek and soulless, a monument to empty materialism. That may be realistic as well, since Hamburg was largely burned to ashes by Allied bombers in 1943 and the postwar rebuilding presumably took the form of metallic and glass modernism. But none of the background has any story to tell, any impression to add to the obvious.

Le Carré appears in one of the DVD's special features, typically explaining in his Oxford-educated drawl how rotten the West is and how prejudiced against Muslims.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A day for letting go

 To be born twice is no more strange 
than to be born once.

— Voltaire

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday -- I don't -- it seems to me anyone of any faith or lack of faith can use the occasion to contemplate the mystery of birth, physical and (if one chooses) spiritual.

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting," Wordsworth wrote: we forget our prior life or lives. They need to be let go of so we can have a more or less blank screen on which the experiences and lessons of our present existence can be viewed without distraction.

I think a temporary sleep and forgetting are the key to being reborn within this life. They are even tougher than physical birth, which don't (as far as we know) involve much mental struggle. Maybe it is easier, albeit still not easy, if we drop the struggle, don't think of it as effort.

On this day when much of the world recognizes what it believes to have been a divine birth -- or, for that matter, any day -- we can try to let go, if only for an hour, a minute.

Let go of collected resentments.

Let go of righteous anger.

Forgo plans, wishes, even hopes. Close the door on philosophy and theology for a few moments; yes, even your ideas about Christmas.

Put aside noise, distractions, appetites. Hard to do if you are celebrating with kin or friends, but it's possible to find a brief, quiet parenthesis sometime amid the festivity.

Let it all go. Drop out of time. Just be.

Maybe something new will be born in you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Should lawyers be barred from lawmaking?

Lawyers dominate the political landscape. According to one estimate, "Out of a total of 435 U.S. Representatives and 100 Senators (535 total in Congress), lawyers comprise the biggest voting block of one type, making up 43% of Congress. Sixty percent of the U.S. Senate is lawyers." A legal reform site says:
Since the time of de Tocqueville (1841), students of American government have noted the over representation of lawyers in American politics (se e.g., Hyneman 1940; Hurst 1950; Matthews 1954, 1960; Schlesinger 1957; Derge 1959; Eulau and Sprague 1964; Keefe and Ogul 1989: 117-18). And it seems that the more important the political office, the more lawyers who occupy that office.
I can't find equivalent data for state legislatures but they are probably more or less the same.

The percentage of lawyers holding legislative office doesn't tell the whole story. Every Senator and Congressman has at least one lawyer on the staff to draft bills or try to figure out the meaning of bills introduced by others. It would not be surprising if most legislators who go before a committee to argue for or against a proposed law had to be briefed beforehand to have the thinnest concept of what's in it.

There's more. The U.S. government was designed to have three branches that, it was hoped, would check and balance one another -- legislative, judicial, and executive. One hundred percent of judicial officeholders are lawyers. Currently, the clown who looks in his mirror and imagines he sees a president is a lawyer.

Lawyers win their reputations in combat against the other side in legal cases. (The exceptions are those who write wills and contracts, but they are generally not political candidate material.) That's not a criticism: it's their job to defend the interests of their clients aggressively. It can get ugly, but it's probably the best system that can be devised given human nature.

But what works for court cases does not work for the national good. A predilection for verbal mud wrestling works against sensible legislation based on reasonable accommodation among conflicting interests. In the past, legislative debate often took place between educated lawyers who knew about the history of government and could quote Solon, Cicero, and Gladstone. They made cases for their ideas. Today their rhetoric has degenerated into insulting other politicians.
Worse still, lawyers in government tend to live in a mental world where words substitute for content ("I would remind the honorable Senator that this bill includes language that specifies ... "). Language is the alpha and omega, rather than thought about the real-world consequences of legislation.

Lawyers are taught that the law is a society's defense against tyranny. Mmmm, yes and no. Good, sensible laws lubricate daily life and minimize friction. But laws per se are neither good nor bad. They can be stupid and put sand in the gears. And they can be way surplus to requirements. It is often noted that there are so many federal, state, and local statutes on the books that none of us can go a day without violating several of them. Most aren't enforced, of course -- unless a prosecutor wants to kneecap us.

Not long after our founders struggled to create a Constitution, Edmund Burke in Britain strenuously argued that laws cannot by themselves guarantee civil order. At most they define the limits of what is permissible; but relying on legal definitions imposes no internal sense among the population of what is proper in dealing with their neighbors and countrymen.

