30 May 2010
On this Memorial Day weekend, we might well think especially of the war that gave rise to Decoration Day, in time so renamed.
Nancy Pearl has made the observation that every generation of Americans since the end of the civil war has re-written that war in fictional form to reflect its own "dreams, desires, fears, and beliefs."
The nineteenth century was not over yet when Crane wrote RED BADGE OF COURAGE.
Forty years after Crane, Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND gave us a crystallization of nostalgia for the antebllum society of Tara and the O'Hara clan.
Twenty years after that, MacKinley Kantor wrote ANDERSONVILLE, a novelization of the horrors of life in that prisoner-of-war camp.
Identifying more recent books is easy. Deciding which of the more recent ones deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those is more difficult. COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier, can make a strong claim. Pearl mentions others.
On a trip through Virginia a few years ago, I noticed that the sports teams of Appomattox High School call themselves "The Generals." I bet when they lose, the sportswriters of the towns of the rival team can't help but begin with a lede like this: The Appomattox Generals surrendered again Wednesday to the Jubreau Devil's crushing linesmen...."
29 May 2010
Go here for the decision.
This is in contrast to baseball, and "Major League Baseball," and the disparity in the legal treatment of the two favorite sports of the US came about through an intriguing historical accident. Back in the 1920s, judges still cared (at least sporadically) about the separate spheres of the federal and state governments, and still interpreted the interstate commerce clause to mean something specific -- movement of people or goods across state lines.
So when the subject of enforcing federal antitrust laws in a baseball context first arose, the courts said the laws can't apply, because baseball teams aren't engaged in moving anybody or anthing anywhere. The stadium stays in one place! Customers coming to it may cross state lines, but that is their concern. This visiting team generally crossed state lines to get to the home team's park, but that is incidental. The actual game is intra-state. That was the justification for the immunity.
In the 1930s, the commerce clause came to mean anything it had to mean. So logically, the antitrust immunity for baseball could have been reconsidered. But it wasn't. It remained in place as a sort of relic of the old days.
In 1972,in the Curt Flood case, the Supreme Court admitted that this makes baseball an "established aberration," but said the immunity will stand until Congress changes it.
I'm okay with that. As I believe I've indicated in this blog before, I think the result is rational as to baseball, for reasons the SCOTUS opinion didn't so much as mention. When the Red Sox play the Yankees, they are both in the business of putting on a show -- the same show. More broadly, all of the teams in the two leagues of MLB are in the business of puttinbg on the season-long show that begins with spring training and ends with the World Series. They have the same overriding interest in maintaining public fascination with that show, and this retaining their viability for the television audience ands the advertisers who pay the big bucks. It is all a single enterprise.
Still, I'd like to see the NFL get the benefit of the same immunity. Their stadiums (stadia?) stay in place, too.
28 May 2010
Her boyfriend was in on the scheme too, and has also been arrested.
Her name is Bonnie. His name, alas!, is not Clyde. It is Yonni.
I have been known to rise to the defense of the accused in insider trading charges. But these two were ... stupid. Bonnie Hoxie sent an email out to a variety of hedge funds saying, "Hi, I have access to Disney's (DIS) quarterly earnings report before its release on 05/03/10. I am willing to share this information for a fee that we can determine later."
Gee, I think I, too, will write perfect strangers and ask them if they want my assistance committing a crime. What could go wrong?
27 May 2010
The pertinent text (KJV) says: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots".
In the Latin Vulgate, the passage reads: "Et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendet," so we see that a Latin term for a tender green shoot, "virga," [with the near-pun, obvious enough to western Europe for centuries before King James' day, to "virgo" or "Virgin"] became the sturdier-seeming "rod" in English.
But I'm thinking just now of the window in Chartres Cathedral in which a tree rises from a sleeping Jesse, and the rod, the trunk of the tree, consists of figures of David, Solomon, then two other crowned but uncertain referents, then Mary and at the tree's peak -- Jesus.
The 19th century French architect and theorist, Viollet-le-Duc, rhapsodized about this window, as an achievement in color. Then he turned to the issue of perspective -- not something, in his opinion, that can possibly enter into the particular form of art that produced this window.
"The radiation of translucent colors in windows cannot be modified by the artist; all his talent consists in profiting by it, according to a given harmonic scheme on a single plane, like a rug, but not according to an effort at aerial perspective. Do what you like, a glass window never does and never can represent anything but a plane surface; its real virtues even exist only on that condition. Every attempt to present several planes to the eye is fatal to the harmony of color, without producing any illusion in the spectator."
