31 October 2010

"I do believe in spooks"

The headline of this entry is of course the affirmation of the Cowardly Lion, as Dorothy and her three allegorical companions walk through the scary forest surrounding the witch's castle. An affirmation appropriate to today's holiday, surely.

The 19th century German logician, Christoph von Sigwart (1830 - 1894), didn't believe in the Lion's affirmation. Well ... presumably he had never walked through that particular forest. Still, let us record that he wrote: "No amount of failure in the attempt to subject the world of sensible experience to a thorough-going system of conceptions, and to bring all happenings back to cases of immutably valid law, is able to shake our faith in the rightness of our principles. We hold fast to our demand that even the greatest apparent confusion must sooner or later solve itself in transparent formulas."

The "we" in the second of those sentences is the western post-Renaissance scientific spirit, inclined to put facts into tables and draw conclusions, then impute those conclusions to God or (what is the same) the nature of things.

As Dostoyevsky knew, as his "underground man" expressed with eloquence at about the time that Sigwart was writing those words, there is also that within "us" that rebels against the "transparent formulas" in which "we" have such faith. So let the thorough-going system of conceptions have the other 364 days of the year. This one is given over to defiance, to sensible experiences that aren't so sensible, and aren't interested in "solving themselves." To flights on broomsticks and knocks on the door though nobody is there.

To the unenlightened belief in spooks. Cheers!

30 October 2010

Comments on Mandelbrot

I won't repeat here my modest obit for Benoit Mandelbrot.

But I was struck by a fascinating discussion of Mandelbrot, and of his significance in or for the world of finance, catalyzed by Justin Fox. Fox, a guest blogger for Felix Salmon, said that once upon a time, Mandelbrot was part of the "random walk gang," and considered Eugene Fama to be a protégé.

But Mandelbrot moved away from the sort of efficieny capital markets theory associated with Fama. This drifting-away dates to the 1960s, before the Black-Scholes option pricing model, or the various developments and arguments that have arisen from same.

Mandelbrot became interested in the subject again after the 1987 crash, which came about in large part due to portfolio insurance. But, Fox says, he didn't make the impact one might expect by this comeback.

Congrats to Fox for the fine blog entry, but more especially congrats to his commenters for inciting some fascinating comments.

I think DaggaRoosta has a lot of value to say there, including this observatrion (which is quite Mandelbrotian): "I do suspect that quants have spent a little too much time learning complex models and not enough time understanding the fragile philosophy behind the methods."

29 October 2010

Proxy Advisors

I recommend an intelligent piece by John Carney, newly posted in NetNet.

Carney, a senior editor at cnbc.com, writes about proxy advisors, like ISS and Glass Lewis.

He wonders whether they actually have any impact on proxy fights and, if they don't, why they exist.

28 October 2010

The Broom of the System, concluded

A final few words, if I may, about Wallace's first novel, as I described it last week.

I'm attracted to the sensibility behind it, as regular readers of this blog will probably suspect. The rapid moves from high-brow to low, from Wittgensteinian philosophy to Gilligan references, make for a hybrid of challenge and comfort.

Another strength is dialogue. He has a fine ear for the way people really talk to each other. I'm reminded of the Woody Allen move "Bullets over Broadway," because that is the criticism that the artistically gifted mob soldier directs at the not-so-gifted playwrite, "Nobody in real life talks like your characters. You gotta real problem wid dat."

Anyway, people in real life do talk like Wallace's characters. Or, at least, the stylization of necessity in fictional dialog never draws attention to itself. Here is one character, whose job entails reading a lot of manuscripts submitted to a journal, talking to his lover.

"Do you know where all the really sad stories I'm getting are coming from? They're coming, it turns out, from kids. Kids in college. I'm starting to think something is just deeply wrong with the youth of America."

That's the way people old enough to worry about "kids in college" do talk -- and the sentiment advances the story, while introducing one of the book's stories-within-the-story, because of course this editor proceeds to describe an example of one of these sad submissions.

