The Breakfast Club (Organics)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgAh, yes.  Now that the tumult and hubbub are done and we can wait for April 13th to have the Mets disappoint us again, and the leaves brown and sere crunch beneath the feet of costumed children while the long night is lit by sacrificial gourds, it is time to resume my musical whimseys.

This morning we shall start with one of the oldest instruments in common use, the Organ.

If you watch that purveyor of speculative fiction and conspiracy theories laughably called The History Channel I’m sure you’ve been subjected to many, many hours of Ancient Discoveries where the slack jawed narrators marvel at the fact that our ancestors were more than feral brutes wearing animal skins, stabbing and slashing at each other with crudely made implements with none of the sophistication and subtlety of a Maxim or Thermonuclear warhead.

Hah, the reason they didn’t fix up the Iowa after the turret explosion is we no longer have the tools or skills to do it and that was only WW II.  We can’t build Space Shuttles or iPods anymore either.  We have facebook and Twitter instead and I think it’s a fair trade, even 140 characters seems tl;dr.

So anyway it should come as no surprise the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, etc., ect. were capable of stunning feats of engineering and craftsmanship based on a deep understanding of Math, Physics, and Chemistry.  Curse you Dark Ages.

Such an item is the Organ.  It basically operates according to the principles invented (as far as we know) by Ctesibius of Alexandria for the hydraulis between 285 – 222 BCE (about 2200 years ago).  He was an expert in pneumatics, the science of compressed air, and water had little to do with the mechanism except to provide a motive force to the bellows.  He did make other advances in hydraulics like the the world’s most accurate clock (a water clock) and is said by most to have been the first head of the Museum of Alexandria.

He is also reputed to have been notoriously poor.  So much for genius.

Now believe it or not music was just as important to non-contemporary culture as it is to ours, maybe more.  ‘Oral’ history in non-literate societies (those without a written language) is frequently conveyed by song where the beat and melody remind the performer of the correct wording and sequence of events in the story.  The Iliad and the Odyssey are nothing more than long songs.  We don’t have a record of most of these because musical notation, the written language of music, was not yet invented and ideas about the difference between what is called music and what is called noise change quite frequently (those damn kids).

There is some evidence that even the earliest western instruments used either a chromatic or diatonic scale so most can produce sounds we would recognize as music even if they weren’t actually used that way and the same would be true of the Organs of Ctesibius.  The problem is that they used big old pipes to create the resonant tones and are expensive and not so easily moved.  Thus they were usually installed in Houses of Worship, be they Pagan Temples or Christian Cathedrals and their purpose was to establish the proper awe and respect a major religion deserved.

And so things stood until 1517 (ironically, this very day the 95 theses were posted by Martin Luther) and the Protestant Reformation when the sects that split away from the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox one for that matter) were basically poor and despised (on theological principles anyway) the ritual and ceremony.  If they captured an Organ in battle they were as likely to melt down the pipes for musket balls (most of them were made of lead, or even more valuable brass and bronze which could be re-cast as cannons) as to use it to make music.

In time the Protestants developed their own musical tradition and Organs evolved more secular purposes especially the relatively portable ones that used Reeds or electronics to develop their tones.

However, since a large number of early “Art” composers were employed by the Catholic Church which maintained its tradition of musical accompaniment there is a substantial body of work intended for the Organ of which arguably the most famous is Toccata and Fugue in D Minor attributed (wasn’t published until 1833 and was promoted by Mendelssohn) to Bach.

This particular recording (Columbia Masterworks ML 5032) is E. Power Biggs, one of the most noted organists of the 20th Century, playing the piece on 14 different Organs in Europe.

  1. Stockholm, Sweden
  2. Weingarten, Germany
  3. Lubeck, Germany
  4. Luneburg, Germany
  5. Hamburg, Germany
  6. Steinkirchen, Germany
  7. Neuenfelde, Germany
  8. Heidelberg, Germany
  9. Sor, Denmark
  10. Gouda, Holland
  11. Amsterdam, Holland
  12. Amstelveen, Holland
  13. Westminster Abbey, England
  14. Royal Festival Hall, England

Since Organs were, in the tradition of Ctesibius and the ancient engineers, hand crafted individually, I’d like you to pay attention to the very different acoustics of each individual instrument as the same piece is played by the same artist.

But you’ll be forgiven if you just want it as background music while you answer the door.

Happy Halloween.

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.


Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

This Day in History


John Maynard Keynes Is the Economist the World Needs Now

By Peter Coy, Business Week

October 30, 2014

Is there a doctor in the house? The global economy is failing to thrive, and its caretakers are fumbling. Greece took its medicine as instructed and was rewarded with an unemployment rate of 26 percent. Portugal obeyed the budget rules; its citizens are looking for jobs in Angola and Mozambique because there are so few at home. Germans are feeling anemic despite their massive trade surplus. In the U.S., the income of a median household adjusted for inflation is 3 percent lower than at the worst point of the 2007-09 recession, according to Sentier Research. Whatever medicine is being doled out isn’t working. Citigroup (C) Chief Economist Willem Buiter recently described the Bank of England’s policy as “an intellectual potpourri of factoids, partial theories, empirical regularities without firm theoretical foundations, hunches, intuitions, and half-developed insights.” And that, he said, is better than things countries are trying elsewhere.

There is a doctor in the house, and his prescriptions are more relevant than ever. True, he’s been dead since 1946. But even in the past tense, the British economist, investor, and civil servant John Maynard Keynes has more to teach us about how to save the global economy than an army of modern Ph.D.s equipped with models of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium. The symptoms of the Great Depression that he correctly diagnosed are back, though fortunately on a smaller scale: chronic unemployment, deflation, currency wars, and beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies.

An essential and enduring insight of Keynes is that what works for a single family in hard times will not work for the global economy. One family whose breadwinner loses a job can and should cut back on spending to make ends meet. But everyone can’t do it at once when there’s generalized weakness because one person’s spending is another’s income. The more people cut back spending to increase their savings, the more the people they used to pay are forced to cut back their own spending, and so on in a downward spiral known as the Paradox of Thrift. Income shrinks so fast that savings fall instead of rise. The result: mass unemployment.

Keynes said that when companies don’t want to invest and consumers don’t want to spend, government must break the dangerous cycle by stepping up its own spending or cutting taxes, either of which will put more money in people’s pockets. That is not, contrary to some of his critics, a recipe for ever-expanding government: Keynes said governments should run surpluses during boom times to pay off their debts and soak up excessive private demand. (The U.S. ran small surpluses in two boom years of the Clinton administration.) Far from a wild-eyed radical, he said economists should aspire to the humble competence of dentists. He wanted to repair economies, not overthrow them.

The crisis-induced embrace of Keynes infuriated the likes of German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, who complained in 2008, “The same people who would never touch deficit spending are now tossing around billions. The switch from decades of supply-side politics all the way to a crass Keynesianism is breathtaking.” Wrote John Cochrane of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business on his website: “If you believe the Keynesian argument for stimulus, you should think Bernie Madoff is a hero. Seriously. He took money from people who were saving it, and gave it to people who most assuredly were going to spend it.”

The Keynesian jolt didn’t last long. European governments pivoted to austerity on the theory that doing so would reassure investors and induce a wave of investment, creating growth and jobs. It didn’t happen. The U.S. was marginally less austere and grew a bit faster. But even in the U.S., stimulus faded quickly despite continuing high unemployment. Far from priming the pump, changes in government outlays actually subtracted from the growth of the U.S. economy in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The Japanese government has been running big deficits to compensate for chronic hoarding by households and businesses, but in April it faltered, chilling the nation’s halting recovery by raising the value-added tax to 8 percent from 5 percent.

With fiscal policy missing in action, the world’s biggest central banks tried heroically to plug the gap. The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero, and when even that failed it tried some new tricks: buying bonds to bring down long-term interest rates (“quantitative easing”) and signaling the market that rates would stay low even after the economy was on the path to recovery (“forward guidance”). The limited effectiveness of those measures is sometimes chalked up as a failure of Keynesianism, but it’s just the opposite. Keynes was the economist who demonstrated that monetary policy ceases to be effective once interest rates hit zero and whose recommended policy in those circumstances was tax cuts and spending hikes.

Repeat after me- Businesses only hire people to produce things they can sell.  If they can’t sell things they won’t hire people.

As Infrastructure Crumbles, Trillions Of Gallons Of Water Lost

David Schaper, NPR

October 29, 2014

Imagine Manhattan under almost 300 feet of water. Not water from a hurricane or a tsunami, but purified drinking water – 2.1 trillion gallons of it.

That’s the amount of water that researchers estimate is lost each year in this country because of aging and leaky pipes, broken water mains and faulty meters.

That’s about 14 to 18 percent (or one-sixth) of the water the nation treats.

