Monday, November 27, 2017

Is Elon Musk building our future with somebody else's money?

Has Elon Musk found a way to pay for a public good with private dollars? That is the very interesting question columnist Jon Evans asks in his Tech Crunch piece "In praise of Tesla's bankruptcy." The article follows, below ...

Jim Chanos summarized all of the reasons why nicely: “If you wouldn’t be short a multi-billion-dollar loss-making enterprise in a cyclical business, with a leveraged balance sheet, questionable accounting, every executive leaving, run by a CEO with a questionable relationship with the truth, what would you be short? It sort of ticks all the boxes.” A lot of people think bankruptcy looms in Tesla’s future. Of course, Tesla bears have been saying this for years, and they’ve consistently been wrong — but this time, are they right?
Maybe; maybe not. Either way, a far more interesting question, if (like me) you have no financial interest in the business’s success or failure, is: does it matter?
I’m entirely serious. We tend to assume that a company’s purpose is to make money for its shareholders, or at least “not go bankrupt,” because money is how we measure success. And this is in fact true of most companies. But it is not true of Tesla. “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure,” and this is as true of money as it is of any other measure. The purpose of Tesla is not to make money; it is to pioneer fleets of smart mass-market electric cars, and the infrastructure to support them, and battery technology which is not limited to cars. Making money is ancillary.
And whether or not they are making money, they are succeeding at their purpose. They are building the world’s largest factory — in fact, the world’s largest building; it’s still under construction, but parts of it are already up and running. They all but own the luxury electric car market, and are on course to dominate the mass market as well, while also manufacturing power packs.
I’m sure Elon Musk would like to do this while turning a sweet profit. Which is of course also, technically, his fiduciary duty. But if he fails to do so, is that really so tragic? For those of us who aren’t shareholders or bondholders, I mean. (Don’t you worry about Elon, he won’t be missing any meals.)
Maybe it wasn’t even possible to do so — in which case Musk will have used the capital markets to essentially subsidize Tesla with free money. (And, interestingly, open-source the resulting patents.) In which case, you know what, more power to him for managing to fund a loss-making investment in what is not so much a car company as it is infrastructure for our shared future.
After all, even if Tesla stock goes to zero, and its bonds default to pennies-on-the-dollar, its factories and software repositories and human capital will all be there, and no Chapter 11 court or committee will be blind to the fact that they’re worth far more as a coherent unit than they would be as separate assets. The analogy I like to draw is that of the Channel Tunnel, which was privately dug and built, and a complete financial debacle for its investors — “a wonderful thing from which we’ve all benefited, apart from the people who paid for it to be built who lost substantially all their money.”
That quote may yet apply to Tesla. Does it sound unfair to stockholders and bondholders? Not at all: this is capitalism in action, you pays your money and you takes your chances. But if you’re not a stockholder, and not a bondholder, maybe don’t worry so much about headlines screaming about Tesla’s financial unviability. This time, for once, the rest of us win either way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Charles Manson and The White Album

When one of Charles Manson's acolytes scrawled "Healter [sic] Skelter" in blood on the refrigerator in the Los Angeles home of the LaBiancas in August of 1969, he dragged the Beatles into one of the most notorious acts of violence of that very violent decade. With Manson's death in prison this week, some 48 years later, I listened to  The White Album again, not to relive Manson's psychopathology, but to revisit an album that was played constantly in my youth.

The many many songs ...

Why Don't We Do It In the Road, Julia, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, Yer Blues, Honey Pie ... 

all of them and more brought the memories flooding back, mostly about growing up, its sense of loss combined with its ever-expanding sense of freedom.

That Charles Manson's death should have sparked this chain reaction of reminiscence for me is strange but not unknowable. It is probably understandable too. He in his own terrifying way is inextricably linked with that album too. As long as people remember the 1960s in a personal way, they will remember that simple fact. 

A commentator added the other day, "the world is a better place with him gone." About that I have no doubt.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A week of anniversaries

October 25, 1917
The Bolsheviks march their forces against the Kerensky government in Petrograd, Russia (current day St. Petersburg) signaling the start of the Russian Revolution. That was 100 years ago.

