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While the world went abuzz with yesterday with outrage over American dentist James Palmer’s killing of a lion out of a national park, five elephants were slain in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya last night.

Elephants are far more endangered than lions, since ivory sells for as much as $1000 per pound in Asia. I can blame the poachers, but I know that the market, mostly in Asia, provides the incentive. China’s wealth makes this worse. Elephants are facing extinction. The supply of ivory will one day stop dead – when there are no more wild elephants.

That will be a sad day.

Norbert Haupt:

Killing Cecil – an American dentist at his bloody work

Originally posted on Hush, Lola!:

Credit: Bryan Orford/YouTube Credit: Bryan Orford/YouTube

I don’t often get so mad that I can literally see red. But this is one case that has me seething inside with rage.

Here I’ve included an AP article and several statements regarding this heinous act of violence against a majestic creature..

And here’s Cecil in all his glory. Nothing but a big old pussycat.

Also, I have learned that Cecil’s cubs will most likely be killed by the new dominant male in the pride. Very sad indeed, but a normal part of nature.

And here’s a previous interview from 2012 with one of the Oxford researchers responsible for tracking the lions in the area.

I understand hunting for food. It’s sport and trophy hunting I cannot stand.

Minnesota dentist accused in Cecil the lion’s death.

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Of all the 2000 plus AFS foreign exchange students who came from all over the world to the United States for a year in 1974/75, some 40 to 60 of us came to New York for our 40-year-reunion.

Vincento

Dr. Vincenzo Morlini is the current president of AFS International. AFS hosted our group for our reunion kick-off meeting on Friday morning and gave a heartwarming talk about the mission of AFS – bringing peace to the world – one person at a time. He himself was an AFS student in 1966.

Some notable other AFS alumni are:

  • Catherine Coleman, NASA astronaut
  • Jan Eliason, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations
  • Motohide Yoshikawa, Permanent Representative of Japan, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund
  • — and thousands of others, including those in our group this weekend.

Click here to learn more about AFS.

 

Look how close they placed their country to our military bases. They obviously want war.

IranWantsWar

Donald Trump, a Voter and a Mexican sit at a table with 20 cookies in a jar.

Donald Trump takes 19 cookies.

Then he looks at the Voter and says: “Watch out, the Mexican is taking your cookie.”

Kepler 452b

The headline in USA Today was startling. A ‘Goldilocks’ planet was found, one that could harbor life as we know it, based on the fact that there could be liquid water on its surface. It’s a bit lager than Earth, approximately 12,700 miles in diameter, compared to Earth’s 7,926.

What the article didn’t say, however, is what it would be like to stand on that planet, earthlike or not. With a diameter this large, the volume of the planet would be about 4.3 times that of earth, so its mass would also be that much bigger.

Gravity is proportional to mass. This means that if you weigh 150 lbs on Earth, you’d weigh more than 4 times as much, over 600 lbs on 452b.

We couldn’t land there and be comfortable. Any beings used to that, probably squat end Jubba-like, would feel like bouncing balls on Earth.

The planet is 1,400 lightyears away.  If beings on that planet sent us a message in the year 600, the message would arrive just about now.

To put the time into perspective: In the year 600, Pope Gregory the Great decreed “God Bless You” as the religiously correct response to a sneeze. In the year 600, quill pens, made from the outer feathers of crows and other large birds, became popular. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was alive during that time.

Suppose we received a message from any 452b beings. If we responded now, our answer would reach them around the year 3,400.

If we could build a ship that could travel at a tenth the speed of light (which is way beyond our current capabilities), it would take the ship 14,000 years to get there.

I am ready to go. Where do I sign up?

Daimler Benz uses Tesla’s batteries and their powertrain for their electric cars. Toyota uses a Tesla motor. Consumer Reports rated the Tesla Model S higher than any car it ever reviewed. Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend named it the Car of the Year in 2013. It exceeds 200 miles on a charge, and getting better. The Tesla is here to stay.

Yet, Texas decided that consumers cannot buy it in their state, since Tesla does not subscribe to the dealer-based business model, where dealers, which Tesla considers unnecessary middlemen, simply mark up the product. So any Texan that wants a Tesla has to travel out of state to get one.