And it’s not just water that’s going down the drain, but billions of dollars in revenue too because utilities can’t charge customers for water that is lost before it gets to them.

Across the country, many communities are raising water rates – some in the double and triple digits – to begin addressing the problem. California and Maine, as well as several individual communities, are asking voters next week to approve massive bond initiatives to fund water infrastructure improvements.

Should you worry about marijuana edibles in your kid’s Halloween treats?

Jodie Emery, The Guardian

Thursday 30 October 2014 06.45 EDT

With the return of fun-size candy to store shelves, we can reliably count on a new Halloween-related scare campaign to make the rounds – razor blades in apples, needles in chocolate bars and poison-dosed goodies. This year, it’s kids confusing their trick-or-treat goodies with their parents’ pot-infused candy.

The Colorado police sparked this one off after warning the public about little ones getting into the pot-infused edibles that have proliferated since marijuana was legalised in the state.

Be wary, they say, of dangerous cannabis edibles – including cookies, brownies, cakes, chocolates, lollipops, and other candies.

But is the Halloween hysteria about THC treats justified?

The concerns about kids accidentally consuming pot are seriously exaggerated based on the number of incidents reported. One highly publicised study found that 14 children went to the emergency room after exposure to marijuana between October 2009 and December 2011 – only 7 after eating pot-infused food. Compare that to the 16 children who were poisoned by e-cigarettes in Colorado last year – up from 4 in 2012 – after licking or drinking legal nicotine-laced products that come in alluring flavours like root beer.

Thankfully, should a young person accidentally ingest THC-infused edibles, there isn’t a lethal dose, so the worst consequences could include emotional agitation, anxiety, or sedation. There are no long-lasting negative impacts from consuming cannabis, and most of any discomfort fades away following a long, deep sleep.

Cannabis has been around for as long as human beings have existed, but only in recent years have we been able to analyse and ask questions about cannabis in a legal setting. Is marijuana deadly? Absolutely not, as proven by science. Will the physical and mental effects of cannabis edibles be unpleasant for someone if accidentally ingested? Most likely, yes – but that is no reason to spread hysteria about kids and cannabis, or to prevent adults from getting safe access.

If young people do manage to get into a marijuana stash, intentionally or accidentally, parents should remember that cannabis is one of the safest substances known to man, with no toxicity and no long-term effects. And if the experience of being high isn’t pleasant – which will likely be the case for someone who unintentionally eats THC-infused goods – it shouldn’t be used as an argument to undo the legalisation of cannabis or to impose excessive regulations on a budding industry.

Why the U.S. Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability

Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times

OCT. 30, 2014

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem – the lack of competition in the broadband industry.

“It’s just very simple economics,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who studies antitrust and communications and was an adviser to the Federal Trade Commission. “The average market has one or two serious Internet providers, and they set their prices at monopoly or duopoly pricing.”

For relatively high-speed Internet at 25 megabits per second, 75 percent of homes have one option at most, according to the Federal Communications Commission – usually Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T or Verizon. It’s an issue anyone who has shopped for Internet knows well, and it is even worse for people who live in rural areas. It matters not just for entertainment; an Internet connection is necessary for people to find and perform jobs, and to do new things in areas like medicine and education.

“Stop and let that sink in: Three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., said in a speech last month.

The big Internet providers have little reason to upgrade their entire networks to fiber because there has so far been little pressure from competitors or regulators to do so, said Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and author of “Captive Audience: Telecom Monopolies in the New Gilded Age.”

AT&T ‘baffled’ by charges it misled customers over ‘unlimited’ data plans

Dominic Rushe, The Guardian

Tuesday 28 October 2014 17.23 EDT

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged AT&T with misleading millions of its smartphone customers, claiming the telecoms giant charged them for “unlimited” data plans while reducing their data speeds, in some cases by nearly 90%.

The FTC’s federal court complaint alleges (.PDF) that the company failed to adequately disclose to its unlimited data customers it would “throttle” their data speeds once they reached a certain limit, to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video – became difficult or “practically inoperable”, said the FTC chairwoman, Edith Ramirez.

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” said Ramirez. “The issue here is simple: unlimited means unlimited.”

The company began throttling data speeds in 2011 after customers used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period, the FTC charges. The regulator estimated that AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times.

The FTC said millions of unlimited mobile data plan customers had elected to keep their unlimited mobile data plan rather than switch to a tiered mobile data plan or obtain service from another provider.

