Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jon Stewart Closing Speech

Is Minimalism a Fad?

Trendy nonsense.

This is just an attempt to make money by selling a lifestyle.

This is the new real estate scam: selling psychological ‘guilt-free’ living.

10 years from now all these ‘minimalists’ will be bcak to their old ways, just like the Boomers got square during the Reagan years. Right now, these yuppies are converting their reduced income into a ‘smugness’ account so that they can continue to feel superior to the ‘unenlightened’ down the block.

Is Less More?

Is Minimalism a Fad?

Are we all a bunch of posers who are jumping on the minimalism bandwagon?

* * *

First of all, I want to say that is one hell of a comment. It sparked at least two whole blog posts from other bloggers, and I am now adding a third one.

For myself, I have always been a minimalist. I haven't always used that term to describe myself because it didn't exist. I've just always lived a simple lifestyle. My family and friends used to make jokes about my frugality, my spartan furnishings, and my bare walls. The reality is that I don't need a lot of stuff to live or enjoy my life. I like having money in the bank and being able to pay my bills and not worry about stuff. I hate clutter.

I am hesitant to use the term "minimalist" to describe myself because I tend to be more like Henry David Thoreau than Mies van der Rohe. But I've been like this my entire adult life. But I should go ahead and embrace the term. I believe that less is more. When you cut the crap out of your life, you are left with the quality. You are left with what matters. To this extent, I identify as a minimalist.

For others, I think of the Great Depression generation and their habits of frugality. Those habits remained through the 50's, the 60's, the 70's, and on. They never forgot those times. Similarly, the people who have taken a wallop during this Great Recession won't forget either. Going from a McMansion to sleeping in your car has a way of changing your perspective on things. You can never take anything for granted.

What changed? Clearly, the Great Recession has done a lot for voluntary simplicity. But will it end when the recession ends? Almost certainly. People love to buy shit. I hear stories now of people living in the overpriced homes they stopped making payments on and using that cash to buy more consumer items and hoping Uncle Obama will send them a relief package.

These trends have always been with us. Here is the original minimalist--Epicurus:

It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

A free life cannot acquire many possessions, because this is not easy to do without servility to mobs or monarchs.

Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

These ideas are not new. The bottom line is that our needs are finite, but our desires are infinite. When our desires exceed our means, we are left with frustration. And when our possessions exceed our needs, we are also left with frustration. And when they are lost, we act as if their loss is some tragedy.

Minimalism will always be a minority lifestyle. Even poor people accumulate clutter, so it isn't a question of wealth and poverty. But it is a mindset, and most people are never going to go along with it. In addition, some people who try it for awhile may ditch it as soon as their circumstances change.

True minimalists embraced the lifestyle before it was trendy and will continue with it when the good times roll again. I am always going to live this way because it makes sense to me. I don't see the point in having a bunch of shit you don't need.

Simple Math and Simple Politics

If you spend anytime at all perusing the blogosphere, you will find a common theme coming from self-described liberal or progressive bloggers, and that is that those on the political right are ignoramuses. The argument is that they are just too stupid to know what's what - they are even anti-science, rejecting knowledge itself -- and consequently they support dumb candidates advocating ignorant policies. Such arguments are particularly evident in the corner of the blogosphere that discusses the climate change issue.  This line of argument of course is a variant of the thinking that if only people shared a common understanding of scientific facts they would also share a common political orientation (typically the political orientation of whomever is expressing these views).

Today's New York Times explains that top Democrats, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have bought into this view, leading to charges of elitism from their political opponents.  Here is an excerpt:
In the Boston-area home of a wealthy hospital executive one Saturday evening this month, President Obama departed from his usual campaign stump speech and offered an explanation as to why Democrats were seemingly doing so poorly this election season. Voters, he said, just aren’t thinking straight.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

The notion that voters would reject Democrats only because they don’t understand the facts prompted a round of recriminations — “Obama the snob,” read the headline on a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — and fueled the underlying argument of the campaign that ends Tuesday. For all the discussion of health care and spending and jobs, at the core of the nation’s debate this fall has been the battle of elitism.
 And here is what the NYT reports about Bill Clinton expressing similar views:
Former President Bill Clinton has a riff in his standard speech as he campaigns for Democrats in which he mocks voters for knowing more about their local college football team statistics than they do about the issues that will determine the future of the country. “Don’t bother us with facts; we’ve got our minds made up,” he said in Michigan last week, mimicking such voters.

But if they understood the facts, he continued, they would naturally vote Democratic. “If it’s a choice and we’re thinking, he wins big and America wins big,” Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Battle Creek, pointing to Representative Mark Schauer, an endangered first-term Democrat.
The problem with such arguments is that they are simply wrong,  Facts do not compel particular political views, much less policy outcomes.

But for the purposes of discussion, let's just assume that those on the political right are in fact ignoramuses. Even if that were the case, appeals to the wisdom of the educated (and the stupidness of others) would still be a losing electoral proposition as shown by the graph at the top of this post (data here in XLS): Americans older than 18 registered to vote with a college degree represent only 32% of the voting population.  Those with an advanced degree represent only 11% of the population registered to vote. For those smart folks on the left, I shouldn't have to explain the corresponding electoral implications.

It should also be fairly obvious that when highly educated people tell those who are less educated that they are too stupid to know better, it probably does not lead to acceptance of claims to authority, much less reinforce trust in experts.  In fact, it might even have the opposite effect.

For those on the left who spend a lot of time explaining how intelligent they are, their politics are not always so smart.

Why You Should Not Vote

An important election is coming up this Tuesday. But does voting really matter? Will your vote make a difference? Nope. In fact, you are wasting your time, and no one wants to waste their time. Here are the reasons why you shouldn't vote.