23 May 2010
Apparently, the scientists took the genome of one species of the bacterial genus Mycoplasma and sequenced it. They used that data to produce the same sequence in vitro. They injected this DNA into the cell of a different species of Mycoplasma, creating a hybrid.
In a message board, someone has offered me the following analogy, "You take a Ford V8 and tear it apart, make measurements and draw a blueprint of the engine. Then you go into your home foundary & machine shop and builld your own copy of the Ford V8.
"Then you put that Ford V8 in an old Chevy and drive it around the block.
"You haven't even designed a new car, let alone invented the automobile, but it is a pretty impressive bit of engineering for an amateur."
That's what worries me. Even if the significance of this step has been overstated in some of the coverage, it does seem that our species is getting depressingly impressive at engineering the basics of life.
22 May 2010
I didn't say anything there about Horn's troubled relationship, in the course of his investigation, with the man to whom he had to report in Nuremburg, Captain John Thompson. Thompson is portrayed here as a clueless bureaucrat, who didn't understand all this fancy stuff about arts and antiquities. As evidence in support of this characterization, our author, Sidney Kirkpatrick, mentions a conversation between the two men in which Thompson, wondering why the Nazis would have gone to such trouble to hang on to some of the more religious artefacts in the vault, such as a reliquary containing a sliver purported to be from the True Cross, casually described the Nazis as pagans.
This remark induced Horn to give Thompson the benefit of a quasi-academic lecture about how "The Fuhrer's ideologues sought not to do away with God but to champion their own twisted notions of Aryan Christianity, Germanic history, and rulership. Lines couldn't be drawn separating the ecclesiastical treasures from the regalia of the emperor. The 'stuff,' as Thompson so blithely referred to the contents of the vault, was all sacred symbols of Reich continuity and the dynastic succession of the Holy Roman Emperors."
Here we get to how the whole story matters. Some may take the book as an unusual angle on the military-occupation period in German history. But I see it as making a timeless point about sovereignty. People believe in (earthly) sovereignty not so much because the idea is logically compelling, but because it is bound up in a lot of things. Stuff. It has physical manifestations that surround us and with which we become familiar, to which we become attached. The town hall by the green. The flag on the big pole out in front of the town hall. Fenway Park! -- or wherever it might have been in your case, dear reader, where you first saw a professional ball game and where you were happy to stand for the national anthem as part of the ritual of it all. We become attached to sovereignty because it floods through our lives, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, in sounds and sights and even smells.
The Germanic artefacts around which this book's plot turns are a token of a type.
It has for a very long time been very difficult for most people to think their way out of the box of sovereign power, or a unilateral imposition of legitimacy, because we have to try to think our way past a mist through which we have been walking our whole lives, and we havew become attached to that mist. It someone says, "perhaps we could see better if we could clear this mist away" he is met by indignation. "How dare you! Aren't you grateful to the mist-givers for all they've done for you???"
And yet, we all in our various times and places do so badly need to clear away the mists.
21 May 2010
The book is written from the point of view of Walter Horn, an art historian by trade who had improbably been given the task near the war's end in Europe of interrogating German prisoners on what they knew about poison gas. There was nothing improbable about the mission: allied intelligence was sensibly concerned, circa February 1945, that Hitler would unleash poison gas when he believed he had nothing left to lose. What seems improbable in retrospect was that Horn, whose interest in medieval art had had him studying before the war with such giants in the field as Erwin Panofsky and Bernard Berenson, should have been given that task. But it was a fortuitous circumstance, because one day one of the German prisoners, knowing nothing about poison gas but eager to please his captors and perhaps improve his own miserable conditions, leaned forward to ask Horn, "Are you interested in art and antiques?"
He was. And that sets Kirkpatrick's tale in motion. Private Huber told of a bunker on Blacksmith's Alley in Nuremburg that held a variety of artefacts that he, the private, had seen but the importance of which he did not understood. (Huber had been there because his father was in charge of maintaining the air ventilation unit, which is obviously crucial to any facility for the underground storage of antiquities.) Huber told of monarchical robes embroidered with pearl-studded pictures of camels and lions, of a crown with uncut sapphires, rubies, and amethysts, a golden apple tipped with a cross, and much else. Horn recognized that the descriptions matched the regal paraphenalia of the Holy Roman Emperors, the "First Reich" in the line in which Hitler fancied his own regime the Third.