October 29, 1692
Judge Stephen Sewell declares that the courts of Oyer and Terminer are disbanded, indicating that there will be no more trials in Salem, Massachusetts for people considered to be witches. That was 325 years ago.

October 31, 1517
A German monk named Martin Luther tacks his 95 theses upon the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, and the Protestant Reformation is born. That was 500 years ago.

November 2, 1917
British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour writes to Lord Rothschild expressing that "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." That was 100 years ago.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Republicans speak up ... finally

History will judge this time in American history quite harshly. History will judge this time in the Republican Party quite harshly.

But some Republicans are trying to establish the foundation for an America and a Republican party post-Donald Trump. 

These include Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who outlined his thoughts at a short speech on October 16th in Philadelphia. McCain, who was receiving the Liberty Medal from his old Senate colleague Joe Biden, is suffering from advanced and aggressive brain cancer.  

Likewise, George W. Bush, the 43rd president, spoke on October 19th in New York City in a speech that did all but mention Donald Trump by name. 

The Bushes have been noticeably reticent to speak about other presidents. This includes George H.W. Bush who maintained his silence during the Clinton years, and George W. Bush, who refrained from critiquing President Obama.

Will they succeed? This is yet to be seen. Nick Confessore of the New York Times feels as though Bush, McCain and Barack Obama (who also spoke critically of President Trump this week) all represent the former centers of power that Trump's election repudiated. 

Confessore is undoubtedly correct in believing that we shall never return to a pre-Trump political order in the country. Donald Trump has smashed that beyond recognition. Nevertheless, the need for a coherent domestic and foreign policy in the Republican Party will be as needed when Trump leaves office as it is now. Both McCain and Bush are trying to outline the broad parameters of that time in their speeches now. They are also arguing that the experiences of today are the exception, not the norm in American political discuourse. 

We hope for the sake of this nation that they are correct.

John McCain, October 16, 2017, Philadelphia, PA on accepting the Liberty Medal:

Thank you, Joe, my old, dear friend, for those mostly undeserved kind words. Vice President Biden and I have known each other for a lot of years now, more than forty, if you’re counting. We knew each other back when we were young and handsome and smarter than everyone else but were too modest to say so. 
Joe was already a senator, and I was the Navy’s liaison to the Senate. My duties included escorting senate delegations on overseas trips, and in that capacity, I supervised the disposition of the delegation’s luggage, which could require – now and again – when no one of lower rank was available for the job – that I carry someone worthy’s bag. Once or twice that worthy turned out to be the young senator from Delaware. I’ve resented it ever since.  
Joe has heard me joke about that before. I hope he has heard, too, my profession of gratitude for his friendship these many years. It has meant a lot to me. We served in the Senate together for over twenty years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the fossils who appear before you this evening. 
We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued – sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity. And through it all, whether we argued or agreed, Joe was good company. Thank you, old friend, for your company and your service to America.  
Thank you, too, to the National Constitution Center, and everyone associated with it for this award. Thank you for that video, and for the all too generous compliments paid to me this evening. I’m aware of the prestigious company the Liberty Medal places me in. I’m humbled by it, and I’ll try my best not to prove too unworthy of it.  
Some years ago, I was present at an event where an earlier Liberty Medal recipient spoke about America’s values and the sacrifices made for them. It was 1991, and I was attending the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The World War II veteran, estimable patriot and good man, President George H.W. Bush, gave a moving speech at the USS Arizona memorial. I remember it very well. His voice was thick with emotion as he neared the end of his address. I imagine he was thinking not only of the brave Americans who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, but of the friends he had served with and lost in the Pacific where he had been the Navy’s youngest aviator.  
‘Look at the water here, clear and quiet …’ he directed, ‘One day, in what now seems another lifetime, it wrapped its arms around the finest sons any nation could ever have, and it carried them to a better world.’  
He could barely get out the last line, ‘May God bless them, and may God bless America, the most wondrous land on earth.’  
The most wondrous land on earth, indeed. I’ve had the good fortune to spend sixty years in service to this wondrous land. It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so very grateful.  
What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed. 
We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.  
We are blessed, and we have been a blessing to humanity in turn. The international order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land has shared its treasures and ideals and shed the blood of its finest patriots to help make another, better world. And as we did so, we made our own civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the America that existed when I watched my father go off to war on December 7, 1941.  
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.  
We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.  
I am the luckiest guy on earth. I have served America’s cause – the cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of freedom and equal justice – all my adult life. I haven’t always served it well. I haven’t even always appreciated what I was serving. But among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I see now that I was part of something important that drew me along in its wake even when I was diverted by other interests. I was, knowingly or not, along for the ride as America made the future better than the past.  
And I have enjoyed it, every single day of it, the good ones and the not so good ones. I’ve been inspired by the service of better patriots than me. I’ve seen Americans make sacrifices for our country and her causes and for people who were strangers to them but for our common humanity, sacrifices that were much harder than the service asked of me. And I’ve seen the good they have done, the lives they freed from tyranny and injustice, the hope they encouraged, the dreams they made achievable.  
May God bless them. May God bless America, and give us the strength and wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous land, and for the world that counts on us. With all its suffering and dangers, the world still looks to the example and leadership of America to become, another, better place. What greater cause could anyone ever serve. 
Thank you again for this honor. I’ll treasure it.

