30 September 2011
Murdoch has been known to me chiefly as the author of works on philosophy, generally devoted to the rejuvenation of Platonism. They are intelligently written, despite their failure to cause any veering in my own empirical/pragmatic course.
But "The Sea. The Sea" is a novel, written in the form of a journal kept by one Charles Arrowby, apparently a successful theatrical producer who has retired to a village by the sea.
The title, "The Sea, The Sea," was presumably inspired by the ending of Anabasis, Xenophon's book on the adventure of 10,000 Greeks who had to escape from behind enemy lines in Persia. They knew they were safe when they reached the sea -- they were a seafaring people and could get home from there. Hence that glad shout. In ancient Greek, that's Thalatta! Thalatta!
So I suppose the title is meant to convey the idea that Arrowby sees his own retirement as a sort of haven or sanctuary after a rough time inland, amongst the warring theatrical tribes.
There is also a platonism connection in the title, although I'll leave that be for now.
Anyway, early on in this novel, Arrowby is describing his new home for us, and the nearby village of Narrowdean.
"The old form of the name was Nerodene, and a handsome milestone upon the coast road retains this selling." That's a nice detail. Folk etymology has changed many words. People here a name, infer that it must mean something that sounds similar, and soon that similar-sounding word takes over the first one. That's how a large knife of the sort once known as a coutelas became a cutlass. It cuts after all, so that must be what was meant!
Soon, our protagonist is describing the Narrowdean cemetary. "One stone in particular attracts me. It bears a beautiful 'foul anchor' and the simple inscription: Dummy 1879 - 1918. This puzzled me until I realized that 'Dummy' must have been a deaf and dumb sailor who never managed to achieve any other identity."
That is the sort of insignia known as a "foul anchor." It would certainly tell us of Dummy's occupation. I don't know whether that gravestone will play any part in the rest of the story, but it is at least a fine observation, part of the stage setting.
29 September 2011
In her introduction to Inferno, Sayers addresses the question of why contemporary (by which she meant mid 20th century) readers needed as much apparatus as she had attached -- Notes, Commentaries, Glossary, Appendices. She answered with this example:
"Let us suppose that an Englishman were to write a contemporary Divine Comedy on Dante's model, and that in it, mixed up with a number of scriptural and mythological characters, we were to find, assigned to various circles of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise... the following assortment of people -- some referred to by their full names, some by Christian name or surname alone, and some indicated only by a witty or allusive phrase: Chamberlain ("him of the orchid"), Chamberlain ("him of the umbrella", [Stewart Houston] Chamerlain, "Brides-in-the-Bath" Smith, "Galloper" Smith, Horatio Bottomsley, Horatio [Lord Nelson], Fox [Charles or George to be inferred from the context], the Man who picked up the Bomb in Jermyn Street, Oscar Wilde, Oscar Slater, Oscar Browning, Spencer, Spenser, Lord Castlereagh, Lord Castlerosse, Lawrence [of Arabia], [D.H.] Lawrence, "Butcher" Heydrich, W.G. Grace, Grace Darling, the Captain of the Jarvis Bay, the Sisters of Haworth, the Woodcutter of Hawarden, the Ladies of Llangollen, the Lady with the Lamp, the Lady-with-the-Lampshade-made-of-Human-Skin, Titus Oakes, Captain Oates, Quisling, the Owner of 'Hermit', the French Bluebeard, Bacon, Roger Bacon, Roger Fry, the Claimant, the Bishop of Zanzibar, Clarence Hatry, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Brown and Kennedy, the Dean of St Patrick's, the Dean of St Paul's, Dean Farrar, Fred Archer, Mrs Dyer, Lord George Sanger, Lord George Gordon, General Gordon, Ouida, William Joyce, James Joyce, "the Officer in the Tower", Peter the Painter, Jenkins 'of the Ear', Dick Sheppard, Jack Sheppard, and 'the Widow at Windsor'. Let us further suppose the writer holds strong views on Trade Unionism, the constitution of the UNO, the 'theology of crisis', Freudian psychology, Einsteinian astronomy, and the art of Mr Jacob Epstein. Let us then suppose that the book is to be read, six hundred years hence, by an intelligeng Portuguese with no particular knowledge of English social history. Would he not require a few notes...?"
You'll see that I used ellipses to shorten the explanatory mater before and after the list, but I used no ellipses in the list of allusions itself, because I wanted you to get the full over-the-top nature of the example.
