30 August 2009
Ingenious scientists have been studying the matter for a long time, there is a wonderful incentive for success in this endeavor -- since many lives as well as a lot of property are threatened by the continued randomness of these planetary upheavals -- and the basic theory of plate tectonics seems to have been worked out in elaborate detail. So ... why no predictions?
Here's a column on the general point by Robert Roy Britt, managing editor of LiveScience.
But what Britt doesn't mention is the intriguing fact that geology is a science with a sample size of one. In the study of human physiology and its disorders, we can treat any human who has ever been subjected to medical study as a separate sample. From all of these samples, the relevant research community can draw important generalizations. In the study of the internal workings of the earth and what (from our puny point of view as its surface dwellers) we may call its "disorders," though, we have only the one Earth. Our knowledge of other planets is rudimentary, our knowledge of their internal workings is, I suspect, nil.
We have many observations of the earth and different earthquakes, but the multiplicity of observations doesn't make for a large sample. You can take my temperature several times, if you like. Each of those readings will be a fact about a single organism, reflecting either its equilibrium or some change in its condition over the period in which your measurements were take. There is still just the one organism.
This line of thought could lead us in any of several directions, most of them moving far beyond the quotidian difficulty in predicting earthquakes with which we began. It could lead us into metaphysics, for example, and the question of what constitutes a "thing," an "entity," even if you like a "substantial form." That is on some readings THE problem of metaphysics. But I'll leave off here for the day.
29 August 2009
The fact of the matter seems to be that only a sliver of "the public" is paying close attention. Outside that sliver, reactions are to the presence or absence of certain buzzwords. So non-substantive changes in the way questions are worded have a huge impact on poll results.
Here's a detailed analysis of the issue, that concludes that the best thing to do is to ignore the polls and talk about the issue.
Of course, I done just the opposite in this post. Still, call it a brief discussion of a meta-issue, of whether the polls are a non-issue.
After all, why poll at all? Because it gets results more genuine than representatives will get by going to town meetings or listening to those who bother to contact them, results less subject to astro-turfing?
Perhaps. But then again, they could listen chiefly to those who seem to have studied the subject and have something to say ... which will be a smaller number than those who bother to contact them.
And then they could make up their own mind about what is the best for the public, use their own judgment, and act accordingly.
As Edmind Burke told his constituents at Bristol, they should not expect their representative in Parliament to unquestioningly follow their will (however polled, we might add): his "unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
28 August 2009
1. Want a peak into the lifestyles of the young, unemployed, and entitled in NYC?
2. Scott Adams, the genius behind Dilbert, discusses some of the concepts with one metaphorical foot in the grave.
3. A classic prose poem on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, here because its my blog and I want to put it here.
4. An old ad (not TOO old) from a bank in Iceland that felt rather good about itself, until the house of cards collapsed Kaupthinking. Try to avoid it.
5. The Onion covers that ominous music everywhere. The FEMA bit is funniest, IMHO.
6. A bibliography on anarcho-capitalism, because I know you've been begging for it.
7. If you're old enough to remember the heyday of Space Invaders, play at your desk.
27 August 2009
Fortunately for this feature, though perhaps unfortunately for other purposes, he has plenty. I'm looking just now at his Yahoo column.
On August 7, 2009, he wrote there a column titled, "Congrats, Bankers, You're Rich Again." Actually, they were never not rich, although the marginal people and institutions among their investor base became much less rich, as did their rank-and-file employees. But if "bankers" refers to the bigwigs, they weren't unrich even through the worst of the recent crisis.
Still, one knows what he means by the sentiment of that title, which is carried throughin the column. He means that the subsidization of banks in the final months of the old administration and the early months of this one was a bad, idea, qa classic case of lemon socialism, of government taking up the costs of the losers of an economy at taxpayer expense, thereby rewarding what Ben calls their "obscenely selfish behavior."
These sentiments seem unobjectionable. Indeed, I heartily share them. But they ought to come with some element of mea culpa. Because Ben was one of the great cheerleaders for the very subsidization against which he now rails.