George W. Bush, October 19, 2017, in New York City:

Thank you all. Thank you. Ok, Padilla gracias. So, I painted Ramon. I wish you were still standing here. It’s a face only a mother could love – no, it’s a fabulous face. (Laughter.) I love you Ramon, thank you very much for being here.
And, Grace Jo thank you for your testimony. And, big Tim. I got to know Tim as a result of Presidential Leadership Scholars at the Bush Center along with the Clinton Foundation, with help from 41 and LBJ’s libraries. 
I am thrilled that friends of ours from Afghanistan, China, North Korea, and Venezuela are here as well. These are people who have experienced the absence of freedom and they know what it’s like and they know there is a better alternative to tyranny.
Laura and I are thrilled that the Bush Center supporters are here. Bernie [Tom Bernstein], I want to thank you and your committee. I call him Bernie. (Laughter.)
It’s amazing to have Secretary Albright share the stage with Condi and Ambassador Haley. For those of you that kind of take things for granted, that’s a big deal. (Laughter and Applause.) Thank you.
We are gathered in the cause of liberty this is a unique moment. The great democracies face new and serious threats – yet seem to be losing confidence in their own calling and competence. Economic, political and national security challenges proliferate, and they are made worse by the tendency to turn inward. The health of the democratic spirit itself is at issue. And the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand.
Since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies. At one level, this has been a raw calculation of interest. The 20th century featured some of the worst horrors of history because dictators committed them. Free nations are less likely to threaten and fight each other. 
And free trade helped make America into a global economic power.
For more than 70 years, the presidents of both parties believed that American security and prosperity were directly tied to the success of freedom in the world. And they knew that the success depended, in large part, on U.S. leadership. This mission came naturally, because it expressed the DNA of American idealism.
We know, deep down, that repression is not the wave of the future. We know that the desire for freedom is not confined to, or owned by, any culture; it is the inborn hope of our humanity. We know that free governments are the only way to ensure that the strong are just and the weak are valued. And we know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.
This is not to underestimate the historical obstacles to the development of democratic institutions and a democratic culture. Such problems nearly destroyed our country – and that should encourage a spirit of humility and a patience with others. Freedom is not merely a political menu option, or a foreign policy fad; it should be the defining commitment of our country, and the hope of the world.
That appeal is proved not just by the content of people’s hopes, but a noteworthy hypocrisy: No democracy pretends to be a tyranny. Most tyrannies pretend they are democracies. Democracy remains the definition of political legitimacy. That has not changed, and that will not change. 
Yet for years, challenges have been gathering to the principles we hold dear. And, we must take them seriously. Some of these problems are external and obvious. Here in New York City, you know the threat of terrorism all too well. It is being fought even now on distant frontiers and in the hidden world of intelligence and surveillance. There is the frightening, evolving threat of nuclear proliferation and outlaw regimes. And there is an aggressive challenge by Russia and China to the norms and rules of the global order – proposed revisions that always seem to involve less respect for the rights of free nations and less freedom for the individual.
These matters would be difficult under any circumstances. They are further complicated by a trend in western countries away from global engagement and democratic confidence. Parts of Europe have developed an identity crisis. We have seen insolvency, economic stagnation, youth unemployment, anger about immigration, resurgent ethno-nationalism, and deep questions about the meaning and durability of the European Union.
America is not immune from these trends. In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined. Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.
There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned, especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War, or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning. Some have called this “democratic deconsolidation.” Really, it seems to be a combination of weariness, frayed tempers, and forgetfulness.
We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.
We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.
We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.
In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values. 
This is part of the reason we meet here today. How do we begin to encourage a new, 21st century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets? That’s the question I posed to scholars at the Bush Institute. That is what Pete Wehner and Tom Melia, who are with us today, have answered with “The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World,” a Call to Action paper. 