I suspect I am intelligent by most metrics for such things. I am also a raving Anglophile, whose knowledge of "English social history" is probably superior to that of most early 21st century Americans. I first read the above passage in the 1970s, a lot closer to the date of its construction than our hypothetical Portuguese reader would be. And yet ... and yet ... I would definitely need notes to understand that hypothetical book. So she made her poiint, but she also posed me a challenge.
I get the significance of the initials "UNO," even though the "O" has been dropped off over time. I get the "theology of crisis," i.e. the theology of Karl Barth and others of that ilk. I recognize the names of the two Fox'.
But some of these allusions are confusing, and it isn't even very clear now, with the creation of this wonderful internet thing, how one would go about searching. What did Sayers have in mind by "the Claimant"? And "Peter the Painter"? Surely she isn't referring to the Ian Dury song, wouldn't that have required psychic powers on Sayers' part?
25 September 2011
For those of you who don't want to follow links around, here is the story in brief. A fellow asked a question in Yahoo!Answers about whether some famous philosopher had copmpared huiman thoughts to soap bubles in the wash basin of nothingness.
I tried to help him, and found a similar quote, but it was actually describing certain intellectual hypotheses as soap bubbles, it wasn't speaking generally of human life.
More recent, I have heard, via my facebook page, from Dave Natas, who informed me that he is the guy who originally asked about that quote, and that now he has found his answer.
He had been thinking about a quote in a book by Henry Thomas, and Thomas was describing not his own views, but his understanding of the views of David Hume.
"Subtract all the forms and colours of our so called 'certain' beliefs, and what remains? A heap of empty, random sensations whirling around endlessly like unsubstantial soap bubbles in the washbowl of nothingness."
24 September 2011
In his memory then, I'll simply reproduce here the opening of The Great Gatsby.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought — frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
23 September 2011
Let me backtrack and explain those other names, then. Nick Leeson was the Singapore-based derivatives broker whose trading losses of $1.4 billion caused the demise of a centuries-old bank, Barings, in 1995. Leeson is my personal favorite member of the group, for reasons I won't try to explain.
Hamanaka was a Japanese copper trader who at one time controlled 5% of the world's copper supply. In June 1996, though, Sumitomo Corporation had to admit to a loss of $1.8 billion on Hamanaka's trades. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, served seven.
Jerome Kerviel, the biggest loser of the bunch, in the employ of giant French bank Société Générale, lost 4.9 billion euros, or roughly $7 billion in what Americans call money, in January 2008. It was an early sign that this was going to be a very rough year.
Now we come back to Kweku Adoboli. He lost the equivalent of $2.3 billion dollars working for UBS in their London office. But he makes an odd addition to this already-odd-enough pantheon. First, he was an ETF specialist. ETFs are boring. They're supposed to be boring, that is their charm.
Second, he seems to be the first rogue trader of the "social media" era. He kept a Facebook page, and as things turned against him, at a moment when he must have understood his UBS superiors were closing in, he updated his FB status to read, "I need a miracle."
Third, his life story is, up until now, the stuff of inspirational movies. To read of his family and his life and only then to consider his crimes is like -- well, it's a little like watching :"The Miracle Worker" in a special edition with a new tacked-on ending where Anne Sullivan embezzles money from the Keller family.
Fourth, though, it's good to see that the London law firm of Kingsley Napley is still with us. They represented Nick Leeson. He went to the recognized experts in rogue trader defense for counsel.
22 September 2011
If you, dear reader, share my interest, you can follow this link. I'm afraid I have no value to add today.
18 September 2011
What does it mean to sustain a representation? It means to remain attentive to some specific fact or possibility, to refuse to allow myself to be diverted therefrom. If I have a boring project due at work, I must nonetheless continue to focus on it in order to get it done -- or, I could just let my attention drift and wind up writing on a blog.
Of course that is my example, not one of his.
This matter of sustaining representation (the key form of thought in this sentence, and in James' psychology of the will generally) plays into the dichotomy, also present in the above quotation, between the "impulsive" and the "obstructed." The impulsive fellow acts too quickly, plucking the tempting apple without wondering whose tree this is and what might be the consequences. There are various representations that he might be well advised to keep in his mind -- of arrest for trespassing, of an angry orchard-owner chasing him with a shotgun, of the extra pounds he may add to his waist by such impulsive eating. The obstructed fellow on the other hand can only see the reasons that block action, and cannot keep his attention on those that require it.
Thus, to think, by which we mean here to focus one's attention, to choose among the consequences of an act the key ones and to keep one's focus there, is the moral act. "The whole drama is a mental drama."