The ride-sharing company Uber provides a superior service and an alternative to taxicabs. When you request an Uber car on your smartphone, you see where the cars in your area are. It tells you when it will arrive. You see it coming toward you on a map. You also see a picture of the driver, his or her name, a picture of the car coming for you, the make and model, and the license plate number. When you step into into the car, which usually comes faster than advertised, you greet the driver by name, he already knows your name and has your number. If he had trouble finding you he already called you. You get your ride and when you are done, there is no worry about the price. It’s set by the system. There is no tip. You need no cash or credit card. You simply get out of the car and the fare shows up in your account seconds later. No flagging cabbies. No strangers behind plexiglass walls. No racket with prices. The prices are better than cabs.  No hassles with tips. Much safer for both the ride and the driver, since both are registered by the system. It’s a truly superior service.

Yet, in New York City, they are now going to “study the impact of Uber” before they will allow it to grow. Well, of course it’s going kick taxicab butt! The day of the taxicab racket is over. In New York City, you have to have a “Medallion” to drive a cab, which costs more than $1 million. With Uber, you just sign up.

Protectionist regulation, like in the example with Tesla and Uber, never work, at least not very long. The new service or product, if truly better, will blow the old established ones away.

Why is there Netflix? Why are we not streaming Blockbuster into our televisions?

Why aren’t we uploading our pictures to Kodak.com? Why do Instagram and Flickr even exist?

Why aren’t we buying our books at Borders.com and all our products at Sears.com? Why was Amazon able to rise?

Why is Google a verb? Why don’t we “Excite” or “Yahoo!” or “Alta Vista” or “Bing?”

Why don’t we buy our music at TowerRecords.com instead of at iTunes?

Because in every case, the old stodgy institutional company was not nimble enough to realize what was happening to them until it was too late, and the newcomers provided superior products.

Good luck, Texas, with your trying to keep Teslas out of the state and propping up your car dealers.

Good luck, New York, holding up the medallion-based taxicab culture.

Good luck, protectionists!

 

 

 

Norbert Haupt:

An unusual anecdote by one of my readers. He notified me in response to my recent Van Gogh post below. It turns out I am going to be in Philadelphia at the beginning of September. I am going to see the four (or five) Van Gogh paintings there.

Originally posted on Yeah, Another Blogger:

My father came to live with me and my wife Sandy in Philadelphia soon after his 90th birthday, in 1999. He had been living alone on Long Island, but health issues necessitated his relocation. Good doctoring in the Philadelphia suburbs improved his physical condition quickly, but there was no cure for the declining state of his kidneys. He became a dialysis patient one year after he moved in with us, and he remained on dialysis till his death in 2005 at age 96.

My father was in pretty good shape until the final nine or so months of his life. He loved getting out of the house and joining Sandy and me and others at restaurants, concerts, museums, you name it. On this Father’s Day I’ll relate one incident that I look back on fondly. It was the day that he and I and my brother had a private viewing of a rarely-seen Van Gogh oil painting at…

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Last week I had the good fortune and honor to be in the audience when the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, addressed a roomful of early education professionals. It was refreshing to hear a cabinet-level person talk about the federal government’s commitment to early education.

Early education in the United States has been a stepchild program for many decades. Many people view it as babysitting. This has kept salaries for preschool teachers and daycare workers low, and it has kept adequate funding both at the state and federal level to a minimum. This has been a very misguided strategy and it has helped lead to the decline of our educational system in general, and an erosion of our competitiveness with the rest of the world. If we don’t teach our kids when they are little, they never learn how to learn, they perform poorer in high school, they don’t go to college, and all too often they end up in prison.

Brain research has shown that an infant forms about 700 neural connections a second. In a ten-hour day, that makes over 25 million new connections. So if you drop your baby off at daycare at 7:00 in the morning and pick him up at 5:00 in the afternoon, you are carrying 25 million more connections home than you dropped off.

Have those connections been formed by cognitive stimulation that a professional educator can provide? Or did your baby sit in some room all day, staring at the compelling distractions and commercials on a television screen?

Research also has found that educational level and income of parents are mirrored by their children’s performance in school. Children growing up in poorer households tend to do more poorly in school. Children of richer parents do better.

This is a powerful reason why our nation should be investing heavily in its human infrastructure. The children born today will be our CEOs, our politicians, and our teacher in 40 years. Will they be competitive with those in China? It costs some $8,000 a year to pay for a child in preschool. It costs society $50,000 a year to support a single prisoner. What is the better investment?