That sense has to arise from general agreement, sometimes not even spoken, in the realm of shared values. Those values are "enforced," so to speak, by assumptions of the culture and passed along through informal channels and private organizations. The more the government tries to legislate every question arising from individual behavior, the less responsibility individuals assume for their own ethical code. They gradually absorb the attitude that lawmakers will tell them what is right and wrong, and that's all they need to know. Accused of malfeasance, the standard reply is now, "I didn't do anything illegal."

Almost by definition, lawyers think passing new laws is progress. The opposite is true. We should have a principle that to institute a new law, an old one needs to be scuppered. There should be fewer, not more, laws.

But the lawyer mentality has seeped into the minds, if you can call them that, of the journalistic cabal. How many times have you read something like, "Congress failed to pass ... " as though not passing a bill, or rejecting it as bad policy, is shameful? 

Naturally, lawyers aren't going to vote themselves out of access to the trough, any more than they will go for term limits. Such reforms can only happen should there be a major upheaval in our national life. But the idea ought to be kept alive in case that happens.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Message in an electronic bottle

Still trying to get permission from the owner of our new, rented house in Fredericksburg to have Verizon Fios connect us with the outside world. Meantime, no phone, no internet, no TV. (This is written on a library computer.) It's a good thing I like to read. I have hooked up systems to play CDs and DVDs, which helps meet my felt need for entertainment.

As for Reflecting Light, I am pawing at the track to return to normal publication. With a spot of luck it won't be long.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

News from Planet Fredericksburg

The move is over but not done. A house full of boxes that grudgingly allow people and cats to make their way by. Complications with Verizon Fios -- they can't decide whether they need to run an optical fiber cable from the street, and since the house is a rental, I told them I would have to get permission from the real estate management. They, in turn, are hard to reach (especially with only a cell phone).

Still driving up to the old house in Falls Church several times a week to collect leftover stuff from the basement and clean up.

Very tedious to be without home Internet (I'm writing this at the library). It will get sorted out at some point. Meanwhile I have little idea what's going on in the world (although a couple of days ago at a wi-fi hot spot I checked Lucianne on my iPad and it seemed like nothing much has changed). The same boring old doom.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On down the line

The long-anticipated time has finally arrived. My wife, the cats, and I will quit our home of 12 years in Falls Church, Virginia (a near-in suburb of Washington) and resettle in Fredericksburg, about halfway between D.C. and Richmond. Not that far in miles; but what a difference in, uh, just about everything. I expect to write several postings about the new locale.

I'll miss the culture available in D.C.; not that much else. It will still be feasible to drive to Washington to visit a Smithsonian Museum or hear a concert, but a right pain to get there and back. It involves a round trip on the Hell Road, otherwise known as Interstate 95, not only choked with cars piloted by demonic drivers, but a 50-mile construction site. Maybe the road work will improve motoring conditions, maybe it's a payoff for unions supporting some troglodyte politician. Probably both.

Those who know the history of The War (in 'Burg, you don't have to specify which) are aware that two ghastly battles took place in and near the town, in 1862 and 1863, respectively. The second was at Salem Church, now in the midst of suburban development; we will be living a couple of miles from there.

For me, besides the usual turmoil of a house move, this has a kind of existential quality about it. Clearly it is a shift from one phase of life to another. I know it will be a major change, to possibly the last place I will inhabit in this lifetime. We'll see how it goes. But for sure, my wife won't have to navigate the 95 anymore to get to her work. Thank God.

Reflecting Light will go "dark" (as they say in the theater) for at least a week, possibly longer, till I get my internet connection set up again. I hope you'll check back. So long for now.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Herbert Blomstedt's Bruckner 8th

To  relieve the tedium and stress of shifting house, I got me a recommended recording of Bruckner's Symphony no. 8. (Even for Bruckner, the piece has an especially complicated history of revisions, including some made long after the composer had passed from the scene; this seems to be the pure Robert Haas edition -- as if I could tell).

The recommendation was by Stephen Chakwin, in the May/June 2008 American Record Guide. To my way of thinking, Mr. Chakwin is the best reviewer of classical music in the business today. (He has another business -- he's a lawyer.)

