31 March 2011

What is Reality? Don't Ask

Some people regard this as the deepest of philosophical questions. Some even regard it as the heart of metaphysics. What is reality? or ... what does it mean to be?

In wrestling with this, philosophers and wanna-bes alike have produced gnomic answers. What is it to be?

To be is to be perceived. That's a good one, George.

Existence is identity. Noted, Ayn. But Prince Hamlet has an "identity" of sorts. He is a very specific fictional character. Identity, then, is not always existence.

Reality is the fulfillment of purpose, complete or incomplete. said Josiah Royce.

Being never was, and never will be, because it is completely whole in the now. Classic -- one of the fragments of Parmenides.

And so forth.

The pragmatic answer to "what is reality," though, is to un-ask the question. For any effort to give a verbal answer to the question will only amount to substituting for the word "reality" or the word "existence" some other word or collection of words. And how will that be an advance, unless there is some confusion in the first word that requires such clarification?

There is no confusion as to what is reality, except the artificial confusion caused by philosophic niggling. Why not? because reality is a primary notion. It is the turtle at the bottom of whatever tower of turtles you want to postulate. It doesn't rest on any other turtle further down so efforts to conjure one up, by "defining" reality, are themselves necessarily unreal.

If you are going to argue over what is reality you may as well argue over what is Nothing, and move thence to the classic dispute over whether it is a verb, whether nothing noths and nihil annihilates.

Beyond the question of "what is reality" there is the far more valuable question, "what is real?" What kinds of things do we acknowledge as the furniture of the world and what are their relations to one another?

27 March 2011

Between a Bach and a Hard Place

On a Friday morning in January 2007, a violin virtuoso, Joshua Bell, performed an experiment at a subway station in Washington, D.C.

Bell, a superstar within the classical music world who has recorded more than 35 CDs, was dressed unrecognizably, and had a cup in front of him, the usual street-musician's silent request for donations. He stood in L’Enfant Plaza during morning commuting time, playing Bach’s Chaconne, from Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin in D Minor.

The music, the musician, and the instrument -- a Stradivarius violin -- were all ideal for giving the morning commuters an impromptu gift, and for testing whether a crowd would develop. Would people appreciate that this was something great, or would the usual compulsiveness of rush hour, of a busy day just getting itself underway, block such recognition? Would the hard place of their work life block out the Bach?

I must report the achingly sad results. Adults paid Bell, Bach, and Strad almost no attention. They hurried along, sometimes dropping a dollar into Bell's tin cup, but even doing that only in the usual distracted way.

Is there any good news? Yes: the children. According to a Washington Post reporter who reviewed videotape of Bell’s experiment: “[T]he behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

26 March 2011

Some Reactions to Moore as Ethicist

I quoted last week a crucial, perhaps the crucial, passage from G.E. Moore's book Principia Ethica.

This gist of it is that goods come in two sorts: instrumental and inherent. We pursue instrumental goods so that we may secure and increase the inherent goods.

Furthermore, inherent good consists chiefly of a consciousness enjoying something outside of itself: personal relationships or beautiful objects.

Each of these is a compound whole: that they are consciousness-enjoying-X or consciousness-enjoying-Y already makes them so, and X and Y are each compounds as well. What do we mean by attributing inherent good to either of these compounds? We mean that each possesses the non-natural property that we call goodness, and that is not subject to further analyses. Goodness is in that sense a simple property, though it simply adheres in a compound, or an "organic unity" as Moore sometimes put it.

At any rate, Moore ends up with a moral objectivism. In calling something good we assign an objective character to it, and we are at least sometimes right about this.

This has all been subjected to a good deal of criticism over the intervening century plus. I'll provide a pertinent link here.

His friend Bertrand Russell agreed with Moore about much of this, at least for a time. Indeed, in the essay "The Elements of Ethics," published seven years later (1910), Russell wrote: "Good and bad are qualities which belong to objects independently of our opinions, just as much as round and square do; and when two people differ as to whether a thing is good, only one of them can be right, though it may be very hard to know which is right."

George Santayana criticized Russell in Santayana's Winds of Doctrine (1913). Although it was directed at Russell by name, the criticism was clearly aimed at aspects of Russell's views that came from Moore. Santayana, who describes his own views as ethical skepticism, complains that "we are asked to believe" by Moore and Russell, "that good attaches to things for no reason or cause, and according to no principles of distribution; that it must be found there by a sort of receptive exploration in each separate case; in other words, that it is an absolute, not a relative thing, a primary and not a secondary property."