The odds of your one vote affecting the outcome of an election are miniscule. You are more likely to be struck by lightning on the way to the poll than the contest coming down to your single vote. When you factor in the margin of error, a single vote is utterly meaningless. Steven E. Landsburg writing in Slate said that you would do better to go buy a lottery ticket instead of casting a ballot and then donating the winnings to a campaign. The odds of you winning are virtually none but are better than making a difference with a single vote.


It is probably a good thing that votes count for so little since your average voter is so ignorant of either news or basic civics and history that we can't consider any vote they make to be an informed choice. Every election season, some comedian or Howard Stern does streetside interviews with people asking them questions and milking the laughs as utter fools tell the camera they support the "Obama/Palin" ticket. The reason the country is in the shit is pretty simple. This is a nation of idiots. The result is that the public votes to enlarge government and cut taxes at the same time. This is how you get some Tea Party fucktard telling Obama to keep government out of Medicare. The reality is that the seventeenth amendment was a stupid move because it removed an important roadblock to public stupidity.


Even if you are a well informed voter who votes for a politician who subscribes 100% to your views and your single vote made the difference, it still wouldn't matter. That is because that politician is a lying sack of shit. This Tuesday, Tea Partiers and pissed off independents are going to give the Congress (or half of it) back to the GOP in hopes of lower taxes and reduced government spending. They are fooling themselves if they think this will happen in much the same way that Obama voters thought they were getting change when they elected that lying son of a bitch. Newt Gingrich lied back in 94 with his Contract with America. John Boehner is lying today with his Pledge to America. It's the same shit with a slightly different garnish. This is also why the national debt was doubled under a Republican president. They tell people what they want to hear to get elected and ignore them. Since voters are fucking idiots, they can get away with this. When you vote, you are telling them you love the taste of their bullshit.


If you are rich, you can make a huge difference. You can either buy media supporting your views or contribute to a campaign that supports your views. Or you can put the money directly into some corrupt politician's pocket and buy him or her outright. In the choice between ballots or cash, cash always wins. ALWAYS. And you are never going to see money leave the system. If you want to make a difference, the first thing you need to do is get rich.


Lysander Spooner had it right when he wrote, ". . .men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot." When you vote for a tyrant who violates the human rights of others, you become complicit in their crimes. This is why government and politicians urge you to vote. They want your complicity. I know you have heard this argument before. If you don't vote, then you don't have the right to complain. This is absurd. This is like saying a rape victim deserves what she got because she didn't scream out. But on the flip side, by voting, you are giving your consent to be ruled by a liar. When I tell people I voted for so-and-so, they immediately throw it in my face when that so-and-so does precisely the things I oppose as if I voted for that sort of tomfuckery. It is a Catch-22. You are damned for voting and damned for not voting. You are either wrong for participating or not participating in the tyranny.


The reason this country is in a fucked up state is because the average US citizen is a fucking idiot. That is the bottom line. This is why Democrats and Republicans govern almost identically. They reflect the popular opinion, and the popular opinion is exactly what you would expect from a fucking childish idiot--give me goodies but don't make me pay for them. Similarly, they want government to crack down on bad behavior while they engage in the bad behavior they want prohibited. This is how you get a drug addicted country supporting the continued War on Drugs while chopping and snorting another line. This is democracy. This is what happens when people get exactly what they want which is schizophrenia.

The answer is to have those people get smart. Even dictators fear the populace and will appease them. But this is not likely to happen. Even my own efforts are spent less in trying to persuade than it is to ridicule stupidity. In short, I like insulting and making fun of morons. So, my final thoughts are directed at you, Dear Voter. I think the answer is violence. I don't mean violence directed at the government or your fellow citizens. I mean violence of the self-inflicted kind. The best thing you can do in your ignorance is to put the barrel of the gun in your own mouth and pull the trigger. Blow those useless brains all over a wall. Or you could wise up and read and learn something about history and economics. Or you can do the next best thing which is to stay home and not vote and keep watching daytime TV and collecting your government check. Apathy is preferable to ignorance. And when those government checks end, go get a fucking job. You can't live on theft forever.

Smart people don't vote. They are outnumbered by the fools.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Random Thoughts on Various Subjects


Simmons made it to my heroes list a couple of years ago for his brashness and individuality. But his recent remarks concerning intellectual property make me want to rescind that honor. Here is what Gene had to say:

Make sure your brand is protected. Make sure there are no incursions. Be litigious. Sue everybody. Take their homes, their cars.


The music industry was asleep at the wheel and didn't have the balls to sue every fresh-faced, freckle-faced college kid who downloaded material. And so now we're left with hundreds of thousands of people without jobs. There's no industry.

It is understandable why Gene feels this way. The bulk of his fortune comes from branded merchandise. He used to make a lot from recorded music, but that has fallen off a cliff. So, Gene has had to get off his lazy ass and start touring again. People aren't without jobs. Gene just has to earn money from performing instead of daydreaming from behind a desk.

I don't believe in intellectual property. I want people to copy what I make because that means more people will read me and learn of my ideas. Besides, my ideas are heavily influenced by the ideas of others, and there is nothing new under the sun in that regard. Information wants to be free. Gene needs to learn this.


I see a massive change come Tuesday as the GOP takes back the House and maybe the Senate. This should result in at least two years of sweet gridlock as the GOP thwarts Obama and tries to bring him down. Then, 2012 will give us Palin or some other GOP shithead as President. Then, things will go to shit like it was under Bush. But it will be a good two years until then.

