Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why Did Dante Die in Ravenna?

Florence in the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries was fraught with battles between factions. Primarily the Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Guelphs support the Pope, who himself went from Rome to Avignon and eventually back again, and the Ghibellines who supported the Imperial forces from the Holy Roman Empire. Family killed off family. It led to even more internecine war between Black Guelphs and White Guelphs.

Expelled from Florence were the likes of Dante and Petrarch. Ending with the Medici and their own form of butchery, including if one likes the famous St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Huguenots in Paris, under the influence of the Medici French Queen mother. One can best understand this Massacre by reading Dumas, his brilliant work on this event.

Thus, Civil Wars are not as simple as our own between North and South. It can occur between the first floor and the second floor. It can start over what Pope is best or whether one likes Germans or French, Pope or Emperor.

Perhaps a deep breath and a focus on Springtime may help.

Snowflakes in Yemen

Yemen has gone through a rather long rough patch, to say the least. Around the time of the Prophet the port city of Aden change control from Ethiopians, Jews, Persians, Arabs, and before that Romans. So one would assume Yemeni folk would have some sense of this ongoing turbulence.

But we now have what seems to be the "snowflake" syndrome. Namely, despite millennia of conflict the current generation abhors any sense of unease. The most recent is the use of Science, as well as Nature, as vehicles of complaining. Perhaps on the Nature side we have the left in England, and on the Science side we have a former Democrat politician at its head.

It may be useful to get politicians out of everything. Otherwise we may find ourselves in a blizzard of snowflakes.

Darwin and Concord and Cambridge

In the recent book by Fuller, The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation, the author claims to present how the introduction of Darwin's work transformed the United States. I would beg to differ. Perhaps a better title would have been, "The Book that Changed Concord and Cambridge" because it clearly focused on the group from Concord along with a smattering from Cambridge.

The author starts out with the recognition of Boast as the "Hub" at this period as compared to New York, albeit bigger, yet a more raucous version of an American city. Boston reached back to European intellectual elitism whereas New York was starting to become an eclectic American melting pot. Boston sought comfort in lineage, whereas New York had quickly abandoned its Dutch heritage, predating the Pilgrims, and was decade by decade introducing one culture after another, with the conflicts, but working towards an amalgam.

Concord was at this time literally a train ride, at that time, from Boston, Cambridge a collection of people, high and lower class, factories and Harvard. Harvard was founded as many Bostonian may recall as a place to send the graduates from Boston Latin School, the educational establishment for the local "well-off". Back in Concord were fields for modest farms as well as a small collection of educated folks who founded such places as Concord Academy, aside the Concord River and just on the outskirts of then the center of Concord. Along the adjoin streets were gracious homes of those who constituted the general Concord society.

Along comes Darwin into this Transcendental soup of Thoreau, Alcott, Emerson and others and in a strange way the fact based scientific observations of Darwin and his line of reasoning leading to evolution gets absorbed by this group who have to then eschewed this very approach to understanding. Thus sayeth the author.

At first the author introduces Gray and Agassiz.  Gray the botanist, and Agassiz the broadly based naturalist. Gray comes across as the mild manner scientists who sees in Darwin a way to explain many of the observations concerning nature he has made in plants. Gray is subdued, and academic. Then there is Agassiz, the Swiss naturalist, with an ebullient personality, who sees in Darwin the conflicts with his fundamental religious beliefs. Gray sees the facts and is willing to follow them, Agassiz sees the conflicts and fights them. Thus is the theme of the first part of the book.

The second part moves to Concord and the collection of Transcendentalists. This virtually self-contained community of mid-nineteenth century thinkers see Darwin as a window onto their world. What would have been seen as a putative conflict is seen for example in Thoreau's eyes as an explanation for the natural harmony of his world of nature. It explains why a small pine tree has managed to survive and prosper far from its source, and how the squirrels take part in the dissemination of species who survive and the fact that one sees robins and not parakeets in the Spring and pine trees and not palm trees in the forests. At least that is what we are led to understand.