The recommendations come in broad categories. Here they are: First, America must harden its own defenses. Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy. And that begins with confronting a new era of cyber threats. 
America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy, it’s conducted across a range of social media platforms. Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions – including cyber-attacks, disinformation and financial influence – should not be downplayed or tolerated. This is a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion. 
The second category of recommendations concerns the projection of American leadership – maintaining America’s role in sustaining and defending an international order rooted in freedom and free markets. 
Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement: In the cultivation of new markets for American goods. In the confrontation of security challenges before they fully materialize and arrive on our shores. In the fostering of global health and development as alternatives to suffering and resentment. In the attraction of talent, energy and enterprise from all over the world. In serving as a shining hope for refugees and a voice for dissidents, human rights defenders, and the oppressed.
We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They are angry. And, they are frustrated. We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. One strength of free societies is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions. 
And that should be our goal: to prepare American workers for new opportunities, to care in practical, empowering ways for those who may feel left behind. The first step should be to enact policies that encourage robust economic growth by unlocking the potential of the private sector, and for unleashing the creativity and compassion of this country.
A third focus of this document is strengthening democratic citizenship. And here we must put particular emphasis on the values and views of the young.
Our identity as a nation – unlike many other nations – is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility. We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration of Independence. We become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the U.S. Constitution. We become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 
This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. (Applause.)
And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation. 
We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them. 
Finally, the Call to Action calls on the major institutions of our democracy, public and private, to consciously and urgently attend to the problem of declining trust.For example, our democracy needs a media that is transparent, accurate and fair. Our democracy needs religious institutions that demonstrate integrity and champion civil discourse. Our democracy needs institutions of higher learning that are examples of truth and free expression. 
In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation. 
Ten years ago, I attended a Conference on Democracy and Security in Prague. The goal was to put human rights and human freedom at the center of our relationships with repressive governments. The Prague Charter, signed by champions of liberty Vaclav Havel, Natan Sharansky, Jose Maria Aznar, called for the isolation and ostracism of regimes that suppress peaceful opponents by threats or violence. 
Little did we know that, a decade later, a crisis of confidence would be developing within the core democracies, making the message of freedom more inhibited and wavering. Little did we know that repressive governments would be undertaking a major effort to encourage division in western societies and to undermine the legitimacy of elections.
Repressive rivals, along with skeptics here at home, misunderstand something important. It is the great advantage of free societies that we creatively adapt to challenges, without the direction of some central authority. Self-correction is the secret strength of freedom. We are a nation with a history of resilience and a genius for renewal. 
Right now, one of our worst national problems is a deficit of confidence. But the cause of freedom justifies all our faith and effort. It still inspires men and women in the darkest corners of the world, and it will inspire a rising generation. The American spirit does not say, “We shall manage,” or “We shall make the best of it.” It says, “We shall overcome.” And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of God and one another. 
Thank you. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Finally, a new format for my blog

For the first time since starting this blog back in 2012, I have changed its format. Gone are the sky blue background and the ill-fitting columns that often overlapped if I posted something too large. Gone are the clunky Helvetica text and the photograph of Binney Street before the new lab buildings had been built. The new header photograph is a row of stately 19th century red-brick buildings that line Massachusetts Avenue in Boston's South End. While I'm still using Blogger as my blog platform -- it's part of the Google package and therefore very easy to use -- I hope this new format offers a more compelling way of interacting with my posts. I hope you enjoy, but as always, feel free to leave comments or send me a note about other changes you might like to see.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wealthy people in America

A brief, unscientific survey of Wikipedia led me to this astounding chart ...