“Numerous customers using 3G devices have experienced an 80-90% decrease in speed when throttled under the original version of defendant’s throttling programme, and a 60-85% decrease under the revised version,” the FTC said in the complaint.

The complaint charges that AT&T violated the FTC Act by changing the terms of customers’ unlimited data plans while those customers were still under contract, and by failing to adequately disclose the nature of the throttling programme to consumers who renewed their unlimited data plans.

The FTC’s move follows on from an announcement that the Federal Communications Commission is investigating the throttling practices of the major mobile carriers.

“Wireless customers across the country are complaining that their supposedly ‘unlimited’ data plans are not truly unlimited, because they are being throttled and they have not received appropriate notice,” said an FCC spokesman. “We continue to work on this important issue, including with our partners at the FTC, and we encourage customers to contact the FCC if they are being throttled by AT&T or other cellular providers.”

Report to U.N. Calls Bullshit on Obama’s ‘Look Forward, Not Backwards’ Approach to Torture

By Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept


Months after President Obama frankly admitted that the United States had “tortured some folks” as part of the War on Terror, a new report (.PDF) submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture has been released that excoriates his administration for shielding the officials responsible from prosecution.

The report describes the post-9/11 torture program as “breathtaking in scope”, and indicts both the Bush and Obama administrations for complicity in it – the former through design and implementation, and the latter through its ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. Noting that the program caused grievous harm to countless individuals and in many cases went as far as murder, the report calls for the United States to “promptly and impartially prosecute senior military and civilian officials responsible for authorizing, acquiescing, or consenting in any way to acts of torture.”

In specifically naming former President George W. Bush, Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo and former CIA contractor James Mitchell, among many others, as individuals who sanctioned torture at the highest levels, the report highlights a gaping hole in President Obama’s promise to reassert America’s moral standing during his administration. Not only have the cited individuals not been charged with any crime for their role in the torture program, Obama has repeatedly reiterated his mantra of “looking forward, not backwards” to protect them from accountability.

By refusing to prosecute Bush-era officials for their culpability in major human rights abuses such as the CIA program and Abu Ghraib, President Obama is not just failing to enforce justice but is essentially guaranteeing that such abuses will happen again in the future. His administration has demonstrated that even if government officials perpetrate the most heinous crimes imaginable, they will still be able to rely on their peers to conceal their wrongdoing and protect them from prosecution. This not only erodes the rule of law, it also helps create a culture of impunity that will inevitably give rise to such actions once again.

Budapest autumn: hollowing out democracy on the edge of Europe

Ian Traynor, The Guardian

Wednesday 29 October 2014 08.49 EDT

In a time of collapsing public confidence in the political classes across Europe, Orbán can claim to be unique – a gifted, popular strongman with the most formidable electoral mandate in the EU. Untroubled by a fragmented and morally bankrupt centre-left opposition, Orbán led his rightwing Fidesz to a landslide victory in 2010. He coasted to a second term last April, won the European elections in May and in October took control of virtually every town and city in Hungary in local elections.

Highly unusually, he has a two-thirds parliamentary majority, meaning that the vast Westminster lookalike on the banks of the Danube in Budapest is a rubber stamp. After his election hat-trick this year, he need not face the voters again until 2018. He shows every sign of using that time to reshape Hungary.

The number one item on Orbán’s destroy list appears to be the western democratic model. In an infamous speech to supporters in Romania in July, he declared the western model dead and cited the authoritarian regimes of Russia, China, Turkey and Singapore as the templates to follow. “We are parting ways with western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them,” he declared. “We have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organising a society. The new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.”

To his many critics in Budapest, this means hollowing out democracy, retaining a semblance of pluralism while controlling all the key levers. Orbán has used his power to rewrite the constitution and has appointed 11 of the 15 supreme court justices to guarantee himself a two-thirds majority on the constitutional court.

Victoria Nuland, the US assistant secretary of state for European affairs, then went further in a clear reference to Orban: “How can you sleep under your Nato blanket at night while pushing ‘illiberal democracy’ by day, whipping up nationalism, restricting free press, or demonising civil society?” The Americans then blacklisted 10 Hungarian officials, some of them said to be close to the prime minister, banning them from entering the US on the grounds of corruption and complaining about “kleptocracy”.

In a detailed analysis of the clampdown on civil society, Heather Grabbe, director of EU affairs in Brussels for George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, concluded Orbán was rolling back the democratic gains achieved in central Europe since the revolutions of 1989, which brought Orbán to national prominence as a student leader telling the Russians to go home.

