29 January 2012
Every once in awhile I like to check the newspaper with his list in mind, to see if he is right. I'll start with his wording unmodified by examples.
1. EXTREME WEATHER BATTERS SOMEPLACE
2. IDIOTS KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE
3. POLITICIAN DOES SOMETHING ILLEGAL
4. PRIMATE ATTEMPTS INAPPROPRIATE SEX
5. EXPERTS WARN OF FINANCIAL CALAMITY
6. BIG COMPANY BUYS ANOTHER BIG COMPANY
7. FAMOUS PERSON DOES SOMETHING INTERESTING
8. A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY MIGHT BE USEFUL IN TEN YEARS
9. GOVERNMENT FAILS TO ACHIEVE A GOAL
Does that break-down hold up for the news of the past week or so?
1. Extreme weather? Check.
2. I'm sure somebody's idiocy (or worse) will be found at the center of the fire that killed students at Marist College, my alma mater, this week.
3. A politician (specifically, a state legislator) is on trial in Harrisburg, PA for insisting that his egislative employees work on his campaigns on their taxpayer-paid time.
4. Primate attempts inappropriate sex? Perhaps such monkey business explains the need for newer tests for simian HIV, herpes, etc., chronicled here.
5. Experts warn of financial calamity. South Africa considers a carbon tax as its contribution to limiting global warming. Industries there ... warn of calamity.
6. Big Company Buys Another Big Company. Apache and Cordillera Energy Partners.
7. Famous Person, i.e. assassination-attempt survivor Gabrielle Giffords, does something interesting, i.e. she resigns her seat in the US House, in a moving video message.
8. The scientific discovery that might be useful in ten years? Sediments found at bottom of ocean near Straits of Gibraltar could help guide "future oil and gas exploration, the researchers believe."
9. Government fails to achieve a goal. Too easy, but let's go there. There have been recent reports that the various recipients of the US space program's moon rocks, mostly museums and labs with good connections, have been losing them. Can't governments even achieve the goal of storing rocks properly?
Yes, I think Scott Adams has a point. We're in a loop!
28 January 2012
As a refresher, contango is the discount you can get on a non-perishable commodity by virtue of your willingness to accept delivery at once, or (stated inversely) the extra payment you make if you want the seller to hold it for you for some interim.
One would naturally expect this discount to be closely related to the costs of storage space. After all, if I buy crude today and tell you to deliver it six months from now, you have to keep it somewhere during the interval, and pay the maintenance on the storage facilities. If I take delivery now but I don't use it over the six months, then the cost of storage falls on me.
So: a year ago I simply measured the per-barrel price for March (2011) delivery (which was $89.58) against that for August delivery ($94.49) and extrapolated that into an annual rate. The five month delay in delivery cost the buyer $4.91 at that time, which extrapolated into an annual figure would have been $11.82, which is roughly 12.5% the price of a barrel.
Checking the figures a year later ... the price of a barrel was $98.33 for March 2012 delivery last time last weekend. Never mind the question of why that has gone up. I'm focusing on just one piece of the puzzle now. The price for August delivery was $99.62. That's a difference of only $1.29 for storage for five months. This annualizes to $3.10, which is roughly 3.25 % the price of a barrel.
So contango has taken a sharp fall over the last year. Why is contango on the increase? Don't know. Three theories come to mind initially. First, this could be a reflection of a stronger dollar. Crude oil is priced in dollars, the dollar has picked up value against other currencies as the 'cleanest shirt left in a pile of dirty laundry' of late. A year ago, for example, a dollar could buy you .625 GBP. These days, it can buy you .642 GBP. Perhaps, then, there's a deflationary effect built into contango.
Second, this could be the response to an increase in storage capacity. After all, back when contango was 12.5% of the price of a barrel, there was a great incentive to bring on line new facilities to hold the stuff.
Third, this could be a reaction by speculators to a presumed coming decline in the value of oil -- the long-feared second dip in a double-dip recession.
27 January 2012
I have returned.
The line I've invoked in the title of this entry is usually quoted in order to urge people to study history, especially some particular historical event that the person doing the quoting thinks is pertinent to whatever case he is making. If you are urging a price-stabilization treaty for coffee, and you think the coffee-industry travails of, say, the early 1960s are germane to the case you're making, you may well trot out Santayana to justify the connection. This doesn't actually strengthen your argument, any more than the echo of MacArthur just before this paragraph strengthens the significance of what I'm saying now. But it is (in either case) a way of invoking the name of one or another august historic figure -- men who were already august when the members of what we now call the "greatest generation" were young -- and of stealing for myself a bit of their presumed authority.
