March 13, 2023

On the SVB Collapse

The Federal Reserve took control of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) on Friday. Depositors were immediately reassured that insured deposits would be available on Monday morning, that is, today. Yesterday, however, the reassurances got substantially better: All deposits, even those beyond the nominal insurance maximum, will be made available. This, despite the FDIC’s explanation of insurance benefits:

The standard insurance amount is $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.

As it happens, SVB is a favorite bank of venture capitalists and startups, and, unlike many banks, most accounts were much larger than $250,000. We are being told that no taxpayer funds are being expended to make depositors whole; the required funds will come from the FDIC account, which is funded by levies on banks. What we are watching, officials emphasize, is not a bailout.

Silicon Valley Bank sign
Well, it certainly looks like a bailout. At the very least, we have created a moral hazard—why should large depositors worry about insurance limits if the government will protect them whatever their apparent exposure. The funds not covered by SVB assets that will pay back depositors will have come from banks that pay into the insurance fund. This makes FDIC insurance less able to pay actually insured losses in the future. The FDIC, if necessary, will charge banks more. This cost of business ultimately gets passed on to customers, i.e., taxpayers.

Ask yourself the question: if your own ordinary bank failed and you had more than $250,000 on deposit, do you really think you would get it all back? Or, if your house burned down and your insurance coverage was written for less than its current value, would you expect the insurance company to pay the full value of your loss? But since SVB held lots of corporate funds, the government felt it had to indemnify them. Once again, we find that big companies are “too big to fail,” and the corporate world doesn’t play by the same rules as the rest of us. Are you as tired of this as I am?

Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote about the SVB situation in The New York Times. She argued that (1) the managers of SVB were irresponsible, and (2) that irresponsibility was facilitated by the government’s having removed some of the safeguards of the Donn-Frank Act. That loosening of banking requirements resulted from—you guessed—heavy-duty corporate lobbying.

Welcome to the world of unconstrained capitalism.

March 11, 2023


No, I am not interested in the insane pronouncements by a reputed government insider that has ensorcelled weak-minded so-called conservatives and thereby threatened the Republic. I am not interested in a person, real or imagined, at all. This post is actually about the letter Q.

In English, Q has led a rather forlorn existence. It is the second least used letter of our 26-letter alphabet; only Z occurs less often. (Q and Z, alone among the letters, are worth 10 points in Scrabble.) In English words not borrowed from other languages. Q is invariably followed by U. Naked Qs occur most often in borrowings from unrelated languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese.

When I was in elementary school, I was told that a solitary Q only occurs in the name “Iraq.” Lately, however, Qs are showing up in a surprising number of pharmaceutical names. These include Rinvoq, Kisqali, and Cibinqo among others.

I have no idea why drug companies have suddenly become enamored of such a rarely-used letter. Are they trying to increase its pathetic usage statistics? Has Q somehow become cool (or are manufacturers trying to make it cool)? Naked Qs in medicine names is an odd trend not limited to one company. Rinvoq, Kisqali, and Cibinqo are all marketed by different firms. Are they each using the same consultants to come up with new names for drugs?

One can appreciate the difficulty in naming new drugs. Names need to be pronounceable, reasonably concise—a three-syllable name like Cibinqo is pushing it—and not a word, particularly an objectionable word, in any foreign language. Names should be catchy, however you might define that. Pharmaceutical names sometimes suggest, at least vaguely, what they might be used for. Flonase and Claritin, for example, are allergy medications. Rinvoq, Kisqali, and Cibinqo do not himt at how they might be used. Rinvoq claims to be a treatment for ailments as diverse as eczema and rheumatoid arthritis, so there’s an obvious problem there. 

But why all the Qs. In every medicine name I have encountered, the Q is sounded like a K and could easily be replaced with a K. Why do we not have Rinvok (or Rinvoke), Kiskali (or even Kiscali, which would sound the same), or Cibinko? I have no idea. This seems to be novelty for novelty’s sake.

I do hope this trend does not continue. Children have enough trouble with spelling without confusing them further.

March 4, 2023

GOP: The Party of Freedom

It is supremely ironic that the Republican Party insists that it is the party of freedom, whereas its policies are mostly those that limit freedom. This led me to make the graphic below, which outlines the freedom that the GOP offers the nation. This graphic may be freely copied.

A Disclaimer for Fox News

I frequently watch movies on disk. (No, I’m not a troglodyte who doesn’t know how to stream content. Many of the films I want to watch, particularly older ones, are only available on  DVD or Blu-ray disks.) These disks often include commentary or interviews. In such cases, a disclaimer is invariably included similar to this one I encountered recently from Lions Gate:

This Blu-ray Disk audio commentary contains views, opinions, and statements of the individuals participating herein.

Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. does not represent or endorse such views, opinions, or statements.

In other words, although the studio is responsible for the movie on the disk, it takes no responsibility for the extra-movie material over which it has exercised limited control.

Fox News logo
Through discovery in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against Fox News, we’ve learned that neither the on-camera talent nor the management of Fox actually believed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump. Nevertheless, the Big Lie, in all its aspects, has been promoted heavily on the channel with the enthusiastic support of management.

Under the circumstances, Fox should perhaps follow the lead of movie studios on the consumer disks they market. Fox programs could be preceded by a disclaimer such as the following:

This program contains views, opinions, and statements of on-camera Fox News employees and guests.

Neither Fox News, its management, nor its on-camera employees represent or endorse such views, opinions, or statements.

On the other hand, a more straightforward explanation might be more appropriate, something like the following:

The following program is for entertainment only and is not guaranteed to be factual or reasonable.

March 1, 2023

Adolescent Women

I heard a phrase on NPR this morning I have never heard before: “adolescent women.” Why not “adolescent girls” or “adolescent females,” I thought. Is calling a teenage female a girl not politically correct now? Women often refer to themselves as girls. My immediate reaction to “adolescent women” is not that it is more respective of teenage girls as it is less respective of women. But that’s just my gut reaction. 

Are teenage boys now going to be “adolescent men”? Will we now speak of “toddler women” or “infant men”? Does anyone else find this strange?

Writing Someone Else’s Congressperson

I read something that Congressman Jamie Raskin said and wanted to express my approval of his having said it. He complained about Republicans using “Democrat” as an adjective, as in “Democrat Party.” I had written about Republicans’ avoidance of the word “Democratic” myself. I thought I would write to the congressman and include a link to my blog post, which he might perhaps find amusing.

Rep. Jamie Raskin
Rep. Jamie Raskin
I found Mr. Raskin’s congressional Web site, filled in my name, address, and e-mail address, and typed my message. When I tried to send my comments, however, I received an error indicating that my Zipcode was wrong, in other words,
my own Zipcode is not in his Maryland district. This is not the first time I have encountered this problem trying to communicate with a member of congress who does not technically represent me.

I appreciate that a congressperson can be easily overwhelmed with messages even from constituents. (Framers of the Constitution intended for representatives to have many fewer constituents than they do today. They did not anticipate Congress’s limiting the number of members of the House of Representatives, thereby eliminating the cap on the constituent-to-representative ratio.) Messages from non-constituents can make the deluge of messages seem even more overwhelming.

Modern American media give members of Congress national exposure, and it is not unreasonable to think that someone who is not a constituent might have good reason to communicate with a representative or senator. In my case, I wanted to praise Mr. Raskin for saying what has been needed to be said for years and to encourage him to continue saying it. I also wanted to communicate my thoughts on the same subject as set forth in my 2017 blog post.

Having been denied the opportunity to send the representative e-mail—I don’t know his e-mail address, and the form on his Web site prevented my sending e-mail through that mechanism—I thought of calling his office. I did have access to a telephone number, but I thought that communicating my blog post over the telephone would be cumbersome. Before picking up the phone, however, I realized that I could write a letter and enclose a copy of my blog essay. So that’s what I did.

I later discovered that Mr. Raskin has a Facebook page, and I could conceivably have communicated with him through Facebook. I think the letter was a better idea, and perhaps demonstrated greater commitment to getting my voice heard. That message was not time-sensitive, and I’m not sure what would have been the best channel to use had it been. Probably I would have used the telephone in that case.

I am offended by public officials limiting who is allowed to contact them conveniently. Mr. Raskin is not the only offender here. Not long ago, I wanted to send a message to Senator Liz Chaney and ran into the same restriction—I was not from her state. I dropped the project.

I suspect that not all members of Congress have a pressing need to limit their e-mail messages. But those with a high profile may consider that a necessity. This is a shame, and I don’t know what to do about it. Legislators could be given much bigger staffs to handle communication, I suppose, though the real problem is that we have too few people in Congress given the number of citizens needing to be represented. I don’t see us fixing that problem anytime soon.

February 27, 2023

New Curve-stitch Designs

I began making curve-stitch designs in junior high school, having been introduced to them by my math teacher, Mrs. Eunice Williams. I quickly graduated from using pencils or ballpoint pens to using drafting pens and India ink on drafting paper. Drawing these figures was satisfying but mind-numbingly tedious. Mistakes could be corrected but only with difficulty. Some people, even more masochistic than my teenage self, produce designs with thread, yarn, or wire on a substrate of some sort. More power to them.

My enthusiasm for curve-stitch designs was rekindled by my discovery that I could produce designs using my computer. Frankly, doing so can be tedious as well, but at least it’s not as physically challenging. Using the computer allowed me to post some of my designs on my Web site and even see them published in China and Australia. I have lately been updating Lionel Deimel’s Farrago and have again begun to create curve-stitch images.