Addressing Russell's own chosen example, Santayana observes, "while square is always square, and round round, a thing that is round may actually be square also, if we allow it to have a little body, and to be a cylinder."

25 March 2011

Gossip From 2006

I've been reading the Heilemann/Halperin book on the 2008 presidential election, GAME CHANGE.

Their account begins in 2006, focusing on how the Obama and Clinton families and associates made key decisions and started to align their forces.

On the Clinton side of that divide, there is some juicy gossip. Senator Clinton's advisers, especially her "war room" devoted to tracking and responding to nasty stuff in the press, were worried that the ex-prez husband's infamous libido might have created new troubles for them. They created a "war room inside the war room" to look into three stories in particular.

Bill was thought -- by somebody or other somewhere -- to be having or to recently have had an affair with:

Belinda Stronach then a member of Canada's Parliament;

Julie Tauber McMahon a wealthy neighbor of the Clintons in Chappaqua, New York; and

Gina Gershon, an actress who played a lawyer for CBS in the 1999 Russell Crowe vehicle, The Insider.

I don't remember hearing about any of these rumors at the time. Of course Hillaryland included people whose special talent is hearing such rumblings before they get to obtuse folks like me, so this is not too surprising.

Anyway, Solis Doyle, the Senator's right hand woman, was perturbed, Heilemann and Halperin tell us, "by the caliber of the people indulging in the speculation." It wasn't Clinton enemies or gossip mongers. Natural political allies and heavy-hitting contributors were discussing these stories on conference calls. Thus the creation of the war room within the war room.

And what did the WR/WR discover? That at least with regard to one woman the rumors were true, thus as GAME CHANGE puts it "Bill was indeed having an affair -- and not a frivolous one-night stand but a sustained romantic relationship."

The authors soon thereafter drop the subject, without telling us whether the one was in fact one of the three women listed a couple of pages before, or someone else.

Your guess is as good as mine. Now I feel up to date on gossip, the "date" being 2006, and am content for another five years.

24 March 2011

March Madness Update

The NCAA Tourney. Very exciting. Good reason to love this time of year.
But whatever happened to the four compass points? The word "north" isn't even mentioned in a compound form in the breakdown of these brackets. They are: East; West; Southwest; and Southeast.

Anyway: in the east, matters went as the selection committee had presumably expected last week The teams rated 1 through 5 all won their opening game. Xavier (#6) lost to #11 Marquette though. Then in the second round, Marquette had itself fitted for a glass slipper with a surprising victory over #3 Syracuse.

The UConn men -- as I mentioned last week they were selected as the #3 seed in the West -- won their first two games -- against Bucknell and Cincinnati respectively. So the Huskies are a sweet sixteen contender now scheduled to play the Aztecs of San Diego State today. The winner of that one will play the survivor of Duke-versus-Arizona on Saturday.

But let's turn our attention to the women's side.

The Marist women certainly had an exciting first-round game. They were the 10th seed in their bracket, playing 7th seeded Iowa State Cyclones. Early in the second half, Marist seemed to have a commending lead, then the Cyclones came charging back (twisting back?) to within 6 points at one moment.

To their credit, though, the Red Foxes kept their collective wild-canine heads.

I saw this on ESPN2. Or at least, when they showed it. As is necessary for first-round action, there was a lot of cutting back and forth. In particular, that stretch run where Marist re-asserted its lead after losing most of it? TV viewers missed most of that.

The second-round game, against Duke, was even more intense. Marist came within a whisker of a 2-10 upset. The injury of their star, Allenspach, near the end of the first half was likely decisive.

20 March 2011

More from Moore

A week ago I rambled on about Berlusconi and Woolf, ending up with a famous sentence from G.E. Moore's book on ethics.

Here is bit more of the passage whence that sentence comes.