The apple orchard example is mine, too. Let's consider a couple of James at last. One involves an exhausted sailor on a ship, working the pumps to get the water safely off the ship and keep her afloat. The physiology of exhaustion weighs down upon the sailor and obstructs him in his work. What keeps him going? Thought! -- alertness, enforced perhaps by the image of the “hungry sea engulfing him.” Thus, thought overcomes the obstruction in his activity.
"The idea to be consented to must be kept from flickering and going out."
17 September 2011
If I had been asked, I might have remembered some long-distant lesson about two guys whose names each begin with the letter "M," and the notion that dividend policy, in an efficient market, is neutral as to the value of a stock. So I would have denied that any move at all could be predicted with any degree of confidence.
That may still be the "right answer," but I now believe I understand that there is a controversy here, and why. Figuring it out involved wrestling with vocabulary and chronology. My understanding is that the usual process is this: a company will say that it will pay dividends this quarter, and it will set a "record date" in the near future, and a "payment date" about a week after that. The payments will go out to everyone who owns the company's stock -- who is a "holder of record," as of the record date. Hence the term.
But to make things more complicated, two days before the record date comes what is called the ex-dividend date. This exists because it can take a couple of days for a stock transaction to settle: for the necessary paperwork to get done between the time somebody shouts "sold" on a trading floor on your behalf and the time you are in deed a owner of record. Thus, before the ex-dividend date the stock was trading "with the dividend," -- part of what you were purchasing in buying it was the expectationof that dividend. On and after that date, the stock is trading "ex" the dividend.
Intuitively, then, one would expect stocks to increase in value at the time of the announcement and drop in value again on the ex-dividend date. As of the announcement, the stock carries with it the promise of a near-immediate cash rebate, whereas after the ex-dividend day, the stock no longer carries the expectation of a cash payment that it had carried the day before. Why, then, wouldn't it be worth a bit more after the one development and a but less after the other?
But the money doesn't come out of nowhere. The market at the time of the announcement understands that by these cash payments the company will be depriving itself of that amount of cash, and losing the opportunity to re-invest it in something productive. Further (and this was the key to the Miller-Modigliani argument to which I alluded above) the market is indifferent between an increase in the value of the stock by one dollar on the one hand and the pay-off of $1 as a dividend on the other. So these announcements don't seem to produce any increase in value.
There is an arbitrage argument for the irrelevance of the ex-dividend date, too. After the declaration date, everyone in the market knows when the dividend will be paid, and when the ex-dividend date arrives. If this situation were sufficient to create a price drop, then a lot of speculators would rush in a short sell the stock in the days leading up to the ex-dividend day, betting on that price drop. Their short sales would cause the price to fall earlier than that date, perhaps as soon as the day after the announcement. The date itself, then, would be an irrelevance.
The situation is complicated by the issue of taxation. Dividends are taxed more than are capital gains, a fact that may make some investors and traders less willing to buy a stock that has announced a dividend in that run-up to the ex-dividend day than they would otherwise be, and might thus reduce the extent of the drop, if any, on that day.
Theories notwithstanding, there is evidence that there is a decline ceteris paribus on or around the ex-dividend date.
Is the decline equal to the full value of the dividend to be paid, perhaps with some modification for tax considerations? That is another question, and not one I yet want to try to tackle.
16 September 2011
HSB was great television. It was respectful of policemen and -women, yet it was not worshipful in the manner of Dragnet, it treated them all as fallible and foible-filled human beings.
In some respects it was analogous to Barney Miller, although with the humor/drama balance shifted toward the latter.
The visual style was very different from Barney Miller, though. It was quasi-documentary long before that had become a cliche -- hand-held cameras and unexpected points-of-view, with crucial bits of dialog spoken outside the visual frame. It was also crowded. People everywhere. That was addictive -- your mind, watching, became accustomed to making some sense out of this surface chaos.
There's a website put together by a British fan, here.
15 September 2011
My entry today, then, is simply the poemn to which Ciceronianus' blog entry alludes, take from it as you list:
I love that unexpected ending. The "ah!" makes it work.
11 September 2011
The hours just after the attacks on New York and Washington saw an impressive gearing-up of the machinery of collective delusion. I don’t mean to discuss the “Truthers,” – they came later — though I frankly hope to do them some harm by indirection in what follows. The delusions that sprouted first, though, were those of people who simply sought some meaning in the rubble, and who found it in the (imaginary) quatrains of Nostradamus, or for that matter in the wingdings font.
10 September 2011
Borodin was both a chemist and a muician, two fields that would seem to demand total concentration for excellence, yet he refused to choose between them.
The leading chemist of Czarist Russia, Nikolai Zinin, an early mentor of Borodin, is supposed to have told him: "I have placed all my hopes in you to be my successor one day. You waste too much time thinking about music. A man cannot serve two masters."
See the book "The Imperial Laboratory" by Galina Kichigina for more on their relationship, and for late-Czarist chemistry in general.
Borodin served both masters pretty well. As a scientist he became one of the co-discoverers of what are called "aldol reactions." I'm told (I am hardly qualified to judge such poiints) that aldol reactions are foundational to organic chemstry. As a musician, he attracted the favorable attention of such peers as Franz Liszt, Alexander Glazunov, and Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov.
Borodin composed durable chamber music, most famously his String Quartet 2 in D major, composed in 1881, featured more than seventy years later in a Broadway musical, and later in a Hollywood movie, Kismet.
So, yes: you can have it all. Ain't life grand?
09 September 2011
Gettler, BTW, is a freelance writer who lines in Melbourne, Australia. Gettler's facebook profile includes the following quotation from Winston Churchill:
"Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public."
I've forgotten why I initially linked with Gettler, but we are both facebook friends with Sam Antar, and that is a story in itself. (For another day.)
Anyway, I'm writing this because of one bit of Gettlerian phrase-making that I particularly admired,. He wrote recently on FB of a conversation he had had with a management consultant who sells "benchmarking and best practice." But ... this was Gettler's point ... you don't help anyone achieve excellence that way. Steve Jobs didn't become Steve Jobs by learning to imitate Steve Jobs.
All you are doing, Gettler reports himself saying, is "creating karaoke corporations."
Karaoke corporations. I love it.
08 September 2011
I don't know anything about the book more than that, and what publisher's copy (and one review, to which I'll link you shortly) says about it.
But I do know that Willman is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Here is the citation.
And the subject of his new book is fascinating. Here is something I wrote on the subject in this blog almost three years ago, during the insane autumn of 2008, one almost as wild in its ways as was the autumn of seven years before.
Here's a review of Willman's book that appeared this spring in the Los Angeles Times.
As the reviewer notes, the original "person of interest" was Steven Hatfill, a former Army weapons scientist. But as a district court judge eventually declared, there was "not a scintilla of evidence" that would have inculpated Hatfill, and the FBI eventually turned its feeble eye to Bruce Ivins. Ivins committed suicide as investigators were closing in.
Given only that bare statement, you might well suspect that the FBI had the wrong man a second time, but this wrong man was more susceptible to psychological pressure tha Hatfill, took himself out of the picture, leaving the prosecution case from the threat of falsification.
You might suspect that but Willman would think you wrong. He believes the case against Ivins is a strong one, and in lieu of any judicial forum for laying it out, he does so here.
I think I may actually have to read this book.
04 September 2011
I understand the reasoning here in broad terms. Indeed, William James' notion of the 'specious present' was developed largely as a riposte to such reasoning.
03 September 2011
I've been using a neat little pooper scooper my father, may he rest in peace, designed in the '90s. So I rake them into big piles then 'scoop' them into the yardwaste bag. Unfortunately, I get too enthusiastic and end up with a bag that is overloaded, impossibly heavy. So I drag it along to where it is supposed to be for pickup.
The tree can be beautiful for a week or two in the spring, though. When it looks like this:
02 September 2011
NEW YORK TRIBUNE, March 8, 1855.
Vanderbilt, as a young man, had played a supporting role in the facts that led to the great Supreme Court decision as to steamboats on the Hudson, and the burdening of interstate commerce, GIBBONS v. OGDEN (1824), and that is one of his allusions above.
01 September 2011
“For 30 years," Prager is supposed to have said, "I have asked high school seniors throughout America which they would save first, their dog or a stranger. In every instance (except some religious schools), one third have voted to save their dog, one third for the stranger, and one third just didn’t know.”
There are a couple of ways to take this story:
1. He might be trying to say that religious schools present superior religious/moral instruction.
2. He might be trying to say that religious schools drill their students to give the 'right' answer to such questions, whether they feel it or not, which would mean not necessarily superior instruction, but character-warping discipline.
One intriguing issue arises from the wording of the question: would the results be different if you asked who should you save first?
If I were running such a survey, anyway, I would want to allow for the possibility that some people would think that they should save the other human being, but they admit to themselves that they wouldn't live up to that Good-Samaritan standard, they would instead save the creature to which they had an existing sentimental attachment.
Just a thought.
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.