Watch his screamathon with Neil Cavuto, for example. They are talking over each other through most of this clip, so you may have a tough time. But skip foward to about 1:50 in the clip. Stein is saying: "We go in for as much federal stimulus as it takes to keep us out of a Great Depression ... We've got to commit even more," and so forth.
That was the argument of the subsidization. That is always the argument. So he is now shouting "boo" to a bandwagon on which he was a rider back in the day.
He is entitled to "boo" that bandwagon. If he has changed his mind, I am happy to see it. But a "mea culpa" or two would be welcome.
23 August 2009
About a year ago, while the Beijing Olympic Games were underway, I wrote a post about Liu Xiang, a wonderful track-and-field athlete who withdrew from the Men's 110 meter hurdles under circumstances that some considered mysterious. I thought I'd provide a bit of a follow up here.
The damage done by the injury that forced Liu out of that Olympics was significant enough that he has done no competing this year, either. At least not thus far this year. There is at least some speculation he may have to hang up his cleats for good, though he has made no such announcement yet.
Meanwhile, the hot new phenom in the Chinese track-and-field scene, who says he draws his inspiration from Liu's career, is Lu Jiateng, portrayed in the photo I've attached.
Lu took gold at the Asian Youth Games in Singapore, finishing the 110-meter hurdle in 13.96 seconds. He'll need to shave at least a second off of that to compete at the very highest level, but I'm told he's worth watching.
So best of luck to Liu in rehab and Lu in his ongoing career.
22 August 2009
A video game called "The Beatles: Rock Band" will go on sale next month -- designed as the other Rock Band games and the analogous Guitar Hero games) generally are, to give a player the vicarious sensation of 'being' the famous musician for whom the simulated audience is cheering.
The new game includes manipulated footage from a performance the Beatles gave in Budokan Hall, in Tokyo, Japan in the summer of 1966. It shows Paul counting off the opening beats to "Paperback Writer." In reality, Wald writes, "The harmonies were a bit rough but the filmed performance still has a loose infectious energy." Yet the game makers have manipulated the music to match the studio-recorded version of the same song, editing out the roughness.
In doing so, the game's makers are keeping faith with the Beatles' own self-image as it was developing at that time. This was their final tour. They saw themselves chiefly as the makers of recordings, not as a live act. The studio, not the stage, was the center of creation, for them and for their public.
This is very well observed by Wald, and it prompts the (unoriginal) thought on my part that perhaps the digital revolution will force a swing back to the centrality of live performances. For if the musicians in time have to accept the fact that the new technology is incompatible with older ideas of property interests in the recording, that the recording "wants to be free," then their profit center will become ... the live stage. Only there can they provide something that nobody else does.
I've just touched on the themes of two classic episodes of South Park. Season 7's Christian Rock Hard involved the issue of the economics of music int he 21st century, whereas Season 11 included Guitar Queer-O, which took aim at the sort of game that inspired Wald's meditations.
21 August 2009
The WSJ carried its obituary of Robert Novak, the conservative opinionator who reveled in the nickname "Prince of Darkness," an obit penned by Stephen Miller, on p. A16 of the August 19th edition. It is illustrated with a fascinating old black-and-white photo of RN as a young man, cigarette hanging from lips in I'm-know-I'm-being-photographed style, at a bank of ancient looking telephones. It is an illustration reminescent of old Hollywood movie portrayals of reporters, I cover the waterfront!.
Anyway, the obit says: "Because naming a CIA agent can be a crime, questions soon arose [after a certain notorious RN column] about whether Ms Plame was in the CIA and who had told Mr Novak. in the resulting imbroglio, Mr Novak divulged his sources before a grand jury. A federal investigation ended with...." and so forth.
One page flip away, on A14, there's an editorial, "Prince of Light," honoring Novak. This says, of the same subject: "The Plame scoop was merely another case of Novak doing his job, and he protected his source ... and behaved honorably even as others in the press corps abandoned First Amendment principles to cheer on a special prosecutor willing to throw reporters in jail."