The Masked Cyclist: a Halloween Tale

Sit down, dear reader, and grab a cup of hot apple cider. For in honor of this Hallow's Eve, I shall tell you a tale that is as true as it is chilling: the tale of the Masked Cyclist.

It was a dark, crisp Autumn night many years ago and I was a mere high school girl, cycling home from piano lessons on my step-through mountain bike. The nonfunctional shifters and rusty chain emitted eerie creaking sounds as I rode through the nocturnal New England streets. My path was illuminated by moonlight, since my bicycle had no lights. Suddenly, I glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye - a moving shadow perhaps? I stopped, with a screech of my poorly adjusted brakes.

At first, I saw nothing at all. But soon, an image began to materialise before me.

And then, there she stood: the Masked Cyclist!

We had all heard of her, but only the very few had seen her - and never this closely. Legend had it, the Masked Cyclist haunted the roads of our town, clad in Edwardian garments and astride an old bicycle - her urgent pleas getting lost in the howling of the wind. What did she want? No one knew, but we all feared her intense gaze.

As I stood frozen in place, the Masked Cyclist moved closer and closer toward me - until suddenly we were face to face. "Who are you, and want do you want?" I managed to utter.

"I am the Masked Cyclist," said she, "and I am not at peace, because the beautiful bicycles that used to roam our land so famously have been all but exterminated by sinister forces. Many decades ago, these streets were full of ladies in their finery, gliding mirthfully through town and through farmland on their trusty loop frames with delightful chaincases, dressguards and lights. But now everything is dark and silent, and our towns are empty, and our farmlands have been replaced with strip malls, and the few bicycles in existence are carelessly built monstrosities that bring little joy to their owners. No, this is too horrifying and I cannot rest. Will you help me?"

"But how can I help?"

"I see that you enjoy riding your bicycle, and I pity you for its poor quality and lack of proper accoutrements. If you agree to help me bring the joy of lovely bicycles to our people, I shall be able to rest. You need only tell me that you agree, and the rest will be taken care of."

I looked at her lovely, ghostly bicycle, and without knowing what came over me, I agreed. "Thank you!" she said to me. "You shall go home now and forget all about our little talk. But 13 years from now I will visit you again to thank you."

And so it was. That same evening, I fell asleep and forgot all about my encounter with the Masked Cyclist, and life took its course. Little did I know that the otherworldly creature had decided to possess me, biding her time until the day was right to create Lovely Bicycle. Ignorant of the Masked Cyclist's influence, I knew not what compelled me to write post after post about lugs, loop frames, dynamo lighting, and local frame builders. And thus it continued for over a year, until a fortnight ago. I was cycling home along a popular bicycle commuter route when the Masked Cyclist once again appeared before me. Suddenly I remembered everything. But instead of fear, I was filled with affection - as I now shared the Masked Cyclist's devotion to lovely bicycles.

"Masked cyclist!" I exclaimed, "Is that you?"

"It certainly is," she replied, "I have come to thank you for helping restore the glory of lovely bicycles to our land.  Once again, I see many happy ladies gliding along our streets on their comfortable, trusty bikes, and I am finally able to rest with the knowledge that things are improving."

"But there is still so much work to do," said I, "surely you are not leaving me?"

"Don't be sad," replied the Masked Cyclist. "It is time for me to go now. But my spirit will continue to guide you. And so that you always remember, I leave you my own bicycle. Please take it and cherish it always."

And with those words, the Masked Cyclist disappeared. I have not seen her since, but I can feel that her spirit is at peace.

DVD-Maxed Out

Maxed Out is a documentary primarily about credit card companies. It is scathing and eye opening. Made before the housing bubble collapsed, it begins with a housing boom real estate agent making deals. I remember those days. Nothing but optimism, and I had to laugh when the woman says it would all be fine as long interest rates didn't go up. I'd like to see where she is now.

Most of the blast is aimed at the credit card companies with some collateral shots hitting the government and consumers. Basically, it is all the fault of the banks and the finance companies. I find this a bit misleading and unfair.

The problem lies with consumption. People buy too much shit. They spend money they do not have. Since the bubble popped, consumers know better now. They are learning the lessons the Great Depression generation learned. You have to live below your means. Maxed Out spends hardly a minute of screen time pointing out the complicity that consumers have in their own destruction. You get a bit of Dave Ramsey on the screen, but his lessons are passed over in favor of bashing Congress for making it harder to declare bankruptcy.

The problem is debt, and debt comes from overconsumption. This entire nation has been in the fantasy world of plastic dreams, and now, those dreams have ended. You can't keep spending what you don't have. It is a lesson that the final player in this drama--the US government--has yet to learn.

Maxed Out ends with a typical bash on corporations and nothing on voluntary simplicity and wise personal finance. So, I will provide it for them. Cut up those cards. Work more. Earn more. Spend less. You will be happier and better off.

Is Notre Dame Responsible for Student's Death?

I was interviewed by Maggie Gray of Sports Illustrated Video on Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior, dying in a tragic accident while filming an Irish football practice earlier this week.


The value of work has shifted away from working with purpose to obtaining a mystified job title.

Looking for work with purpose? Stop looking down on manual labor.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wairarapa Show 2010

This year we have none of our own horses competing at the Wairarapa Show but Aine (TF Summer Solstice) came over from Wellington with her owner Kerry to take part in the Sport Horse classes (in-hand). It was a big day for Aine (2 year old) and she behaved impeccably. Aine is Enya's full sister (Maude x TF Life O'Reilly) so is 3/8 Irish Draft and 5/8 Thoroughbred. She is going to be a big girl and is currently standing rather bum high!

Of course I took my camera and here are a small selection of the photos I took of Aine.