The recording is of a live concert with Herbert Blomstedt conducting the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. It was his farewell as the music director after several years of leading the orchestra in the '90s. I was in the audience for this same crew in Tucson when they were on tour.

My reaction on hearing it for the first time was a mixture of exhilaration and disappointment. The orchestra is world-class, although many other first-rate ensembles have played the symphony. Blomstedt is a gifted musician who doesn't indulge in eccentricities or exaggerated point-making. Many felicities of the score have been carefully polished. Strings and horns are partners, not adversaries, their colors mixing in extraordinary ways. For once, the harp in the Adagio actually seems to be part of the fabric of the music, not embroidery.

So what was disappointing? Comparisons are odious, but who can avoid them? My favorite versions have been Furtwängler (1944) and Karajan (1988), both -- interestingly -- with the Vienna Philharmonic. God bless Maestro Blomstedt, but he is no Furtwängler and he is no Karajan. Blomstedt's style struck me as stern, with too much stop-and-start even for music that incorporates pauses as a key element.

Of course I often change my mind after a first listen. I was keen to play the recording again after two days, a good sign.

Sure enough, I had a sudden insight that came to me long after it should have, much later than I expect most Bruckner enthusiasts have rumbled it. Bruckner lived and worked in the Romantic period of the late 19th century, but he is not a Romantic composer. (Even Symphony no. 4, nicknamed "Romantic," is at most so only in comparison with Bruckner's others.) The musical landscape at the time was divided into opposing camps, followers of Brahms and followers of Wagner. Bruckner, as I have read many times, practically worshiped Wagner. But the stylistic association somehow always escaped me.

You can play Bruckner in a romantic way, as Karl Böhm (also with Vienna!) and Bruno Walter did, and achieve wonders. But I've finally "gotten it" that Bruckner modeled his expression after Wagner. There is a difference, though: Bruckner absorbed Wagner's brilliant dramatism, but overlaid it with a spiritual dimension that was deeply important to him.

A good deal of Blomstedt's interpretation snapped into place the second time I heard his recording. Still, the great Adagio is too insistent and unloving -- if only he had treated it with the sweet delicacy he brought to the trio (the soft middle section) of the Scherzo! In a performance like this, we need relaxation and gentility in the midst of the rocky climb to beatitude.

The recording is remarkably true, especially considering it was taken in a live performance, probably one performance (many live recordings are patchworks from different nights). As Mr. Chakwin says, "You will have as close to a Bruckner orchestra in your home as your sound equipment can deliver."

The producer has insisted on the typically idiotic practice for live recordings of including applause -- both before and after the concert. At least he had the decency to put it on separate tracks so you can program it out.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Cat scratch fever

Our forthcoming house move is probably going to be upsetting for the cats. Unavoidable, but there it is. We are abandoning some old furniture as not worth hauling and will be getting, at the least, a new sofa. And we'd just as soon les chats would refrain from sharpening their claws on it.

My wife bought a scratching mat for them at Trader Joe's, of all places. I thought cats liked upright posts to keep their claws in condition, but this item is a horizontal box that lies on the floor; the interior is made of cardboard in a miniature honeycomb pattern.

Also supplied was a bag of catnip -- organic, if you please, and I hope gluten-free -- which the instructions said to place on the box to get the animals in the mood. We sprinkled some of the catnip as directed, then left to take some boxes of stuff to our soon-to-be residence.

Returning a few hours later, we found that Matisse had gone for the catnip in a big way. Not only did he apparently clean out the box, but found the bag with the remainder, knocked it off a shelf, and enjoyed another helping served on the floor.

Cosette exhibited more decorum. She does not seem to care to scratch the box, but it is now a favored location for her to sit and watch the world go by.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Birth of a non-nation: U.S. citizenship on sale! Buy now, (we'll) pay later!

Is there no limit to the perversions the Failed Messiah will sink to if it will help fundamentally transform the United States into a leftist, third world state?

From the Daily Caller:
President Barack Obama’s administration has decided to let the surrogate birth industry sell U.S. citizenship — and access to the U.S. welfare system — to foreign parents who never even set foot in the United States.

The fertility clinics will be able to pocket the profits, after granting access to American education, health, welfare and retirement services to the foreign children and the foreign parents. ...

The change means that a woman who is a U.S. citizen can be hired by a reproductive medical clinic to become pregnant overseas and to give birth in China, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else, and then effectively hand a U.S. passport to the baby.
It will probably be only a drop in the ocean of new U.S. "citizens," or at least occupants, our demented emperor plans once the election is past.