US forces invaded Nuremburg on April 17. Acting on Horn's report, and on high command's concerns that the relics could become symbolically significant for the would-be founders of a Fourth Reich, a 135-man assault team was detailed in the chaos of that battle to secure the Blacksmith's Alley facility. Huber had been telling the truth. The facility was the Third Reich's treasure trove.
The war in Europe ended on May 8 (and the dying Third Reich had never employed poison gas). Horn's job in the early days of the occupation was to interrogate high-ranking Nazis, in anticipation of the eventual war crimes trials. So although he was now asking questions of people who far outranked poor Private Huber, his daily work had not much changed. But in July '45 Horn was called away from that task and given another. Some of the most precious of the treasures inside that Blacksmith's Alley trove had gone missing. He was ordered to become an impromptu gumshoe -- to report within three weeks on who was responsible for their disappearance, and if possible, to recover them.
SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading NOW if you hope ever to read this book in the spirit of reading a who-dunnit. Still with me? All right.
The two alternative hypotheses with which Horn begins his quest are: that the Nazis had established a covert resistance program near war's end in order to sabotage the occupation and lay the groundwork for an eventual restoration of their fortunes, and had spirited away the pick of the treasures -- including the aforementioned imperial crown -- for this purpose; and that one or more GIs within the occupation administration had taken them either for souvenirs or for a black-market profit.
The right answer was a variant of the first of those. There was general agreement among the Nazi elite that these treasures should be kept safe for a Fourth Reich, but the actual move of the five key pieces out of the Blacksmith Alley locale seems not to have been part of any very careful plan, but the result of an intra-party dispute, and of an order given by the City's mayor (who was himself murdered by an SA Group Leader just before the US forces invaded the city.)
Before that final confrontation, Mayor Liebel had instructed that certain artefacts be moved out of one underground hiding place ... into another. Not far away. Indeed, this mystery has a twist that reminds me of one of Poe's stories, "The treasures for which [Horn] had criss-crossed Germany had apparently been hidden less than a thousand yards from where his investigation had begun."
Two of the mayor's underlings did some prison time for lying about this to the occupation authorities, and Horn was treated like a conquering hero by the MFAA, the office of the US Forces European Theatre concerned with "Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives."
It's a fine story, with broader significance concerning the core matters of this blog -- pragmatism and sovereignty. I hope to speak to that significance tomorrow.
20 May 2010
The complaint itself is sparse, but supporting affidavits are attached, and the gist of them is that Galea has been helping NFL players and athletes in other sports dope themselves up.
I have nothing specially to say about this, but each of the following five blogs has something:
1. HotNewsTrend focuses on a Tiger Woods connection.
2. ObsessedWithSports uses this complaint as a window into the different worlds of baseball on the one hand and football on the other.
3. Geoff Shackelford calls it a "dreadful picture on many levels.".
4. Celebrity Dirty Laundry has a brief entry on the matter. Says very little.
5. And Tony Monkovic, on The New York Times' blog, notes that "no athlete wants to be linked to Galea these days — and for Woods to have an association of any kind with him still has the power to shock." Not really courting controversy here, are we Tony?
16 May 2010
One month later, a fellow named A.J. Brown showed up in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Though a stranger, he didn't seem at all strange to the people thereof, he seemed taciturn and orderly, and he soon set up a candy store where he carried on his unremarkable business in peace.
Yet again a month passed. On March 14, "Bourne" suddenly awoke in "Brown's" body and bed, and started calling out in a fright, demanding to be told where he was. Bourne knew nothing of Norristown, nothing of the store, and was certain he must have just left Rhode Island the day before.
Such cases are not philosophical counter-factuals. The Bourne/Brown case was immortalized by William James' discussion in Principles, but there is an extensive literature on such cases -- under the oddly musical label "fugues."
In any particular case we might be tempted to think that the whole thing was a sham or a lark. But no authority worth citing contends that every such case is a sham, and on the reasonable assumption that there are some genuine fugues, this raises the crucial issue about personal identity. Bourne and Brown occupied the same body. But they had no subjective continuity. So, do we say that they are the same person, or not?