Reserve Champion Junior Sport Horse

Happy Feet

Today was the first time I felt well enough to ride a roadbike since having gotten sick last month. It was only 26 miles, but it felt great to have my full lung capacity and energy back.

Continuing with the Italian theme, I took Francesco - my fixed gear stallion. How happy he was, basking in the precious minutes of sunshine in between thunderstorms.

Riding a fixed gear roadbike is an experience that fills me with a special kind of enjoyment - I think because it combines the sensations of walking and flying (fly-walking?).

I was worried that I might be too out of shape to make it, but I had forgotten how comfortable Francesco is. The 26 miles of pedaling felt like a stroll in the park. Although, I have learned by now that even if I feel "fine" riding fixed gear while I am actually doing it, it does take more out of me than a free-wheel bicycle. I usually sleep longer after such a ride, and sometimes I am sore the following day.

One thing that has improved my comfort level with fixed gear cycling considerably, are these "fixie" Power Grips. I wrote about the standard Power Grips here, and since my initial review I have become addicted to these things. The fixed gear version differs from the standard model, in that it makes it easier to insert and remove your feet while pedals are in motion. I cannot tell what it is about the design that makes this possible, but none the less it seems to work. I insert my right toe at the starting position and start cycling slowly while nudging the left pedal with my left toe - then swiftly insert the toe into the left grip on the first stroke. After some practice this became a familiar and instinctive sequence of movements - though it definitely helped that I was already comfortable using this system on a free-wheel bike prior to trying it on a fixed gear.

Now that I am able to use foot retention on this bicycle, I am no longer apprehensive about cycling over bumps and potholes or going downhill at high speeds. The experience is pretty much perfect and very enjoyable. One thing in particular I have noticed, is how easy it is for me to ride "in the drops" - Francesco almost seems more stable when the handlebars are held this way than higher up. Is that possible?

And another interesting thing: I find it much, much easier to get out of the saddle and pedal standing up on Francesco than I do on my other bicycles. Is it the fixed-gearness that is facilitating this or the geometry? As I've mentioned before, I have a terrible sense of balance, and that is what I believe normally prevents me from pedaling while standing up. But on this bicycle, it seems not to matter.

It rained on and off for the duration of our ride, and the colourful leaves strewn over the trail turned into a mess of a slippery carpet. Was I so excited to be riding Francesco that I began to imagine things, or is it easier to ride in slippery conditions on a fixed gear bike? I have read comments about traction before, but I admit that I don't understand them. Could somebody explain it in layman's terms?

As I prepare for some more pruning of my bicycle overgrowth, it is clear to me that I "need" a fixed gear roadbike. So while I am now considering selling my Trek - which has been fun, but not essential - I will definitely be keeping the Francesco Moser.

In the long run, however - maybe a couple of years from now - I will probably want to replace it with a "real" fixed gear bicycle. Mainly, this is because the Moser's bottom bracket is not as high as it should be - and even though my lean on turns is not aggressive enough to warrant worrying about pedal strike yet, it would be better if this wasn't even a potential issue.

But for now, Francesco is my dashing Italian gentleman and I thank him for my happy feet.

Thoughts on a New Knighthood

Coach Paul Passafiume shared this with me. An outstanding article that truly deserves your time and reflection. Reverend Charles Chaput is the Archbishop of Denver.

Thoughts on a New Knighthood
Archbishop Chaput delivered the following remarks to Catholic cadets at the United States Air Force Academyin Colorado Springs on Monday, Oct. 25, 2010.
None of you wants to sit through another classroom lecture. So my comments will be brief. Then we can get to some questions and answers. I'm also going to skip telling you how talented you are. You already know that. You wouldn't be here if you weren't. What you'll discover as you get older is that the world has plenty of very talented failures – people who either didn't live up to their abilities; or who did, but did it in a way that diminished their humanity and their character.

God made you to be better than that. And your nation and your Church need you to be better than that. Scripture tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10). Wisdom – not merely the knowledge of facts or a mastery of skills, but wisdom about ourselves, other people and the terrain of human life – this is the mark of a whole person. We already have too many clever leaders. We need wise leaders. And the wisest leaders ground themselves in humility before God and the demands of God’s justice.

I want to offer you just four quick points tonight. Here's the first. Military service is a vocation, not simply a profession. 

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare, which means to call. In Christian belief, God created each of us for a purpose. He calls each of us by name to some form of service. No higher purpose exists than protecting other people, especially the weak and defenseless. This is why the Church, despite her historic resistance to war and armed violence, has held for many centuries that military service is not just “acceptable.” It can also be much more than that. When lived with a spirit of integrity, restraint and justice, military service is virtuous. It's ennobling because – at its best – military service expresses the greatest of all virtues: charity; a sacrificial love for people and things outside and more important than oneself. It flows from something unique in the human heart: a willingness to place one's own life in harm's way for the sake of others.

The great Russian Christian writer Vladimir Solovyov once said that to defend peaceful men, “the guardian angels of humanity mixed the clay [of the earth] with copper and iron and created the soldier.”    And until the spirit of malice brought into the world by Cain disappears from human hearts, the soldier “will be a good and not an evil.” (i) He expressed in a poetic way what the Church teaches and believes. And you should strive to embody this vision in your own service.

Here's my second point. Protect the moral character you build here, and remember the leadership you learn here. You’ll need both when the day comes to return to civilian life.

I think it's unwise for people my age to judge the world too critically. The reason is pretty simple. The older we get, the more clearly we see – or think we see -- what's wrong with the world. It also gets harder to admit our own role in making it that way. Over my lifetime I've had the privilege of working with many good religious men and women, and many good lay Christian friends. Many of them have been heroic in their generosity, faith and service. Many have helped to make our country a better place.