Today's point, though, is that Santayana was not urging us to study history texts, or to listen to our elders when they talk about the good old days, or anything of the sort. He had in mind personal memory, not collective institutional memory.
The line appears on p. 284 of Reason in Common Sense, in a chapter called "Flux and Constancy in Human Nature." The line of thought involved begins on p. 280, where Santayana tells us: "Human nature, in the sense in which it is the transcendental foundation of all science and morals, is a functional unity in each man; it is no general or abstract essence, the average of all men's characters, nor even the complex of the qualities common to all men. It is the entelechy of the living individual, be he typical or singular." This is a startlingly individualist sentiment. Entelechy means, roughly, the actualization-of-the-possible. Reason isn't to be seen in broad terms, but as a functional unity "in each man."
So that the reason that our author discusses in the following paragraphs is that unity, that "entelechy," in any one living individual, and remembering the past is a prerequisite thereof.
As a child grows, he learns things like how his arms and legs work. He finds crawling tiresome and tests the ability of the two legs to support his weight without help from the arms. By some movements he discovers he throws himself off balance and falls. Other movements help him maintain equilibrium and remain standing. He repeats the latter movements and ceases his experiments with the former,and thus as we say "learns to walk."
That is my example of Santayana's meaning here, not his. In fact, the passage is rather dry and sans examples, but Santayana says things like: "Repetition marks some progress on mere continuity, since it preserves form and disregards time and matter," (p. 284).
Soon thereafter comes the passage that has motivated this exegesis:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience. In a second stage men are docile to events, plastic to new habits and suggestions, yet able to graft them on original instincts, which they thus bring to fuller satisfaction. This is the plane of manhood and true progress. Last comes a stage when retentiveness is exhausted and all that happens is at once forgotten; a vain, because unpractical, repetition of the past takes the place of plasticity and fertile readaptation. In a moving world readaptation is the price of longevity."
We are talking, then, in that famous quote, about the "first stage of life" of an individual -- hence my 'first steps' example. So long as an infant cannot remember the past, he cannot learn new skills. When he can remember, when he becomes "plastic to new habits and suggestions," he starts to avoid unpleasant repetitions like falling down or bumping into hard objects, and the advance to "the plane of manhood" begins in earnest.
Santayana is working here at the intersection of philosophy with what we would call cognitive psychology. It's the sort of thing that his mentor, William James, was getting at with his famous comments about how the "blooming buzzing confusion" of infancy becomes the ordered experience of the growing child. It is the central concern of latter psychologists like Jean Piaget and Antonio Damasio. It is not "learning from history" in the bookish sense usually invoked, but remembering (consciously or simply in one's bones) the past, one's own individual past.
Those who cannot remember this sentence and its meaning are, nonetheless, condemned to keep quoting it.
26 January 2012
On the day of Isaacson's visit, "Ive was overseeing the creation of a new European power plug and connector for the Macintosh. Dozens of foam models, each with the tiniest variation, have been cast and painted for inspection. Some would find it odd that the head of design would fret over something like this, but Jobs got involved as well. Ever since he had a special power supply made for the Apple II, Jobs has cared about not only the engineering but also the design of such parts."
So this passage echoes back to the previous passage I quoted on that Apple II innovation. Still, it is quite different. The switching power supply innovation was functional. It was about controlling heat and the risk a build-up in heat poses to the inner workings of a machine. In the above passage, we are privy to aesthetic evaluations of foam models for electrical plugs.
Sounds odd to me, but then ... I'm not a genius and a multi-billionaire entrepreneur. I'm just a humble scribe.
This point in the book was where I decided it really ought to be reviewed by someone treating it as a novel. I'm still refining that idea.
22 January 2012
Imagine if, in 1944, the government of Japan had learned what Fermi and Oppenheimer and other scientists working in the US were up to: the creation of a new bomb that could wipe out an entire city in a single puff of radioactive smoke.
Would it have been wrong, would it have been a war crime, for Japanese agents to seek to kill some of the key scientists?
Frankly, I don't think so. Abstracting for a moment from the fact that the Japanese were the aggressors in the war in thr Asia-Pacific region (and I'm not thinking specifically of December 7, 1941 -- they had been engaged in rapacious behavior for years before that) ... abstracting from that, as "laws of war" do, the use of a hit squad to target key figures in the Manhattan Project would not have been shocking or criminal at all. It would simply have been ... war.
Fast forward. It may well be that Israel's Mossad has agents killing Iranian nuclear scientists. It may well be, also, that the US CIA is providing assistance. I don't know. (If I knew, those two respective secret agencies would be far less competent than their reputations suggest.) My suspicion is that Mossad could and probably did pull this off without extraneous assistance.