I believe our predominant intuition is that they are not. Furthermore, this intuition is independent of any theories about the cause of the fugue. Yes, presumably something happened in the Bourne/Brown brain that enabled the disassociation of the two personalities. But surely Bourne's awareness of the strangeness (to him) of the surroundings in which Brown had just been living and functioning comfortably just the day and the many days before is a datum in itself.
Later, Bourne submitted to hypnosis, and the Brown personality returned in that condition. Brown told the hypnotist, "I'm all hedged in. I can't get out at either end. I don't know what set me down in that Pawtucket horse-car, and I don't know how I ever left that store, or what became of it." Surely Brown is as real in his own way as is Bourne, and their mutual disassociation tells us something not about "insanity," (nothing was insane or even peculiar about the life of either Brown or Bourne except for the inconvenience of suddenly turning into the other) but about identity.
15 May 2010
What does this claim of the continuous identity of a person over time mean? This is a venerable philosophical question, to which there are three traditional answers: the core of identity is an unchanging imperishable soul; it is the continuity of memory; it is the continuity of a physical organism.
Professor Anderson Brown, of the University of Puerto Rico, has recently spoken to this issue on his blog. In his mind, the only live alternatives it seems are the second and third. And on that I have to agree. Though I am in my own manner religious, as regular readers will know, I think trying to tie personal identity to an immutable soul is a racket.
So we turn, with Brown, to the choice between the other options. Is identity over time more of a subjective, psychological fact? or more of an organic, physical fact? Brown is exercised by the sort of thought experiments that are often employed to argue in favor of the psychological/subjective answer to that question. "What if a mad scientist transferred your thoughts to somebody else's body...?" He asserts that the questions presume what is to be established. I won't argue with him over those thought experiments.
Rather, I will say that in my view the case for the psychological/subjective answer can be made and has been made in ways independent of the counter-factual arguments that Brown finds deficient. The strongest argument of which I am aware is that put forth by William James in Chapter X of Principles of Psychology. I say so in my comment to Brown's post (the fourth comment there) -- and I will retrace that argument with more particularity here tomorrow.
14 May 2010
Some background. R & G have been summoned and are on their way to Elsinore. That "way" seems to be a lonely road through woody and rocky terrain.
They encounter a troup of players -- whom they and we will also meet again at Elsinore (but of course you knew that).
The players want to perform something, but R & G aren't in the mood. That sets up this monologue from the head of the troup (played by Richard Dreyfus in the movie).
"Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric. Or blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive.
"But we can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory.
They're all blood, you see."
That seems typical of Tom Stoppard. He is intoxicated with the English language. He writes the rhetoric, with little love or blood. If you share his intoxication, you may think him a genius. If you don't, you may think him a talentless windbag.
13 May 2010
The FT quotes John Rose, the global leader of the Boston Consulting Group's "media practice." Says Rose, a recent survey "suggests that e-readers and tablets are not a niche product for early adopters but could become the MP3 ... players of this decade. Grandmothers will soon be carrying them around."
There's a hitch, though. Mass adoption will depend on price, and Rose expects price to break downward. He expects the Kindle or Sony Reader (or presumably the Nook, though the story doesn't mention that one specifically) to be selling for $100 to $150 in order to bring about that grandmotherly interest.
A nook now costs $259. A kindle? Also $259. A Sony Reader? The pocket edition sells for $199. The touch edition for $299. The Daily edition $349.
I'm wavering between going for the lowest price Sony Reader on the one hand or waiting for the prices of the whole category to drop on the other. I'm not tempted by the iPad. It is more than I need. This is the problem with the iPad generally, as I see it. There are general-interest computers, such as the one I'm using now. And there are special interest digital devices, like my iPod or Blackberry. Which one is an iPad? It seems to fall in between the two stoools. I'll get special task devices as they seem necessary or convenient, and I'll keep my desktop for everything that is worth sitting down as a desk for.
09 May 2010
What do you do after you (as a private person, not a museum) purchase a Picasso for that kind of price? Do you hang it above your mantle, or put it away in a climate-controlled and well-guarded storage facility? I suppose if you think of it as an investment, in the hope that somebody will pay even more at Sotheby's a year from now, you put it in storage. If you bought it for the aesthetic experience, it goes on the living room wall.
This raises further questions in my mind. Didn't I read at some point that there was an antitrust investigation underway involving Sotheby's and Christie's? Checking ....