And yet I think it's true – I know it's true – that my generation has, in some ways, been among the most foolish in American history. We’ve been absorbed in our appetites, naïve about the consequences of our actions, overconfident in our power, and unwilling to submit ourselves to the obligations that come with the greatest ideals of our own heritage.

Most generations of Americans have inherited a nation different in degree from the generations that preceded them. You will inherit an America that is different in kind  – a nation different from anything in our past in its attitudes toward sexuality, family, religion, law and the nature of the human person; in other words, different and more troubling in the basic things that define a society. My generation created this new kind of America. Soon we will leave the consequences to you.

And this brings us back to my second point: Where the leadership and moral character of my generation failed, you need to succeed. The task of Christian moral leadership that will occupy much of your lives in the future will not be easy. It will place heavy demands on people like you who learned discipline and integrity in places like this.

Here's my third point. Guarantees of religious freedom are only as strong as the social consensus that supports them. 

Americans have always taken their religious freedom for granted. Religious faith has always played a major role in our public life, including debate about public policy and law. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly guarantees this freedom. But that guarantee and its application are subject to lawmakers and the interpretation of courts. And lawmakers and courts increasingly attack religious liberty, undermine rights of conscience, and force references to God out of our public square. This shift in our culture is made worse by mass media that, in general, have little understanding of religious faith and are often openly hostile. As religious practice softens in the United States over the next few decades, the consensus for religious freedom may easily decline. And that has very big implications for the life of faithful Catholics in this country.

Here's my fourth and final point. Given everything I've just said, how do we live faithfully as Catholics going forward in a culture that’s skeptical, and even hostile, toward what we believe?

Knighthood is an institution with very deep roots in the memory of the Church.  Nearly 900 years ago, one of the great monastic reformers of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, described the ideal Christian knights as Godly men who “shun every excess in clothing and food.  They live as brothers in joyful and sober company (with) one heart and one soul. … There is no distinction of persons among them, and deference is shown to merit rather than to noble blood.  They rival one another in mutual consideration, and they carry one another’s burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.” (ii)

Bernard had few illusions about human nature. And he was anything but naïve.  Writing at the dawn of the crusading era, in the early 12th century, he was well aware of the greed, vanity, ambition and violence that too often motivated Europe’s warrior class, even in the name of religious faith.

Most of the men who took up the cause of aiding eastern Christians and liberating the Holy Land in the early decades of crusading did so out of genuine zeal for the Cross.  But Bernard also knew that many others had mixed or even corrupt and evil motives.  In his great essay “In Praise of the New Knighthood” (c. 1136), he outlined the virtues that should shape the vocation of every truly “Christian” knight: humility, austerity, justice, obedience, unselfishness and a single-minded zeal for Jesus Christ in defending the poor, the weak, the Church and persecuted Christians. (iii)

Our life today may seem very different from life in the 12th century. The Church today asks us to seek mutual respect with people of other religious traditions, and to build common ground for cooperation wherever possible. 
But human nature -- our basic hopes, dreams, anxieties and sufferings -- hasn’t really changed.  The basic Christian vocation remains the same: to follow Jesus Christ faithfully, and in following Jesus, to defend Christ’s Church and to serve her people zealously, unselfishly and with all our skill.  As St. Ignatius Loyola wrote in his “Spiritual Exercises” -- and remember that Ignatius himself was a former soldier -- each of us must choose between two battle standards: the standard of Jesus Christ, humanity’s true King, or the standard of his impostor, the Prince of This World.

There is no neutral ground. C.S. Lewis once said that Christianity is a “fighting religion.” He meant that Christian discipleship has always been -- and remains -- a struggle against the evil within and outside ourselves. This is why the early Church Fathers described Christian life as “spiritual combat.” It’s why they called faithful Christians the “Church Militant” and “soldiers of Christ” in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Church needs men and women of courage and Godliness today more than at any time in her history. So does this extraordinary country we call home in this world; a nation that still has an immense reservoir of virtue, decency and people of good will. This is why the Catholic ideal of knighthood, with its demands of radical discipleship, is still alive and still needed.  The essence of Christian knighthood remains the same:sacrificial service rooted in a living Catholic faith.

A new “spirit of knighthood” is what we need now -- unselfish, tireless, devoted disciples willing to face derision and persecution for Jesus Christ. We serve our nation best by serving God first, and by proving our faith with the example of our lives. 

(i) Vladimir Solovyov, The Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy; translated by Nathalie Duddington; edited and annotated by Boris Jakim (Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005) 349; original Russian text published in 1897
(ii) Bernard of Clairvaux, “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” The Works of Bernard of Clairvaux, V. 7 (Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI, 1977) 127-167
(iii) Note that Bernard, who preached the Second Crusade, wrote his essay specifically as an apologia for the founding of the first military-religious order, the “knights of the Temple” or the Knights Templar. The Templars took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, lived in common and dedicated themselves to the defense of Christians in the Holy Land. But as R.J. Zwi Werblowsky writes in his introduction to Bernard’s essay in The Works noted above, Bernard was also concerned with “the theology of a reformed and sanctified knighthood” in contrast to the frivolity and vanity of worldly chivalry.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lovely Bicycles on a Budget: Vintage vs Modern

[image via niniferrose]  

In addition to the variety of comments posted on this website, I receive lots of questions from readers via email. And if I had to say what the one most frequently asked question is, it would be a variation of this one:
I am looking for a nice bicycle for commuting around town and my budget is $500. I would love to get a new Dutch bike or a Pashley, but I just can't afford it. What would you recommend in my price range? 
Now, I do have a page on this website called Budget Options, and a link to it is prominently displayed in the upper lefthand corner. On that page I keep an updated list of manufacturers that sell budget versions of classic bicycles for as little as $150. I also have a page on shopping for vintage bikes. So, in emailing me the above question, the reader is usually looking for more than to be directed to one these pages. They are looking for my opinion: What would I do with $500? What do I recommend of all the possible options?