Question, then: What did Novak tell the grand jury exactly? The WSJ says on A16 that he "divulged his sources" while it says on A14 that he "protected his source". Which is it? Even setting aside the stark contrast between the verbs "protected" and "divulged" ... was there only one source or many? The obit uses the word "sources" while the editorial uses the word "source." Could he have "protected" one by divulging another, explaining the odd inconsistency as to quantity there?
Also, is the WSJ now taking the stance that it was wrong for the special prosecutor to put Miller in jail? My memory, for which I claim no infallibility here, is that the WSJ editorial board was among those who were doing the "cheering on" about how terrible was her refusal to disclose her source and how it was right to put her in jail -- a view they now seem to regard as dishonorable.
Generally speaking, conservative folks such as the ones who write for the WSJ editorial page have over the years resisted the idea that "First Amendment principles" have anything to do with the obligation to give grand jury testimony. Or do I have my partisan scorecard mixed up?
20 August 2009
David Hume, A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE.
16 August 2009
England and Scotland were under separate crowns in 1560 of course, with the Tudors south of the border and the Stuarts to the north. Scotland had been spared the long drama of England's Reformation -- the drama of Henry VIII's contentious break with Katherine of Aragorn, and as a consequence with the Church of Rome, or for that matter the shifting ecclesiastical politics of his subsequent marriages. Scotland had been spared, too, the brief reign of Edward, who encouraged Calvinist tendencies in the newly established Church, then the retrograde movement under bloody Mary, who sought to return to the Roman fold, while inventing a cocktail named for hersef.
No, in 1560 Elizabeth was new to the crown, and she would over time reverse her sister's reversal of her father's revolution, but give Protestantism a distinctive non-Genevan twist in the process. And it was in 1560 that the Scottish Parliament set up a "Committee of the Articles" that after three weeks of deliberation recommended the condemnation of the doctrines of transubstantiation, justification by works, indulgences, purgatory, and papal authority. The full Parliament agreed, on August 17th of that year -- 449 years ago tomorow.
McKenna, then, is getting a jump on the 450th celebration with his own essay, which starts out with his own (Catholic) childhood and youth, and rather oddly focuses not on any of ther issues the old Scottish Parliament found decisively offensive, but on the controversy over graven images. In his case, his tendency to venerate a particular image appears to have been mingled with Mariolatry as well.
I'll reproduce his touching first two paragraphs here, allowing you to follow the above link for the rest:
Our Lady of Maryhill was three feet tall with a beatific countenance, her head encircled by a halo of golden stars. Under her dainty feet, which were supported by a grey plinth, lay a crushed serpent. She had been with me from childhood and had seen action in various north Glasgow dwellings as well as the Protestant stronghold of Kilwinning in Ayrshire.
On those occasions when I returned home for the weekend, my student flatmate would ask politely if he could commandeer my room for the purposes of entertaining women. As he was an incorrigible atheist and thus knew no better, I readily assented to his fell requests. There was only one condition. That he gently place my madonna inside the top drawer of my dresser during his assignations. Thus she would be spared the regrettable scenes of prenuptial houghmagandy taking place before her.
Houghmagandy? the word is new to me, although its meaning in context is not mysterious.
15 August 2009
The premise of this discussion is that the People's Republic of China and the United States of America have entered into an implicit alliance, with China supplying the cash for the implicit hegemon.
So the world is run by Chimerica and Chimerica still has to figure out how it is to be run.
That is all the background you need. Click on the link and decide what you think. Thanks.
14 August 2009
The most easily recogizable bit of it is "Barnum," which of course stands for P.T. Barnum. In the early 1880s, Barnum, impresario of what was then known as "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome," wanted to buy an elephant owned by a competing operation, Cooper & Bailey. Bailey turned him down (Cooper appears to have been a passive investor in Bailey's operation.) But Bailey did agree to combine operations -- elephant and all. Barnum & Bailey was born.