Sixteen American tech/internet billionaires account for well over half-a-trillion dollars in personal wealth.

Perhaps worst of all, this list is horribly incomplete and only looks at those who made extreme amounts of money in tech. It does not include finance, business, real estate, etc. It also does not include millionaires. It only considers billionaires. How we are ever to unwind the strings of division that hobble us in these most unsettling times is hard to imagine, but the facts are not a bad place to start.

Other interesting factoids about this list:

  • There are only two women on the list, or 13 percent of the total, and everyone else is a white male.
  • Facebook has made all of its 30-something founders into billionaires, with Mark Zuckerberg being both the richest of the group and the most prominent.
  • Microsoft has created over $100 billion in personal wealth for its two founders, and an additional $34 billion for its former CEO. By way of comparison, New York State passed a $153.1 billion budget last year.
  • Google has created over $90 billion in personal wealth for its two founders.
  • Facebook had not been created yet when George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. (It would be another four years for that to happen.) Google was just two years old at the time and Amazon had just turned six.
  • There is a grouping of founders born between 1953-56, there is a second grouping from 1964-73, and there is a third grouping from 1982-84. Larry Ellison is the only billionaire on this list born before 1950.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Alan Furst nails it: 1937 and today

The opening paragraphs to Alan Furst's 2014 novel Midnight in Europe capture today's mood with an eery prescience: the gnawing worry, the foreboding, the menacing characters. I share them here.

On a soft winter evening in Manhattan, the fifteenth of December, 1937, it started to snow; big flakes spun lazily in the sky, danced in the lights of the office buildings, then melted as they hit the pavement. At Saks Fifth Avenue the window displays were lush and glittering -- tinsel, toy trains, sugary frost dusted on the glass -- and a crowd had gathered at the main entrance, drawn by a group of carolers dressed for the Dickens Christmas in long mufflers, top hats, and bonnets. Here then, for as long as it lasted, was a romantic New York, the New York in a song on the radio.  
Cristian Ferrar, a Spanish √©migr√© who lived in Paris, took a moment to enjoy the spectacle then hurried across the avenue as the traffic light turned red and began to work his way through the crowd. In a buckled briefcase carried under his arm he had that morning's New York TimesThe international news was as usual: marches, riots, assassinations, street brawls, arson; political warfare was tearing Europe apart. Real war was coming, this was merely the overture. In Spain, political warfare had flared into civil war, and the Times reported, the Army of the Republic had attacked General Franco's fascist forces at the Aragonese town of Teruel. And you only had to turn the page, there was more: Hitler's Nazi Germany had issued new restrictions on the Jews, while here was a photograph of Benito Mussolini, shown by his personal railcar as he gave the stiff-armed fascist salute, and there a photograph of Marshal Stalin reviewing a parade of tank columns.
Cristian Ferrar would force himself to read it, would ask himself, Is there anything to be done? Is it hopeless? So it seemed. Elsewhere in the newspaper, the democratic opposition to the dictators tried not to show fear, but it was in their every word, the nervous dithering of the losing side. As Franco and his generals attacked the elected Republic, the others joined in, troops and warplanes provided by Germany and Italy, and with every victory, they boasted and bragged and strutted: It's our turn, get out of our way.
Or else.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A traveler in a foreign land

The more I wander into the world of photography, the more I feel like a traveler in a foreign land.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


The Boston Cup, Boston's annual car show, came to the Boston Common last Sunday with a smaller than usual turnout both of automobiles and audience.

Nevertheless, for car enthusiasts, walking around the Parkman bandstand looking at these mechanical beauties is always a fun afternoon.