I often hear the conservative argument that we should not subsidize early education because it just encourages deadbeat people to “breed” more at the expense of the rest of us. To this I ask the question: Is it the child’s fault that the parent was a deadbeat, or a single teen mother, or a drug addict? Of course not. The child was simply not lucky enough to be born as the child of a rich or educated person.

If you count the 25% of the brightest and most successful children in China, the number is larger than all the children we have. If we want to be competitive with China in this century, we cannot “waste” a single child, a single brain, a single day of 25 million more neural connections.

Early education is not just babysitting. It’s the foundation of the health of our nation, the basis upon which our economy will rest 20 years hence, and the prerequisite for the tax base that will support us when we are old. Early education is really important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I saw more original Van Gogh paintings than in my entire life combined up to this point. It was a glorious day.

At the Clark

The Clark Art Institute is one of a small number of institutions in the world that is both an art museum and an international center for higher education, research, and critical discussion of the visual arts.

The Clark currently exhibits Van Gogh and Nature, featuring nearly fifty paintings and drawings from thirty museums and private collections around the world.

The Clark is not easy to reach. It’s in the small town of Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the very north-western corner of the state, close to Vermont and New York.

Map of Williamstown

[click to enlarge]

I came in on Route 2 from New York, a small country road over major mountains with 10% grades and prominent truck run-away ramps. When I left, for change of scenery, I decided to use Route 7, which was not much better, but I had great views of idyllic Vermont valleys, farms and homes.

The Van Gogh exhibit is open from June 14 to September 13 only.

There were many Van Gogh paintings that I had never seen before, annotated with explanations of the artist’s life at the time, where they were done, and the circumstances. There were also photographs of the actual locales, when available.

One of the paintings showed flowers in a copper vase. Then, four feet to my left, protected in a glass cube, was the actual vase. That took my breath away.

As always when I see Van Gogh paintings, I am speechless and humbled about the fact that this artist never saw his own success, never sold a single painting, no matter how hard he tried. If only he knew that more than a hundred years after his death, thousands of people would drive over the hilly mountains of Western Massachusetts and pay $20 a piece to stand in line and spend a few minutes in front of each painting or even just his drawings and sketches; and millions  of people all over the world view him as one of the premier artists of all time; and that his works sell for tens of millions of dollars each.

If only he had had the opportunity to sell a painting or two, to earn some respect and success! That just might have prevented his death, and given us decades more of Van Gogh art that never came to be and forever remained locked in his soul.

August is coming up, and yes, Europeans go on vacation for a long time. Peter Thiel calls it “Europe’s famous vacation mania” in his book Zero to One, in the excerpt below:

Indefinite Pessimism

Every culture has a myth of decline from some golden age, and almost all peoples throughout history have been pessimists. Even today pessimism still dominates huge parts of the world. An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future, but he has no idea what to do about it. This describes Europe since the early 1970s, when the continent succumbed to undirected bureaucratic drift. Today the whole Eurozone is in slow-motion crisis, and nobody is in charge. The European Central Bank doesn’t stand for anything but improvisation: the U.S. Treasury prints “In God We Trust” on the dollar; the ECB might as well print “Kick the Can Down the Road” on the euro. Europeans just react to events as they happen and hope things don’t get worse. The indefinite pessimist can’t know whether the inevitable decline will be fast or slow, catastrophic or gradual. All he can do is wait for it to happen, so he might as well eat, drink, and be merry in the meantime: hence Europe’s famous vacation mania.

— Thiel, Peter; Masters, Blake (2014-09-16). Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (p. 63). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I agree with him. I have sat in many a café in Germany and chatted with intellectuals, and the feeling of powerlessness when facing world affairs is overwhelming. Here is a nation that not so long ago wanted to rule the world and turned out to be one of the most aggressive of all, yet now it seems almost paralyzed.

But they all get many weeks of guaranteed paid vacation.

Vacation is an entitlement.

And that’s one of the reasons I am not there.

Zero to One

A book about startup businesses.

Thiel knows something about the subject. He was one of the founders of PayPal and sold the company in 2004. His share was worth several hundred million dollars. Then he bought into Facebook as its first outside investor in 2004, and got a 10% share for $500,000. He then became a venture capitalist, investing in many tech companies and listening to proposals from entrepreneurs every day. He is worth over $2 billion, and his is only 47 years old.