Okay, if you really want to know, I'll tell you. But I can almost guarantee that you won't like it and that you won't follow my recommendation. Do you want to hear it anyway? Well, all right. I would recommend buying a vintage 3-speed and spending the remainder of your budget on modernising it. Here is how I would do it:

Step 1: 
Buy a vintage Raleigh Lady Sports in your size and preferred colour. Make sure the frame is in good condition, and that as many components as possible are salvageable. Try to spend under $100 on this purchase, and absolutely no more than $150. It is possible if you do some research and ask around. Even if there is a shortage of vintage bikes in your area, post a "want to buy" ad on your local C-List and chances are someone will dig one out of their basement or barn. Or join bikeforums and a kind enthusiastic soul on the Classic & Vintage subforum will provide you with some local contacts. It can be done if you are motivated.

Step 2:
Buy a modern 26" (ISO 590) wheelset with alloy rims and a 3-speed hub built into the rear wheel (the shifter is usually included). The biggest problem with using vintage 3-speeds for transportation, is that they have caliper brakes and steel rims - a combination that provides inadequate stopping power in wet weather conditions. An alloy wheelset will solve this problem. Several bike shops sell such wheelsets online at reasonable prices: A Sun wheelset from Harris Cyclery will set you back $200. An Alex wheelset from Niagra Cycle Works will set you back $130.  Your local bike shop might be able to order a wheelset from a catalogue as well.

Step 3:
Buy a set of 26" (ISO 590) tires with puncture protection. Schwalbe Delta Cruisers in either black or cream are a good choice, because they look classic, make for a very comfortable ride, and cost only $40 for the pair.

Step 4:
Assuming that you are not skilled in bicycle repair, maintenance or assembly, bring your vintage bike and all the parts to a trusted local shop. Ask them to replace the wheelset, put on the new tires, and give the bicycle a thorough tune up. They will probably end up replacing the chain and some cables as part of that process as well. It should run you about $100.

Step 5:
If the vintage bike you found did not come with a saddle and there is room in your budget, get a Brooks or a lower-priced VO leather saddle. If you are tapped out, look for a vintage saddle, or buy a cheap generic one as a temporary fix until you save up the extra money for a new, quality one.

[image via niniferrose]  

At the end of this process, you will have a bicycle with all the comfort, durability and charm of a vintage 3-speed, but with modern braking power. It should last pretty much forever and should feel great to ride. Yes, organising the bike will be a small adventure - but again, it can be done if you put your mind to it.

Having said that, I realise that most of my readers will opt out. For one thing, it seems difficult and time-consuming. It also probably seems absurd to spend a total of $500 on a vintage 3-speed, when you could go to the store and get one of these for the same price, brand new and shiny. I sincerely understand that. But...

Consider that the second most frequently asked question I get from readers over email is a variation of this one:
Three months ago I bought a [Budget Manufacturer X] bicycle, because my budget was $500. Actually, I ended up spending a bit more than that, because I got the 7-speed version. And Basil panniers. And a Brooks saddle. And cork grips. But anyway, I thought the bicycle looked nice and I liked how it rode when I tested it outside the bike shop. But it's only been 3 months, and now my rear fender is making clunking noises, and my chain has come off twice, and I keep getting flat tires. Also, the bike doesn't feel that great over pot-holes and my hands start to hurt on the handlebars towards the end of my commute from work. My bike shop says that I can update some of the components to fix these problems, but it looks like that's going to cost me another several hundred dollars. I am not sure what to do now. What do you think? 
I never know quite how to answer that one, because at that point the person has already maxed out their budget. Any suggestions? And yes, I am perfectly serious that I get these emails. I respect it when people say they are on a tight budget and I would like to be helpful with solutions instead of saying "save up for a better quality bike". But I honestly cannot think of a solution that I truly believe in other than my vintage 3-speed plan.  I have never received an email from anybody complaining about their vintage Raleigh Sports. 

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The Economist on The Climate Fix: "Bright and Provocative"

The Economist has a very positive review of The Climate Fix.  Here is how it starts:
THE title of this bright and provocative book is knowingly ambiguous; what sort of fix is it about? At least three distinct fixes, it turns out. There is fix-as-dilemma, fix-as-stitch-up and fix-as-solution. Roger Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, has useful things to say on all three fixes, and in so doing largely fulfils his aim of providing a guide to the perplexed.
 Read the entire review here.

Antitrust Lawsuit Filed Against the NCAA

As noted by a commenter to an earlier post, a class action antitrust lawsuit was filed against the NCAA on Monday in United States District Court in San Francisco by former Rice University football player Joseph Agnew. Specifically, the suit alleges that NCAA rules prohibiting universities from offering guaranteed multi-year athletic scholarships, as well as rules limiting the number of scholarships a university can offer in a particular sport, violate federal antitrust law.

Agnew started at defensive back for the Owls as a freshman in 2006, before seeing reduced playing time as a sophomore due to shoulder and ankle injuries. Rice then elected not to renew his scholarship for either his junior or senior years. Agnew asserts that but for the NCAA rules, he would have received multi-year scholarship offers when he was recruited out of high school. The suit seeks to represent a class of athletes who, like Agnew, had their one-year scholarships reduced or non-renewed. In its defense, the NCAA immediately noted that one-year renewable scholarships are the norm in higher education not only for athletic scholarships, but also talent-based and academic scholarships in general.

