31 July 2007
It reminded me of a much better and more recent movie called Barton Fink. "The Adventures of Marco Polo" was a fairly typical product of the Hollywood studio system retrospectively portrayed in "Barton Fink."
It was a formula picture. You establish your hero as a ladies man on his home turf (which, in this case, is Venice). He then travels to some place exotic (Peking) and woos a beautiful local gal, while getting caught up in palace intrigue. It isn't a complicated formula, (several episodes of the original Star Trek followed that plot line) and probably this was no easier, or more difficult, to write than the sort of "wrestling pic" with which Fink was struggling through the movie that bears his name.
Gary Cooper is Marco Polo. Lana Turner is daughter of Kublai Khan. Or a member of his harem. Or something. It hardly matters. She later complained to a biographer that her "fancy black oriental wig" was glued around her face with spirit gum, that she felt extremely uncomfortable in her costumes, and that she had her eyebrows shaved off, at the insistence of Goldwyn himself. They gave her slanted eyebrows instead.
For all that, she looks about as Chinese in this movie as, well, Alan Hale. The Alan Hale who plays the leader of a rebellion against Khan in this movie, was the father of the guy who in the 1960s played The Skipper on Gilligan's island, and if you have a mental image of the son it will do as an image of his Dad in the '30s.
The reason Roosevelt lifted prohibition was, perhaps, his premonition that it would never do for anyone to have to watch this movie in perfect sobriety.
30 July 2007
Dunne says that Bruce Cutler, the New York lawyer best known for defending John Gotti, is a fine trial lawyer who is "having a difficult time of it in a city not his own. The tough-guy act that charms New York is laying an egg here. I have never seen a hotshot New York lawyer score big in a Los Angeles courtroom. There's a sentiment."
In cross-examining some of the prosecution's witnesses, Cutler struck the wrong note. He's used to "cross-examining thugs and murderers in a manner that doesn't go over well when nice ladies who claim to have had fearsome experiences with Phil Spector are on the stand."
Apparently, Cutler has lately been sidelined by the rest of the defense team.
Keeping track of such things represents cheap entertainment, I know. But I'd like to believe that the California courts are capable of convicting SOME celebrity murderer.
29 July 2007
I'm an admirer of the Potter series, and of Rowlings' talent. I'll surely read the seventh book as I have the other six at some point. The flip side, though, is that I've got something of an alergy to hype, and don't like standing in line at book stores at midnight.
All that said, I'd simply like to point out that one of the neat details of the series is the school motto for Hogwarts: "Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus."
That's supposed to translate, "Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon," though the Latin is a bit fanciful. Wouldn't "Draco Quietus Nunquam...." work better?
Let sleeping multi-headed dogs lie, too.
At any rate, I hope to catch up with the latest of the movies soon, and the final book not long after that.
In the meantime: watch who you tickle, everyone.
28 July 2007
There's another common use of the word "contagion" these days. It's financial. The problems in the subprime housing market -- are they contained or are they contagious? Will the rest of the economy (of the US? or the industrialized world?) catch the subprime flu? Has it already?
Bill Gross, a bond guru with Pacific Investment Management Co (Pimco) certainly believes in contagion. In some of his recent writings, he seems almost to welcome it.
"Borrowers and lenders may have bitten off more than they can chew, and even those that swallow their hot dogs whole – Nathan’s Famous Coney Island style – are having a serious bout of indigestion," he wrote in a recent commentary. "Several hundred billion dollars of bank loans and high yield debt wait in the wings to take out the private equity and leveraged buyout deals that have helped propel stocks to Dow 14,000. And lenders…mmmmm, how do we say this…don’t seem to have much of an appetite anymore. Six weeks ago the high yield debt market was humming the Campbell’s soup theme and now, it’s begging for a truckload of Rolaids."
For more, go here: http://www.pimco.com/LeftNav/Featured+Market+Commentary/IO/2007/IO+August+2007.htm
I certainly don't share Mr. Gross' apparently its-about-time attitude there. But I worry that he may be right, that Dow 14,000 may represent a peak, and that we may be in for a very bumpy road on the way down.
The business cycle has always been, at its heart, a credit cycle. This time around, at this peak, that "heart" is a bit nearer the surface of the skin than is usually the case.
27 July 2007
1) Moody's upgrades Qatar. Moody's Investor Service said that it now regards Qatar Petroleum's senior unsecured bonds as an Aa2 investment, an upgrade from an Aa3. Qatar Petroleum is a government-related business, but its bonds aren't sovereign bonds. Still, Moody's says the reason it is more confident in Qatar Petroleum now is that it is more confident in Qatar. More confident than ... when? Well ... more confident than it was in February, which was the heighth of a Qatar-related terrorism scare.
2) China to go homegrown. An agency headquartered in Beijing, the National Development and Reform Commission, has put out a draft report on how to encourage the homegrown petroleum and petrochemical equipment industries. It isn't obvious how much clout within the government as a whole this commission has, or what effects this development will have upon the huge energy market that the PRC is, and the even more huge market it promises to become. Still, it is evidence that "energy independence" as a policy goal isn't a distinctively American idea.
3) Civil actions against Amaranth, some of its traders. Meanwhile, in the US, both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have this week brought actions against the corporate shell of Amaranth, and against its infamous 6-billion-dollars-losing trader, Brian Hunter. Hunter's disastrous trades were in natural gas futures. FERC has jurisdiction over the markets for the gas itself, the CFTC has jurisdiction over the market for commodity futures contracts. Mr. Hunter seems to have been trying to play them off against one another to avoid such an action, but to no avail. He seems only to have persuaded them to team up.