“Hungary is quickly losing the defining features of a democracy under the rule of law,” Grabbe wrote. “Independent civil society organisations are the last remaining check on government power in Hungary. Since 2010 the government has enjoyed a parliamentary super-majority which it has used to undermine the independence of the judiciary, the power of the constitutional court and media freedom and pluralism, as well as to gain control over state institutions.”

But while Orbán has amassed formidable power, he is not omnipotent as the current wave of internet-fuelled protest shows. His vote is down considerably since 2010. He does not command a simple voters’ majority either in Budapest or nationwide. But he has used his powers to change laws and gerrymander constituencies to tilt the system, making it much harder to defeat Fidesz at the ballot box.

As deflation deadline nears, BOJ faces prospect of failure

By Leika Kihara, Reuters

Wed Oct 29, 2014 5:05pm EDT

With just five months left before Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s self-imposed deadline for banishing deflation, the Bank of Japan is preparing for failure, and the first casualty could be its facade of board unity.

There is almost no way the central bank can hit the two-year, 2 percent inflation target Kuroda set when he unleashed unprecedented monetary stimulus in April 2013. Economists think it is unlikely to even get close in the foreseeable future.

That could undermine Kuroda’s so far unchallenged authority to implement radical policies and cast doubt on his money-printing drive to revive Japan’s economy, interviews with more than a dozen current and former BOJ officials and insiders show.

“The board members gave Kuroda’s experiment a one-year moratorium,” said a former central bank board member who still has close contacts with incumbent policymakers. “They decided to wait-and-see for a year. But now it’s time of reckoning.”

A divided board could undermine the public confidence essential to Kuroda’s success in embedding expectations of inflation, and leave markets fretting about how authorities will deal with the central bank’s massively expanded balance sheet.

Kuroda says inflation will accelerate again, but also that the BOJ will expand monetary stimulus should the 2 percent target be at risk – something many on the board question.

People close to Kuroda say his conviction the BOJ can meet its inflation target is genuine and not just aimed at boosting sentiment, and that the governor still sees the next policy move as an exit instead of a further expansion of stimulus.

The chance of open revolt against the governor is slim, in part because there is no consensus among the dissenters and Kuroda can count on the support of his two deputies, who were appointed around the same time as him.

U.S. strategy against Islamic State hits major hurdles

By David S. Cloud, W.J. Hennigan, Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times


The Obama administration’s plan to raise a 15,000-strong rebel army in Syria has run into steep political and military obstacles, raising doubts about a key element of the White House strategy for defeating Islamic State militants in the midst of a civil war.

Senior U.S. military officers also privately warn that the so-called Syrian moderates that U.S. planners hope to recruit – opposition fighters without ties to the Islamic radicals – have been degraded by other factions and forces, including Assad’s army, during the war.

It will take years to train and field a new force capable of launching an offensive against the heavily armed and well-funded Islamic State fighters, who appear well-entrenched in northern Syria, the officers say.

“We’re not going to be able to build that kind of credible force in enough time to make a difference,” said a senior U.S. officer who is involved in military operations against the militants and who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We’ve watched the moderate opposition dwindle and dwindle and now there’s very little left.”

The Pentagon plan calls for putting 5,000 rebel fighters into Syria in a year, and 15,000 over the next three years.

It is the least developed and most controversial part of the multi-pronged U.S. strategy, which also includes near-daily airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, deployment of U.S. military advisors and other support to assist Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, along with attempts to choke off the militants’ financing from oil sales and foreign donors.

First Look journalists reveal tumult at billionaire-funded news venture

Tom McCarthy, The Guardian

Thursday 30 October 2014 19.11 EDT

Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and John Cook shared a byline on a post published on Thursday describing problems inside First Look that they said led to the departure this week of Matt Taibbi, a longtime Rolling Stone writer.

The post accused Omidyar and his management team of exercising “arbitrary and excessive authority”, instituting a “confounding array of rules” and imposing a “highly structured” and “corporate” culture that stifled employees. It said Omidyar, a multi-billionaire who originally announced he would invest $250m (£156m) in the venture, personally signed off trifling expenses such as taxi rides and office supplies.

An addendum to the post by another First Look employee, Alex Pareene, accused management of “incompetence” and a tendency to “fuck things up”.

Similar friction developed between management and the editors of the Intercept, the authors self-report, but “The Intercept, through months of disagreements and negotiations with First Look over the summer, was able to resolve most of these conflicts.”


Tubular Bells

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