If the Grand Poo-Bah had a cell of integrity in his body, he'd acknowledge the policy publicly. And rightly be condemned as a wannabe dictator who gets his way by non-constitutional means. But it took a determined independent reporter to ferret out the plan. The mainstream media will no doubt cover for him, as they do for the rest of his sneaky tactics for population replacement of the country whose interests he supposedly represents.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Canada: Here's your multiculturalism in action

When you emerge from your flight at the Toronto airport, you are greeted by dozens of smiling faces. Not actual people, you dig, but photos gracing the walls -- of representatives of every conceivable race and previous nationality. We are the World!

If a new tribe is discovered in the back of beyond at the source of the source of the Amazon, the Canadian government will move time out of the way to get a photograph of a tribal member and make him a Canadian citizen before you can say Family of Man.

Will Canada's Establishment learn anything from the terrorist shootings inspired by Islam? Unlikely. Its response will be memorials of flowers and teddy bears for the victims. Start being sensible about immigration? Are you out of your mind?

Canada's proud new identity is non-identity. Those English-looking historic government buildings in Ottawa ... what an embarrassment.

Naturally, Canadian officialdom's post-mortem on the killings steers wide of any discussion of who is admitted to the country, or why Islam is welcome to spread its influence. The response is the usual menu of excuses and hanky-twisting. From the WaPo:
The man police said carried out the shooting here Wednesday arrived in the city less than three weeks earlier so that he could get a passport and fly to Syria.
However, in a sign of how difficult it can be to determine who may pose a threat, police said Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau was not one of the roughly 90 “high-risk travelers” the authorities have been monitoring because they are suspected of wanting to join extremists fighting overseas.

“These are difficult threats to detect,” Bob Paulson, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the agency investigating the shooting, said during a briefing Thursday. “There is no way of knowing where or when such an attack could take place.”
Like every Western nation, Canada's answer to terrorism is to play a game of cat and mouse. Don't deny anyone admission because they are part of a primitive, aggressive socio-religious cult. That would be raaay-ciiiist. Once they arrive, try to keep an eye on a handful of them who look most suspicious. Yeah, that really works. Just ask Nathan Crillo. Oh, wait: you can't.
“We do have information now that suggests an association with some individuals who may have shared his radical views,” Paulson said. He later elaborated by saying that Zehaf-Bibeau’s e-mail was found in the hard drive of a person who has been charged with “a terrorism-related offense,” Paulson said.
But Paulson cautioned that this is a weak connection and that police still need to figure out what that means.
The Mountie commissioner is a little slow off the mark. Quite a few others, even in Ellis Island North, have figured out what it means.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Virginia Hospital Center did refuse to admit potential Ebola patient

The story about the woman who was sick at a Pentagon parking lot and suspected of being an Ebola victim has almost disappeared down the memory hole. It was all a mix-up. Forget it, Jake. It's Ebolatown.

I had, and still have, questions. Previously I asked, "Why was she not admitted to the Virginia Hospital Center ... and admitted to Fairfax Inova? Did VHC have no vacancies for potential Ebola patients?"

Today we learn, from a site called ARLnow (the ARL stands for Arlington county, I presume):
Virginia Hospital Center refused to admit the potential Ebola patient from the Pentagon on Friday, according to county officials, despite the hospital saying two weeks earlier that it was ready to handle such patients.

Responding to an inquiry from today, the Arlington County Fire Department confirmed reports that VHC refused the woman — who at the time was thought to potentially have the deadly Ebola virus — when medics brought her to the hospital. She never left the ambulance.
The explanation was also reported on the news at WMAL, Washington's conservative talk radio station.

If VHC was unable to deal effectively with an Ebola case, and Fairfax Inova was, I can't blame VHC for sending her on -- after all, meeting the patient's needs comes first. According to the ARLnow story, though: "Earlier this month ... VHC told TV station WUSA 9 that it was ready to deal with potential Ebola patients."

You also have to factor in that two weeks ago VHC was following the CDC protocols, which seem to have been inadequate in Dallas. Maybe VHC genuinely thought it was prepared earlier, and now believed it wasn't. On the other hand, it would have been a crushing blow to VHC's "business" to have a patient who turned out to have Ebola virus.