Yes, I did. But that isn't exactly news. The reason my memory of it was so vague may be that it all happened nine years ago. An indictment charged A. Alfred Taubman, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sotheby's from 1983 to 2000, and Anthony J. Tennant, a member of the Board of Directors of Christie's from 1993 to 1998 and Chairman of its Board of Directors from 1993 to 1996, with conspiring to fix auction commission rates.
Taubman was convicted in December of that year, fined $7.5 million and imprisoned for ten months.
Tennant was never tried. He is a citizen of the United Kingdom, and extradiction arrangements between our two countries don't provide for such cases.
That link will get you to an intriguing article in the Journal of Competition Law and Economics says that the Taubman trial "provided detailed evidence as to how the price fixing worked, and the economic conditions under which it was started and began to fall apart." Specifically, the price-fixing conspiracy came about as a result of a downturn in the art auction market, and began to fall apart during and as a result of the subsequent upturn.
Alternative theories of cartel formation appear to have different views as to whether things should happen that way. But that is the way they did happen in this matter, theory schmeary.
Happy Mother's Day.
08 May 2010
Today we have micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) that are created in exactly that way. One ubiquitous example of this is the accelerometer that activates an airbag.
There are also semiconductor heterostructures, i.e. the conjunction of different semiconducter materials to produce otherwise unobtainable electrical or electro-optical results, These are integral to the internet, yet depend on our species' still-blossoming ability to arrange atoms "one by one in the way we want them."
After reviewing recent developments with heterostrictures, Zhores Alferov writes (at p. 13 of the PDF to which I've linked you above): "Many scientists have contributed to this remarkable progress, which not only determines in large measure the future prospects of solid state physics, but in a certain sense affects the future of human
society as well."
Peter Huber and Mark Mills, in The Bottomless Well (2005), went even further than Alferov in their enthusiasm. "It is these same technologies that are now being set off to pluck energy out of nothingness, or very close to it -- to do almost exactly what Maxwell's demon was supposed to do, but honestly." See my earlier comments on Maxwell's demon and the potentially cosmic implications of such developments.
07 May 2010
They did a lot of work with that in the years to come, calling the project "Ultra."
Alan Turing, a mathematician and logician, was involved in that work, and Turing in time came to generalize this experience in some writings that have had great importance in the subsequent development of computer science.
Thus, one encounters talk of a "turing machine" and of the "Turing test" as a standard for whether artificial intelligence has been achieved.
I don't know what will happen in the politics of the UK as a consequence of the votes cast yesterday. But I do think that (outgoing?) prime minister Gordon Brown deserves some credit for apologizing for the "appalling" way in which Alan Turing was treating as a consequence if Turing's homosexuality.
06 May 2010
It's funny however you take it. But I won't spoil the joke but discussing its interpretation. Follow the above link and laugh -- and then interpret -- for yourself.
I'd like to think Kristin for steering me to this.
02 May 2010
The program was created as a knee-jerk response to the Christmas-Day incident on a Detroit-bound plane. The Department of Homeland Security wants to deploy 500 advanced imaging technology units this ear, another 500 next year, according to testimony before its House of Representatives oversight committee.
But do these machines make anyone more secure? The Israelis have some experience in this record. Ben Gurion International Airport is widely regarded as a security success. These machines are not employed there.
A former security chief of the Israel Airport Authority explained why recently to a Canadian newspaper.
Expensive and useless machines. Good concise explanation, that.
01 May 2010
As you may know, the plot of the movie is the old Pygmalion-esque one. Publisher and photographer turn obscure gal into world-famous model.
But the plot doesn't really work on its own terms. After all, the obscure gal is ... Audrey Hepburn! She didn't have the "funny face" in the early scenes that the logic of the plot requires at all. She had one of the most beautiful feminine faces in the history of film, and the fact is obvious.
Still, plot schmot. The music was Gershwin's, and the spoken dialogue was charming, as when the publisher and shutterbug decide to hold a fashion shoot in "a sinister place in Greenwich Village."
Finding a bookstore: "That's sinister enough."
The bookstore seems to have a lot of material on various mind/body theories in philosophy. Says Hepburn's character of one book, "This deals with epiphenomenalism,
which has to do with consciousness as a mere accessory of physiological processes whose presence or absence makes no difference."
Not only does that line make perfect sense in the context of the plot (I won't try to explain why just now), but it also happens to be a very fair and concise definition of epiphenomenalism.
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.