At the peak of the popularity of Barnum & Bailey, in 1884, the Ringling Brothers got their own operation underway. The most driven and entrepreneurial of these brothers, the one key to the success of the operation, was John Nicholas Ringling.
It was in 1907 that the Ringlings actually bought the Barnum & Bailey operation, both of the named founders thereof now having passed on. Yet for a few years the Ringling family operated the two historic circuses as distinct operations -- Barnum & Bailey survived as a separate brand name until 1919, when the R. brothers, getting on in years, realized that two operations had become more than they could handle and merged them, creating the paradigmatic Show.
One more bit of circus/corporate history, and you'll see why all of this comes to mind today. The Ringling family also included a sister, Ida Ringling, who married Harry Whitestone North. They had a child they named John Ringling North, born on this day, August 14, in 1903. It was he who took over the Greatest Show on Earth in 1937, after the last of his famous uncles -- his namesake John -- had died.
It was John Ringling North who modernized operations over the next thirty years, moving the circus out of literal tents and into air-conditioned arenas. He passed away in 1985, twenty years after giving up control, and he was eulogized in Time magazine as a "flamboyant, fast-talking showman."
So were they all.
13 August 2009
On Thursday, August 6, the Times released a statement that said: "Ben Stein's fine work for us as a columnist for Sunday Business had to end, we told him, after we learned that he had become a commercial spokesman for FreeScore, a financial services company. Ben didn't understand when he signed on with FreeScore that this might pose a potential conflict for him as a contributing columnist for the Times, because he hadn't written about credit scores or this company. But, we decided that being a commercial spokesman for FreeScore while writing his column wouldn't be appropriate.
"We are sorry to lose him as a columnist, and appreciate his work for the Times over the years."
He was never doing "fine work" for them as a columnist, and they're probably clever enough to be happy he's gone, not "sorry to lose him." So let's get the FreeScore stuff out of the way.
FreeScore tells people that it will get them their credit SCORE for free. And that is true. But the credit score is just a number, and for most people is not very useful. If you have a low credit number and you suspect it is based on faulty information in your credit reports, you want the credit report, not the number. And FreeScore is in the business of selling you the report (which you could get elsewhere for free). It is in short a bait-and-switch operation to get money from suckers.
Ben Stein is entitled to shill for a bait-and-switch operation if he wants. Likewise, the Times is entitled to stop running his columns for that reason or other reason. "Good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all" will suffice to terminate a free-lance column. The subject doesn't especially interest me.
The relationship ought rightly to have been terminated long before, and on weightier grounds. For The New York Times found itself with a business columnist who doesn't appear to have known diddly about business. Perhaps (to interpret the matter charitably) they realized this and thought the situation awkward. Perhaps they used the "credit report" thing as an elegant way out of the awkward situation. It is good to think so. At least, he has lost that platform.
Why was he so bad? Well, let's go back to January 2008, when Ben Stein invented the label "trader realism" in an effort to make himself seem profound. Wow, a new theory of finance. Trader realism! There just was no there there. Even in the 21st century, when dead-tree newspapers increasingly seem anachronistic anyway, trees should not die for this little!
The gist of that silly column (which began with discussion of the meatloaf that Stein used to eat at the kitchen table with his economist father Herb), is that professional traders, (like judges in the "legal realism" model) start from their desired conclusion, and work backward to rig up the necessary premises.
"Traders can see masses of data any minute of any day. They can find data to support hitting the 'buy' button or the 'sell' button. They don’t act on the basis of what seems to them the real economic situation, but on what’s in it for them."
Of course, classical economists would say, traders act on what's in it for them! So does everybody in the system, at least according to the classical model Stein may think he's refuting here. The difference may be this: Stein thinks the decision whether a "sell" or a "buy" has more "in it for them" has a non-rational, even an irrational, element based on, say, the corporate politics of the broker-dealer, quirks of bonus policies, idiosyncratic personalities.
