29 April 2013

In Disrepair and Desuetude, Dilapidated, Decrepit, Ramshackled, Racked and Ruined...But Damned Photogenic

Posting hereabouts will be sparse for the next month or so. After this weekend's Ultimate Frisbee State Tournament and then the Senior Prom for Wesdom, we've got his HS graduation next weekend and Wisdaughter's graduation from Emory U. the next weekend. Then we get to go visit Wisdomie who's a Scuba Instructor in Hawaii for a couple weeks and help him move and get ready to complete his college at UH. After that I have to move Wisdaughter to a new apartment before she starts work (in her chosen field!!).

So, for now, some pics from Wesdom's prom pic session at an old (putatively haunted) mansion about three miles from my home I had no idea was there. The site was picked by the mother of one of the kids who happens to be a professional photog. These, unfortunately, are my pics (not hers), taken with my iPhone. As always, clic pics to embiggen slide show, mouse over for sometime surprise text:

The house. The site pre-shoot
The old sunroom
Looking in
Brighten the corner 
Hail, Hail the gang's all here!
Classic lines
The old greenhouse
Stairway to nowhere
The grounds
The garden path 
Musta' been grand
While a photo shoot happens, Jim H tries to get fancy
The house from the grounds
Can't keep the forest out
Can't you just hear the creaking and cracking?
Love in the ruins

24 April 2013

What If Everything You Believe Turns Out to be Wrong?

So, what happens when it turns out that everything you believe, the ground of everything you do, is based upon an error, a lie, an illusion, misinformation?

This is the sort of question I've been asking, in an esoteric, philosophic vein, in my series Being v. Becoming. (If the metaphysics of substance is supplanted by a process metaphysics of flux, whence the religious notions, e.g., of soul? salvation? etc.? Can humanity simply eschew its religions once they've been foundationally discredited? Or will some remnant survive, even when the illusion is revealed?)

This same sort of drama is playing out now in a clear-cut arena. For years, Conservative economists around the world have taken it as an article of faith that growth stops and, in fact, recedes when the national debt passes 90% of GDP. This has been the justification for austerity policies, including the Republican budget-slashing, welfare-bashing, social security-smashing sequestration mania of the last few years.

Turns out that 90% figure comes exclusively from a 2010 working paper entitled Growth in a Time of Debt by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff of Harvard University.

One of the initial problems with the paper was that it was never peer reviewed. That did not prevent its becoming the rationale for cutting social programs around the world among true believers. It reified their ideology. Paul Ryan's budget forays cite it as "conclusive empirical evidence." The Washington Post editorial board takes it as dogma.

Recently, Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at U.Mass Amherst, had the assignment of replicating the findings of an important Econ paper for one of his classes. He chose Reinhart/Rogoff. When he couldn't replicate the results, he reached out to R/R, and they emailed him their data spreadsheet.

After reviewing the R/R underlying data, Herndon found several serious problems:
"First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result."
This is a pretty big deal, it seems to me. What happens when the foundation of everything you believe about how government should respond in a time of recession is discredited? Do you go back and change/revise everything you've done based on this belief as a rational person might do? Do you increase social spending and thus economic exchange activity? Do you implement Keynesian-style, job-creating policies which put people back to work, say, upgrading infrastructure? Or, do you continue to hold to your discredited austerian view of reducing the economic activity of the government in time of recession because of stubborn political affiliation or ideology?

Paul Krugman, the Princeton Economist and columnist for The New York Times, has been all over this. Here. Here. Here. And everywhere. He's much more authoritative on these matters than I. You should read him on matters such as these. (Of course, he found R/R skeevy for a number of other reasons long before this colossal coding error in Excel came to light.)

It will be interesting to see how the European austerians and the Paul Ryans, Rand Pauls, WaPo editorial boards, Pete Petersons, Erkine Bowleses, Alan Simpsons, Richard Haasses, and Conservative economists in general, etc., adapt.

Economics is one of those not-quite hard, not-quite soft sciences. As a hard science, there are replicable experimental results in many areas. Theses are propounded, proved or discredited, and revised to account for new findings. Unfortunately, it also tends to have aspects of the sorts of social sciences where individual preferences and biases can find confirmation in observations—especially where data is obscured, ignored, selected, or otherwise manipulated.