In many ways, my favorite creation is what I call my curve-stitch isometric cube. I too an isometric cube and drew curve-stitch parabolas on all adjacent sides. A framed version of this design hangs in my hallway. It consists of white lines on a black background. Here is a black-on-white version:

I have produced my designs by programming in PostScript. a page-description language designed by Adobe. While updating my Web site, I decided to simplify the code that generates the above image. In the process, I realized that I could generalize this design. My cube has six sides. Here is an analogous design with four sides.

February 22, 2023


I am tired of both politicians and journalists speaking of proposed law changes as “reform.” GOP lawmakers want to “reform” Social Security, by which they mean reduce benefits or eliminate the program entirely. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to “reform” Israel’s judiciary, by which he means stripping power from the courts and giving more power to the Knesset, thus eliminating an important check on legislative and administrative overreach.

“Reform” is a righteous-sounding term that gives a gloss of respectability to any policy to which it is attached. But not only can the word be used to obscure one’s motives but it can introduce ambiguity and confusion into political discourse. Does “reforming” the police mean transferring police duties to non-police personnel or does it mean giving police more money and equipment to help them do their job more efficiently?

We are unlikely to dissuade politicians from using “reform” to bolster support for their proposals, but we can encourage journalists to reform how they speak and write about the politician’s “reform.” Journalists should not just parrot the propaganda of politicians. They can refer to “changes” or they can be more specific about the changes being promoted. Replacing “reform of” with “changes to” is not more specific, but at least it replaces a positive-sounding locution with a more neutral one. In some cases, journalists can be more truthful without being more verbose—“gutting the judiciary” rather than “reforming the judiciary,” for example.

If journalists refuse to automatically repeat calls for “reform,” politicians may actually become less eager to use the term.

February 16, 2023

Non-binary Pronouns

A while ago, I was reading a story of some sort. A few paragraphs into it, I ran into the phrase “they said.” They who? I wondered, as I had as yet encountered only one person’s name. It took me a while to figure out that the “they” of the story was, in fact, the single person named earlier. Apparently, that person identifies neither as male nor female. (I don’t like the term “identifies,” but, when I tried to recast that last sentence without using gendered pronouns, I began to appreciate its usefulness.)

On Zoom, it has become common to see participants whose name is followed by a notation such as “(they, them),” that is, they telegraph “their” pronouns. Other people add “(she, her),” “(he, him),” “(she, her, hers),” or some such. For someone who presents as male or female, the list of pronouns is technically unnecessary, though I suspect it is added to make less prominent the list of those for whom the list is necessary.

Honestly, I don’t understand the whole non-binary thing unless you are an intersex person. On the other hand, I don’t care about it. If you want to be a sexless person, I say go for it. On the other hand, I strongly object to the use of plural pronouns to refer to individual persons. Doing so is a confusing grammatical anomaly. I am sympathetic to the desire of non-binary people to eschew gendered pronouns. I think, however, that they have taken the wrong approach linguistically.

English is unhelpful to the non-binary. It has male, female, and neuter pronouns.  One could argue that the appropriate pronouns should be “it,” “its,” and “itself”. Logic, however, does not account for the discomfort resulting from referring to humans with the same pronouns utilized for file cabinets and garbage dumps. (Some Episcopalians are uncomfortable referring to God as “He,” but they seem equally uncomfortable with “It,” which also seems logical.) The language is really in need of some new, non-binary pronouns. Why not invent some?

That suggestion is more reasonable that it might at first seem. When women wanted an honorific that did not indicate marital status, they—someone, anyway—invented “Ms.” It took some time for this neologism to be widely accepted, but no one gives it a second thought today. It is actually comforting to know that I can respectively address a woman without having to research whether or not she is married. Encouraged by this development, I propose that we adopt new pronouns for non-binary persons.

I would argue that we only need new second-person singular pronouns. Pronouns such as “me” and “them” do not telegraph gender, and there probably is no reason to devise analogous pronouns that do. I will propose specific pronouns, but my concern is simply that we devise some new pronouns. Others may be able to invent more mellifluous ones. By analogy to existing forms, I believe the new words should be monosyllabic where possible and not be easily confused with other English words.

Here are my suggestions for second-person singular pronouns: 

          tu           tum           tus           tuself

Here is an example of how these words could be used:

Tu attended the party. Janet met tum there. She was surprised by tus outfit. Tu told her that tu designed it tuself.

As I said, I am advocating new pronouns, but I don’t have strong feelings about what these new words should be. I decided to base my words on the French tu, meaning you. This was convenient for a number of reasons. I invite comments and other suggestions.