If, now, we use this method of absolute isolation, and guard against these errors, it appears that the question we have to answer is far less difficult than the controversies of Ethics might have led us to expect. Indeed, once the meaning of the question is clearly understood, the answer to it, in its main outlines, appears to be so obvious, that it runs the risk of seeming to be a platitude. By far the most valuable things, which we know or can imagine, are certain states of consciousness, which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects. No one, probably, who has asked himself the question, has ever doubted that personal affection and the appreciation of what is beautiful in Art or Nature, are good in themselves; nor, if we consider strictly what things are worth having purely for their own sakes, does it appear probable that any one will think that anything else has nearly so great a value as the things which are included under these two heads. I have myself urged in Chap. III. (§ 50) that the mere existence of what is beautiful does appear to have some intrinsic value; but I regard it as indubitable that Prof. Sidgwick was so far right, in the view there discussed, that such mere existence of what is beautiful has value, so small as to be negligible, in comparison with that which attaches to the consciousness of beauty. This simple truth may, indeed, be said to be universally recognised. What has not been recognised is that it is the ultimate and fundamental truth of Moral Philosophy. That it is only for the sake of these things—in order that as much of them as possible may at some time exist—that any one can be justified in performing any public or private duty; that they are the raison d’ĂȘtre of virtue; that it is they—these complex wholes themselves, and not any constituent or characteristic of them—that form the rational ultimate end of human action and the sole criterion of social progress: these appear to be truths which have been generally overlooked.

19 March 2011

Developing a Theory

I'm slowly developing my own views about global climate change.

Don't anybody rush me.

One aspect of my emerging view is that markets are rational, and unbiased by any of the various factors that may bias scientists with or even without political interference. So where market rationality seems likely to be strongest, believe it over even the best credentialed experts.

Look at the earthquake in Japan, unpredicted by any scientists, but predicted by Dennis Gartman, author of a widely followed investment letter.

But in the matter of climate change, the news would come from, say, increasing flood insurance premiums.

Unfortunately, in the U.S. and in much of the rest of the world, flood insurance is a heavily socialized and political matter.

Anyway, I have discovered even since beginning work on this post that Matthew Kahn, a guest blogger at The Volokh Conspiracy, has been way ahead of me.

Back in November, Kahn wrote that for-profit insurance companies must be allowed to engage in price gouging, because price gouging is exactly what the price signalling will look like if the market for flood insurance does begin to reflect oncoming climate change and rising sea levels.

So: are there places where such price gouging is allowed by law, and where govt doesn't discourage it by in effect offering a competing subsidized product. And, if so: has that gouging become more successful, more profitable, of late? are there new entrants into those markets? This is where we should be looking, if we hope to understand the direction of climate change.

18 March 2011

Sci Fi and Related Genres

Any of my readers who have any interest in science fiction, horror, fantasy, or related fictional genre will soon find himself in love with this graphic.

And for those with an interest in mathematics, it ends up looking a bit like a Mandelbrot set!

The key plot of the meta-story is revealed in the legends along the top:
adventure dominant; science dominant; sociology dominant; form dominant; Star Wars dominant.

As even that much information conveys, we have a wild intermingling here of high and low brow.

But I'll say no more.

17 March 2011

March Madness: First Thoughts

As an alum, I'm happy to report that on the women's side of March Madness, the Marist Red Foxes won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and with it, won an automatic bid to the NCAA.

Erica Allenspach, a senior, was the stand-out for the Red Foxes in their victory over Loyola on Monday, March 7th.

On the men's side, alas, Marist has not had an outstanding year. They did get to the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament (which took place in Harbor Yard, Bridgeport this year), only to fall to the Fairfield University Stags. [Are the Fairfield women's teams called Does?]

Anyway, let's cheer on the Marist women, who'll play Iowa State in their first-round game.

And, of course, both U.Conn. teams. The Lady Huskies look like plausible victors in a three-peat. They play an in-state rival, the Hartford Hawks, in their first round game.

The U.Conn Men are the #3 seed in the west region. They play their first round game against the 14th seeded Bucknell Bison this evening. Calhoun was reportedly thrilled at this seeding. The way they ended their year, with that great streak against some tough teams, must have pushed them up in the esteem of the committee considerably.

13 March 2011

Silvio Berlusconi and Virginia Woolf

That headline posits an unlikely pairing.

Silvio Berlusconi, of course, is the Italian Prime Minister now in a good deal of trouble over ... well, a lot. He is currently defending three trials -- two involving standard-issue corruption charges, the third involving sex with an underage prostitute.