Here are some grills that I noticed while walking around.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Dear Gus

Dear Gus,

You were a fine hound. I never really thought you had a rock for a brain. It was just a mean expression of my frustration at your stubbornness. Your stature grew as you aged. Though always filled with love, in the end you were a kind, gentle man, which is odd considering that you were a dog. I am sad to learn of your death. You will be remembered, three legs and all.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Would zoning have helped Houston?

While rains continue to fall in eastern Texas and western Louisiana, the city of Houston now appears to be through the worst of Hurricane Harvey, though the storm dropped record amounts of rain on America's fourth largest city.

The impact of that deluge will be felt for years. While no urban area could cope with that kind of water, Houston is unique among American cities in that it has no zoning code, which begs the question, would zoning have helped Houston better respond this kind of catastrophe?

It's a question planners and city officials should study. At first blush, it is not hard to imagine a comprehensive land use vision with far-sighted planning and enforceable zoning could have better shaped both the natural and the built environment in Houston to preserve the earth's natural capacity to absorb and channel water. As Houston struggles to make sense of this flooding of biblical proportions, zoning is one of the areas they should turn their attention.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

If I tweeted, this is what I would say ...

1/3 @Potus. I always thought you were a complete fraud. But I was mistaken. You are very authentic. An authentic supporter of Nazis and Klansmen.

2/3 This makes you very un-American. You should resign. Immediately. And stop doing such great damage to this country.

3/3 #MAGA

Ah, 1938 was such a good year ...

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Three quotes for a Tuesday

First, from the arch-conservative Edmund Burke, on manners ... (this quote is dedicated to our president, Donald J. Trump) ...
Manners are more important than laws. Upon them, in a great measure the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.
Letters on a Regicide Peace, Letter 1, 1796

Next from Thucydides, the ancient Greek historian, on the contributions of ordinary men ... (this quote is dedicated to the citizens of Cambridge) ...
Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows. The latter are always wanting to appear wiser than the laws, and to overrule every proposition brought forward, thinking that they cannot show their wit in more important matters, and by such behavior too often ruin their country; while those who mistrust their own cleverness are content to be less learned than the laws, and less able to pick holes in the speech of a good speaker; and being fair judges rather than rival athletes, generally conduct affairs successfully. These we ought to imitate.
The History of the Peloponnesian War, ca. 400 B.C.

Finally, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., doctor, writer and Boston Brahmin, on choosing a direction ... (this quote is dedicated to myself) ...
I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it -- but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.
Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, 1858

All of these quotes come from a calendar that got stuck in my drawer many years ago and has traveled with me on a few moves and a few life changes. The cover says "Best Wishes for 1995."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cars: Tutto Italiano, 2017

Tutto Italiano, the Italian car extravaganza at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, came to town yesterday, and here are a whole bunch of red Italian cars (with names when I know them) for your car viewing enjoyment.

Lamborghini Countach

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Ferrari F12 tdf

Ferrari 488 GTB

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

More about my Chevy Volt: Cruise Control not consistent

I had a strange experience driving my Chevy Volt on a recent road trip.

I could not get the car to go into cruise control. I'm not sure if I was doing something wrong, or if the car simply did not want to go into cruise mode, but either way it's a little bit disappointing to have a problem with a simple task such as this. The car after all barely has 2000 miles on it.

Normally, any problems of this nature are diagnosed on the internet by some intelligent person who then writes about it or posts a video, but on this issue, I wasn't able to find anything. I'll keep exploring. Meanwhile, if you know anything, please feel free to share it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

More about my Volt; Remembering Alger Hiss

Today is a bit of a Grab Bag day, though it isn't a Friday.

Cost of Driving a Chevy Volt
First, a follow up to my blog post about the cost of driving my Chevy Volt. I have since found out that if I had subscribed to the On Star program, General Motors would be sending me monthly information about my car and its driving habits, including mileage, how many Kilowatt Hours and gas I've consumed, etc. As it turns out, I haven't signed up for it, but maybe I will.

Remember Alger Hiss?
Now that Jared Kushner has spoken to Senate investigators, it bears remembering that in 1950, Alger Hiss was sentenced to five years in prison. The crime? Perjury. How did he perjure himself? He failed to disclose information to a congressional panel about his contacts with an agent of the Soviet Union. The stakes keep getting higher.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Net metering is switching our economy to electricity

The greening up of our economy takes many forms. In a recent conversation with my neighbor, I found this out ...

