Inflation in ancient Rome

My view of human nature, and behavior in groups and governments, is that it has changed little over the last few thousand years. Perhaps less barbaric in the last few hundred years, but the dynamics are basically the same. The advance of technology makes dramatic changes in the appearance of things, and the fallacious view currently held that human progress inevitably advances can distract from what I consider underlying common threads.

Machiavelli’s Prince, published in 1532, provides political advice to a prince in a monarchical setting. Yet the advice he gives, which some decry as horribly cynical, is in most respects the same sorts of things things that help a politician get elected in 21st century America, a nominally democratic form of government. For instance Machiavelli advises the prince to attend church in a public manner to assure the populous that he shares their beliefs and is devout.

Swift published Gulliver’s Travels in 1726, and his wry and dark satire portrays human vanities and vices that we can easily recognize in our contemporary world, with some political commentary that again translates easily from a monarchy to our own democracy. In one journey he even goes so far as to satirize academic types who are proud to have developed things that are patently useless such as hairless sheep.

Given the notion that human and governmental behavior has evolved little, if at all, over the centuries, it follows that a familiarity with history can prove instructive when one takes today’s world and attempts to predict future developments. One such category of prediction is the notion, advanced by adherents to the Austrian School of economics, of which I am one, is that when governments control currency, they inevitably enrich themselves by debasing the currency–often in order to finance foreign wars. In older times, when currency consisted of precious metal coinage, governments would direct their mints to dilute the precious metal content of the coins, or reduce their diameter while maintaining the face value of said coins. When the public recognized this and hoarded the older more valuable coins, the government would attempt to confiscate said coins and make it illegal for the public to possess them.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1933, criminalized the possession of gold coin. In 1971, President Nixon formally severed any link between the value of the dollar and underlying stores of gold to back up its value. This set the stage for the inflation of the 1970s which continues unabated.

Given these thoughts, I found the following article of interest. There is no consensus view that the causes of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire are accurately known, but the currency side of things has not been much discussed, so I commend you to this interesting discussion:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-08-31/currency-reform-ancient-rome

Living the Dream

When I was young, I had many dreams and few achievements. Now I have many achievements and few dreams, and I wonder if I am truly the richer for it.

Member of Motown House Band

Robert Willie White, member of the Motown house band.

Many years after Bob Willie White was a member of the Motown house band, playing guitar on songs that sold tens or hundreds of millions of records, Bob and some friends were having dinner at a restaurant in LA, and on the movie ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown’ one of his friends related the following tale:

While the waiter was taking their order the song ‘Ive Got Sunshine’ began playing. After the waiter left, Bob White said he almost told the waiter that he was the guitarist who played those opening notes, but he just couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. His friend ruefully observed that Bob still didn’t recognize his supreme accomplishments as a musician, he still wasn’t Living the Dream…

Those words resonated with me and I have thought about Bob’s timidity many times in the years since I watched that movie. The words ‘Not Living the Dream’ became a metaphor in my mind for the notion of being successful but not feeling successful. But then there is the more difficult question: How does one address this, how does one ‘Live the Dream’? I don’t think its an invitation to boorish bragging or a sense of elitism.

Many understand the importance of respecting all people. And many know that being modest, or at least appearing modest, is an essential social skill. In addition, doesn’t a sense of failing in one’s duties have an important place in the scheme of things? Shouldn’t those who shirk their responsibilities out of laziness, or excessive self-indulgence, feel some heat? Shouldn’t they kick themselves in the butt, cowboy up, or whatever it takes, and start doing their part? Absolutely.

But what if one has a sense of unease caused by the feeling that one has come up short, and that the apparent cure for this unease is to drive one’s self harder, to take more risks, to embrace stress? What if one’s sense of insufficient success is in fact impervious to achievement, making life a difficult and narrow-minded journey with an ever-receding Shangri La just over the next hill? I take no pleasure in acknowledging that this mode of thinking is not entirely unfamiliar to me, and reflecting on a life lived this way can be a grim exercise.