I was a little disappointed in the ending. I won't describe it, out of deference to any of you who may wish to read it yourself. But a plot this intricate needs a neat tie-up at the end, or the intricacy can feel like a cheat. As, alas, it does.

Still: there was a lot to admire, and finally reading Wallace allows me retrospectively to mourn his passing.

Have I mentioned my recent discovery that Wallace was the target of satire by The Onion?

24 October 2010

The Broom of the System

I've lately been reading the 1987 novel "The Broom of the System," by the late David Foster Wallace. Broom was his first novel, though he later became famous with "Infinite Jest" (1996).

The title reference to a "broom" alludes to the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, which is a theme of the novel. LW wrote: "For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language." That line is often shortened to just three words: meaning is use.

One character in this novel explains this to another using the example of a broom. What is the more essential part of a broom, the straw bristles or the wooden handle? Most people if pressed, will say the bristles, because the bristles do the actual cleaning. But one says this because one is thinking of the use of a broom -- its use is to clean. If one thought of the same object as a baseball bat, or as a burglar's tool for breaking windows, the handle would be vastly more valuable. The change in use would change the meaning.

The protagonist of the novel is a young woman named Lenore, a 24-year-old telephone switchboard operator for a publishing company that does hardly any publishing (since it is in reality somebody's tax dodge). The catalyzing crisis of the plot is Lenore's discovery that her Wittgensteinian great-grandmother, the one who uses the broom example to explain language -- this woman, also named Lenore, had studied in England in her youth and had known LW personally -- is no longer in the nursing home where she is supposed to be -- that she and several other residents have disappeared.

One intriguing character in the novel is the manager of that nursing home, David Bloemker. Bloemker repeatedly expresses himself in an overly elaborate manner, only to have to reduce his own locutions to a much simpler form. For example, he tells Lenore that if they find her great-grandmother they will likely also find the other missing residents of the facility. Why? Because, she "enjoyed a status here -- with the facility administration, the staff, and, through the force of her personality and her evident gifts, especially with the other residents that leads one to believe that, were the mislocation a result of anything other than outright coercion ... it would not be improper to posit the location and retrieval of Lenore as near assurance of retrieving the other misplaced parties."

The younger Lenore says that she doesn't understand all of that.

Bloemker tries again, "Your great-grandmother was more or less the ringleader around here."

That sort of trick -- the comic reduction of ornate speech to plain speech -- is commonly attempted, yet it is rather hard to pull off, and I think Wallace handles it well when he uses it.

Better than, say, the screenwriters for the old television show "Gilligan's Island." In one episode of that show, the castaways discover helium escaping from the ground, and attempt to leave from the island in a balloon. When Gilligan shows the professor the source of helium, the prof says, "why, it's obviously an invisible and odorless gas." Gilligan replies, "not only that, you can't see it or smell it."

The Gilligan version of the joke is lame, Wallace's version shows how it can be done properly.

The conjunction of the two isn't unfair to Wallace, because he actually introduces Gilligan's Island into this novel. There is a restaurant in this novel's fictional version of Cleveland Ohio that is decorated like the set of that TV show.

"Once an hour the bartender would be required to do something cloddish and stupid -- a standard favorite had the bartender slipping on a bit of spilled banana daiquiri and falling and acting as if he had driven his thumb into his eye -- and the patrons would, if they were hip and in the know, say with one voice, 'Aww, Gilligan,' and laugh, and clap."

Wallace's use of the baroque-speech-turned-plain meme is not just a gag to pull out, and pull off, when Bloemker happens to be in a scene -- it is a contribution, after all, to the novelistic meditation upon language -- a contributor to the Wittgensteinian theme of the whole.

One character suggests (this is young Lenore's father, the older Lenore's grandson) that the elder Lenore has left the home because she no longer believes that she has any use. In her worldview, use is meaning. And without use, as a broom incapable anymore of sweeping, she has no further meaning. So she is willing to involve herself in a biochemical experiment in order to again have a use.

I will leave this open-ended.