We saw an instance of this in the recent U.S. election, where ideological polls (polls based on faulty but favorable assumptions) showed the Republican candidate Mitt Romney either winning or within striking distance of President Barack Obama going into election day. More scientific/analytic polls, however, showed Romney to be clearly losing. In that case, the election itself proved to be a slap in the face. Reality prevailed. Obama won by nearly 5 million votes in an Electoral College landslide. It was a huge embarrassment to many professional pollsters.

In this instance, I fear there is no such accountability moment for the true believers in austerity economics. And the world's economy is the worse for it.

Here's Herndon's interview with Stephen Colbert:

18 April 2013

Boston v. Waco

I can't hold my tongue. I'm a runner, and I deeply empathize with the Beantown marathoners and their supporters. Hell, those people just ran 26+ miles and were about to cross the finish line when they got blown off their feet. A bunch—including Wesdom's calc teacher (who's okay, btw)—was just nearing the finish line and got turned away. Not allowed to finish their first Boston.

If you're not a runner, you should know: Boston is the pinnacle. You can go out and run a 5K or 10K or a half mary or even a full marathon and never be allowed to run the Boston. You have to post a fast time on a legit 26.2 mile course before you can even submit an application. You get some handicaps for age, gender, etc. But still. Finishing the Boston is a BFD!

I've been running regularly for nearly four years. In that time I've competed in 43 foot races. Got 43 shirts, even took first place in my age division on occasion. Five of those races were half marathons—13.1 miles. You've seen some of the pics. But I've never—not once, not even in practice—run that distance. And my halves' times wouldn't qualify me to apply to Boston even if I doubled them.

So, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Deep and abiding.

The Boston Marathon bombing was a big deal. It deserves the full weight of governmental intervention and sanction. Go get the bastards! They terrorized my friends and fellow runners. And they killed at least three innocents and wounded hundreds others who were either just running or just watching running. What country do we invade?

But wait. Last night a fertilizer depot near Waco, Texas blew up in the middle of the night. Initial reports say somewhere between five and 15 people were killed and many, many more injured. Plus, neighborhoods had to be evacuated.

These innocents were sleeping in their beds or otherwise simply going about their business, maybe at work doing their jobs. And this industrial blast blew them into oblivion. Not to mention the environmental damage.

How is this not also domestic terrorism? Why should not its perpetrators, whether from neglect or negligence or even criminal incompetence, be punished to the same extent as the Boston bastards? Do they get a pass in our minds simply because they have an "Inc." shield?

Some people put together a small, crude bomb and set it off in a public place with the intent to kill, maim, and terrorize a few bystanders at a public even. Some others allowed a known hazard stored in public proximity to explode with sufficient force to register a 2.9 on the Richter earthquake scale, the result of which was death, mayhem, and terror.

You tell me.

17 April 2013

Orn Porn

You knew there would be pics. Scroll over for secret message (sometimes) or click pic to embiggen and slide show:
Shore birds by the dozen on deserted strand
More on the dock of the bay
Indigo Bunting!
Ditto. Sorry for the quality. But what beauties!
This guy came into the restaurant on his friend's shoulder and agreed to pose for a pic while waiting for his fries

Okay. Here's the thing. You want to hike/drive with me. Otherwise you'll miss stuff. For example, the Indigo Buntings above, taken from the driver's side car window on my iPhone.

And see those trees on the horizon over there as seen out the passenger side car window?
Look closely. I could see them in flight.
Two Bald Eagles all up in there
More Bald Eagle
Also, you might've missed this nest:
Whose is it? I see a little silhouetto of a head. Poking out. Poking out.
Somebody's coming home: Osprey!
And now for the money shot:
The Money Shot!
Naked Bird Sex!
As I said to Wisdoc, we could've been lifelong Audubon Society members who spent every waking minute birding and never, NEVAH! I tell ya, have seen wild Ospreys fornicating. Oh, and next time, have your good camera ready. My poor little iPhone just didn't do this justice.