The article added:
Arlington County officials also have confirmed that the patient had not traveled to West Africa, as she allegedly first told authorities. In fact, she had not left the country at all, the county said, and had no contact with other potentially infected people.

“She had stated that she had traveled to Sierra Leone at the scene and did exhibit symptoms consistent with Ebola, so responders took all appropriate steps,” said Diana Sun, Arlington County’s Director of Communications. “There was an investigative process that went beyond Arlington. During the course of this, people close to the patient were interviewed and stated that she had not left the country. The patient herself, later in the afternoon, recanted her story and said that she had not left the country. When that last piece came in, public health officials felt confident in not pursuing” further testing for the Ebola virus.
Who investigated the woman's story? Who determined that the case was closed? Why would she claim to have been in Sierra Leone? She was reported to work at a Washington public relations agency, so while she may have been accustomed to being economical with the truth, probably she was not psychotic.

What disturbs me most is the apparent lack of curiosity on the part of the mainstream media. No one, except this independent ARLnow site, seems to have had any interest in following the story further, despite its puzzling aspects.

I'm not recommending we get hysterical over possible Ebola cases. But that's no reason to take them casually, either. If you think you can handle it, look at the photos of Ebola victims at Google Images. Too much for me; I closed the page as soon as I found the photo of the virus at the head of this posting.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pentagonal virus?

I've probably used up all my tokens for describing events as "surrealistic." Yet I can't come up with a better word for the flap over the Ebola virus.

Most recently, this:
Arlington County Fire Department and Fairfax County HAZMAT Teams are on the scene after a woman - alleged to have recently traveled from Liberia - fell ill and started vomiting in The Pentagon parking lot this morning. Arlington Public Health has activated its Emergency Operations Center to manage the incident. ...
"During the response, the individual allegedly indicated that she had recently visited western Africa. Out of an abundance of caution, all pedestrian and vehicular traffic was suspended around the South Parking lot, while Arlington County responded to the scene," Arlington officials said.

The situation started at around 9:10 a.m. when the woman started vomiting in the Pentagon Parking Lot around lanes 17-19, officials said.

Arlington County Fire Department transported the woman to the Virginia Hospital Center, but she did not exit the ambulance there. She was then taken to Fairfax Inova Hospital, officials said.
Why was she not admitted to the Virginia Hospital Center (where my wife and I have both been treated several times) and admitted to Fairfax Inova (my address for two weeks when I had a heart operation)? Did VHC have no vacancies for potential Ebola patients?

Now the Washington Post has awoken and found it was all a dream:
A woman who caused concern near the Pentagon and a four-hour quarantine on a bus in the District does not have Ebola, Arlington and Fairfax County officials confirmed on Friday. ...

At about 5 p.m., the two counties’ health departments said in a statement that she did not have the virus. The hospital said in a statement that she did not meet the criteria to be tested for Ebola.

Two officials with knowledge of the incident said they do not believe the woman has recently traveled out of the United States. Mary Curtis, an Arlington County spokeswoman, said that she does not know why county officials initially believed the patient had been in west Africa, but that the county’s health department no longer believes that to be the case.

Steve Gordon, the woman’s boss at the public relations firm Total Spectrum, said the woman was suffering a severe illness and he does not think she has ever left the country. 
While it may have been a false alarm, the story doesn't quite add up.

According to another news report (I just clicked the link and the story has disappeared): "The Pentagon said in a statement: " 'During the response, the individual indicated that she had recently visited Africa.' " What kind of illness makes one hallucinate having been to Africa? What was the source of the Pentagon's information?

Why did the Arlington County spokeswoman say she had no idea where the idea of the patient's having been in Africa came from? Could she have been unaware of the Pentagon statement? I wouldn't necessarily believe either the Pentagon or a county PR person, but this is an odd case of he-said, she-said. How would Arlington County so quickly determine the patient's recent whereabouts?

This incident came a day or two after the CDC director told a Congressman that "the administration fears a travel ban from affected countries would hurt fragile West African economies." Americans' health and well-being? Eh. President Obola knows his priorities.

If the woman who fell ill at the Pentagon was not a virus carrier, well, we'll just have to import them.
While the bipartisan voice grows to ban Ebola victims from entering the United States, a new report claims that President Obama is considering a plan to bring the world’s Ebola patients to the United States to be treated.