23 October 2010

R.I.P. Benoit Mandelbrot

Benoit Mandelbrot, pioneer of fractal geometry -- indeed, the man who coined the term "fractal" -- died of pancreatic cancer on October 14, 2010.

My heart goes out to his friends and family. They may take some comfort in the fact that he changed the way much of our species sees the world, an impact in depth of a sort that few can boast. The ubiquity of images like the one above these words is just a piece of it, fascinating and beautiful as such "Mandelbrot set" images can be.

I had the honor of reviewing one of his final books The (mis)Behavior of Markets in 2006.

In that book, Mandelbrot explains the nature of fractals from the beginning, for those of his readers who hadn't caught on yet even in 2006. He quotes Jonathan Swift in service of this cause. Swift wrote:

So, Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller Fleas to bit 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

Mandelbrot, at any rate, is now free of the world of fleas-biting-fleas. And he is no doubt explaining the geometry of clouds to Saint Peter.

You can find my review of Mandelbrot's 2006 work here.

22 October 2010

Lady Bird

Wasn't just the nickname of a First Lady.

It was the title of this composition.

Now that you know: listen and enjoy.

21 October 2010

Those Were the Days

I was in the Queens, NY the other day. Passing through to a job interview in Brooklyn, so I ended up on the BQE. Those of you who know me will not be surprised that my mind follows certain pop-cultural associative trains, and while in Queens I naturally started humming to myself the opening theme song to the old television show "All in the Family."

This in turn led me to wonder about whether the lines fit together with the characters they are supposed to describe. Anyway, here is the song, just as a reminder. Supply the tune your own self.

Boy, the way Glen Miller played. Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days.
Didn't need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days.
And you know who you were then, girls were girls and men were men.
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.

LaSalle was a division of Cadillac, and its last model came off of the assembly line in 1941. If either Archie or Edith rode in a Lasalle as a child they had come down in the world before the viewing public met them!

Glenn Miller's heyday was 1937-1943. He died over the English Channel in 1944.

So these two clues are mutually consistent. Archie and Edith are remember the 'good old days' of the late 1930s and the war years. We know from the show that Archie was a WW 2 veteran -- remember one's adolescence and/or army years fondly is unsurprising.

Yet the line about Hoover doesn't really seem to fit. Hoover was of course President from March 1929 to March 1933. The timing was unfortunate for his memory, surely. One can imagine Calvin Coolidge sneaking out of DC after the inauguration ceremony in March 1929 saying to himself "Apres moi, les deluge." Yet I'm wandering from the point. I'm willing to accept the notion that one or the other of the singers, Archie or Edith, grew up in a household in which Hoover's memory was held dear. Still, this refers us a 'good old days' (if one wants to call them that) several years porior to the good old days of the lines about Glenn Miller etc. Miller wasn't anybody in 1933. And there was no "Hit Parade" on radio before 1935.

This isn't leading anywhere folks, but thanks for coming along for the ride -- the one along the BQE and the one it incited in my head.

17 October 2010

Helen Thomas

Sorry, Helen, I'm not buying.

Helen Thomas is back in the spotlight, after a summer of silence. Here's the AP story based on an interview with Scott Spears.

Let's review: on May 27, David Nesenoff asked Thomas whether she had anything to say on Israel. She said, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine." He asked where they should go.

"They should go home."

Where's home, Nesenoff pressed.

"Poland, Germany, and America and everywhere else."

Everybody with even a modest grasp of 20th century history who saw this clip had the same thought. Interesting choice of first two countries to list as possible destinations for dispersing Israelis! There used to be a lot of Jews in Germany and Poland. I'm guessing Helen Thomas knows what happened to them -- she's 90 years old, after all.

Anyway, when the shit hit the fan in June. Thomas apologized. That wasn't enough to save her job, and she quit soon after. Now she is more combative.

She said then "exactly what I thought" she now says. The problem wasn't any bias on her part, but that some unspecified "they" has distorted her remarks. After all, she says, the third country she named on her little list was America. Then she said "everywhere else." So obviously she wasn't talking specifically about Germany and Poland.