Of course, I could've set up a hidden camera here for some more naked bird sex
Bonus Footage (taken with my iPhone):

Noisy gulls.

 Pelican glide.
I love how they do this!

05 April 2013

A Break in the Action. Plus Bunny Goodness!

I'm sure going philosophical on you these last few weeks has pretty much bored the four of you who still read this detritus to something like migraines. Hits are way down. As are links to. Thus interludes. Still, I think it's a good thing to take your mind out for a walk occasionally.

Now intervenes Spring Break ATL-style. I'll be stepping away from the edge for a week or so and heading to the edge of the Continent. (Not attending, btw, the Final Four. No Carolina, no me.)

Before I do, speaking of "animal deals," I want to share an email I received this week. Some of you may recall my "A Nest of Bunnies" post from April, 2010 (which serendipitously presaged my "Fouling the Nest" post). In fact, if you Google "nest of bunnies" one of the images from that post comes up first. (FIRST, Yo! Does this mean I win the Internets?)

Anyway to the email, and I quote:
Hey Jim,
Hello and happy Easter!
I am an intern at the Wildlife Rehabilitation center at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, NC and I am working on an educational flier for springtime. I was hoping to use one of your baby bunnies photos from your post "A nest of baby bunnies" posted April 26th, 2010.
The flier is to help people understand when wildlife needs their help and when wildlife should be left in the wild. As an example of wildlife that does not need help, we want to use a nest of baby bunnies. Your vet had it right, they have not been abandoned - mom will come back in a bit and people should leave them be :) I google image searched baby bunnies and I liked your photo the best.
Please let me know if it's ok for us to use your photo - we will site it properly and give you credit and I'd be happy to send you the completed flier if you are interested!
Thank you for your time!
Believing this not to be an April Fools' Day catfishing prank, my prompt response (all true):
I am really honored. I have been going to the NC Zoo since it first opened. I'm a Carolina native and a UNC grad. I try to take my nieces and nephews and children (or at least I did when they were all younger) to the zoo in Asheboro every time I get back to visit family. We have some wonderful family memories of being there.

Please feel free to use my bunny-nest-in-the-ivy photo. True to life, their mom came back and moved them. Occasionally, we see a juvenile or other adult rabbit in the vicinity and wonder if it was once a nestling there.

Thanks so much for respecting my post enough to ask to use the photo. And YES! I would love a copy of the flier.
This was just as satisfying as the email I got from a prof at Boston University telling me my blog was on the optional reading list for an undergrad class in Humanities.

Here's the awwww reprised:

If you're interested, we'll be at St. George Island, FL, on the Gulf:

Deserted Beaches
Barrier Island, Three-Mile Bridge

The Apalachicola Bay is home to the bestest oysters in the world. (Sorry Chesapeake)

02 April 2013

Pictorial Interlude

A visitor Sunday for brunch (along with 40+ people). When we came to ATL 13 years ago to look at houses, an identical mallard was in the same place in the creek. It was the first week of April. He (or his doppelganger) returns every year, often with a gal pal.
Opening Day! Great seats! Go Braves!
Skyline at sunset from the upper deck
Skyline at night up close
LOUD! And yes, the Braves beat the Phillies.

I am so sure
Look what the mailman brought today! Spring Break beach reading.

01 April 2013

Interlude: Penis Festival

Yes. It's that time again. While billions of people around the world celebrate a theology of sadism and state-sanctioned murder and the hope there is some paradisical abode beyond all that (and this) they're entitled to because of how emotional they get about the whole suffering thing, Shintoist Japanese celebrate their annual penis festival: Kanamara Matsuri, かなまら祭り or, "Festival of the Steel Phallus," which itself follows the Hōnen Matsuri, 豊年祭 or, Harvest Festival.

You knew there would be pics:

(click to embiggen. Heh heh)

However you choose to celebrate, it is Springtime in the Northern Hemisphere—a time for renewal—and I wish you the best of the season. As for me? It's Opening Day! and for the first time in years the Braves are in town for their first game of the year. I'll be at Turner Field on what looks to be a lovely early Spring evening for baseball.

[You're welcome!]