So when Thiel writes about how to build a startup business, it pays to listen.

He is definitely not modest. The book is full of sweeping generalizations and questionable statements of fact that really are just his opinions. He dismisses any business that does not have the potential to become another Facebook or Google.

He says that real entrepreneurs dress in T-shirts and jeans, not suits. Obviously, that’s an opinion, not a fact. He does not know all real entrepreneurs. But he is so full of himself, and so convinced of his methods, that he states those opinions as facts.

Here is such a passage:

The most obvious clue was sartorial: cleantech executives were running around wearing suits and ties. This was a huge red flag, because real technologists wear T-shirts and jeans. So we instituted a blanket rule: pass on any company whose founders dressed up for pitch meetings. Maybe we still would have avoided these bad investments if we had taken the time to evaluate each company’s technology in detail. But the team insight— never invest in a tech CEO that wears a suit— got us to the truth a lot faster.

— Thiel, Peter; Masters, Blake (2014-09-16). Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (p. 160). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is just one example. But be that as it may, he knows something about startups. If you are working a job and you are happy doing it, don’t read this book. If you want to start a new Chinese take-out place in Palo Alto, definitely don’t read this book. It will crush you. If you want to start a lifestyle business, make a little money for yourself and your family, this book is not worth it.

But – if you want to start a company that makes a dent in the universe (to quote Steve Jobs), if your objective is to start a business that becomes a billion-dollar venture within a few years, this is absolutely, positively required reading.

Annoying, cocky, and maddeningly self-absorbed as Thiel is, he knows what to look for in a startup.

And if your dream is to start one, here you go – buy the book here. It’s the best $11.84 you will ever spend.

Rating - Four Stars

Musk

The subtitle for this book is Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

There are not many people in history that have created a billion-dollar company. The odds against are astronomical. Elon Musk has created several billion-dollar companies, and right now he is running two of them simultaneously. That is utterly astounding. What does it take to do that?

This biography describes who Musk is and how it came about that he was able to accomplish what he did. It starts with his childhood in South Africa, his rocky upbringing and unfortunate family circumstances. He landed in Canada with the proverbial few dollars in his pockets and started working hard, taking menial jobs and trying to be creative. And he made it big. He is now one of the icons of high-tech business in the world. And he has only just started. As I write this, he is only 44.

The biography of Elon Musk is required reading for anyone who wants to start a business.

I have started a business, and run one, and am still running one. Elon Musk started his first business after mine was already established, and he built Tesla and SpaceX long after I was already rolling along. There is a lot I can learn from him.

Reading this excellent biography by Ashlee Vance was a good start.

Rating - Four Stars

Street Art

street art

[click for picture credit: Imgur]

There is lots more where this came from. Click here and be amazed. Fascinating street art work.

I drive by two adjacent gas stations every day on my way to work. There is a Chevron station right next to a Shell station. I can never figure out how that works for either of them. Why are there two stations on that corner where one would be just fine?

As I drive by, I can monitor the price of gas as it fluctuates. Usually, the two stations are within a penny or two of each other, which makes sense.

In the last few days I noticed a huge shift, illustrated in this chart:

Gas Price Volatility

How can the price of a commodity like gas jump 20% overnight, as it did from Wednesday to Thursday at Chevron? Then you can see how Shell caught up, but not quite, on Friday. Needless to say, the Chevron station was completely empty on Thursday. After filling up a tank at Shell vs. Chevron, the difference in price would be about $8, enough for a lunch special at Pickup Stix.

My question is: What kind of market is this, where a commodity like gasoline can jump 20% in a day? Isn’t the market intended to buffer us from these kind of fluctuations? Something makes me suspicious that we’re subject to some kind of manipulation.

I still remember those days when Enron manipulated the power market and we experienced brown-outs and enormous price spikes for no discernible reason in California. We later found out that some of the “smartest guys in the room” at Enron manipulated the market and duped us all, millions of us. They sucked money out of our wallets while the sucking was good. In the aftermath, one person committed suicide (Baxter), a few people (Skilling) went to jail and none of us got our money back. Thousands of shareholders lost their life savings. That was Enron.

What’s going on with the gasoline market in California?

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