Sorry, but that's not distortion. She decided to list three specific countries and the first two out of her mouth were Germany and Poland. There is no room for that kind of crap. She had to go and I wish she (like Mel-the-great-director) would just do a lot of fishing, stay out of the public eye, and spare us the need to point out the thinness of their rationalizations for their garbage and the need to filter out their whining about people who recognize said garbage as such.

16 October 2010

Writing Against The Scholars

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "Kant wanted to prove, in a way that would dumbfound the common man, that the common man was right: that was the secret joke of this soul. He wrote against the scholars in support of popular prejudice, but for scholars and not for the people."

Joshua Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at at Harvard University with an interest in moral philosophy, has evidently found that a stimulating quote. It inspired the title and much of the reasoning of his essay The Secret Joke of Kant's Soul. (Hmmmm. A Harvard man officially tasked with teaching psychology who writes about moral philosophy? Why would he interest a Jamesian like myself?)

Greene discusses trolley cars in that essay, and regular readers of Pragmatism Refreshed will not be surprised to learn that this bit drew my attention. [I'll assume my reader already familiar with the standard trolley-car hypothetical. Follow that last link if you want a refresher.]

Greene ups the ante: "What if the trolley is headed for a detonator that will set off a nuclear bomb that will kill half a million people?" he imagines asking a stubborn deontologist. "Suddenly the welfare of society as a whole starts to sound important again."

His point is that the initial refusal of many of his students to (imaginatively) sacrifice somebody to an oncoming trolley for the good of two or more somebodies is an emotional reaction, one bred into us by evolution, where immediate interpersonal relations are the only ones that really counted for our selfish genes. The emotional reaction gives way and "cognition" kicks in once numbers get really large.

So should we conclude that we owe it to ourselves as a species to get over our inbred emotional responses and do the right thing as our cognition indicates? That deontology is a phase in our existence we ought finally to outgrow? Green does not draw that conclusion. After all, taken without qualification that line of reasoning tells me also that I should "feel uneasy" about loving my children more than any other children. No parent [almost no parent?] feels uneasy about that, and Greene states the reason well. "It seems that one who is unwilling to act on human tendencies with amoral evolutionary causes is ultimately unwilling to be human." There must be a line between "correcting the near-sightedness of human moral nature and obliterating it completely...." Giving up on parental love would obliterate human nature. On which side of the line would one put the deontological refusal to stop the runaway trolley, even if it dooms two victims rather than one? Is that the humanness we must preserve or the near-sightedness thereof we should correct?

Greene leaves that question open. But the fact that he suggests deontology still has some life in it, even after treating it as an emotional response at odds with cognition, suggests that the secret in his soul may be the same as the secret in Kant's.

15 October 2010

Conflict of Interest? Gibberish

The New York Times worries about ethics. Okay, stop laughing. They worry about what they consider to be ethical principles, anyway.

This leads to such absurdities as you'll see here.

"In the Talking Business column in Business Day on Saturday, Joe Nocera wrote about a lawsuit by Oracle against a division of SAP, claiming theft of intellectual property. Mr. Nocera learned after the column was published that Oracle was represented by the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where his fiancée works as director of communications. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Nocera would not have written about the case if he had known of the law firm’s involvement."

It sounds like they're trying to be nice to Joe, while giving him some sort of slap on the wrist. Would someone explain to me why the slap?

Suppose that Nocera had been aware of the rather indirect connection between himself and Oracle discussed here. It sounds like the game of "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" or however many degrees its supposed to be. But never mind that.

Suppose Nocera had known and had written exactly the same column anyway.

Here is the offending column.

Now: what would Nocera have done wrong?

Talking Business is an opinion column. It has always been an opinion column. If you want a just-the-facts type of story -- don't read it. Nocera isn't twisting your arm into reading his opinion. If you read Nocera (and you should, he understands business and he writes well) -- it is because you expect and desire his particular slant on business news.

So; who friggin' cares where his fiancee works? He hasn't even tied the knot yet. Besides, the law firm she works for, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, is huge. It represents lots of companies that someone like Nocera will write about. So let him write about them.