The child-prostitution thing plays into a broader reputation Berlusconi has of participating in orgies, which he and the world press have agreed to call bunga-bunga parties.

What does that have to do with Virginia Woolf? Simply that she and the Bloomsberries in general are cited now and then to give an air of historical depth to stories about the Italian sex scandal. Woolf and other members of the Bloomsbury group pretended to be visiting dignitaries from Abyssinia in 1910, and received a red-carpet tour of a naval installation, including the famous battleship Dreadnought.

They used the meaningless phrase "bunga bunga" in the course of pretending that they were speaking their own mysterious language to one another in admiring the battleship.

Woolf tells the story in her memoir, and scholars such as Camille-Yvette Welsch have picked it up from there making it a regular part of the repertoire of Bloomsbury anecdotes.

There is no causal connection between the Bloomsbury use of "bunga bunga" and Berlusconi's. The latter use seems to come from a crude joke that the prime minister enjoys. Still, it is not a coincidence. The joke requires the phrase to sound like it could be some remote exotic tribe's phrase for some terrible system of torture. The same exoticism of the sound is why the same phrase worked for the Bloomsbury-ist prank.

Since I've gotten this far in my ramblings, allow me to include (though not necessarily to endorse) a well-known quote from the favorite philosopher of the Bloomsberries, G.E. Moore. It is a nice summation of his views (and perhaps theirs) on morality: "By far the most valuable things, which we can know or imagine, are certain states of consciousness, which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects."

He was speaking of intrinsic value there. Instrumental value is another matter. For the sake of those intrinsic values we accept certain instrumental values, many of them far from pleasant. Like the instrumental value of keeping one's hands off overly young girls, and of punishing old men who don't.

12 March 2011

The Crisis of 2008

Finally, I return to the task of filling out my book. You'll remember that my January 27 blog entry consisted of a brief passage from what may become the third chapter of my proposed book as represented in the table of contents I provided on December 10, 2010. Now I move to the fourth chapter, about the financial crisis that precipitated these reflections. Instead of any passage, I'll just offer the following reflections on it.

The mechanisms behind the real estate bubble of 2003-07 were much less novel or mysterious than they are sometimes made out to be.

There has been a good deal of talk about how the doomsday machinery involved a 'shadow banking' system on one hand, and new-fangled off-balance-sheet entities on the other. Michael Lewis' book, by focusing on entities like Harding Advisory (which has since filed a defamation lawsuit against him) contributes to this to some degree.

But the fact is that the key failures were at the old-fashioned broker-dealers, and for that matter their failures were to a very great degree hidden in plain sight -- on the balance sheets.

The focus on the supposed shadows is an error, or at any rate an imbalance in perceptions, because in outline that crisis was created by very familiar mechanisms. The following ingredients were key:

1) Absurd easy-money policies at the Fed
2) Rest of the world (notably China) continues to treat U.S. dollar as the pseudo-gold standard, enabling those absurd easy money policy, and
3) Easy money makes the big investment banks sloppy about the risks they take — risk managers get re-assigned to closets, etc.
4) Complicity of bond raters, bond insurers, accounting standard boards, and all the usual suspects.

The truth about ingredient (3) was right there on the balance sheets. Nor did Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and the others need fronting by Chau and Harding Advisory to dig themselves (and Main Street) into this hole. If you believe that the price of a certain type of asset can only go up, you too are likely to dig yourself a hole.

Although some marginal operators may have helped bring a shovel or two to the construction site.

Some dates. On January 3-4, 2001, Greenspan's Fed cut both the federal funds rate and the discount rate. One important point about this, it did NOT happen at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC). Greenspan thought this important enough to arrange it between regular meetings.

Why? Because the dot-com boom, fueled in part by the rescue of LTCM's counterparties arranged under Fed auspices and its "Greenspan put," had burst in early 2000, creating a (mild) recession, and like an alcoholic in the pangs of a hangover AG reached for the dog with which he had bit us.

On the last day of that month, the FOMC did meet, and cut both rates again.

It again lowered both the discount and the fed funds rate in March 2001, and then again in April, and then again in May....

When the year began, the federal funds rate was 6.5%. In early September of that year, BEFORE the US was attacked, that rate was down to 3.5%. Down nearly to the half-way mark. In reaction to the attacks, they cut some more. At the end of the year, the funds rate was 1.25%.