To what does all this add? Damned if I know. I put them together because they illustrate the difference between the speculation around an industry and the fundamentals, between the wagging tail and the standing dog. My instinct is that the speculators (like Mr. Hunter) don't really drive the fundamentals. Whether or not Qatar's energy-related facilities are well-protected from terrorist strikes: that's a fundamental. That's the dog that wags the tail of speculation.
The news from China is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: whatever plans they have for stiffening up their home industry are too tentative to be fundamentals yet, but the issue that commission addressed does seem to be more real than the personal fate of Mr. Hunter. So I guess the lesson from my three random tidbits is simply the difficulty, in the crush of industry news, is distinguishing which is which. What's the dog, and what's the tail?
26 July 2007
Today, I'd like to bring another of Updike's recent novels to your attention. This is VILLAGES (2004). Again, it is on one level a fictionalization of some recent history -- in this case, the development of computing. The protagonist, Owen McKenzie, grew up in rural Pennsylvania through the era of the Second World War, studied electrical engineering at MIT, and co-founded a computer-servicing firm in the pre-Apollo era.
At the suggestion of his partner, Ed Mervine, the two men set up shop in rural Connecticut -- to the north and west of New Haven. They each make a modest fortune before the style of computer off of which they thrive becomes obsolete as Silicon Valley, California, rises to dominance.
That's the narrative arc. But in this novel, as in SEEK MY FACE, Updike is also concerned with the visual arts, and with contrasting ideas about them. He sets one scene in the living room of a neighboring couple in that Connecticut village -- the husband of that couple is an illustrator for the mass-market magazines -- framed samples of his work from POST and COLLIER's and REDBOOK grace the "cracked plaster walls" of the Morrissey home. But we've arrived at 1968, and the magazine world is shifting away from the sort of work Ian Morrissey has to offer -- nonfiction outsells fiction, and nonfiction is illustrated by photographers.
Ian is understandably cranky about this, and he blames computer nerds like Owen for the disappearance of his market. This spirited tirade is part of the result:
"But you, O. dear boy, you know better. You have a soul, or had one once. Let me put it this way -- you know something's missing, and still you've signed up, a good soldier for Moloch. Whatever you call it. Industry. The defense establishment. Defense, death, pollution, and mass-produced crap for the crappy masses."
I'll give only a bit of Owen's reply, for the flavor of the exchange.
"Some would say, incidentally, that the women's magazines you do your illustrations for are good soldiers for Moloch, selling cosmetics and tampons and dishwashers and sexy underwear and whatever else women can be persuaded they want. It's the Devil's bargain, Ian -- medicine and electricity and rocket science in exchange for an empty Heaven."
It's a perfect 1968 conversation. C.P. Snow's expression for the rift between the humanities and the sciences, "the two cultures," -- first coined by Snow in 1959 -- had taken this long to become common coin, and such self-conscious bantering of representatives of the two might I imagine have been heard in such a living room. Updike takes the ideas of his characters seriously, yet all the time they remain characters, defined by time place and plot -- not mouthpieces.
25 July 2007
Nonetheless, they might consider this a plug. They do carry some well-written articles, including for example this week's "Letter from Jerusalem" by David Remnick.
When I first open a copy of TNY, though, I open it to the back page, and check out the cartoon caption contest. It reminds me of a classic Seinfeld episode in which Elaine is ticked off that the cartoons have become incomprehensible. Still....
Each week there are three panels: the winner of one contest, three finalists for another, and a fresh challenge. This week's winner is Sandy Sommer, of St. Louis, Mo. She submitted a caption to a drawing that shows a bird, with very few feathers indeed, and a rather tight-looking bathing suit. The bird is strutting proudly about on the limb of a tree, and two bird-watchers (perhaps a married couple) stand below the limb, looking through their guide books.
Ms Sommer's caption: "It's a thongbird."
The second panel shows an implausibly large wave arising out of a backyard swimming pool. A husband and wife are both about to be overwhelmed -- or, at the minimum, severely wettened. The wife looks unconcerned though and is saying something to her husband.
The three finalists each put words in her mouth as folows:
It's time that child went on a diet.
I told you this house was too close to the moon.
That brings us to the fresh one, this week's contest. It's a bit more complicated than its precursors. We see two rooms in a home, a kitchen and a living room. In the kitchen we see an unshaven man, with cans and an opened bag in front of him (beer and potato chips most likely). There's also a dog, peering inquisitively at the man, who is saying something in response to that look.
Meanwhile, in the living room, a woman has written mathematical/chemical formulae on a blackboard, and is explaining her work to ... the family cat. The cat is seated at a stool, and appears to be following that exposition.
So we have the trite opposition of male (canine) on one hand, female (feline) on the other. We have laziness in the former case and industriousness in the latter. I guess. No good caption comes to mind.
I preferred last week's new contest -- we'll learn next week, I expect, who the finalists are for that. Last week's drawing showed a monkey who had just been typing away -- at an old-style typewriter mind you, not a computer's keyboard. A scientist (we can tell he's a scientist because he's wearing a lab coat) is looking at a page apparently just taken from the monkey, and is speaking....
So what's the caption?
There's an old statistician's thought experiment about a thousand monkeys typing away until they come up with the complete text of Hamlet (or, name your favorite Shakespeare play here -- or, the Complete Works of). I infer that the drawing is meant to suggest that much to us, anyway.
My own proposed caption for that one would be, "No, Hamlet and Ophelia can't live happily ever after. Try again."
We'll see how it goes.
In blogger business today, I'd like to mention that the philosopher Matthew McGrath has honored our humble blog with a comment. You'll find it below my May 22d entry. I had had some fun at the expense of a thought-experiment in a book of his, about "sake realism." He assures me that, yes, the humor of that example was intentional.
Glad to hear it, and I'm glad to have such distinguished readers.
