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  1. "The Pomfret's are tiny in the U.S.", is what I thought when I first saw a Pomfret fish in a U.S. shop (the Chinese stores have them). Turns out, they're regular sized Pomfrets and it's just me who'd grown. That's what I figured after asking around. I realized that I had last eaten this fish when I was pretty young (and small). So, my memory of their size was relative to my own size then. Ever met people who spent their younger childhoods in a city where is snows and the piles go up to 3 or 4 feet, and and then they moved when they themselves were about 4 feet tall? Many of them, as
  2. A couple of years ago, I was in a small mid-western resort town on July 4th and thousands of tourists (mostly from elsewhere in the state) had turned out to see the fireworks. Trucks streamed in from all the nearby little towns and farms. The atmosphere was festive. There was benevolence all around. The red-white-and blue was respected, not as a symbol of something above us on an altar, but as a symbol of who we are. Not on a pedestal to be saluted -- though that too -- but, in casual clothing, in funny head-dress, in flashing lights to be worn for the evening. All around was a feeling of fa
  3. At one level, 451 is about oppressive government keeping books away from people, but the message is deeper than that. Peel back a layer and we find that it is not just about books and not just about government. Bradbury tells us that textured, varied, un-sanitized, life is the good life. The life of purely passive leisure -- the do-nothing life depicted in Mildred watching TV all day -- is bad (she almost kills herself with sleeping pills, and it doesn't really seem to bother her; after all, what is there to live for?). Bradbury fears we are losing touch with reality -- with doing things with
  4. John Masters's novels aren't for everyone, but I enjoy them immensely. Masters tells a good story, and tells it well. His heroes are far from perfect; they are works-in-progress, who develop through the book, occasionally tempted by Dostoyevsky-like inner dialogs. Sometimes, they weaken and succumb to temptation. The books are mostly adventures without deep themes. Indeed, the rare times that Masters tries to step back and find a broader moral theme, he is unconvincing: the narrative does not support his commentary. The books are all based in India, and the protagonists are British. Each boo
  5. Why do some gurus endure? Jesus was not the only Jewish preacher, and I bet Mohammad and Buddha had competition too. In modern parlance: why did they "go viral"? Christianity really took off in Rome. Buddhism declined in India, but spread in China. Clearly, early advocates -- Paul in Christianity -- were critical. I listened (thanks to Librivox) to about half of an old book, titled History Of The Christian Church During The First Six Centuries. The book documents Christianities leaders, branches and debates up to around 600 AD. The book documents the growth of the church. It also explain
  6. "We come from a line of strong Norse and Celtic mix. We take what is our due." This is a line I read from a father, to a daughter, advising her to demand something she considered her right. It is interesting how people look to their history in this way, because -- in fact -- this is myth. There's no biological transfer of philosophy across that time, and yet people invoke the myth, because it stirs emotion. It works like good heroic literature: it shows us what humans can do. We are inspired. If "these people could do so, so could I". The emotional reality is stronger, if we add "my own anc
  7. The FDA has now allowed 23andMe to give their customers some health-related information. This is not everything: it is only the results tat the FDA considers more reliable. On the face, this might look like a good thing, but it is probably the first step to corrupting one more little industry. Already, 23andMe is running ads saying it is the only genetic testing company offering FDA-approved health results. This is really deceptive because the FDA only approved a small sliver of their tests and because competitors can do the same even if the FDA has not approved them yet. Consider the people w
  8. "The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould" is a collection of Gould's essays, mostly about evolution. This is not a breezy book; even skipping, it took me months. Nevertheless, it is a rewarding book to anyone who is already past the basic misconceptions about evolution and wants to understand it in a little more detail. If you still have doubts about evolution vs. creationism/"intelligent design", this may not be the book for you. If you think evolution is a process where individual organisms adapt to their changing environments, or if you think things like "since modern societ
  9. "There was a time when the reader of an unexciting newspaper would remark, 'How dull is the world today!' Nowadays he says, 'What a dull newspaper!' " Daniel Boorstin's in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. This book is Boorstin's diatribe against the promotion of "image" over reality. Even with his refusal to see the other side of the argument, and even 50 years after it was published, this is a must-read for the questions is raises, even if though it  does not attempt any answers. In 2014 a Malaysian airliner disappeared with almost no trace. When little is known
  10. Grapes of Wrath follows a family leaving Oklahoma to look for (elusive) work in California. While the family seems stoic about their suffering and oppression, the book's title warns of a revolution to come. The protagonists are honest, but ignorant, folk unable to cope with changing society. No heroes, just ordinary people, trying to make sense of their world, and to make the best of a situation they do not understand. The rich are the villains, with "the big bank" as the fountainhead of villainy. Steinbeck paints with a realistic lyricism reminiscent of good country lyrics, but more delica
  11. When oil was first discovered in Pennsylvania, it was transported to the nearest rail head by horse. It was poured into liquor barrels, put on a cart and pulled by a team of horses. In 1865, Samuel Van Syckel procured a right of way and built a 5 mile pipeline. He faced a lot of technical challenges. The oil had to be pumped, and the pipeline's joints would need to withstand high pressure. Van Syckel was working with 15 foot sections of 2-inch wrought pipe. After sabotage by unhappy teamsters, he hired guards to protect the line, and it was successful enough (he charged $1 per barrel) that he
  12. Overview: Like last year, 2014 gave us a slowly improving economy, and a rocketing stock market! Since the 2007-08 downturn, most measures of the economy have stabilized and have started to improve from their bottom. Even total-employment got back, though the more important number (Employment-to-population) is still low. The broadest GDP measure has been increasing very slowly. House-prices came well off their bottom, someway half-way to the old peak, but have recently flattened for a few months. Meanwhile, the stock market is at an all-time high. Corporate profits are high since GDP is grow
  13. Private debt is often a bigger problem than government debt, in a mixed economy. Governments encourage private borrowing, and force some citizens to underwrite the losses of others. The great recession is essentially a tale of private debt gone wild. Greenspan's folly: After the dot.com bust, Americans did not tighten their belts for long. Look at the first chart. After dropping slightly for two years (2003-04), debt payments rose as a percent of disposable income. This was Alan Greenspan's "clever plan" ™ to get out of the recession: "borrow against your house". A different (private)
  14. In a previous post I predicted Social Security will be around for a long while. Briefly, if you are between 30 and 50 you will likely receive social security, but you will receive less than promised if you're in the upper-middle income range. (If you're 20 or so, I have no prediction to make. I wouldn't rely on it. Still, by the time you're 30, you you can re-evaluate the situation.) The math of Social Security does not add up, but each time it has faced a crisis, the tax-rate has been raised. The Wiki has a table showing how it crept up, along with a list of changes, showing how "benefits" w
  15. Sinclair Lewis's "Babbitt" is a middle-aged, middle-class, real-estate broker, who votes Republican, goes to church, and belongs to the right club. Babbitt is not a fountainhead of evil; he is not particularly zealous about his values; he is even open to toying "in theory" with alternatives in morality and politics. We sense the author's sympathy -- perhaps pity -- for his protagonist. Here is a man who has chosen values which are about average for his background, not quite happy with his choices, theoretically open to alternatives, practically going to stay put in his comfort zone. But, why
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