Given this environment of easy credit, tjhere was going to be a bubble in some assets, real estate or commodities or CDOs or tulip bulbs or something, and concomitantly it was going to find its way to people who didn't know what they were doing with it. That is what easy credit does. This would have happened had there been no GSEs. Though of course there were, and the shape the crisis took had something to do with the pro-housing ideology of many on Capitol Hill, which Greenspan did his own little bit to encourage -- but we might as well give him a bye on that one. His part in the pro-housing ideology was probably fairly small.

Quote in this context the words of a Jacksonian Democrat in 1837. Newspaper editor William Leggett, denouncing Nicholas Biddle and the bankers who had followed his lead, writing: “[They] have used every art of cajolery and allurement to entice men to accept their proffered aid” which in turn led their borrowers to rush “upon all sorts of desperate adventures. They dug canals, where no commerce asked for the means of transportation; they opened roads, where no travelers desired to penetrate; and they built cities where there were none to inhabit.”

The result was that, inevitably, the bubble burst. The panic of 1837 that occasioned Leggett’s analysis led to a depression that continued until 1843. Leggett would not have been surprised by the opening years of the 21st century. He might have been surprised, though, that in the long period between his time and our own an ideology of home-ownership-for-all had developed that compounded the extent of such artificial booms and the damage that the inevitable bust then works.

11 March 2011

Atlas Shrugged

That title will boost my hits.

Next month the first movie in a projected trilogy, dramatizing Ayn Rand's notoriously ponderous novel, hits screens near you.

Since the movie is a 21st century event, it has its own webpage here.

Anyway, here is a link to a Slate review of that name.

The review is not especially enthusiastic. I like this line: "Anyone who's seen a SyFy Channel original movie in which a mutated insect battles a mutated amphibian will be comfortable with the production quality."

In general, regular readers will know what are my views on Objectivism. They are, roughly, the views that Murray Rothbard expressed even while Ayn Rand was still formulating this as a philosophy. Any recognition of the supposed need for any sovereign is too much of a concession to the myth of sovereignty.

Further (and this is a related point) the case for freedom is best made not through painfully abstract or conceptualist arguments but through practical demonstrations of how freedom works, and how central planning fails. Hence the title of this blog: Pragmatism Refreshed.

As for the novel, it is almost painfully bad. It was written by someone who could never say anything in a single sentence if a 20-page speech would do the job.

Finally, a guess about the movie: it might be better than a lot of what reaches theatres these days. The Fountainhead was a good movie, after all, and even made for a decent episode of Barney Miller.

10 March 2011

Science News: Panspermia

There is something new on this subject. But I'm not writing a news report, so I'll bury my lede and begin with some introduction of the topic.

Panspermia, as one can infer from the "seeds-everywhere" etymology, is the theory that the seeds of life are ubiquitous in the cosmos, and that they sporadically land on planets where conditions are propitious for their development.

Panspermia divides naturally into two sorts. One might think the spreading of these seeds a spontaneous or a directed fact.

Directed panspermia is a view associated for example with Francis Crick (no shabby authority, one of the co-founders of modern molecular biology). He believed that the earth is an unlikely place for the development of life out of non-life. He suggested though, that there are more likely planets, and that on one of them life, and even "a higher civilization," might have developed "perhaps eight to 10 billion years ago," and it may deliberately have seeded the universe, using bacteria that can be "stored almost indefinitely at very low temperatures."

Spontaneous panspermia, associated with the almost-equally renowned name of Svante Arrhenius, a chemist who published WORLDS IN THE MAKING more than a century ago, argues that no such direction is necessary -- spores might randomly escape one planet and then travel through space pressed by electromagnetic radiation until captured by the gravity of another.

So: what is the news? The Journal of Cosmology has published a paper by Dr. Richard Hoover, of NASA, which offers evidence for panspermia (of the spontaneous sort). The paper has the formidable title: "Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites." It maintains that certain microfossils discovered in the interior of carbonaceous meteorites are "the fossilized remains of living organisms which lived in the parent bodies of these meteors, e.g. comets, moons, and other astral bodies." Meteors are, then, a plausible mechanism for the life transfer that spontaneous panspermia requires.