Long ago, he installed solar panels on his roof. During the summer time, his panels produce a lot more energy than he can consume. The excess energy gets sold back to the energy grid, and his utility Eversource then credits his account for the value of that energy. He runs a negative balance these months, where Eversource owes him more than he owes them.

During the winter months, when the sun is lower in the sky and the days are much shorter, my neighbor can then spend the credits he earned during the summer. This entire process is known as "net metering." 

Factoring in everything, over a 12 month cycle my neighbor still produces more energy than he consumes, but here's the kicker ... 

Because his credits are accumulated by producing electricity, the only way he can spend those credits is by burning electricity. Therefore, my neighbor is massively incentivized to transform all his power needs into electric. This includes warming his house with electric heat in the winter, and powering his car with electrons rather than with petroleum all year round. 

He tells me that as soon as his lease is up on his BMW X3, he will be in the market either for a Chevy Volt or Bolt, or for a Tesla. 

Electricity is replacing fossil fuels as our preferred power source.

Just another chapter in how the world is changing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Akamai consolidates its employees in Kendall Square

Governor Charlie Baker joined Cambridge mayor Denise Simmons in Kendall Square today for a groundbreaking celebrating the consolidation of Akamai employees into a single new building there. Boston Properties, responsible for much of the development in that part of the city over the past four decades, will construct the building.

Cambridge mayor Denise Simmons, next to governor Charlie Baker, at the Akamai groundbreaking

Akamai is the back-end of the internet, helping over 3 trillion interactions happen every day on the World Wide Web. Founded in Cambridge by Tom Leighton, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT, and his former graduate student Danny Lewin in 1998, Akamai has grown to 7,000 employees world-wide and over $2 billion in annual revenue. That Akamai is able to stay in Cambridge is no small success for this city of 100,000 people, and today's event reiterates the importance of Kendall Square in the local economy.

As if to underscore that point, another important developer presented their plans for Kendall Square at a separate event last night. MIT's real estate arm came before the housing-advocacy group A Better Cambridge and told a roomful of people their plans to develop the Volpe site, a 14-acre parcel right in the heart of Kendall Square.

An audience member asks a question at last night's ABC event with MIT

While the MIT team is nowhere near breaking any ground on new construction, their process is designed to incorporate as much of the local concerns as possible while sorting through some of the stickier urban design and planning questions this development poses. Right now, they are working through different scenarios dealing with open space, housing, commercial and retail activities.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Is driving on electricity less expensive than driving on gas? Comparing a 2017 Chevy Volt to a 1999 Subaru

As many of you already know, I'm in love with my new Chevy Volt. It's comfortable, it drives well, it feels safe on the road. It inspires confidence in the corners and in the rain. It has Apple Car Play, which among other things means that I can have GPS navigation on my screen through Apple Maps. But more than any of this, my car has now travelled over 1,500 miles since April, and it has used less than one tank of gas total to do it.

That is because it runs on electricity for the fifty miles before it switches over to the gas-powered engine, so all local driving is done on electricity with no gas necessary. 

This prompts an obvious question, a question that I get asked all the time ... 

Have my electricity bills gone up?

I now can answer that question. 

The answer is unequivocally: Yes. 

Here's how I know ... I looked at my electricity usage from Eversource and this is what it told me ...

My electricity usage more than doubled when I compare June 2016 to June 2017. It went up by 115.6 percent to be precise, amounting to an average daily usage this June of 9.7 Kilowatt Hours (kWh). While that does represent a huge jump from this same time last year, my net total cost for that electricity is $67.67, a very manageable number and average daily usage of 9.7 kWh is still significantly below the national average of 29.6 kWh. 

Here is my data from Eversource ...

Since my quick math tells me that in June 2016, I spent roughly $31.47 on electricity for that month, my net total increase for June 2017 was $36.20.