So what is Living the Dream? Another ever-receding Happyland? I hope not. Surely its something that must be done in the moment if it is to be done at all. I encourage my sons to Live The Dream, to feel their success and know that at any given moment they are more than I could have ever hoped they would be. I came to this place late as a father and as a man.

I reflect a lot on Tennyson’s poem Ulysses–a warrior’s defiant howl in the face of mortality. And now I wonder: is Ulysses driven by an implacable inner master to ever greater conquests, or is he thirsting to drink in the glory of the moment, an exhilarating joy of adventure?

for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

I hope and believe it is the latter. I seek that my own journeys be embraced with a joyful and eager heart, that I in spirit may smite the sounding furrows at Ulysses side. That is The Dream.

WordPress love and hate

I have had a website for 14 years as of 2014. I got the URL and created the website primarily to host my essay ‘The Remarkable Criminal Financial Career of Charles Ponzi’. Initially I coded it myself using html and css. It wasn’t very striking, but it was functional for many years. Occasionally I would spruce up the visuals a bit, and at for a few years, I used it to sell a piece of software I wrote which tuned computers for more efficient recording of music. I have always had in the back of my mind a to-do to clean it up a bit.

A few years ago, I decided to add a blog, and did so with wordpress. Recently I both tired of html coding and became aware that wordpress could be configured to host an entire website in a convenient manner, and resolved to convert my site over to a blog only. My initial wordpress install was in a subdirectory named blog, as is required for this software. To convert my entire site over, I needed to have any accesses to www.mark-knutson.com go directly to the blog.

This is where things got hairy. Despite its widespread acceptance and support, wordpress is internally hard-coded to the initial url you give it when you install the software. There is no elegant, supported, way of changing this. There are many articles on the web about various approaches to resolving this, all involving getting under the hood of wordpress–the database data, php code, and webserver configuration files. I initially switched my website domain to point directly to the blog subdirectory, but this broke the wordpress installation as it was looking for the blog subdirectory reference. I edited data in the database and for a while it looked like things were all set.

Then I noticed that on other browsers, my website showed as nothing more than a blank white screen. Apparently this is a common problem with wordpress, and hours of googling presented no sure answers, only various things to try. My efforts to resolve this became a fiasco, and I ended up learning how to back up and restore my database and various other programming-type tasks that I had hoped to avoid learning about when I picked a mature purportedly easy to use blog software.

After a couple of late evenings and early mornings, I think I do have it working this time. Ultimately I found three lines of code to paste in an apache webserver configuration file which took care of everything.

So, nice software, a bit fragile in the face of foreseeable environment changes, though. Hopefully I can use it more and fix it less going forward.

A weak Spanish Prisoner con

I had been explaining the Spanish Prisoner con to my son Anthony, and just received this clumsy one today. Upon receipt of a better one, I will post that. I will lay out the elements of the con so that they can be recognized in this one. The big picture of a Spanish Prisoner is that the mark (target of the con) is to be persuaded to send money to the con-man (prisoner) for the purpose of putting banking mechanism in place to facilitate the transfer of the promised millions of dollars. A variation is paying money to help said prisoner escape from prison in his home country, or escape from the country himself.

The psychological key to this con (in addition to the normal incitement of greed in the mark) is to give the mark the sense that they are in a special position of power vis-a-vis the prisoner. In the past this might be accomplished better by arranging for the mark to find a letter, purportedly the only one the prisoner was able to send from prison. The mark would then believe it was their fortune to be the only life-line for the prisoner.

Now the prisoner-only lifeline link in this letter is weak, but nonetheless addressed. The mark has been selected from a business directory of reputable businessmen. While a mark may realize that they are not in such a directory, their greed may inspire them to discreetly not bring this mistake to the attention of the prisoner. You will note in this letter that the prisoner claims he will work exclusively with the mark unless the mark declines.

