Archive for April, 2012

A week in Bath

April 26, 2012

Friday, 20 April, 2012 — Left San Francisco. Another long flight, as always, and we were late out of SFO due to an aircraft problem. Two and a half hours late getting into Heathrow, where Albert was going to pick me up.

So we didn’t get an early start — it was mid-morning by the time we left Heathrow, and midday by the time we arrived at Exford in the heart of Exmoor national park, on the south coast of the Bristol channel. Pretty country, and most of the trip was on fast motorways, but the even prettier road into the park was narrow and crooked, and infested with pheasants, and took quite a while.

We are staying tonight at the local youth hostel (below).

We drove to Withypool and did about a five mile hike to the Tarr Steps, a stone bridge that may be as old as 1000 BCE.

It was getting on by the time we returned to Exford, and it had been a long day for both of us, so we ate dinner at the hostel — not fancy, but not bad — and called it a night. Albert offered me the upper bunk.

Sunday, 22 April

The hostel served what you would certainly call a full English breakfast. Among the usual offerings was black pudding, ie blood pudding. I tried a slice and ate it, although it didn’t become a favourite.

A cold, windy, rainy day. I had brought along my own rain shell, but Albert had brought an extra poncho, and I was glad to have it. We left the car at the hostel and hiked to Dunkery Beacon, which is basically a cone of rocks. No explanation of what it is, or was. Through the cloud and rain, we could see the Bristol channel.

The moors, heath and gorse, rocky, hilly terrain, interrupted by meadows here and there, and along the streams, woodlands.

Albert caught me in what can only be described in a characteristic pose.

… and this is the picture I was taking at the time.

Crossing a meadow, we found ourselves the most popular people around. Well, we were the only people around, but still…

And these lambs were working on their mountain goat routine. One of them was in the process of discovering that wire mesh is too strong to squeeze through.

Stopped in the pub at Exford for a brew. We thought we’d have a bit of lunch, but it was 2:30 and all they had was crisps. So we had crisps.

Then off to Bath, where we arrived in time to see the late sun on a day that was beautifully clear, at last.

The Pig and Fiddle is just around the corner from the hotel.

And King Edward’s school was founded in 1552.

Albert took the podium at the beginning of the Wednesday meeting, and embarrassed me as much as he could by waving my newly published book around and pitching it shamelessly. For a time, I was all the way up to #126,000 on Amazon’s best-seller list! I told him he could embarrass me as much as he liked, if it sold books. Nice. A number of people said good things about it, and I signed several copies.

The abbey is the most prominent and picturesque building in town.

One of the fine details is the ladders that bracket the main doorway, with angels climbing to heaven. Not clear why, because they have wings; maybe they need the exercise.

Tuesday evening, our meeting hosts sponsored dinner overlooking the Roman baths.

I continue to be impressed at how well the ancient Romans were able to predict the likeness of Asterix’ nemesis, Julius Caesar.

On Thursday, the final day, I went to dinner with Chulmin, Han Hyub and Jie Hyun, three Korean colleagues. We had thought to seek out a Nepalese restaurant that had been recommended, but it started raining, so we ducked into the nearest refuge, which was Moroccan. Pretty good.

We visited Bath in 1998, but I had forgotten most of it. A small town, worth a visit, and nice to come back every now and again.

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Cato — Michael Tanner: Christie the Prophet

April 18, 2012

On the National Review online site and the Cato Institute op-ed sites, Michael Tanner discusses Chris Christie’s remarks regarding American dependence on government. There is much to agree with here. But Tanner also writes:

In 1965, just 22 percent of all federal spending was transfer payments. Today it has doubled to 44 percent…. In 1965, transfer payments from the federal government made up less than 10 percent of wages and salaries. As recently as 2000, that percentage was just 21 percent. Today, transfer payments are more than a third of salary and wages.

Michael, please explain why “just” 10% or 20% or 21% was okay in 1965 or 2000? Was it not already abundantly clear even in 1965 that the US had crossed the peak of the slippery slope?

The welfare state started with small programs targeted toward a small number of genuinely needy people.

Michael, please explain why the genuinely needy, no matter how small in number, have a claim on resources coerced from taxpayers?

You are surely in a position to understand that compassionate conservatism, of course with other people’s money, not only leads to the slippery slope of an unconstrained majority-rule democracy, but also destroys whatever virtue may reside in compassion.

Think about it.

Cato — Timothy B Lee: Inflation not a moral issue ??

April 17, 2012

At Forbes.com and here, Timothy B Lee asserts that inflation is not a moral issue; it is just a matter of economic expediency, the fine tuning that is necessary in a managed economy.

Timothy, please explain why the intentional transfer of wealth by government away from savers is not a moral issue. Do you mean that political power and political advantage are not moral issues?

You argue that the thrifty can and should invest in inflation-priced assets, and that the market prices the expected rate of inflation into its futures. If we accept that view, then, should we conclude that inflation is not a moral issue, but a change in the rate of inflation is a moral issue?

You argue by analogy that oil prices fluctuate and may or may not be good investments, and that the same is true of money. This begs the question — if an oil producer created reserves in the same way that governments create money, he would be prosecuted for criminal fraud, and rightly. Not a moral issue?

I suggest a more appropriate analogy: I have a responsibility to protect myself from pickpockets and muggers, but that responsibility does not mean that pickpockets and muggers are morally neutral.

Think about it.

Spring is sprung

April 8, 2012

I have been traveling the last couple of weekends, and am far behind in exercise. I had thought to do a long hike this weekend, but we had morning commitments Saturday, and a 3 PM commitment today, Sunday. I decided to save travel time by just going to Windy Hill, and maybe do the loop a couple of times to get in more time and distance.

It was about +4 degrees C when I started out this morning. Gloves and a jacket for ten or fifteen minutes, until the sun had risen and the uphill start at Windy Hill’s Spring Ridge trail had kicked my metabolism up a notch.

We really had no winter this year, but we are at least having a spring. Not only do I offer a variety of flowers as evidence, but today was the day for the first snakes of the season: a garter snake and a ringneck. Cool!

As it turned out, I hiked up the (steeper) Spring Ridge trail twice, down the (not so steep) Hamms Gulch trail twice, and took the Lost and Razorback trails all the way down to the road, then turned and hiked back up the hill. Total for the day, 20.8 miles, 4600 vertical feet. And I was ten minutes late to our 3 PM commitment.

Nice to get out, nice to enjoy a beautiful day.