The way people get twisted around pretending that any significant piece of writing is not advocacy is just astounding.

14 October 2010

Today's Random Quotes

This is from RIGHT STAR RISING: A NEW POLITICS, 1974-1980, by Laura Kalman.

Richard Viguerie and his "new right" first displayed their political clout, she tells us, in a surprising way, in 1975.

They "forced [President] Ford to renege on his pledge to support legislation that would have enlarged the right of unions to picket construction sites. The President had not known what hit him when nearly three-quarters of a million letters and postcards deluged the White House demanding a veto of the common situs picketing bill. At first, only the construction industry lobbied against the bill, but then Ford's staff noticed that a broad spectrum of opponents had mobilized. Antiunion businessmen had been brought aboard by the appeals of the National Right to Work Committee, a client of Viguerie's. Reagan opposed the bill, too, and the New York Times reported that Ford had developed the 'fear that if he lost any more of his conservatrive Republican support, he might not get his party's Presidential nominatioin.' Trapped, Ford caved at the end of 1975 and vetoed legislation that the AFL-CIO had sought for more than twenty years, that he had pledged to support, and that his own secretary of labor, Harvard economist John Dunlop, had drafted. Dunlop resigned in protest, and George Meaney called Ford a weakling who 'ran out' on his promises."

Question: why does she write about the New York Times?

Shouldn't it be The New York Times?

Anyway, here is another quotation from later in the same book. What happened once the Democrats took office? With no Republican around to veto anymore, surely common situs picketing became law, right?

"The Democratic Congress also narrowly defeated the common situs picketing legislation enlarging the right of unions to picket construction sites that candidate Carter had pledged to sign. (That President Carter did not press for it spoke volumes.) Eleven Democrats who had voted for the common situs legislation in 1975, when Ford vetoed it, now opposed it."

10 October 2010

The Soul(s) of Plato

Plato seems to have had two different theories of the soul at different stages of his career. The theory advanced in the Phaedo is that the soul is a perfectly simple entity, not compounded of any parts. That is one of the reasons why 'Socrates' argues that it must be eternal -- only that which is a compound can fall apart!

The perfectly simple soul of the Phaedo must also be immaterial, because it knows the Forms, and the Forms are immaterial. A beautiful woman is embodied, but Beauty as such as not. And my soul can know Beauty, thus my soul is not as such embodied, though it seems to have been associated with a body for the last few years!

Anyway, this theory went through some changes by the time Plato wrote The Republic. There he says that the soul is divided into three part: the passions; the spirit; the intellect. Think of these as akin to Dorothy's three friends -- tinman; lion; scarecrow. Or think of them as the class structure of a city -- workers; soldiers; rulers. The point remains, Plato had begun by thinking of the soul as simple, yet here it is clearly a compound. So it presumably can dissolve at death after all?

You can reconcile these views to each other by saying that in The Republic Plato was using the word "soul" in a broader sense than he was using it in the earlier dialogue. What he calls the "intellect" in The Republic corresponds to what he meant by the "soul" in The Phaedo. So he can be taken as saying that only the intellect, the part of us that grasps the Forms, is simple and immortal. The other parts of our soul are, along with the body, dispensable upon death.

09 October 2010

Don't Go See "Wall Street 2"

What a waste of talent. Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin all do their best in this balogna, yet balogna it remains.

I was not a big fan of the original 1987 "Wall Street." It seemed a compendium of cliches, starting with Carl Fox, who is the eternal Hollywood idea of the salt-of-the-earth working man, blue collar guy who has apparently acquired an influential position in the union of an aircraft company, and who has done his best to instill in his son, Bud, the values of ... etc.

But of course Bud (Charlie Sheen) wants a better life than the one in which he grew up, and he is dazzled by the Gordon Gekko character's promise to make him a Wall Street big shot.

Bud is led astray, but then just as he seems to be sinking to Gekko's level, he gets a call that his father has had a heart attack, and rushes to the hospital for a bedside visit that changes everything, blah blah blah.