Somehow we get John Brown and his assault on Harper's Ferry in the mix. One nexus is that Brown's two daughters end up at the Alcott's and attend Concord Academy. This perhaps is the mixing of the abolitionist with the evolutionist. One can see these individuals seeing in evolution, man from a common ancestor, being the key element in their strong abolitionist views. Namely the issue that all humans are from the same stock and thus have the same rights. Not quite an acceptance of fundamental individualism, the belief that all individuals have individual rights equally, but a step in that direction.
Now as to some specific observations:

p. 74 the comment on Thoreau adopting methods of science without a scientific theory is an excellent observation. Thoreau was an excellent observer of facts, but his core beliefs were more Transcendental than scientific.

p 85 is an excellent introduction to Agassiz and his grandiosity. One can even today on Oxford Street see this collection of the naturalist age. This museum was to Agassiz what the American Museum of Natural History and stuffed mammals was to Teddy Roosevelt. Namely an expression of what they felt Nature was.

p 88 is a concise description of the view of Agassiz and his dispute with the monogenesis view of a single human ancestor. Agassiz was of the view that the "races" came from differing ancestors and as such were different species.

pp. 108-109 This is a good discussion of Gray and his negation of the Transcendental view. What is especially insightful is understanding that induction was a key element of science. One collected facts and then using a scientific method, Baconian in nature, assembled the facts and from them induced a conclusion. That in essence was the heart of Darwin.

p. 111 This is a set of comments from Agassiz. Here he states there can be no connection between an arctic whale and a tropical tiger. This is done without basis. Had Agassiz understood DNA, a Century in the coming, then the evidence would be there. This is a classic example of those who prognosticate conclusions without the slightest evidence in facts. Induction is always subject to some missteps, but ex cathedra statements are often subject to near immediate disproof.

p. 141 This is an attempt to connect Darwin and Thoreau in his Walden. It is not clear how accurate this may be. Thoreau as a believer in nature qua nature had to see Nature as a temporal dynamic combative process. Some elements of this may be culled from Walden but I suspect it may require a deeper digging to fully justify.

p. 151 Here he states that Alcott invented Darwin's evolutionary ideas. But this theory had creatures descending from man rather than man from species. Perhaps this may have been stated differently.

p.247. The author states Thoreau died from influenza gotten from Alcott. It appears that the generally accepted cause was TB from which Thoreau had suffered for almost a decade. Perhaps a fact checking would work here.

In summary, other than the title and some comments above, the book is well written and well-structured for its purpose. It is not a discussion of Darwin. Somehow one should come to the book with a good understanding of Darwin circa 1860. That is missing. It is not a discussion of Darwin in America, at best as noted just in Concord and Cambridge. Transcendentalism was not a universally accepted view of the world at the time, in fact it was viewed by many as idiosyncratic to that small portion of the Commonwealth.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Google Fiber

We thought Google Fiber was a dumb idea from the outset. Why? Well we tried it before they did. What was the problem. Costs. What costs. Three types. 1. Delay. It takes forever to get permits etc. The Incumbent can throw tons of stiff at you. 2. Franchise. You need one for every town. 3. Pole Attachments: Again the Incumbent. Fundamentally fiber can be real cheap. It costs about $20,000 per mile if nothing else is counted. Then if you consider the number of homes per mile at 50% penetration you can get the fiber down to $500 per customer! Drops are $200 and electronics per sub is about $300. Overall about $1,000. Then add the above and it goes to well over $3,000 and drop penetration to 25% and it doubles to $6,000! Now it is no longer a business. I recall speaking to some Google folks a decade or so ago. Back of the envelope stuff. It took them a decade and hundreds of millions to learn! That's Silicon Valley!

Now Wired states:

Eventually Google Fiber could offer even more radical wireless technologies. For example, Webpass has tested technology from Artemis Networks, a startup building a new type of wireless service that can “follow” users from place to place and guarantee a certain amount of bandwidth. Developing those sorts of technologies is a radical departure from building a network that provides actual fiber to homes, and requires a different type of workforce. In a letter to employees about the transition, Alphabet CEO Larry Page said the leaner Access will largely work in the field, not from the company’s headquarters in Mountain View. A more wireless future for Fiber still comes with risks. More traditional telcos are also eyeing high-speed wireless internet as a way to bypass more expensive traditional broadband. In the meantime, Alphabet is still trying to figure out how to be a company that provides internet at all.

 All you had to do was read what I wrote a decade or more ago. But that is West Coast vs East Coast. Wireless is the future, if one can get out of their own way. Now come Verizon. Buy Yahoo. Yeah, right. Look at Verizon stock, down almost 20% while the market is up 20%. Is the Board asleep? They are sitting on a gold mine in wireless licenses and they go after AoL and Yahoo. They could be the next Google in doing dumb things!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Time for Dante - Need I say More


 These words, dark in hue, I saw inscribed
 over an archway. And then I said:
 'Master, for me their meaning is hard.'
 And he, as one who understood:
 'Here you must banish all distrust,
 here must all cowardice be slain.
 'We have come to where I said
 you would see the miserable sinners
 who have lost the good of the intellect.'
 And after he had put his hand on mine
 with a reassuring look that gave me comfort,
 he led me toward things unknown to man……..