The Journal of Cosmology is a serious peer-reviewed publication and its editor-in-chief is a serious guy, one Dr. Rudy Schild of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Schild posted a note with the pre-publication copy of the paper indicating that he has asked 100 experts for critical analysis. and that their responses will be published along with the paper.

I look forward to following a stimulating discussion. Given such important claims, there wil and should be a good deal of skepticism. Still, on philosophical grounds this is a theory to which I for one am inclined to give credence.

06 March 2011


What would have been Immanuel Kant's view on the ethics of cloning?

We can be confident he would not have said, "Ah, so long as it turns out to have medical uses. It is good to help people after all. Necessary means to that end."

Kant is the Arch-deontologist. Begin there.

Can we go any further?

05 March 2011

A Consequence of the Second Law

"The second law [of thermodynamics] establishes that the amount of useful work you can get out of a furnace depends on how much hotter things are in the furnace than on the cold side of the engine -- the cold side being the condenser, cooling tower, or whatever else is at hand to use as a dumping ground for the inevitable (and virtuous) waste....So all the gains in thermodynamic efficiency have to come from making the hot side hotter. Which means that you want to burn your fuel -- your coal, uranium, gas, oil, or whatever else may be at hand -- not just hot, but hotter, fiercely hot, as hot as you can possibly make it without melting down or blowing up all your expensive hardware."

- Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills, The Bottomless Well (2005).

04 March 2011

Thoughts on Mad Men

Mad Men works as a series in large part because of the look. A lot of bright and hard-working people are evidently working very hard to get the 1960s right -- the clothes, the furniture, the cars, the ubiquitous use of cigarettes -- and it pays off.

But how often would you want to keep going back to the same museum? The show works, and is sustainable as entertainment, for some other reason.

Is it the plotting? As I believe all of the posts I have devoted to the question have helped illustrate: the plots are almost absurdly complicated. They deal with all the great themes that your undergraduate Lit professor told you were important: birth, death, commitment, abandonment, conflict, reconciliation, mystery. But every drama, and every comedy, treats of these themes. So what?

Is it the acting? The acting is serviceable but not, I think, in a stand-out way.

So (by process of elimination) is it character? I think there we have to say yes. The characters are indelible, and the otherwise rickity plots work only because these characters are interacting.

Why are the characters indelible? For those of us of a certain age, these characters are our parents, when we were kids and they were in their prime. (Yes, I know I'm not the first to make this point.) I was born in October 1958. Most of the events of the first season of the show took place before I turned two. But the world of the series, especially in seasons three and four, is decidedly my parents' world.

I had only the vaguest of ideas what my father did for a living, and the byzantine nature of the office intrigue at Sterling Cooper in a way captures this vagueness. The idea that the grown-ups were doing grown-up stuff and it wasn't something for me to worry about overly much.

The scenes in Westchester are priceless, they play to this sense of seeing events from a child's POV more directly.

What about for the younger fans of the show? I understand it has a lot of admirers who were born in the 1970s or later. My sense is that they pick up on the same inter-generational theme, even if it isn't meant for them in quite the same way.

03 March 2011

Ending Season IV of Mad Men

Cicily and I have finally caught up with real time viewers of Mad Men.

Meanwhile, I've heard that Mad Magazine is coming out with its spoof in this year's April issue. Don Draper as Alfred E. Neuman. The thing almost writes itself.

Anyway, as always for no good reason, here's a quick review of the final three episodes.

Episode 11.
This episode is called "Chinese wall." That's a ubiquitous term in the business world. It refers to any situation in which different operations are underway under the same corporate roof that could create conflicts. For example, a bank may have a research department that provides analysis for the benefit of clients, and may also have a 'prop desk' that trades in various securities on the bank's own accounts. There is a need for organizational arrangements that keep the two operations separate so they don't undermine each other, or amount to a pump-and-dump scheme or the like.

In this episode, it is Faye -- one of Don Draper's current romantic interests -- who alludes to a Chinese Wall. She doesn't work for Sterling Cooper. She is a consultant, and Sterling Cooper is but one of the ad agencies with whom she consults. She has to abide by a "Chinese wall," i.e. separating what she does for one client from what she does for another.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, though, faces an existential crisis when it loses the Lucky Strike cigarette account. This was the account for which Don created the iconic line, "It's toasted" in the very first episode. That, though, was for "Sterling Cooper" full stop, and this is a new and somewhat wobbly firm, now in serious danger. So Don decides to climb right over Faye's Chinese Wall, and he asks her whether any of the other agencies that she advises are about to lose clients.

