Friday, December 30, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Traffic Lights Cause Car Accidents!

That's the opinion of the Minnesota's Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough in a controversy over local residents' request for a traffic signal at a busy intersection on St. Paul's east side: "He said Ramsey County found that a four-way signalized intersection could actually lead to an increase in the number of crashes because drivers speed up to beat the lights. . . . "A light will not make that intersection safer. It will cause more harm than anything else.” Further information on this interesting situation can be found here.

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If this is indeed true, then why are traffic signals needed at any intersection? The locals feel that the county's logic is being influenced by financial considerations. It's said that a traffic signal at the intersection would cost about $300,000. That's difficult to believe, a third of a million bucks for a traffic signal? Let's see a breakdown of the budget for such a project. In fact, if that were the case, wouldn't the traffic lights in even a mid-size city like St. Paul be worth about a zillion total dollars?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Miami FBI Headquarters

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This building is the headquarters of the Miami office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the FBI itself:

 Located at 2030 SW 145th Avenue, Miramar, FL, 33027 on a 20 acre site, the new building complex will achieve initial operating capability this week and be fully operational by the start of the new year. Beginning today, the new main line phone number to FBI Miami will be (754) 703-2000. The 330,000 square foot facility can seat more than 1,000 employees and includes surface and enclosed parking for 1,075 vehicles. It is LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environment Design, a green building certification program) certified gold for its interiors and a top-rated platinum for its core and shell. The move consolidates a number of local FBI facilities into one central location that provides FBI Miami employees with a state-of-the-art work place.

Designed by Chicago architecture firm Krueck+Sexton and constructed by Colorado-based Hensel Phelps Construction Co, its cost was said to be $156 million.

Additionally, a $750,000 wood sculpture by  German artist Ursula von Rydingsvard installed in the structure was found to have caused a dozen employees to be hospitalized for allergic reactions. Removing it to Maryland raised the total bill for the artistic end of the project to $1.2 million.

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"Cedrus", the 3/4 million dollar sculpture that became Kryptonite for the FBI.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Each Vote In 2016 Election Cost $13.16

According to these people, Mrs. Bill Clinton and her allies spent $1.2 billion on her failed attempt at winning the presidency and Mr. Donald J. Trump and his supporters spent $600 million to garner the most electoral votes. This site says that the total number of votes cast in the election  were 136,737,920. That means that in aggregate each vote cost $13.16. The individual cost would be slightly larger in view of the small amount spent by fringe candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, whose votes are included in the total.

Of course the individuals voting didn't receive the money. It was spent on television time, marketing, polls, signage, newspaper ads, etc. A quadrennial  Keynesian fiscal stimulus that goes right to the bottom line of the media, since they don't need to pay the actors.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


In the current battle between the civilized West and the medieval Middle East, news accounts are quick to point out the barbarous behavior of ISIS toward its enemies. One of the most unspeakable crimes committed by these monsters is the beheading of their enemies.

There’s several dimensions to this issue. In the case of beheading, it seems that there’s been a change in attitudes toward the practice. A few hundred years ago beheading must have been regarded favorably in the West. First of all, we know this from the history of western art. Two of the most frequent subjects of European art, when its focus was on religion, were the stories of David and Goliath and Judith and Holofernes.

Countless paintings and sculptures were made of the combat between the heroic Israelite champion David and his giant Philistine opponent Goliath. Many of these art works depicted the immediate aftermath of the conflict, David holding the severed head of Goliath. This beheading was apparently seen as a positive event by Christians. 

Gustave Dore', David and Goliath 1866

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One of the great heroines of the Old Testament and Christianity was the widow Judith. She offered herself to the Assyrian leader Holofernes and after catching him in a weak moment decapitated the fellow, turning an Israelite defeat into victory. This was the subject of European art works for centuries.
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The English used beheading for even fairly mundane crimes during the late medieval as well as for more serious offenses. Henry VIII wanted to be shet of his wife Anne Boleyn. She was accused and convicted of adultery and treason and lost her noggin to the axe on 19 May 1536.

 Perhaps the most consequential English beheading was that of King Charles I in 1649. It was a seminal event in the English Civil War and after the Stuarts, in the person of Charles II, returned to power, three of those that had signed the king's death warrant and died in the interim were disinterred, hung and beheaded. Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell was one of them. His head was displayed in public on a pike for eighteen years afterward.

The last English beheading was of Simon Fraser,11th Lord Lovat, in 1747, although the punishment was a part of UK law until 1973.

At some point, however, beheading must have lost its lustre. Maybe after the French Revolution, since the Guillotine, a mechanized head removal device, was invented then to speed the process along. In the case of judicial capital punishment, beheading was never popular in the American colonies, hanging being the preferred method. In fact, killing without intentionally disfiguring the victim became the norm. This was reflected in the shock and dismay displayed by Americans when it was revealed that native Americans routinely dismembered US cavalrymen killed in battle, cutting off their arms, legs and genitalia. Even now Yankees are upset by the desecration of their fighting men while being little disturbed by members of either side being blown to smithereens by artillery, bombs or even atomic weapons.

As in all funereal practices, it's basically a scientific fact that nothing that's done to a corpse can be felt by the former owner, no matter if it's believed that the individual is on his way to paradise or the depths of hell. Beheading then is an affront to the sensibilities of the living. That's why the bad guys  do it. To offend the survivors, and intimidate them. It seems to be working.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Politics and the English Language

In 1946 English writer George Orwell composed an essay that included this:

"The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot. The Soviet Press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Is It A Frans Hals Or Ain't It?

This portrait was determined to be produced by the hand of 16th century Dutch artist Frans Hals, which led to its subsequent sale for $10 million. Now it seems that it's not.

Which makes one wonder why the works of Hals or any other artist should be worth such fabulous sums of money if experts can't reliably tell one from another.