I was not a big fan. Capra did a better job with many of the same tropes, long ago.

Anyway: the sequel is worse. One of the few enjoyable bits was a cameo by Charlie Sheen, where we get an update on the life of Bud Fox, who is enjoying his happy-ever-after.

For the rest: Wall Street 2 is all too complicated and too talky. Gekko, released from jail, gives a lecture about derivatives. There are discussions of solar cells, and of fusion power. There are scenes of soulful staring, usually those in which the good-looking face of Gekko's daughter, played by Carey Mulligan, is tear-stained.

Mostly, it is about the mentor-protege relationship. This theme is even more explicit than it was in the original, but we are worn out by all the permutations. Jake Moore, Winnie Gekko's boyfriend and in time her fiance, is the protege of the Frank Langella character, then effectively of the apparently rehabilitated Gordon Gekko, then he is offered the patronage of the bad guy (we know he's a bad guy because he finances oil companies) Bretton James, played by Brolin.

Maybe if some of the subplots had been shorn off, if the movie had lost about 40 minutes of running time, if Sarandon's part had been beefed up a bit, and we had been given some reason to care about the fate of Langella's doomed character -- and if the screenwriters had not been so earnest about explaining the events of 2008 to us -- something good might have come of all this. Nothing does.

One aspect of the plot may be intended to give Timminco a bit of immortality. The vilain's brokerage firm, mostly devoted though it is to serving the capital needs of fossil-fuel companies, opens an "alternative energy" department as window dressing and invites Jake Moore into it. Jake pitches his fusion-energy ideas to a group of Chinese investors. Another ambitious wheeler-dealer is pitching a competing "green" idea, investment in a new breed of solar cells. Anyway, Jake debunks the solar cell manufacturer, saying they have nothing proprietary and no good prospect of earnings.

The screenwriters may have had Timminco in mind. This was a Canadian company that found its share price rocketing upward in the spring of 2008 on claims of a solar cell breakthrough. When bright reporters like Derek DeCloet of The Toronto Globe & Mail expressed some skepticism, company management threatened lawsuits.

We can say in hindsight that the skeptics were right about Timminco. It is now selling for Canadian pennies a share, not the $30 dollars or more of its brief golden age -- its moment in the sun, if you will, is gone.

And just because I can't let go, I'm putting the stock price chart for Timminco at the top of this post. Its such a neat illustration of the meaning of the word "bubble," something the characters in the movie talk about -- drone on about really -- quite often.

Which brings me back to my point about Wall Street 2. It was awful.

08 October 2010

Three Matters On My Mind

1. Emma Trincal

An artistically gifted friend of mine, Emma Trincal, is showing her paintings between October 28 and November 4 at Shop Talk Art Gallery, at 35 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Follow your bliss, Emma!

2. Nanotechnology

I have written about nanotechnology in this blog before. In May of this year, I wrote that it has "potentially cosmic implications." It has a lot to do with our fate as a species, and our constant battle with the second law of thermodynamics.

Accordingly, I am happy to note that the Nobel Prize in physics went to nano pioneers this year. Life a glass with Maxwell's demon sitting at your table to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the thinnest possible flakes of carbon.

3. A New Blog

Seward & Kissel LLP has started what may prove to be a fascinating web destination, the 40 Act Blog. Well, not fascinating to everyone, perhaps, but to the huge portion of the human species that consists of finance regulations wonks.

07 October 2010

Influences Upon Thomas Hobbes

Question for readers.

Who were the major influences upon the development of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes? I'm not interested in broad societal sources of influence (i.e. the civil war and the anxiety about disorder that it naturally caused). I'm curious about names.

To some degree, a philosopher is influenced by those with whom he argues, because he sharpens and develops his arguments in response to theirs. In this sense, one could say that Hobbes was influenced by Descartes. Descartes' insistence on the immateriality of the mind sharpened Hobbes' sense of the corporality of all of human existence.