A classicist who doesn't wish to conform to stereotype too tightly can of course acknowledge that traders sometimes act in ways hard to model. Still, those who consistently act on irrational factors will lose money. They won't stay in business for long. And if there are a lot of traders, and a lot of trading going on, then the irrational aspects are factored out within the whole system, the noise is filtered out and the market conveys information efficiently.
Stein's reason for believing this model is wrong and his "trader realism" has pierced a veil? An uncheckable anecdote. A "close friend of mine, now deceased," who used to be a trader in London for a major financial house, told him a story about shorting IBM on a dare from the boss, and then geting on the phone to spread rumors, talking down the price of IBM so his short position would pay off.
That's it. After the household meatloaf, the law school memories, the trader/judge analogy, we get around to a theory based on a single recollected story from one unnamed person who has shuffled off the mortal coil. Wow! On such evidence, many people seem to believe that Elvis continues to walk about and order Slurpees at various Quickie Marts.
He should have been fired after that. His performance as a "business columnist" got worse, not better, thereafter. He went from a zero into the deep negative numbers.
Sorry, Ben. Glad you're gone.
09 August 2009
In the King James Version, the crucial verses of that chapter read thus:
7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
8 if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
10 if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
08 August 2009
Anyway, I have happened upon this bit. After describing Chief Justice John Marshall's devotion to his wife, Polly Marshall, nee Ambler, the authors write of one possible exception to a life of fidelity.
"In his stay in Paris during the XYZ Affair, Marshall lodged with the Marquise de Villette, who had been raised by Voltaire and who kept Voltaire's heart in a silver case in her sitting room. Marshall was thoroughly enthralled with the Marquise, leading to speculation that they may have had an affair ...."
Ewww. She kept a heart (never bloody well mind whose!) in a silver case in her sitting room? Well, we should at least be glad she didn't have it in a bronze case. That would just be weird.
The XYZ Affair had its own fascinations, no doubt but I don't see how Marshall could have kept up with the intrigue if he was lodging in a home with a dead guy's heart lying around.
By the way, yes I'm aware that The New York Times has sacked Ben Stein. I'll save my discussion of this much-deserved firing for Thursday. Watch for it.
07 August 2009
The task of a link farm is both to amuse and to instruct.
First, under amusement, The Onion explains that there is a way to wipe out the US national debt. Hail, Octavia! William Wolfrum finally settles the "birth certificate" matter exhaustively. And Comedy Zone collects some vintage Woody Allen quotes.
Second, under instruction. Sam Antar, the former CFO of Crazy Eddie and in that capacity a crook, has turned to warning about white-collar crime, on the principle that "it takes one to know one" or something. Here is what he has to say about the internet retailer, Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK). Meanwhile, Rolling Stone tells us that Guitar Hero has a David Lee Roth dominated understanding of Van Halen. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. lost about $3.4 billion in the first half of 2009, and Murdoch takes this as evidence that information wants to be more expensive.
Thirdly, some links both amuse and instruct in equal measure. The CJR explained back in June that reporters should not be content to live and die like gerbils. That was well in advance of the appearance of a movie establishing that gerbils are really spies. Finally, Doonesbury sets us right about politicans and their affairs.
06 August 2009
1. Why is a certain sort of pie known as a "peach cobbler"? What is the connection between that sort of "cobbler" and someone who repairs shoes?
The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the shoe-mending sense is much older than any culinary sense. One early culinary use is to be found in Washington Irving's History of New York, as "Knickerbocker," (1809), where Irving makes reference to "the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cock-tail, stone-fence, and sherry-cobbler."
My guess is that the sherry-cobler came to be called that simply because the sherry was filled out, or if you will "mended," with the other ingredients thereof. [An orange slice, cracked ice, and other materials as per bartender's favorite variant.] From such usage, "cobbler" as a suffix came to mean something like "hybrid." And from there to a peach cobbler -- not every peach pie is a cobbler -- some hybridization ("mending"?) continues to be involved.