24 July 2007
I have a strong prejudice on philosophical grounds against any absolute origins. I can't see how matter could possibly have "begun" in any very strict sense, nor life.
In science, one doesn't get one's druthers, of course. I wouldn't think of demanding that scientists comply with my prejudice that the universe is everlasting (nor with a competing prejudice that it is 6,000 years old, nor with any other).
But one is entitled to a rooting interest where there's an open question. So openness is my cause.
And in a bookstore yesterday, I saw ENDLESS UNIVERSE by Paul J. Steinhardt & Neil Turok.
Steinhardt is a physics professor at Princeton. Turok is a mathematician at Cambridge University across the pond.
The title also the thesis. Ain't it cool?
Apparently, though their theory of how the universe could turn out to be endless references "strong theory," which I tend to distrust on Popperian grounds.
So I might have to choose between my prejudices. Ah, horrid day!
23 July 2007
On July 17, the board of directors of Dow Jones voted to approve a merger at the amount Murdoch has been, $5 billion.
Much of that money would go to the members of the Bancroft family, but some of them still seem hesitant to take it. Perhaps because they feel that by holding out they can get more. Or, just perhaps, due to a sort of status anxiety. When they sell, they'll be just another wealthy family. Until they sell, they're the family with a controlling stake in Dow Jones, which sounds cooler.
Apparently, Burkle (a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton who appeared for a time willing to compete with Murdoch in an auction) has withdrawn from the picture. But Brad Greenspan still has aspirations.
Or, insead of aspirations, one might want to say "delusions of grandeur." There's little that indicates that he could pull off a coup here. Murdoch will get the prize, though he might yet have to increase the price a bit.
Recently, the WSJ has made cutbacks that I thought ill advised, even a curtailment in the literal size of the papers used for each page. They're in trouble, and it seems clear they're not in a position to remain independent.
Life is tough, and in an internet-dominated world, consolidation among the pulp-and-ink papers that remain is a fact. As the kids say: Deal.
22 July 2007
Tammy Faye Messner, a televangelist Christian singer who, with her first husband Jim Bakker, founded the PTL ("Praise the Lord") Club in the 1970s, appears in worldly terms to have had a few good years and a lot of very tough ones.
Jim and Tammy stood on top of the world in the late 1970s and well into the 1980s -- when PTL was both their mission and a financial empire.
But when things went bad, they went very bad. Jim had a fling with a Church Secretary, Jessica Hahn. After that came out into the open, the empire itself fell apart. In December 1988, a grand jury indicted Jim for fraud. Tammy was not named in that indictment.
The rest of her travails it would be tedious to relate. They're already enumerated in obits all over the worldwide web. A very public struggle with colon cancer capped them.
Tammy passed away on Friday.
The lesson? What occurs to me is that behind earthly success there always lurks this chasm, the possibility of quick and painful reversal, and this is so even if those who are enjoying that success think at the time that it isn't of the earthly sort, that it is founded securely upon the Rock of Ages.
"Think no one happy until he is dead," as Sophocles would remind us.
21 July 2007
We saw Once, not Sicko, and I didn't see him again on the way out. Still, the incidnt confirmed me in what had been my wavering resolution to say something about the health care market here. For it seems to me that this is one instance out of many where government, as the supposed agent of a sovereign, poses as the solution to a problem of which it is the cause. The better solution is to remove that cause. How would that work, in the health-care context?
I'll explain by treating the matter historically, mostly perhaps because I read The Microbe Hunters (1940) by the great science-history popularizer Paul de Kruif about 20 times when I was a child, until the binding fell apart. So I'm going to answer Moore in Dekruifean style.
A one-paragraph clue to where I'm heading. It is inappropriate to say that a freemarket system for the provision of and financing of modern scientific medicine (MSM) has been tried and found wanting. The fact is, it has never been tried at all. To show this, we have to go into the 19th century development of MSM.
The American Medical Association was founded in 1847, to promote what its members already considered an orthodox or conventional model of medicine against challenges from homeopaths and mesmerists. (There were no Christian Scientists yet.) This is a curiosity itself. What did "orthodox medicine" mean in 1847? This was before Pasteur's discoveries had secured the germ theory of disease. Surgeons weren't physicians of any sort, they were still anybody skilled with a blade.
The defining characteristic of a physician, in the AMA/orthodox sense, in 1847 was the administration of "allopathic" drugs. Medicines that didn't resemble the suspected disease or poison. Allopathy -- "other than the disease." Obviously, this leaves possibilities wide open, and the particular drugs that would be administered to a patient by an allopathic doc in 1847 were those that had been selected by centuries of trial and error. The gastly connotations of that expression in this context are entirely fitting.
I think it is unlikely that any school of healing in 1847 was more likely to prolong your life than to shorten it. Or that any of the three contenders I've mentioned had a much better record than the other two. But the AMA's members were placing a sort of bet -- the homeopaths and mesmerists/mind-healers were placing contrary bets -- as to what would eventually prove to be the best approach to curing.
In 1855, the AMA put into effect what was called the “consultation clause” in its code of ethics. This clause meant that an orthodox practitioner risked expulsion (which at this point didn’t have the force of law, but we can think of it as a form of ‘shunning’ by one’s peers – in some contexts an effective psychological threat) if he so much as consulted with an unorthodox practitioner, i.e. a homeopath. This, you might say, was an effort at private-sector cartelization.
Lots of exciting stuff happened in the 1860s. In the United States, a civil war gave a lot of men opportunities to hone their skills as surgeons. They gained practical skill that the AMA would co-opt after the war, allying itself with surgery at last.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch put the "germ theory of disease" on a sound scientific basis in the 1860s. This also gave a foundation to the idea of allopathic medicine. If each disease has its own distinctive germ than the thing to do is to inoculate or immunize against that germ, or to find an agent that will kill off that germ without killing the
Another development of the 1860s, this time in the British isles. Joseph Lister became the great proponent of an antiseptic surgical environment, specifically popularizing carbolic acid in this connection. The germ theory was an influence upon Lister, as one might expect. And his work helped undergird the alliance between physicians and surgeons.
So (returning to the US): after Appomattox, the AMA finally had something to sell. It was no longer just making a bet on something that might work, it had some science behind it. It was becoming an organization of entrepreneurs selling MSM.
It didn't take long thereafter, though, for the AMA to decide that private-sector cartelization, via such means as shunning, wasn't going to be enough to allow them to make the kind of profits for which they lusted. They started lobbying for licensure rules, essentially criminalizing the practices of their foes, and giving themselves control of entry into non-criminal healing.
Most of the states of the US have medical licensing laws that date to the quarter century 1875 - 1900.
So, to American's who can't get the insurance they need and/or the health care they need,and who are leaving the country to seek it elsewhere, what do I as an anarcho-capitalist have to say? To begin: God's speed. I wish you the best. Second, though, I should say that such anecdotes don't and shouldn't guide us as to the proper direction of reform. The proper direction would be, at last, to give a try to something that doesn't seem ever to have been seriously attempted, the de-licensing of modern scientific medicine, a true post-Pasteur privatization of the field.
Will Wilkinson, of The Fly Bottle, has expounded upon this a bit. Here's the money quote:
"There ought to be a guy, Manny, say, who does stitches. You cut your arm and you go to Manny’s stitches joint, which flourishes because Manny is the best at stitches. Manny leaves no scar! Ever! Moreover, he’s cheaper that some guy who spend years learning about the biochemistry of the human body. What does that have to do with stitches!? Why isn’t there a Manny’s Stitches Joint! You should be able to get a degree from the University of Phoenix in knee replacements. Just knee replacements! Why can’t you?! Because the AMA is evil. M.D.s are monopolists and welfare queens, and preventing a huge infusion of high-quality low-cost health care providers from coming to market."
Here's more on Wilkinson's tack, from his blog. http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2006/03/19/health-care-fantasia/
20 July 2007
In 2001, still following that same aspiration, it folded Volvo into its newly formed "Premier Automotive Group" with two other Euro-luxury brands, Jaguar and Land Rover.
Scratch that business plan! At least two of those brands are now on the auction block. It expects to get up to $8 billion for the two UK-based operations. This would get it back about 2/3ds of what it lost in 2006.
It's possible that all of them are actually on the block: there are persistent rumors that FMC is interested in selling Volvo as well -- though the company denies them.
Is this the sound of a company, and an industry, marching bravely toward extinction? Or is it just me? At the minimum the whole 'Premier Group' thing is a failed experiment, now written off. But that experiment was in itself a bit of a last-gasp.
19 July 2007
Shelburne Falls is a wonderful scenic place on the Mohawk Trail -- site of the Bridge of Flowers, the glacial potholes, and a Trolley Museum. It all looks touristy enough for the locals to make a steady income, but not touristy enough to attract the kind of crowds that would ruin the charm of it.
Anyway, the movie was preceded by a half hour of hillbilly-style fiddling. When the audience was all properly seated and the curtain was ready to rise, the fiddlers said their leave, and three quite different musicians made their way to the orchestra pit. This was the Devil Music Ensemble -- three men who provide a "live soundtrack" to silent films.
When silent films were new, a pianist (or, perhaps, a player piano -- automation isn't as new as we might like to think) would provide the background music. Of course, with "talkies" the sound track was integrated with the film. But the Ensemble -- by name Brendon Wood, Jonah Rapino, and Tim Nylander -- brings us back to the old days, yet with far more elaboration and wit than I expect their first-generation analogs provided.
I'm not a fan of the silent films, or of the whole pantomiming style of acting they required. There are still admirers of John Barrymore about (what relation is he to Drew, exactly?), but I'm not among them. It just seems "hammy" to me. Still, the DME made the evening more than worthwhile. Congrats to them.
For the rest of you: don't take my word for their excellence. Listen to it yourself (though without the movie the effect isn't the same) here:
18 July 2007
Due to that wonderful data stream, I've noticed that I now and then get readers who arrive by googling phrases like "Dean Carney," or "Richard Tavoso" or "index arbitrage." They're looking for two entries I wrote about two months ago (May 14 and May 17, to be precise) which describe a book by Ben Mezrich, "Ugly Americans."
I believe Mezrich is probably getting extra attention now because an earlier book of his, "Bringing Down the House," has been made into a movie -- under a different title -- starring Kevin Spacey.
So Mezrich is getting attention, his book on arbitrage trading in East Asia by Americans, largely Ivy Leaguers, is getting attention, and as the last link in the chain reaction, my humble blog is getting some hits. I blush for my unworthiness, but if you google the names [Carney Tavoso], this blog is second on the resultant list.
So let's try to make some use of that. I'll address Mr. Tavoso, in the event that he is or becomes among those who do that search. Sir, Do you agree that you are likely the real-world basis of the partially fictionalized Dean Carney? If so, do you think the portrayal is fair or unfair? Not only am I personally curious, but if the plot corresponds to reality, even somewhat, it sounds like an important piece of the financial history of the region, so it would be worthwhile getting it straight without the fictional veneer.
I hope to hear from you. Thanks.
17 July 2007
I'd like to expound upon that letter a bit today.
Royce, it tells us, has just been assigned to teach epistemology. James (although his name is now closely associated with epistemological controversies) didn't like the term,
and jests here about its portentuosness. The French phrase he uses, BTW,literally translates "by the times that run" ... or more idiomatically, "since these are the conditions that prevail"! Everybody else is using "Epistemology," so we might as well use it, and have somebody as talented as Royce teaching it.
Royce was at this point at work on the second volume of his two-volume work, THE WORLD AND THE INDIVIDUAL. That's the "new volume" that James says he looks forward to eagerly. Royce was trying to reconcile Hegelian metaphysics with individualistic ethics and
politics, hence James' description of it as "voluntaristic-pluralistic monism."
But when we start reading James description of his reaction to Santayana's new book, the mingling of praise and critique positively en-giddies us! What James first says he prizes about Santayana is his imperturbability. But James doesn't describe himself as
imperturbable ... he squeals and grunts! Imperturbability is best admired in others, rather than imitated, it appears.
All of James' admirers know how James used the word "thickening" as a term of praise, and here Santayana is credited with thickening Harvard.
But after he describes the "thick" atmosphere, the various fighting faiths, why does he refer to himself as "out of it"? I don't think this a hypochondriacal lament. I believe, rather, that at this time James was hard at work on the Gifford lectures, which would
eventually becomes "The Varieties of Religious Experience." He perhaps regretted that he was becoming too immersed in a project that might seem, from the point of view of the debates on epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics he has in mind in most of this
letter, something of a digression.
16 July 2007
In a 136 page plan, the bishops said that evangelical Protestants have made inroads, and blamed the rise of "individualism and a mentality of relativism in ethics and religion."
Irritating as (some) evangelical Protestants can be, I have to say that if the Reformation has at last arrived in Latin America the fact deserves at least a brief cheer.
Anything that breaks down the link between spirituality and hierarchy is a positive bit of news for humanity, for if you're in the habit of looking for instructions from the person above you in the organizational flow chart, the muscles of freedom will atrophy.
15 July 2007
String theory involves ten or eleven space-time dimensions (the exact number varies with the theorist)-- and the "strings" or one-dimensional objects that twitter about in space-time so conceived show up as mere points, or point-like sub-atomic particles, within the usual old-fashioned four dimensions.
String theory was designed to serve as a "theory of everything," and in particular to integrate the other forces of nature with the one force that seems to resist any detailed integration into a unified theory: gravity.
One problem, though, is that string theorists haven't been able to suggest any experiments that might bear upon their theories at all. There is only so much blackboard scribbling that scientists will attend to before they start getting impatient for data. Is this all just pure mathematics, and not any part of the physical sciences at all?
Unfortunately, no. Mathematicians don't recognize string theorists are part of their domain either. Mathematics is about rigorous deductive proof, and string theorists don't have that. They have suggestions and hypotheses. What they're doing looks too much like science for the mathematicians, just as it looks too much like mathematics for the scientists.
That doesn't establish that it's wrong, only that if its right the disciplinary name for its sort of rightness has yet to be invented.
14 July 2007
Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the WSJ. A lot of people are unhappy with that, for a lot of different reasons. Its been two and a half months now since the original offer (May 1) and there's no signed-and-sealed deal yet, so the forces of resistance to the feared Fox-ification of the WSJ are evidently having some impact. A retardant but likely not a brake.
My guess, in other words, is that the deal will go through. One odd recent twist was the report four days ago that Brad Greenspan and Ron Burkle are posing as white knights, talking about putting together an alternative offer. Burkle, a California-based supermarket magnate with ties to the Clinton family, may be interested in foiling a new growth spurt for the Murdoch/Fox empire. Or he may see the Dow Jones as a prize for himself. Or he may just be toying with the idea because he's a megalomanaic. Who knows these days?
Here's something I wrote about the Burkle-Clinton connection more than a year ago, on another incarnation of this blog.
So ... what's my point? Personally, I long for the days (though perhaps I view them through rose-tinted glasses) when newspapers were the property of men with distinctive outsized personalities, men who had perhaps memories of childhood toys named Rosebud. I long for those days not because those men were perfect (surely not!), but because the products of colorless homogenized bureaucratic corporations seem necessarily ... what's the word I want here ... bland.
I don't like bland with my news. Let's have a few more Hearsts, Pulitzers, and Colonel McCormicks in the world. Women as well as men next time around of course. The Wall Street Journal's recent business problems, the problems that have led it into "play" in the first place, are a part of that blandness. They need a personality at the helm.
Murdoch isn't the solution. He's manuveuring behind Fox here. Greenspan and Burkle? Ah, we might have something. Odd though they may be, and unlikely though their success here surely is, I think I've acquired a rooting interest in this fight.
13 July 2007
Such nice big round numbers sometimes have psychological significance, and perhaps this marks a threshold, where the hybrid is no longer an innovation, but a normal part of the auto markets.
Of course, Toyota is no longer alone in bringing them to us, although Detroit still seems rather clumsy in this matter. The real challenge to Toyota in the hybrid end of the market is from another japanese giant, Honda. Here's the URL for an enthusiastic assessment (by a Brit, Steve Nelson) of the latest from Honda.
And here's a discussion of the differences between the two Japanese corporation's approaches in this area.
To my tastes, frankly, that second article, from a paper in British Columbia, Canada, sounds a bit too patly partisan, as if the reporter was simply putting his own name to a Honda hand-out. Still, I'm in no position out of my own technological ignorance to argue with it.
12 July 2007
I suppose if somebody had started a "Christopher Faille" entry (unlikely, but let it pass) and either the initiator or some subsequent editor had told a blatant lie there, I'd be tempted to remove it myself too, rather than trusting in the 'process' to do so sooner or later. Still, too much concern with what one's biography says passes a fine line, and is like too much time spent in front of a mirror.
The latest prominent person alleged, with at least some show of evidence, to have danced to or across that line is ... Kurt Eichenwald.
I discussed Mr. Eichenwald in this blog in March. http://cfaille.blogspot.com/2007/03/reporting-on-slime-and-slipping.html He's the former New York Times reporter who now is under contract with Portfolio, the glossy financial-news quarterly.
Eichenwald has surely had a distinguished career. He's twice been nominated for Pulitzers, and his book about a price-fixing scandal at ADM, The Informant, is the basis for a movie set to appear in theatres next year, starring Matt Damon no less. But it isn't clear that the folks at Portfolio know what to do with him. He had no story in the inaugural issue of the quarterly magazine, and accordingly to Gawker he's furious that his piece on money laundering, intended for the second issue, has been spiked.
So maybe if they aren't using him at Portfolio he has time to go on wikipedia a lot? There's somebody named Milo73 who's done a lot of work recently on the Eichenwald bio article. Gawker (again) has given its reasons for believing this might be Eichenwald himself.
I hope they're wrong, and Milo is an admirer. Here's why.
Before Milo noticed it, that entry had a section called "Education and Career" that ran thus:
"He graduated from St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas and Swarthmore College, where he was a founder of the a cappella octet Sixteen Feet.
"In 1984 and 1985, Eichenwald was a writer-researcher for CBS News in the Election and Survey Unit. He joined ''The Times'' in 1985 as a news clerk for Hedrick Smith, who was chief Washington correspondent. When Mr. Smith began writing his book ''The Power Game'', Eichenwald became his research assistant, leaving in 1986 to become associate editor at ''The National Journal'' in Washington. Eichenwald returned to ''The Times'' later in 1986 and was a news clerk for the national desk in New York before becoming a financial reporter in 1988.
"He began reporting for the ''Times''' business section in 1988, covering Wall Street, corporate takeovers and the insider trading scandals. In 1992, he began writing the "Market Place" column and covering the unfolding scandals at Prudential Financial. In February 1995, Eichenwald began covering a range of investigative projects for the business section. He is author to several bestsellers of the same context, Business Ethics, the latest of which is Conspiracy of Fools, about the Enron debacle."
Milo73 decided to divide the section into two, one part called "Education and Early Life," a second part called "Early Career." The first part is almost entirely new, and personal in character. It discusses Eichenwald's concussion, which produced epilepsy, which requierd medication, and the bad side-effects of the first medication regimen, side-effects that aped the symptoms of leukemia. Then the article quotes a magazine profile of Eichenwald written twenty years ago by Dean Rotbart, who said:
''While Kurt has never since hidden his epilepsy, he also didn’t make it a centerpiece of his life. After writing his story, Kurt’s mission was clear and it was not to become a poster boy for the illness. "My whole life from the time I got sick was focused on making sure that I was a student, a journalist, a husband and a father," Kurt tells me. "Not that I was someone with this condition." Well he succeeded quite spectacularly.''
It would be sad to learn that a distinguished journalist not only inserted a long discussion of his struggle with epilepsy into a wikipedia biography, but used it to resuscitate a 20 year old magazine article that praised him for refusing to focus on that condition.
11 July 2007
One of the minor characters in John Updike's story is known, in the novel, as Bernie Nova. I suspect that Bernie must be a slight fictionalization of some real painter or intellectual or both, but I don't know enough of the relevant history to guess who.
Bernie is a friend of Zack, who is clearly based on Jackson Pollack. One day in the 1940s -- the war was still on, though these young men were oblivious to it -- Bernie and Zack and others of their crowd (including one Roger) argue about the future of painting in a diner, sitting in the dark leatherette booths. This gives Updike his chance to unload Bernie's big theory on us.
Bernie snaps at Roger, "Your Surrealist friends are French playboys, playing with Freud, who was playful enough. Who says that being asleep is more profound than being awake? Dreams are a muddle -- brain-slime. What matters is not the psyche but metaphysics. Penetration into the world mystery; for this the painter's mind should be as pure as the scientist's and the philosopher's."
A little later in the conversation, Bernie again: "The canvas enlists the viewer in sympathetic participation with the artist's thought. It expresses the mind foremost, and whatever is still sensuous is secondary, an incidental accident. Truth before pleasure."
So for the question: did anybody in the US in the era depicted talk like that about art? Was he part of a social circle around Pollack? or part of the post-war development of abstract expressionism?
10 July 2007
"Glorious old Palmer --
"I had come to the point of feeling that my next letter must be to you, when up comes your delightful 'favor' of the 18th, with all its news, its convincing clipping, and its enclosures from Bakewell and Sheldon."
[I omit here some gossit about the jockeying for academic positions.]
"I'm glad you're back in ethics and glad that Royce has 'Epistemology' -- portentous name, and small result, in my opinion, but a substantive discipline which ought, par la temps qui court, to be treated with due familiarity. I look forward with eagerness to his new volume. What a colossal feat he has performed in these two years -- all thrown in by the way, as it were ...."
[I do further skipping here to get to my favorite part.]
"The great event in my life recently has been the reading of Santayana's book. Although I absolutely reject the platonism of it, I have literally squealed with delight at the imperturbable perfection with which the position is laid down on page after page; and grunted with delight at such a thickening up of our Harvard atmosphere. If our students now could really begin to understand what Royce means with his voluntaristic-pluralustic monism, what Munsterberg means with his dualistic scientificism and platonism, what Santayana means by his pessimistic platonism (I wonder if he and Mg have had any close mutually encouraging intercourse in this line?) what I mean by my crass pluralism, what you meanby your ethereal idealism, that these are so many religions, ways of fronting life, and worth fighting fo, we should have a genuine philosophic atmosphere at Harvard. The best condition of it would be an open conflict and rivalry of the diverse systems. (Alas! that I should be out of it, just as my chance begins!) The world might ring with the struggle, if we devoted ourselves exclusively to belaboring each other.
"I now understand Santayana, the man. I never understood him before. But what a perfection of rottenness in a philosophy! I don't think I ever knew the anti-realistic view to be propounded with so impudently superior an air. It is refreshing to see a representative of moribund Latinity rise up and administer such reproof to us barbarians in the hour of our triumph. I imagine Santayana's style to be entirely spontaneous."
09 July 2007
There are various theories about it though. If you, dear reader, want to give them detailed consideration, you might start here.
08 July 2007
As it happened, though, a breaking news event drew my attention -- the rescue of a journalist in the Gaza Strip - and I blogged on that, conceding to the holiday only a ritualistic reference to fireworks.
But today I'd like to do something seasonal. Specifically, I'd like to say that there is a grave danger in confusing religious piety with political/patriotic feelings. I'm not making a constitutional point -- let's not argue about what the phrase "establishment of religion" meant to Madison, Mason, and that old powdered-wig-wearing crowd. (If I die a martyr to the US, will I be greeted in paradise by a crowd of Virginians?)
My point, rather, is theological. I believe whole-heartedly that the universe isn't just a bunch of material/mechanical coming and going. Life is more than matter and mind is more than life and the whole of the cosmos is more than its parts -- that More is what we revere as God. Precisely because I believe this, I find it baffling and disheartening when people try to hijack spirituality for nationalism.
On this first Sunday after Independence Day, let us recall the first book of Samuel, chapter 8, with its stern warning against any earthly claims to sovereignty.
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
07 July 2007
The idea is this: if the yuan were made convertible and allowed to float freely, traders and investors around the world would want to hold some of their assets in yuan, or yuan-denominated assets, in preference to, say, U.S. dollars. They'd convert, the value of the yuan vis-a-vis the dollar would increase, and that would reduce the corporate advantage of buying Chinese products or raw materials or outsourcing the manufacturing work there. This (Dodd's view implies) would assist U.S. manufacturers and employees.
The new Chrysler/Chery deal is likely to add appeal to this argument. Just as Chrysler itself is "coming home" in a sense, rescued from those darned Germans, it's outsourcing assemblage to China. Like the kid who comes home from college just long enough to drop off his laundry and then is out gallivanting.
I was speaking to an authority on China's economy earlier this week. He said, "The U.S. makes a good many products, but what we make best is a virtue out of necessity." In the Bretton Woods period, 1944 - 1970, fixed exchange rates were the international norm. The value of the US dollar was pegged to gold and the value of other currencies were pegged to the dollar. That situation wasn't sustainable, and Richard Nixon famously "closed the gold window." The move was a raction to a monetary crisis, not the quasi-religious conversion to the ideal of freely-floating currencies!
Yet in the decades since, the necessity (as it was then) of letting the dollar float has become an ideal, and a central pillar of US foreign/economic policy. Everybody's currency should float freely against everybody else's! The notion that China should adhere to something analogous to the old Bretton Woods system, insofar as it can unilaterally instate it, has become a blasphemy, a manipulation.
There is also something delicious about the fact that it's Dodd, given his reputation as one of the last of the unapologetic liberals, who should pick up a Nixonian banner in this way.
06 July 2007
The is the first-ever deal in which one of the US “big three” has agreed to have a car built in China and then sold here in the U.S. Everything else has been outsourced, but the actual assembly of the cars has hitherto always been done here for sale here.
The cars that Chery builds under this deal will be compacts, sold under the “Dodge” brand, yet assembled in China.
You can look at this deal in any of a number of ways. On the one hand, you might see it as a triumph for Cerberus, the venture-capital investor that bought 80% of Chrysler in May. Cerberus made the deal with Daimler so that it could take Chrysler private (meaning that ordinary folk can't simply call up a broker and buy a piece of Chrysler through a stock exchange now). Perhaps the Chery deal is precisely the sort of move that needs to be made to save Chrysler, and the sort of deal that can't be done in the context of a publicly traded corporation, with the regulations, transparency, and the general games-playing that status can bring.
Or maybe you can look at the deal through a somewhat more jaded pair of glasses. Maybe it'll go down in history as a landmark in the rise of China and the decline of the United States as economic powers. I'll discuss that possible reading further in tomorrow's entry.
05 July 2007
I enjoyed this passage, and thought I'd share it with you.
"Helmut had once dated a younger student from Karlsruhe, Stephanie Henke, a special girl. At a concert, she had been so taken by Beethoven's allegro assai conclusion to the Ninth Symphony that she cried and shrieked nonstop into the deathly silence at the end of the concert. An incredible orgasmic fury! What was even more shocking was that those around her, the prim and proper of Freiberg, approved of this primaeval release with their admiring looks. Apparently this wild girl had really understood the heart of the music. Little did they notice the desperate gleam in her eyes, the spasmodic little twists of her head processing in a rapid-fire loop, the slash scars on her wrists."
That's a very nicely written paragraph. Troncoso withholds from us the most obvious evidence that something was really, perhaps tragically, wrong with Stephanie. We're seduced into sharing the attitude of the prim and proper of Freiberg, because after all maybe a shriek is the best response to Beethoven.
Even when the last sentence of the passage is underway, destined as it is to disillusion us, it begins in a way that lets us cling to the Stephanie-is-okay view. There is a "desperate gleam in her eyes." So? That seems an inherently subjective datum.
Then, though, "spasmodic little twists," -- now THAT sounds pathological. Finally, the "slash scars on her wrists." Once we get that datum, we look back and re-interpret earlier expressions, including the adjective "special" assigned to her in the final clause of the first sentence.
04 July 2007
After four months as a hostage, Alan Johnston is free. His captors, the "Army of Islam," released him from their Gaza Strip HQ today, in the early hours of Wednesday morning (Gaza Strip time).
Johnston didn't have much to say, except that he told an AP reporter, "I'm OK. Really, I'm OK." And, under the circumstances, I can understand that he needs some R&R time before he is any more forthcoming about his experience than that.
Under pressure from Hamas, the Army of Islam apparently dropped its earlier demand that the UK release a radical Islamic cleric with ties to al-Qaeda as the price of Johnston's release.
Hamas, you might remember, forcibly took control of Gaza from Fatah only two weeks ago in bitter intra-Palestinian fighting. Fatah continues to control the West Bank, which is of course the larger part of the Palestinian not-quite-a-state entity thing.
Johnston's release, then, might be seen as a move in the continued Fatah/Hamas struggle. On June 19, in the midst of the fighting between the two factions, Khalil al-Haya, one of the Hamas lawmakers, said that he was "shocked and surprised by the [Fatah] voices forbidding discussions with us, while they enter discussions with Israel." http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1181813070301&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
Perhaps Hamas is now worried about the extent of their own international isolation, and concerned that Fatah has come to seem like a reasonable operation by virtue of its wilingness to talk to Israel. Perhaps (and I'm doing nothing but spinning out a line of speculations without any credibility at all here -- this, after all, is a blog) ... Hamas is trying to one-up Fatah in reasonableness by showing that it is not only willing, but capable of, releasing a western hostage.
Johnston's release and safety are good news items anyway. If they are a harbinger of a new sort of competition among Palestinian factions, a competition in the direction of reason, then it is terrific news.
Light those sparklers.
03 July 2007
That line from The Graduate has acquired new meaning in recent days, as a start-up company has claimed to have invented a gizmo involving high-frequency microwaves that will turn plastics into 20% diesel oil and 80% combustible gas. To learn more, see their SEC filings.
The Hawk-10, as they call it, is so far a very rudimentary non-market-ready thing, but the idea is both to reduce the amount of trash in landfills and numbers of abandoned junk piles, as well as to a lessor extent, provide some diesel oil.
By itself, you might well say, "big deal" to this bit of news. There are lots of companies founded on bright ideas which, for a variety of reasons, never come to fruition. In this case, the bright idea has some irony to it. Taking the crude oil, turning some of it into plastics, then when its life as a kitchen utensil is done and its ready for a landfill, turning some of it into diesel oil, losing ground to the law of entropy at each stage, sounds like an expensive way to get some oil.
Wouldn't it almost always be easier to recycle something plastic into something else plastic, rather than recycle the plastic itself into oil?
The only reason this came to my attention is because some right wingnuts have decided that this is yet more proof of a liberal media conspiracy. The Hawk-10, you see, hasn't been getting blaring head-lines, which proves that the press doesn't want good news, only wants to spread environmental alarmism etc.
Sure it does. And my trip to Dublin last month proves that I'm an overgrown leprechaun.
Sur'en I'm a wishing the top o' the mornin to all the wingnuts, an' normal folk too.
02 July 2007
Accounts have differed wildly. Perhaps 20 gasoline stations were attacked by rioters. Perhaps as many as 50.
Perhaps there have been no deaths. Perhaps there have been three.
But that there has been unrest is clear through the haze, and it makes the point that gasoline isn't a raw material -- it is the product of industry, of a refining. The critical variable isn't the per-barrel price of crude we hear about so often (or isn't always that, anyway) but refinery capacity.
One is reminded of the Shah's pre-revolutionary regime, which likewise sought to plan its way into status as a front-rank industrial power. Central planning doesn't work, and when the central planners are overthrown by a revolution, and the revolutionaries try a somewhat different style of central planning ... it still doesn't work.
01 July 2007
The great philosopher Josiah Royce once invoked Lenthall's behavior on that fateful day in 1642 as a paradigm of morality.
In Royce's book, The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908) we can read the following:
"Now, I myself have for years used in my own classes, as an illustration of the personal worth and beauty of loyalty, an incident of English history, which has often been cited as a precedent in discussions of the constitutional privileges of the House of Commons, but which I think has not been sufficiently noticed by moralists. Let me set that incident now before your imagination. Thus, I say, do the loyal bear themselves: In January 1642, just before the outbreak of hostilities between King Charles I and the Commons, the King resolved to arrest certain leaders of the opposition party in Parliament....Then, having placed his guards at the doors, he entered, went up to the Speaker, and naming the members whom he desired to arrest, demanded, 'Mr. Speaker, do you espy these persons in the House?'"
I skip past the reply, which Royce quotes as I quoted it Thursday. I skip also past the dramatic flourishes he adds. The question my readers will want answered perhaps is: why was this moment paradigmatic for a philosophy of loyalty? Presumably if Lenthall had said, "Ah, yes, you want the four fellows cowering in the northeastern corner of this Chamber, your Majesty," that would go down in pro-monarchical books to this day as an act of loyalty too. It was a choice among loyalties. But what specifically impressed Royce? Skip along in his text a bit with me to find out.
He wrote, "I want you to view the act merely as an instance of a supremely worthy personal attitude. The beautiful union of formal humility (when the speaker fell on his knee before the King) with unconquerable self-assertion (wshen the reply rang with so clear a note of lawful defiance); the willing and complete identification of his whole self with his cause (when the Speaker declared that he had no eye or tongue except as his office gave them to him), -- these are characteristics typical of a loyal attitude. The Speaker's words were at once ingenious and obvious."
You get the idea. I'll stop now. Moving as Royce's talk of loyalty is, there are obvious objections to a moral philosophy of loyalty -- problems of which, I should say, he was aware, and which he addressed.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.