I drew closer to my leader.
And he to me: 'Turn back! What are you doing?
Look, there Farinata stands erect --
you can see all of him from the waist up.'
Already I had fixed my gaze on his.
And he was rising, lifting chest and brow
as though he held all Hell in utter scorn.

At which my leader: 'Choose your words with care,'
and his hands, ready, encouraging,
thrust me toward him among the tombs.
When I stood at the foot of his tomb
he looked at me a moment. Then he asked,
almost in disdain: 'Who were your ancestors?'
And I, eager to obey, held nothing back,
but told him who they were,
at which he barely raised his eyebrows
and said: 'They were most bitter enemies
to me, my forebears, and my party --
not once, but twice, I had to drive them out.'

'If they were banished,' I responded, 'they returned
from every quarter both the first time and the second,
a skill that Yours have failed to learn as well.'
Then, beside him, in the open tomb, up came
a shade, visible to the chin: I think
he had raised himself upon his knees.
He looked around me as though he wished to see
if someone else were with me,
and when his hesitant hopes were crushed,
weeping, he said: 'If you pass through this dark
prison by virtue of your lofty genius,
where is my son and why is he not with you?'
And I to him: 'I come not on my own:
he who stands there waiting leads me through,
perhaps to one Your Guido held in scorn.'

His words and the manner of his punishment
already had revealed his name to me,
and thus was my reply so to the point.

Suddenly erect, he cried: 'What?
Did you say "he held"? Lives he not still?
Does not the sweet light strike upon his eyes?'
When he perceived that I made some delay
before I answered, he fell backward
and showed himself no more.
But the other, that great soul at whose wish
I had stopped, did not change countenance,
nor bend his neck, nor move his chest.

And he, continuing from where he'd paused:
'That they have badly learned this skill
torments me more than does this bed.
'But the face of the lady reigning here
will be rekindled not fifty times before you too
shall know how difficult a skill that is to learn.
'And, so may you return to the sweet world,
tell me, why are your people,
in every edict, so pitiless against my kin?'

Then I to him: 'The havoc and great slaughter
that dyed the Arbia red caused them to raise
such prayers in our temple.'
He sighed and shook his head, then spoke:
'I was not alone, nor surely without cause
would I have acted with the rest.
'But it was I alone, when all agreed
to make an end of Florence, I alone
who dared speak out in her defense.'
'So may Your seed sometime find peace,
pray untie for me this knot,' I begged him,
'which has entangled and confused my judgment.
'From what I hear, it seems
you see beforehand that which time will bring,
but cannot know what happens in the present.'
'We see, like those with faulty vision,
things at a distance,' he replied. 'That much,
for us, the mighty Ruler's light still shines.

'When things draw near or happen now,
our minds are useless. Without the words of others
we can know nothing of your human state.
'Thus it follows that all our knowledge
will perish at the very moment
the portals of the future close.'
Then, remorseful for my fault, I said:
'Will You tell him who fell back down
his son is still among the living?
'And let him know, if I was slow to answer,
it was because I was preoccupied
with doubts You have resolved for me.'

And now my master summoned me,
so that I begged the spirit to reveal,
at once, who else was down there with him.
His answer was: 'More than a thousand lie
here with me: both the second Frederick
and the Cardinal. Of the rest I do not speak.'

Monday, February 13, 2017

Economists Take on Medicine!

Several Tax and Spend Republicans have taken on Excess Carbon Emissions by taxing it. Well imagine what they can do for Medicine and Health Care in general.

Let's say you have Leukemia. You are dying. Yep, near death. These bright folks have the solution. A thousand years ago they would have bled you, but now, they tax you! Yep. They tax you say $50,000, but, if you get well, well they give you a tax credit! Yep a good old Republican tax credit. That means if you live and get back out there in the fields cutting the sugar cane for 16 hours a day, you will not have to pay taxes for at least 50 years. If you die, then they get to put a lien on your estate, on top of the death tax, and the estate tax, and....

Don't we all love these Tax and Spend Republicans. Imagine what they can do replacing the ACA. Bad to worse? No way, think of all those tax credits you get if you somehow heal thyself!

Oh, and better yet, that $1.5 trillion in Health Care costs, they just disappear! Imagine that. Gone!

After all, if it works for one kind of carbon why not another? Harvard can just shut down the Med School, and triple the Economics Department. And don't forget those folks at MIT who brought you the ACA in the first place! And they thought you were just dumb!