2. This day in history. August 6, 1932 was the day that Richard Hollingshead Jr patented his idea for a drive-in movie theatre. The patent would be declared invalid in 1950s, which is why the '50s remain associated in popular lore with the drive-in theatre. Nobody owned the idea anymore, and they were cheap to setup, so lots of entrepreneurs did so, coast to coast.
Having recently shared a automobile excursion with a fellow fan of the musical theatre (and one skeptic), I was reminded in particular of the classic Brigadoon. Here, then, for no other reason, is a link to the trailer for the 1954 movie version of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical.
Often shown, I would expect, in those drive-ins.
This has been something of a cock-tail of a blog entry, or stone-fence or sherry-cobbler for that matter.
02 August 2009
I haven't read it and don't have any immediate plans to do so but will give some ancillary data about it since it seems from the descriptions I've seen to be the sort of thing that may interest some of my readers.
First, here is the website of the book's author, a Harvard professor.
He says, on one of the pages of that site, "My main research interests are in the philosophy of biology and the philosophy of mind. I also work on pragmatism (especially John Dewey), general philosophy of science, and some parts of metaphysics and epistemology. I have written three books, Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature (Cambridge, 1996), Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Chicago, 2003), and Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection (Oxford, 2009)."
The second of those three books, of course, is the one with the sweeping title.
You can get a "limited preview" of Theory and Reality through Google Books here.
Here's a passage from late in that book. Godfrey-Smith has just remarked briefly about the origins in natural selection of our perceptual organs. He then writes, "So far this is not a point about science or even about human beings in particular. It is a claim about all the animals (and other organisms) that use perceptual mechanisms to adapt themselves to what is going on in their environments. But this point is enough to help us avoid some philosophical problems about our 'access' to the world. We should not think in terms of two domains in reality: one accessible and one mysterious. We are biological systems embedded in a world containing objects of all sizes and at all kinds of distance and remove from us. Our mechanisms of perception and action give us a variety of different kinds of contact with these objects."
So far, it seems to me, so good.
01 August 2009
On one of the message-board sites where I go to vent my not-so-bottomless pit of hostility now and then, I recently encountered a rather disturbing thread about Erin Andrews.
I'm not much of a sports fan, so I'll tell you all frankly that until I saw the reference on this message board site I had no idea who Erin Andrews was. In the expectation that my readers will include similarly benighted non-fans, here's the background to my disquiet: Ms Andrews is a reporter for ESPN. For the last few years she has been on the sidelines of ESPN-broadcast college football games on Saturday night. It isn't the most blazing sort of celebrity status one can have, but it is a piece of the public eye.
Anyway: some pervert who appears to have just come out of a showing of one of those dumb-teen flicks, Porkies or some knock-off thereof, took video of Andrews through a peephole into her hotel room, and posted it on the internet.
That's not what bothers me, espeically. Yes, it was an invasion of her rights, and yes I hope the perv in question is caught and punished. But that should go without saying, and would not by itself draw comment from me here.
What bothers me more is that in some quarters some sympathy has developed for the as yet unapprehended pervert. Someone in the message board site above-mentioned has posted a link to, and praised, a "column" on the subject by some non-entity named Jesse Attreau.
Attreau starts off by asserting that he does not "condone" voyeurism -- and then goes on to condone it, and indeed goes further than that, declaring, "my hat's off to whoever it was who took that video. Bravo!"
If Attreau isn't himself the voyeur (and for all I know he may be) he is certainly a disgusting creep in his own right. I was going to summarize and respond to the "arguments" leading to that cry of Bravo but on second thought have decided that would not be worth it, that would be giving his babblings too much credit, treating them as coherent communication. So I'll only say that every time that I think there is some hope for the human species, some Attreauvian slimebag slinks by.
It is one thing to say that Ms Andrews as a public figure has to be willing to accept some unpleasant criticism, even some that would be actionable as against a private person. It is quite another to say that she is not entitled to the privacy of her hotel room, which is what the cretins seem inclined to say.
So here is my cyberspatial middle finger to the voyeur, to Attreau, and to anyone who speaks well on behalf of either.
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.