Peggy, with her stereotypical Catholic conscience, thinks the disappearance of the Lucky Strike account must be due to the fact that she's just had satisfying sex with a new man in her life. God is punishing her for that, surely. The punishments continue for Peggy, as she gives a client presentation while lipstick is plainly smudged on her teeth.

In the episode's final scene, Faye relents and tells Don that she does have a lead for him -- the Heinz people are thinking of a new agency for their beans.

Episode 12.
This episode features the return of Midge, a much earlier example of Don's flings -- his bohemian Greenwich Village girlfriend from the first season. They used to smoke pot and listen to beat poetry, then he'd head back to Westchester. Her life has evidently not gone well since those heady days of 1960.

Midge has found out where Don's new office is, and arranges to seem to have accidentally bumped into him so she can invite him over to her place. She there introduces him to her husband, and together they work to cadge money out of him, as it becomes clear they are both heroin addicts. Don agrees to "buy a painting" in which he has no interest, giving her the cash she has on hand, and then walking off with the painting, an undistinguished effort at surrealism.

Even before all that, though, Don had met with the man Faye had connected him with, the man from Heinz. They talk about beans ads. The meeting doesn't go well. The Heinz guy was thinking of SCDP as a possible resource months down the road -- Don knew that his agency needed income sooner than that, and his desperation has shown.

Later in the episode, our protagonists try to get a meeting with another tobacco company so they can transfer their Lucky Strike derived expertise in that area. They are rebuffed.

At this point, Peggy reminds Don of something he had said to her years before, "If you don't like what they're saying aout you, change the conversation." It doesn't strike a chord at first.

That evening he loooks again at Midge's painting. The gears fall into place. Change the conversation ... addiction ... heroin ... tobacco. Aha! He goes back to the notebook/diary he had started a couple of episodes back, and this time uses it for a non-Pepys-like purpose -- he uses its pages to draft an ad he will have placed in The New York Times the following morning, denouncing tobacco and avowing that SCDP will no longer do that kind of work.

His secretary (and yet anther romantic interest) Megan puts the gist of this gambit best. "It's saying 'he didn't dump me, I dumped him.'"

Episode 13.

Don is with Faye as this episode begins. Don is going to California with his kids, and Faye says goodbye. She has seen him (earlier in this season) in the midst of a panic attack over the danger that his Korea/desertion past will yet catch up with him, and in their goodbye scene she tells him that he has to find a way to come out as Dick Whitman. He tells her it isn't that simple.

Don's original plan had been to take his kids' nanny, Carla, along with him for this trip. But his ex-wife (for reasons I won't try to relate -- this all gets pretty complicated) has fired Carla and doggedly demands he not re-hire her for such a purpose. Faye isn't any good with kids, as we've learned from earlier interactions. So ... Megan comes to California.

While Don and Megan and the kids are in California, the folks back at the office are still trying to save SCDP. Except that maybe it is now SDP, becase Cooper, enraged at Don's anti-tobacco-industry ad, has severed connections with it. Things are picking up on a couple of fronts. The American Cancer Society is interested. And Peggy gets a "Topaz pantyhose" account. Meanwhile, they've laid off a good part of their staff to save money.

But the Big News in this episode happens in California. Don proposes marriage to Megan. He uses for this purpose the same engagement ring that the real Don Draper, the dead-in-Korea fellow, used for the same purpose. Megan accepts, and much of the rest of this episode is a display of how this news affects the various people who must inevitably learn of it.

From an earlier Asian war to a current one: we see a brief telephone conversation between Joan Harris and her husband in Vietnam. He's still alive. I had rather cavalierly assumed that he wouldn't survive the season. Further, Joan seems more committed to him than ever, since she seems at last to be free of her own emotional attachment to Roger Sterling.

The episode closes with Peggy and Joan gossiping together. Joan has recently received a grand new title, but with no additional pay and no popping of corks. She takes a cynical view of the Don/Megan announcement, and says that she's glad she has learned to find her own satisfactions outside the office. Peggy says, "That's bullshit," and they share a laugh.

I may find some Significance in all of this by the time I write tomorrow's entry.

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.