Judicial Watch, the conservative public watchdog group, says in a shocking report that the president is “actively formulating plans” to admit Ebola-infected non-citizens just to be treated. 
“Specifically, the goal of the administration is to bring Ebola patients into the United States for treatment within the first days of diagnosis,” said the group.
Maybe you can chalk this up to another tactic in "our" president's plan for population replacement. Of course, the infectees might fail to cooperate, dying before they can vote Democrat. But surely their spouses, children, aunts, uncles, and grandparents will be welcome. It's only fair.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Metaphysically challenged

The Guardian, the U.K.'s guardian of leftist ideology, ran a story headlined "Do ghosts exist? Four theories on our fascination with apparitions."

The interviewees -- a priest, an Oxford lecturer, a Guardian writer, and a university psychologist -- say no, no, no, and no. Perish the thought that a genuine psychical researcher or two might have been consulted to liven up the discussion. The Left is gung-ho on diversity in everything except opinion.

Samples from each person quoted:
 ... In all cultures and times there is something here that won't go away; some fear that is legitimately being expressed – the continual return of the repressed. And the simple point that ghosts don't exist (obviously they don't, by the way) doesn't cut it. 

While they may be linked to the past, ghosts endure in and are renovated by the cultural imagination of the present.

Who knows what accounts for these apparitions; are they an emanation of longing, love, hope, need?  ... Perhaps we see ghosts because they help us to adjust, a hand reaching out to administer to the sudden, appalling wrench.

Not surprisingly perhaps, fantasy-prone personalities are much more likely to report having encountered a ghost. Our fear of our own mortality plays an important role in belief in ghosts. Most of us desperately want to believe in life after death – and the idea of ghosts, however scary, seems to offer support for such a notion.
It is obvious that these deep thinkers are unfamiliar with the scientific -- scientific -- literature of more than a century of research on the subject. They may be distinguished in their respective fields (what is the field of a Guardian writer? Queer theory?), but this story is equivalent to asking football coaches their views on nuclear power generation.

None of them appears to have the faintest idea that "apparitions" represent more than one type of phenomenon.

Hauntings are not the same as spirit return. The former, which generally consist of continual appearances of a figure at the same place, seem as best we can determine non-physical evidence left in a certain environment, often as the result of a traumatic incident there. These "ghosts" are not conscious (in our normal sense) persons or spirits.

Actual spirits do represent conscious entities on the Other Side who can sometimes communicate, directly or via noncorporeal beings called "controls," with psychically sensitive living individuals (mediums). No medium I have ever heard of calls them or thinks or them as "ghosts."

The reader comments are even more revealing of the current state of life in neo-Marxist cultures like Britain. Item:
What you have to realise is that ghosts are actually feminists fundamentally opposed to the rigid patriarchical boundaries created by men. Only in death do they see the light, and only in women do they seek solace and an escape from their past.

Either that, or all ghosts are the spirits of male university students still trying to inappropriately grope unavailable women, before returning to their spectral frat-house to chug ghost beer and sing ghost songs.
Of course ghosts exist. The Easter Bunny told me so himself.
And that's not all. Many of the comments take their erasers not only to "ghosts," but to God.
The evidence for the existence of ghosts is slim, however, the evidence of the existence of god is even slimmer.

The psychological explanation for why people believe in ghosts is no different from religion: some people are not prepared to accept that this life is all there is. That warrants compassion but not congratulations on their "wisdom".
The exciting news is that wilfully embracing a life free from the oppressive shadow of God the Father is wonderfully liberating.
My impression is that the U.K., living under CultMarx, is only the most obvious example of European countries where the majority of people have no spiritual beliefs. Centuries-old churches are converted into dance clubs or mosques. I still find it a little shocking. There has been nothing like this before in all history that I know of.

Sure, you can point to batty "religions" among primitive tribes (although I'll concede that shamans and such have sometimes been in touch with higher realms). The first two great Western civilizations, Greece and Rome, had a cast of Gods that may seem to us today like a cross between creative fantasy and soap opera. (Individual skeptics like Lucretius, Seneca, and Cicero were outliers). Christianity has been perverted at times into persecution of dissenters and sickening religious wars.

But a whole culture based purely on materialism and things that can be measured in the physical world?

That cannot prevail, leaving out as it does the dimensions of Truth that lie behind our limited and relative truths. What it will do to people's minds in the meantime, though, sends a chill wind through this world.