This contains the normal grammatical errors and archaic word choices that indicate a letter written by a non english speaker. The writer of this one is so lazy that they don’t even include the mark’s name or country in the letter, undercutting the claim that they have been selected specifically–the key to this con. While no doubt there will be claims of money to follow for a mark who responds, at the very least the first interchange will involve the mark providing their demographic information to the prisoner. Text is below:

Compliments!

Firstly, i must apologies for barging into your mailbox without formal introduction of myself to you, actually, I got your contact information from a reputable business/professional Directory of your country which gives me assurance of your legibility as a person while trying to get a good and capable business person in your country for business and investment purposes, this why without wasting any time i am seeking a decision maker to grab my offering $64,000,000 ,Yours free! With some simple conditions you will need to follow and work closely with me, you can’t say my generous offer of 50% $64,000,000 a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Have i got your attention?

Let me introduce myself I am the Senior Programme Manager with the United Nation Development Program in the Asia Pacific Region with UNDP,I am the person directly responsible to answer to the board of directors to UNDP on monthly meetings, My special role is to evaluate all contract appraisals and the approvals to foreign contractors, As you are aware i am the Senior Project manager ANSWERING TO THE PRINCIPLE DIRECTORS OF UNDP i got sick of answering to stubborn management i decided to deploy early retirement, this is where our deal begins to work for you and me .Under my strict supervision you will be working closely with me directly, I am letting you to my finding, during routine supervision over foreign contracts; i noticed a series of over invoiced contracts that amassed to $128,000,000,here comes the advantage you have, I have successfully secured the sum of $128,000,000 One hundred and twenty eight million US Dollars, I want us to work closely together and enable to transfer the total amount of$128,000,000,to your business account, As i have highlighted to you before i am more than willing to share 50% with you for your efforts and assistance, It’s worth $64,000,000 to you Division 1 Lottery!

My question to you is do you want to be a millionaire all you need do is assist me on what is Required you get $64,000,000,upon the success of the transfer we shall form a partnership and invest my share with yours into blue chip investments, As a result of this obviously i will have to surrender my position with UNDP, Then immediately afterwards make provision to relocate my family to your country, Now i hope you understand everything is transparent all things my side are perfected at this point all you need is to follow

my directives.

Accept the $128,000,000 into your business account bearing in mind it’s a 50-50 deal. I will require UN undertaking from you that you will not run of with the $128,000,000 Driven by greed. On this basis i will agree to assist you transfer smoothly to your account $128,000,000 that at that point in time, call it winnings or compensation is your choice it’s the $64,000,000 dollar question.

PLEASE YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE YOUR FULL INFORMATION SUCH AS STATED BELOW;

1) Full Name
2) Full Address
3) Age
4) Sex
5) Home Telephone
6) Mobile Phone
7) Active Email Account
8) Fax Number
9) Business Number
10)Business Address
11)Current occupation status
12)Country of Origin
13)Nationality

Also be informed that this transaction will take us 15 working days to accomplish beginning from When i receive your Data, after you have assumed the position of foreign contractor to UNDP .I will Also file an application in the UNDP headquarters & secure the necessary approval and letter of Clearance .you is a Contractor to UNDP & a favor of movement of funds to an account that will be Provided by you, this process is 100% risk free as i have set out all the modalities to see that a legalized method is used because then i will prepare all the necessary documents, Please note that utmost secrecy and confidentiality is required at all times during this transaction, Once the funds have been transferred into your nominated bank account we shall share ratio of 50% for me, 50% for you, If you are not interested please delete this proposal, so that i can look for another competent partner to conclude this above mentioned transaction, Should you be interested please send me your full details as stated above . I would prefer that you reach me on my private
number: +60166324907

Your earliest response to this email will be appreciated.

Best Regards

Mr Kevin Hor
Senior Programme Manager  to UNDP