Assuming that all of that $36.20 was caused by increased electricity consumption to power my car (an assumption that doesn't make entire sense because of the amount of air conditioning I have used this summer), the next question is, 

Am I spending equivalent to, more than or less than I was spending on gas in my former car, an old 1999 Subaru wagon? 

As it turns out, in June 2016, I spent a total of $47.84 on gas. 

So, comparing June 2016 to June 2017, I have spent 24.3 percent LESS on automobile fuel (whether in the form of electrons or petroleum) this year than I did last year, or in dollar terms, $11.64, which as an annualized amount is $139.68 in savings by driving an electric car.

Given that my car payments are $144/month, I am getting one month's worth of car usage just on my gas savings alone.

This 24 percent is a real savings, and it will only increase as gas prices rise. Furthermore, while I haven't accounted for miles driven, my personal sense is that I have been driving more in my new car this year than I drove in the Subaru last year. 

The Chevy Volt: saving money and reducing the carbon being spewed out into the atmosphere. A win win. 

Addendum: Starting next month, my energy bill will increase again because I have signed up for Cambridge Community Electricity, an aggregation program where Agera Energy becomes the energy purchaser for Cambridge customers instead of Eversource. 

The base plan is 25% more solar that what the state requires though they also have a 100% GREEN option, which is exactly what it sounds like ... 100% renewable sources for electricity. I opted for 100% GREEN, so I'm powering my car completely on wind and solar. It costs 20% more per kWh, but if ever there were a case of "Putting your money where your mouth is," this would be it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

Henry David Thoreau, you're too old to die.

The rain sprang out of nowhere. Lightning shot horizontally across the sky as the clouds darkened. The radio was telling me what I already knew, there were thunderstorms in the area. I don't worry about thunder, but the lightning I mind.

This is doubly true when swimming is the goal. The rain came down harder. It was a blinding rain. My windshield wipers couldn't keep up. Back-and-forth-back-and-forth, I thought they might fly off their hinges.

Sure enough, in the way these things happen, as soon as I got to Walden Pond the rain started to relent. In the parking lot, there was a young woman in a bikini trying to dry her hair with a towel. Trying to dry your hair in the rain. It seemed odd to me. But she was wearing a bikini, so I forgave.

It was blue sky by the time I got down to the shoreline. Lifeguards had required everyone leave the water when the rains came, so the pond was quiet.

I wanted to swim, but it wasn't allowed. 20 minutes, they said. So I just stared out onto the pond. Sometimes a summer shower means the temperature is about to drop and the air is about to get crisp. This was the opposite. The wet air was able to suspend even more moisture in it. Hot and humid became hotter, more humid.

How would I tell Henry that I was here? How would I let him know I was here?

Walk around the pond, I thought. Once around the pond, to tell Henry "Happy Birthday, old man!" Once around the pond for the boy, born on this day 200 years ago, in Concord, Massachusetts.

I began my pilgrimage. The shoreline was empty except for the odd family now and again.

When I got to the far side, I dropped my shorts near a little cove and went for a dip. I wasn't naked. I had my swim trunks on. I went for a dip. The water was cool, but not cold. And it was clear. Man was it clear. A short dip, then back to the shore, shirt on, shoes on, on my way, around the pond. Once around the pond for the boy, born on this date, 200 years ago.

What he did with his 44 years is worth remembering. That Henry David Thoreau must have been an odd duck. The way odd ducks leave an impression. Living in the woods? What a strange thing to do.

An American Impression. An American Original. An American Independent.

Happy Birthday, you strange man.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,   
And round it was, upon a hill.   
It made the slovenly wilderness   
Surround that hill. 

The wilderness rose up to it, 
And sprawled around, no longer wild.   
The jar was round upon the ground   
And tall and of a port in air. 

It took dominion everywhere.   
The jar was gray and bare. 
It did not give of bird or bush,   
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

-- Wallace Stevens

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We are free. We are free.

In Congress, July 4, 1776,


When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the right of Representation in the legislature; a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the People.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of Peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions, We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in GENERAL CONGRESS assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions, DO, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly PUBLISH and DECLARE, That these United Colonies are, and of Right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Bri tain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that, as FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. AND for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


Attested, CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary