30 March 2008
In New Testament terms, one would expect the two feasts to coincide. After all, the Last Supper was clearly a seder.
The 'normal' year in a Jewish calender has 354 days, which means it gets out of synch with the solar rhythms rather quickly, and this is remedied by the creation of a "leap month" at regular intervals. In other words, the days of the month are regulated by the moon, while the number of months in the year is regulated by the sun. There's a long year, with the leap month, sometimes after two normal years, sometimes after three.
I speak as someone just stumbling his way through this material, and would be happy to receive correction.
At any rate, Passover 2007 (or in the Jewish year 5767) took place on April 2 in the civil calender. Everything was as it 'should be' for those of us who enjoy seeing the two feasts coincide -- because Easter in 2007 was the following Sunday, April 8.
Passover 2008/5768 has been deferred, in Gregorian-calender terms, by the insertion of that extra month. This year, Passover begins when the sun sets April 19.
29 March 2008
At the moment, there are three commissioners, all Republicans. Presumably, the President could name a Libertarian and a Green Party member to fill the vacant spots, just so long as he doesn't name any more Republicans.
Of course, the two major parties have an implicit compact to ignore the existence of any others, so given that pact it was always a near certainty that Mr. Bush would nominate two Democrats. The open question was one of timing -- how long would he let the SEC drift along understaffed rather than nominate Democrats? The second of the two Democrats to depart, Annette Nazareth, has been gone since the end of January.
The White House answered that question yesterday, naming Elisse Walter and Luis Aguilar as its nominees. Although anything is possible -- some skeleton could pop out of a closet -- there seems no great difficulty barring either of these nominees from a quick confirmation.
With due respect to Mr. Aguilar, Ms Walter is the more interesting of the two to me just now. She's a career regulator. She's been working of late at the NASD, which of course is a private organization. But her job there is to head the "regulatory policy and programs." So she's one of the securities industry's primary "self regulators," the folks who try to prove to the SEC that "everything's under control over here -- no need to make a fuss over us." That makes her a government regulator by proxy.
She was a full-fledged government regulator for two years, roughly the second half of Bill Clinton's first term, when she was a member of the SEC's sister agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That's the job she left in 1996 to take the post at NASD.
So what? As I've mentioned here a time or two, I'm an anarcho-capitalist. I'm no fan of either the CFTC or the SEC. They tend to cause the problems they pretend to cure. I say this not in a dogmatic ideological way but as a pragmatic conclusion from my understanding of the course of human history.
Thinking "within the box" though, I'd just as soon if we have to have regulators we take somebody right out of a trading pit, somebody who's career has been spent in a colorful jacket jumping up and down shouting "BUY! Soybeans BUY!" or whatever exactly they yell. Or that we pluck somebody from behind a computer screen where he's been doing the same thing without the pantomime.
Or (poor third best) if we must have lawyers in these agencies, we have lawyers who've spent their careers concerning themselves with the interests of the folks in the trading pits.
It distresses me that regulators spend their whole career as such, shuffling around from one regulatory agency (or its proxies) to another.
Bah, I say. Bah and humbug.
28 March 2008
Probably not a whole lot. At least, not a lot as to stuff that either has any actual control over.
But the world is funny. Sean Combs has now become a victim of a news story based on forged documents.
The New York Times' story on the unravelling of this forgery is careful to mention that the reporter, Chuck Philips, has apologized for his part in the matter, and that Mr. Philips is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Well, gee. This sure helps burnish the esteem in which that prize is held, doesn't it?
Philips doesn't seem (so far as we yet know) to be a forger. He was at fault, it appears, in accepting the validity of documents that confirmed his own theory, and his desire for a hot scoop, without looking into them.
Check everything, Chuck.
27 March 2008
Oh, and somebody should put on some music too.
Anyway, here's a simple one. If a company accepts prepayment for some service, can it immediately book the cash as "revenue"?
Answer: no. From the point of view of financial accounting, the cash is just cash. It becomes "revenue" only when and as it's earned.
Suppose company X gets its money in September for work it will do in October then? When does it receive the revenue for the purpose of its books? Answer: in the fourth quarter, not in the third.
Suppose the work consists of delivering a product to a customer? Suppose that the customer is far away, and the product can be delivered there only by a truck that will take more than a day to get from company X's warehouse to the customer? And suppose this delivery takes place right on the cusp of a new quarter?
Then we might have to interpret contracts between company X and its trucker to know our answer. If our company loaded the goods onto the truck on September 30, and they received their destination on October 2: third quarter or fourth?
What do the initials "FOB" stand for anyway, and what does that have to do with the above?
Some few cognoscenti will recognize the real-life story I've just stylized. But for most of you, this just sounds like a rather random train of thought. And there I will leave it. My mind just keeps on trucking, whatever fiscal quarter we're in, and whether it ever makes a point, or a delivery, is best left to the judgment of the medical profession.
23 March 2008
Consider the crucial Easter morning passage from Luke (24:1-4).
Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.
That's the KJV. Here's The Living Bible (1971) -- which I keep always near because it was a high school graduation present from family friends.
"But very early on Sunday morning they took the ointments to the tomb -- and found that the huge stone covering the entrance had been rolled aside. So they went in -- but the Lord Jesus' body was gone.
"They stood there puzzle, trying to think what could have happened to it. Suddenly two men appeared before them, clothes in shining robes so bright their eyes were dazzled."
I leave my reader to the contemplation of the differences. And trust that the Christians among my readers will enjoy the holiday for which their shared meaning serves as foundation.
22 March 2008
Here's what TIME has to say.
Dixon, of course, was "Kinch," or on formal occasions Sgt. Kinchloe, on the old situation-comedy "Hogan's Heroes." I intend no disrespect, but I'm noting his passing chiefly because it gives me a chance to say something about that sitcom in general.
It operated at two very different levels. There was the in-the-barracks (ITB) stuff, and the in-commandant's-office (ICO) stuff. For the most part, the ICO was superb. You'd have three fine actors: Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer, and usually John Banner as Schultz, playing off one another like old vaudeville partners. At best, it had an improv feel to it.
On the other hand, the ITB stuff was time-filling kitsch. There were the usual ethnic stereotypes -- a Limey, a frog ... then there was the clean-cut Sidney Poitier guess-who's-coming-to-dinner black guy, which was Dixon's role -- and for good measure there was a naive white rural kid whose father ran a drugstore in some unnamed town. (A redneck before Foxworthy had approved of that word for television.)
The stereotypes said the stereotypical things, and the plot creaked forward, relieved only by the moments when the three real talents of the show would find themselves together again, and we'd be back at the ICO level.
I've now displayed the fact taht I've spent much too much of my life watching such stuff, and it may seem that I've been less than gracious to the dearly departed as well. Of course I mean no offense to Dixon, who probably did the best he could with the hackish lines he was given to read.
Rest in peace, then.
21 March 2008
As the subtitle indicates, Mr. Brook isn't writing a work of aesthetic appreciation of Vermeer's paintings. He is using them as an entry point for broad observations about the seventeenth century, global trade, and the route from there to here.
Still, Vermeer gets the starring role as does a certain beaver-pelt hat.
The hat is there (aside from the title) in the cover art, which reproduces "Officer and Laughing Girl." The officer, in full uniform and with the hat slanted a bit to the left, has his back to us, because his attention is on the young woman to the right and mid-background.
She's grinning but it's a bit of an overstatement to say that she's laughing. Still, it appears that the officer has come a-courting and is doing well.
The scene gives Mr. Brook the chance to inform us that the custom whereby a man would remove his hat indoors, especially in the presence of a lady, had not yet developed.
"When Vermeer painted a man without a hat, he was someone at work: a music teacher or a scientist. A courting man did not go hatless."
Behind the recipient of his attentions is a map, serving as a wall decoration. It would not have been cheap -- the map, along with the furnishings and the heavy elaborate window, indicates that this is a comfortable home. She's quite a catch.
That hat, though, leads Brook into a discussion of the 17th century trade in pelts, and this gets us a very different sort of map before we've turned too many pages into this discussion -- a map of the trade routes of the Great Lakes region of North America, where those fashionable beavers were to be found.
All in all, a fine book by Mr. Brooks, though structured as a bit of a stew.
20 March 2008
Mahan argued against defensive dispositions for a fleet. Deterrent, yes, defensive no.
He believed the best strategy was always to keep the fleet concentrated. A divided fleet can always be defeated in detail. A united fleet can strike decisively when it has to strike, and is a powerful deterrent just by its existence.
He wrote a lot about the French. Their problem for centuries was that they had to have two navies for two different oceans, since they never controlled Gibraltar. This meant that there was always a limit to how much they could concentrate. The English, on an island, faced no such limit.
Unfortunately, too many in the US believed in that. It may have been part of the reason for the creation of the Panama Canal, to grab our equivalent of Gibraltar and be, if you will, non-French. It was also the reason much of our navy was concentrated, in a manner Mahon would have approved of, in Hawaii in December 1941.
16 March 2008
 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
Note that though Matthew tells us that Jesus' admirers cut down "branches," it doesn't specify that they were palm fronds.
John tells us they were palm trees.
Aside from that, though, I enjoy Matthew's telling. John just says that Jesus "found a yung donkey" to fulfill an old prophecy. John's account lacks the magisterial "The Lord hath need of them." Also John's story economizes -- mentioning only one beast of burden. Matthew has Jesus requisitioning two.
Enjoy Holy Week.
15 March 2008
In November, when the government announced his indictment for conspiracy to bribe, I figured there'd be a defiant "not guilty," and a trial in which he'd declare himself the victim of a frame.
Since then, CourtTV has changed its name and begun shifting its focus away from such spectacles, so perhaps it is fitting that their mill won't have any Scruggsian grist. This week, Scruggs pleaded guilty.
I don't know how the sentencing will go, but a plea to a felony charge ensures he'll lose his license to practice law at the very least. Five years in prison and a fine of up to a quarter of a million dollars are also among the possibilities.
As I noted in my November entry on this subject, his downfall began with Hurricane Katrina, and with a lawsuit against insurers alleged to have acted in bad faith in refusing to make their payout in that situation. Unfortunately, when I wrote about this subject last I made an error, which I here wish to correct.
I wrote, "He and associates allegedly offered a judge $50,000 in return for rulings in their favor in a lawsuit against insurance companies that failed to pay out on Hurricane Katrina."
That was wrong. The connection between the storm and the bribe wasn't so tight as that. The insurers had already settled, and the remaining dispute was over fees. Another plaintiffs' attorney, John Griffin Jones, claimed that Scruggs had cheated him out of his share of the lawyers-fees portion of the settlement pie.
This fact makes the case seem even more tawdry than otherwise. If Scruggs had tried to bribe a judge because he wanted to stick it to the insurance companies -- that would have been as grave a wrong under the law -- but one could perhaps mitigate that as "excessive zeal surrounding a just cause" or something. But to bribe a judge in a dispute with a colleague who had been working on the same side as one's self in that cause?
14 March 2008
Here's a bit from it. "Aunt Bertha's customary verve and impudence had vanished, and with it her boisterous manner that was part of her even when she spoke quietly. But though her lips drooped and she seemed to address her words to the floor, dully, falteringly, there was still a remnant of stubborn, blunt defiance in her tone and the way she jerked her head."
The other Henry Roth, the fictional one, is also a writer. He's a character in a sappy movie, a chick-flick romantic comedy, called DEDICATION, which you can read about here and watch at your leisure.
But dont' bother. Get a copy of CALL IT SLEEP instead.
13 March 2008
Today I'll just briefly record the new developments there. Thaksin has pleaded "not guilty." Also, his request for a month-long trip to the UK has been granted.
Instead of covering the same ground I did last week about Thaksin's career, let's try to put it into a bit of context. In my day job at HedgeWorld we ran a story recently of a survey, released in November, by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
Wyman's study said that among hedge funds in Asia's debt markets, China and India are the two most popular destinations for their cash, despite the infamous illiquidity they can encounter in either place.
It found that Thailand was waaay down the list of desirable locales for such investors.
In fact, the list is this (name of country followed by the percentage of surveyed funds putting their money there).
South Korea: 45
Hong Kong: 29.
The significance of the list is perhaps not immediately apparent.
My take on it is this: such hedge funds make a profit only on inefficiencies. If a debt market is too well developed already, they'll turn away. Because in such a case, the assets are already priced at their value, and there won't be arbitrage plays.
On the other hand, the kind of inefficiency that makes a country attractive is of a specific sort. Hedge funds that are playing the credit markets aren't making their money off political chaos or inadequate infrastructure. They want stability, functioning courts, passable roads and reliable bridges etc. China and India possess both of these requirements. They've got the infrastructure that allows for the normal conduct of business, and they've got markets still inefficient enough for wily speculators to find profit opportunities.
A low place on that list, then, can be either good news for a country or bad. It's good news for Australia and Hong Kong, which both had efficient enough markets to scare off such funds. But its bad news for Thailand and Indonesia, where the basics aren't yet considered trustworthy.
The 2006 coup itself was presumably a large part of the reason for that in Thailand's case. I of course wish the people of the country well and hope that the routine resolution of the charges against Thaksin will prove something of a showcase for the routine functioning of a well-honed legal system.
09 March 2008
I've had an idea about my long-stalled civil war novel. I don't really have to write it in such a way that history comes out "right." There's a rich tradition of alternative history novels, after all. I'm not really thinking of joining the alt-history ranks, except perhaps as a sort of frame story, but I think it would work in that capacity.
Imagine this, then, as an opening sentence: "Do you know why the confederates changed their minds? Why they never did fire on Fort Sumter?"
That would commit me to include in the heart of the book some subtle variation from history which would explain that final change of heart, but would also allow me to explore the antebellum era much as I've been attempting.
08 March 2008
Such blogs split into two opposing camps.
There are those, like "Patent Hawk," who think that IP is a crucial means of rewarding innovation, that some sneaky corporate interests are always trying to piggy-back off of other people's innovative ideas, and that accordingly patent rights need to be strengthened (the public domain narrowed) pro bono publico. Greed is good.
Then there are those (we might as well call them "patent doves"!) who believe that intellectual-property claims have gone much too far, that "trolls" are using patent claims to disadvantage productive businesses, and that a lot of the ideas now claimed as someone's property belong more properly in the public domain.
One of the more prominent of the patent doves has called himself Patent Troll Tracker, and for a long time kept his 'real' identitya secret. But he has been outed as a California lawyer named Rich Frenkel.
The 'outing' exercise itself is inside-baseball, but the intellectual complexities of the underlying debate are fascinating.
Consider the meaning of the word "obvious." A simple enough word, of transparent (self-referential!) significance, right? Maybe not. The U.S. Supreme Court wrestled with this last year, in KSR v. Teleflex.
The pertinent statute says that no patent shall issue when "the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains."
That seems to require the courts to engage in an exercise of hindsight. "It was obvious that peanut butter would mix well with jelly between two pieces of bread, wasn't it?"
Anyway, I'm just glad I can enjoy a PB&J sandwich now and then without paying whoever made the first one. That'll conclude my IP cogitating for now.
07 March 2008
In recent days, two more so-called memoirs have turned out to be as false as Frey's, (or as those of his South Park counterpart, Towlie).
There was Mischa Defonseca, author of "Mischa: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years." This was first published in France (and in French) eleven years ago. It made a huge splash, and was translated into 18 languages. Unfortunately, it was tommyrot. Mischa did have a compelling story to tell, had she only stuck to telling it. Her parents were members of the Belgian resistance and they were killed by the Nazis.
But neither they nor she were Jewish, as her 'memoir' presumes. And she did not, in their absence, revert to a feral condition, which is the gist of the book's plot. She was, rather, taken in by her grandfather and lived out the war in relative comfort.
"She belonged to a very good family and lived in the most beautiful house on the street," an old acquaintance has said.
These lies took time to unravel. But on leap day, February 29, Mischa fessed up.
But even that's not the latest one. And here we return to Oprah. For Ms Winfrey has expressed enthusiasm over LOVE AND CONSEQUENCES, a supposedly autobiographical tale of a gal who grew up running drugs for the gangs in the 'hood, in south central L.A., written by one Margaret B. Jones.
On Tuesday, March 4, the publisher recalled 19,000 copies of the book -- all apparently destined for paper recycling -- as Ms Jones turned out to be Margaret Seltzer, a well-to-do product of the San Fernando Valley, not of southcentral anywhere. Gag me with a spoon.
The title, "Love and Consequences" is a piece of art in itself. Those of us who love the non-fiction memoir as a genre are now doomed to face the consequence of such fraud -- we never know when we're reading one.
Oh times, Oh morals, Oh Oprah!
06 March 2008
He has been in exile for a year and a half, when Thaksin -- the prime minister then -- was deposed by a military coup.
The junta stepped aside peacefully last year, arranging for elections, and a new incarnation of Thaksin's political party won those elections, as the leader of a six-party coalitions.
Six-party coalitions can be fragile things, so although the new prime minister (Samak Sundaravej) is an associate of Thaksin's, it's a bit much to speak of Thaksin, as some have, as the "kingmaker" in this situation.
Indeed, Thaksin is under something of a cloud himself. He has returned not in triumph but to face criminal charges arising out of his time in office.
One charge involves a 2003 land deal. While Thaksin was PM, his wife bought a plot in Bangkok from the central bank's distressed-asset fund. The accusation is that this was something more than just a sharp bit of dealing by a woman who just happened to be married to the prime minister, but that it was an inside fix.
The other charge relates to the events that set off the military coup. In 2006, the Shinawatras sold their interest in a computer company, Shin Corp. (they owned 49.5% of its equity) to Temasek Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of the government of Singapore, for about US$1.9 billion. They paid no capital gains tax on this sale. It appears that under Thai law they were exempt from the tax, although the legality of it may only make it more scandalous than otherwise.
Also, Thailand's SEC found that the couple's son, Panthongtae Shinawatra, violated some of its disclosure rules in connection with the Shin Corp. transaction.
Such points are mere technicalities, though, compared to the issue of who bought the company the family was selling. One of their political opponents said that Thaksin was worse than Saddam Hussein for not protecting the Thai economy from foreigners: "Dictator Saddam, though a brutal tyrant, still fought the superpower for the Iraqi motherland," whereas Thaksin was selling out his motherland to Singapore.
Although there were lots of other reasons various factions were unhappy with Thaksin, as there always are, it was the Shin sale that sent people into the streets. Mass anti-Thaksin demonstrations, answered by mass pro-Thaksin demonstrations, created the climate of disorder that, in turn, created at least a plausible pretext for the coup that autumn.
Now he's home, and this Wednesday, March 12, 2008, Thaksin will appear in court to answer charges related to the 2003 land deal.
Conclusions? I have none to offer, except that all states are failed states. Pragmatism should dictate that we find ways to order our affairs without reliance upon hierarchy, sovereignty, and superstition. Anarcho-capitalism. Catch the fever.
02 March 2008
Only 48 known copies of the bibles printed by his press in the mid fifteenth century are known still to exist, and most of those are in far-from-perfect condition.
The first copy to arrive in the United States was known to be on these shores by 1847, when it was purchased by James Lenox. It now sits in the New York Public Library.
In 1987, a Tokyo-based company reportedly purchased one of the remaining copies at auction (Christie's) for $4.9 million. That copy is now in the Keio University Library in Tokyo.
A couple in Utah have taken it upon themselves to make new ones, in a manner of speaking.
Using a reconstructed press, period-appropriate binding techniques, herringbone stitch to hand sew the pages together, beechwood for the covers, they're working in painstaking detail to create their replicas.
God bless them. That's dedication.
01 March 2008
It seems to me that Buckley was plainly being baited there ("shut up a minute" says Mr. Vidal) and responded with a certain natural degree of heat. I don't think any the less of him for that. In terms of the political climate of 1968, all this was not nearly as nasty as it might have been.
I didn't see that program when it aired, but of course I had heard of it and was delighted at my recent discovery of YouTube's memorialization.
The Buckley I recall more vividly was the Buckley of Firing Line at the height of its influence, the period between 1976 and 1980, between Reagan's loss to Ford and Reagan's victory in the intra-Republican context and then in the general election of 1980.
I was a law student and a John Anderson volunteer in 1980 so I plainly wasn't in Buckley's side of intra-party fights. Nonetheless, he put on a good show. And that theme music! -- Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto.
And of course in parodic form Buckley was a "character" in a classic SCTV skit, "Battle of the PBS Stars," in 1982.
In retrospect I can see something of Buckley's historical importance, especially in the period 1970-80. This period begins when Nixon's wage and price controls disenchanted many market-oriented conservatives with the Republican Party and persuaded them they'd either have to remake it or leave. Some, the libertarians, left it. Others, under Buckley's leadership, stayed in the GOP determined to re-make it, and eventually they were rewarded with Reagan.
The Reagan crowd was, then, a little bit more principled than the Nixon-Ford crowd. That isn't a very high hurdle to clear, IMHO, but they did clear it. At least while they were out-of-power. Once in charge though ... well, that's another story.
It is possible to be a bit nostalgic for Buckley at his height. Today's conservatives, the Cunningham's and Coulter's especially, might learn a bit from him.
Every society will have a conservative element, in some sense, and it is best that this element be intelligent and civil. As much so as Buckley was at his best.
Will people someday look back at Limbaugh in the same spirit as that in which I look back as Buckley? Maybe. They may even look back this way at Cunningham and Coulter. God help us all.
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.