Agnew's lawsuit comes on the heels of news this summer that the United States Justice Department was itself investigating potential antitrust concerns arising from the NCAA's prohibition of multi-year scholarships (previously discussed by Michael McCann here and here). Moreover, as notes, although courts have historically granted the NCAA some leniency when it comes to rules deemed necessary to preserve amateurism, the NCAA settled a case in 2008 brought by former student-athletes alleging that NCAA rules prohibiting colleges from offering to cover the full cost of attendance violated antitrust law.

One interesting tidbit reported by the New York Times is that Agnew is being represented by Steve Berman of the Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro firm. Berman's firm also represents former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller in his class action lawsuit against the NCAA and E.A. Sports, alleging that the two entities illegally use college athletes’ likenesses without their permission in video games.

An Update on the WAC v. Mountain West Lawsuit

Last month the Western Athletic Conference filed a lawsuit against the Mountain West Conference, Fresno State, and the University of Nevada, seeking to prevent the two schools from leaving the WAC to join the Mountain West until after the 2011-12 school year. The schools had stated an intent to join their new conference at the end of the current school year, a move that the WAC contended would have violated its conference bylaws, and would inflict significant damage on the remaining WAC schools.

It now appears that the sides have reached an amicable resolution to their dispute. According to reports, the WAC will announce today that it has reached an agreement with Fresno State and Nevada, under which the two schools will wait until the summer of 2012 to join the Mountain West Conference. In exchange, the WAC has reportedly agreed to accept reduced exit fees from the schools upon their departure, lowering the $5 million exit fee down to around $2 million per school.

Disasters Wanted: The Math of Capitalizing on Florida's Risk

[Correction 10/31: This post has been updated.  The Herald-Tribune is in Sarasota, not Tampa. Sorry!] 

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has another interesting article about the role of reinsurance companies in providing coverage against hurricane risks, or depending upon your view, in fleecing Florida consumers.

After I posted up some comments on the previous article from the Sarasota paper, I heard from a number of people in the re/insurance industry explaining that the situation is complex and business are simply responding to the commercial and regulatory environment.  The issues are complex, but the numbers reported by the Herald-Tribune are eye-opening regardless.  Consider this math:
On average, the Herald-Tribune calculated, reinsurers charge five times more than the actuarial risk of loss.

The translation for Florida property owners: For every $1 in hurricane risk to their home, they pay another $4 for the reinsurer's profit. In other words, if a reinsurer determines a home is likely to sustain $2,000 in damage in a year, it will charge $10,000 to cover that home.

In reinsurance, such math is unquestioned. It is not "undue profitability" but "the cost of capital," concluded an industry-funded study by the vaunted Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Insurers need considerable capital to supply this insurance and the cost of that capital is included in the premium," they note.
How does this happen?  The article explains that after Katrina, primary insurers started pulling out of Florida, due to perceptions of risk but also due to the regulatory environment.  The consequence was a greater reliance on Bermuda-based reinsurers:
From 2005 to 2008, 2.2 million Florida homeowner policies were canceled or non-renewed. The state-run Citizens Property Insurance for the first time became the largest provider of hurricane coverage in Florida.

With no viable alternative, state regulators and private insurance companies looked to offshore reinsurers to underwrite the risk posed by storms. With a few million dollars in the bank, newly formed insurers could buy large amounts of reinsurance to instantly write billions of dollars worth of coverage.

The new Florida norm are carriers like ACA Home, a tiny St. Petersburg home insurer started after 2005 with funding in part from a Bermuda reinsurer.

ACA Home has no employees and pays an affiliate, American Strategic, to run its business.

Financial filings show reinsurers take 86 cents of every premium dollar ACA collects -- $9 million of the $10.5 million it collected in 2009.

The cost for turning over almost all of its risk is high. ACA pays as much as 33 cents for $1 of protection against the most likely kind of storms, the equivalent of paying $66,000 a year to insure a house worth $200,000.
Ironically, such reinsurers thrive on disasters, and the following passage from the Herald-Tribune article will be a surprise to many I am sure:
FOR A GUT-WRENCHING 48 hours in September 2008, the National Hurricane Center's skinny black line pointed like an accusation at Miami.

Hurricane Ike was barreling through the Atlantic as a Category 4, on a westerly track that had the potential to deliver the long-dreaded sucker punch that would bring Florida to its knees.

As stomachs churned in Florida, a quarter turn around the globe on the balmy Mediterranean, the reinsurance industry welcomed an American calamity.

The financial giants who underwrite the world's risks were gathered in Monte Carlo for their annual Rendez-Vous de Septembre. Amid champagne parties and sailing races, they kept close watch on the advance of the storm.

Profits at that moment were flat and reinsurance rates falling, even in Florida.

By their analysts' calculations, it would take a $35 billion disaster to turn the market around.

The head of research for a London brokerage sized up the hurricanes circulating in the American Gulf.
"Gustav and Hannah: perhaps unlikely to have a major impact ..." he told financial writers in the plush salon of a Monte Carlo hotel, as they picked over silver trays of tiny lime tarts.

"But Ike ..." he said, turning his attention to the storm worrying Miami, "... depending on which way it goes, it could be a turning point, ladies and gentlemen."

There was nothing in his tone, nor the reaction of those taking note, to reveal they were discussing the decimation of another American city.

There is a perverse tendency for the reinsurance industry to hope for disaster.

The cost of calamity coverage is determined mostly by supply and demand. Big disasters can temporarily dampen quarterly profits and even kill a few unlucky reinsurers, but they drive up demand and draw down capital, shrinking supply.

The result is record profits made on the back of the world's biggest catastrophes -- Hurricane Andrew, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

The macabre sentiment pervading Monte Carlo in 2008 was parodied a few mornings later at the Cafe de Paris, where reinsurance brokers massed 20-deep for preliminary negotiations on the hurricane contracts for which Floridians would pay the next year.

"Industry mourns the passing of Gustav," joked a headline in the Rendez-Vous edition of the normally sedate Insurance Day.

By missing New Orleans, the trade journal quipped, the hurricane had "failed to destroy billions of dollars worth of energy infrastructure and make millions of uninsured poor people homeless.

"An executive from a Bermuda start-up said he had lost everything as a result of the non-storm ...

"'I've got everything riding on a big one.'"
The banks waited too long to get their house in order, I wonder if reinsurance will do the same.  If not, politicians will likely be more than happy to do it for them.

If it is not True and not False, then What is It?

The Guardian reports that the British Advertising Standards Authority -- an independent body recognized by government that adjudicates claims of truth or falsity in advertising -- has ruled that the advertisement shown above from Oxfam is not false.  Here is the explanation in full:
The ASA understood that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was considered, through its work collating data from peer reviewed climate science papers internationally, to be the world's most authoritative source of information on climate science. Taking into account statements issued by other national and international bodies with expertise in climate science, we considered there was a robust consensus amongst them that there was extremely strong evidence for human induced climate change. We noted that the part of Oxfam's claim that stated "Our politicians have the power to help get a climate deal back on track ... let's sort it here and now" made a link between human action and climate change.

We noted that Oxfam had supplied a WHO fact sheet which had been published in January 2010 and which stated "Globally, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries" and confirmation from WHO that that position still, in June 2010, reflected WHO's assessment of the situation. We noted that that statement reflected findings set out in more detail in WHO's publication "The World Health Report 2002 Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life", which stated "Climate change was estimated to be responsible in 2000 for approximately 2.4% of worldwide diarrhoea, 6% of malaria in some middle income countries and 7% of dengue fever in some industrialized countries. In total, the attributable mortality was 154 000 (0.3%) deaths ..." and WHO's 2009 publication "GLOBAL HEALTH RISKS - Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks", which stated "Climate change was estimated to be already responsible for 3% of diarrhoea, 3% of malaria and 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide in 2004. Total attributable mortality was about 0.2% of deaths in 2004; of these, 85% were child deaths". We noted that those statistics were broken down in more detail according to cause and region in WHO's 2004 publication, "Comparative Quantification of Health Risks." We also noted that the IPCC Report's position was that changes in weather trends had led to increased disease.

We noted that Oxfam's claim was reasonably restrained in that it stated deaths were occurring at the present time as a result of climate change but that it did not claim specific numbers of deaths were attributable and it did not speculate about future numbers of deaths. Because of that, and because of the consensus that we considered already existed amongst climate scientists that there was extremely strong evidence for human induced climate change, and because of a similar consensus that climate change was now resulting in people dying, we concluded that the ad was not misleading.
In The Climate Fix, I discuss the WHO claims in some detail, and point out that the WHO itself explains that their findings do not accord with the canons of empirical science (see p. 177).  I argue that the WHO results are a guess on top of speculation.  They are not true.

Well, if the WHO claims are not true, and the ASA says that they are not false, then what is their epistemological state?  They are, I suppose, whatever you want them to be.  Welcome to post-normal science.  From where I sit, seeking to justify action on emissions or even adaptation based on allegations that people are dying of climate change today is both wrong and wrongheaded, for reasons that I describe in some depth in TCF. Was the ASA decision wrong?  No.  But it wasn't right either.

Blues name team to face Aironi

Friday 29 October 7.05pm kick off


The Blues travel to Italy to take on Aironi for the first time as the Italian franchise look to pick up their first win. The new franchise has lost both home games in the Magners League at the Stadio Zaffanella so far, but have at least gained a pair of losing bonus points there.

The Blues have won all six previous encounters they have played against teams from Italy but travel to northern Italy on the back of two losses, against Castres and the Scarlets.

Martyn Williams, John Yapp and Scott Andrews have returned from the Wales squad to play in the match, while Blues Academy player Dan Fish makes his competitive debut at full back.  Cardiff RFC half backs Tom Slater and Gareth Davies are on the bench along with Blues Academy player Owen Williams.

Speaking ahead of the match, Director of Rugby David Young said,
“I’d like to think that we are hurting a bit from the Scarlets match and will be going over to Italy determined to get the win.”
“I’m quite surprised that Aironi haven’t picked recorded a victory because when you look at their team they’ve got quite a lot of internationals playing for them, especially in the pack.”
“We know it’s going to be a tough day at the office up front and they’ve pushed teams closer and closer every week.”
“It’s only a matter of time before they pick up that first win but we’ve got to make sure it’s not us.”

The Blues have already won in Italy this season, beating Benetton Treviso 19-7 in round four, but will not be underestimating the threat posed by Aironi.
“I would have thought that they may have looked at this fixture a few weeks ago, knowing we would be without our internationals, and maybe target this game because they will be at full strength,” added Young.

15 Dan Fish 14 Richard Mustoe 13 Casey Laulala 12 Dafydd Hewitt 11 Gavin Evans 10 Ceri Sweeney 9 Lloyd Williams
8 Xavier Rush 7 Martyn Williams 6 Maama Molitika 5 Paul Tito (c) 4 Michael Paterson 3 Scott Andrews 2 T Rhys Thomas 1 Tom Davies
16 Rhys Williams 17 Sam Hobbs 18 John Yapp 19 James Down 20 Andries Pretorius 21 Tom Slater 22 Gareth Davies 23 Owen Williams

Referee: Graham Knox (SRU).