But what were the more positive influences? Thucydides of course. Hobbes translated Thucydides' history, and since it portrays the downfall of a democracy one can see its possible significance for him.

Anyone else? Machiavelli? Gassendi?

03 October 2010

American exceptionalism

Dinesh D'Souza excoriates Barack Obama for not believing in "American exceptionalism" -- D'Souza is unhappy that "when asked at a 2009 press conference whether he believed in this ideal, Obama said no. America, he suggested, is no more unique or exceptional than Britain or Greece or any other country."

Frankly, I don't see that Obama is out of line there. Just to take one related point for discussion, I don't believe the founders of the United States were exceptionalists about what they were doing.

The wording they used in creating a new nation suggests that this sort of breaking of bonds is a broad category of event, and 1776 was one item within that category. They didn't write, "we are creating something brand new in the world here," but, rather, that the new United States was (were!) assuming a "separate and equal station" with other powers, many of whom (notably Holland, an example always on the minds of our founders) had broken away from someone else earlier in their history.

So far as I know, exceptionalism was a fairly recent development in American history. After the rise of Marxist ideology in Europe, it became fashionable on the left to say that revolutions and all that dialectical/dictatorial stuff won't be necessary in America, where it will be possible (these outrageous intellectuals thought) to create a socialist centrally planned paradise without all that nasty conflict-ridden stuff. Because America never had a feudal stage so it is exceptional. The right took the idea over from the left, because some of the neocons had had a Lovestonean phase in their youth.

Google the name "Jay Lovestone" for more information.

02 October 2010

Things Starting to Break

After a tricky few months, matters are starting to break my way. I refer here to my personal cash-flow situation. You, dear reader, will have to accept this elliptical reference as sufficient, and fill in the details as your imagination prefers.

Those who know of what I speak won't need me to fill it in. Those who don't know, don't need to know.

At any rate, I have has a very welcome run of good news over the last few days.

I'm inclined to do the most arrogant thing possible, and to imagine that my own situation is a microcosm of that of the planet, or perhaps just of this nation, at large. Perhaps I've had a bit of good luck because cash-flow matters are improving more generally.

And yet ... of course I know better. My own situation is my own. In fact, part of my personal good news stems from my ability to serve as the bearer of rather bad tidings. So I can only hope for an improvement that it might be less egocentric for me to discuss, and better tidings that I might more happily bear.

01 October 2010

Ah, the Good Old Days of Heavyweight Boxing

The "Thrilla in Manila"! Mohammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier in the Phillipines in a much-hyped heavyweight bout that lived fully up to its billing -- as of yesterday, this was thirty-five years ago.

Those were the days, for boxing. Frazier, Ali, and Foreman were all in their prime at the same time, and this harmonic convergence produced some terrific fights.

Frazier beat Ali by unanimous decision in 1971.

George Foreman fought Frazier in 1973 and dominated him. There is no cute rhyming phrase for this, though it is sometimes called the Sunshine Showdown, because the venue was Kingston, Jamaica.

In January 1974, Ali got his own rematch against Frazier, and beat him. Did this mean Frazier was washed up? Hold that thought.

Ali fought Foreman, the "rumble in the jungle," in October of the same year and came away victorious.

Meanwhile, Frazier had proven that he was not by any means washed up, with a convincing and exciting win against Jerry Quarry in only five rounds in NYC, and a defeat if Jimmy Ellis in nine rounds in Melbourne, Australia. The stage was set for Ali-Frazier III. The Thrilla in Manila, September 30, 1975, for both the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles.

YouTube has this.

I don't know whether heavyweight boxing will ever have the cache, the excitement, that it held through much of the 1970s.

Ah, but now we do have YouTube. Click the above link and watch for yourself, a 9 minute condensation. Note, especially, at the end of the fight as condensed there, Ali's confession of exhaustion, and of how his now-defeated opponent turned out to be "tougher than I thought he was -- I'm so tired I don't want to do nothing. I want to rest for a week." After all the pre-fight trash-talking, that sounded like warm praise from one great fighter to another.

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.