Is that different in any principled way from the case imagined above? The head of state in Iran speaks not just of prevailing against Israel, not just of forcing an "unconditional surrender" (a term the Roosevelt administration was using vis-a-vis Germany and Japan in 1944) but of wiping Israel off the map. There is every reason to believe that the nuclear program is designed exactly for that purpose.
So: where is the shock value here? Just wonderin'
21 January 2012
An atom walks into a bar.
Another atom, which had been in there for awhile, shouted, "hey! that's the guy who stole my electron!"
Bartender says, "Are you sure?"
The aggrieved atom said, "I'm not just sure, I'm positive!"
(You may have to remember your junior-high-school science for that.)
20 January 2012
The professorial man in the ad is in fact a professor: Peter Morici of the R.H.Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. But he is hardly a household name, and when I first saw the ad I had the feeling he was supposed to remind me of someone else. But who?
I've decided that Morici was chosen less for his economist credentials than for his resemblance to the Ur-expert in economics, the late Paul Samuelson.
The above is a photo of Samuelson. Do the comparison yourself to Morici as he appears in the above YouTube video. Same glasses, same hair, same suit, quite similar face.
I'm reasonably certain that the ad agency recognized the resemblance, and chose their spokesman on this basis. After all, generations learned the basics of economics from the many editions of Samuelson's textbook, so a visage like that is natural for this role.
None of which would be worth mentioning except that Ben Stein has made it a cause of controversy and even litigation. Here is the complaint. Stein was apparently considered for this role in Kyocera's ads, and then rejected, apparently on the ground that his expressed views about the unreality of global warming were at odds with Kyocera's own eco-friendly branding.
Stein has filed a lawsuit, claiming that Kyocera breached a contract with him. That claim seems certain to go nowhere. If you read the complaint, above, you will see no allegation of specific facts to the effect that there was what lawyers call a "meeting of the minds." There doesn't seem to have been any contract to breach before Kyocera backed out of the arrangement they had been considering. Considering something doesn't bind you to it.
Ben Stein is the son of a fanous economist, Nixon advisor Herb Stein. Ben Stein also played a teacher of economics (at the high school level) in a movie. The point of the movie, as it happens, was that the protagonist wasn't in that day when Ben Stein's character was droning on about the Hawley-Smoot tariff. This movie role is cited without irony in the complaint, apparently in hopes of persuading the court that there must have been a contract to hire such an obvious choice for their commercial as he.
But the more risible aspect of the litigation is Stein's contention that he is the victim of religious discrimination. "A host of federal laws protects Americans from being discriminated against on the basis of religious beliefs." This could be intended to render the unwinnable issue of whether Stein was ever actually a party to a contract irrelevant. It is just as illegal to refrain from hiring Stein because he is a Jew as it would be to fire him for that.
Ben Stein isn't really saying, though, that he was fired for a religious adherence to Judaism. He is saying that he was fired for a religious adherence to Global-Warming-Isn't-ManMadeism.
The complaint says: "BEN STEIN said [he] was by no means certain that global warming was man-made ... [he] also told Hurwitz to inform defendants that as a matter of religious belief, he believed that God, and not man, controlled the weather."
Felix Salmon has some fun with this in his Reuters blog.
19 January 2012
But there is more to it, and Ron Holt is a big part of that more. Wozniak, whose passion was the circuitry, didn't concern himself with the issue of heat. But bringing into a PC the power necessary to keep all those circuits functioning can make for a lot of heat, and that can require a fan, a low-tech contraption in itself, to disperse said heat. Jobs thought fans an inelegant solution, and looked for someone who could come up with a better one.
"Instead of a conventional linear power supply, Holt built one like those used in oscilloscopes. It switched the power on and off not sixty times per second, but thousands of times; this allowed it to store the power for far less time, and thus throw off less heat. 'That switching power supply was as revolutionary as the Apple II logic board was,' Jobs later said. 'Rod doesn't get a lot of credit for this in the history books, but he should. Every computer now uses switching power supplies, and they all rip off Rod's design.' For all of Wozniak's brilliance, this was not something he could have done. 'I only knew vaguely what a switching power supply was,' Woz admitted."
15 January 2012
Here are a couple of quick observations that won't make it into my eventual book review.
The ms would have benefitted from more thorough copy editing. This is not, after all, a blog entry. It is a bound volume, published by Wolters Kluwer, and details are important. Arbitrary example: there is a footnote on p. 194 concerning the sale of the remnants of Barings to the Dutch bank, ING, through the mediation of the Bank of England, in 2005. At the end of the footnote appears an orphaned sentence fragment: "Casebook international finance 1010 pages." I imagine Scalcione learned something about the Bank of England's role in this deal from a casebook on international finance, perhaps one with 1,010 pages -- but the usual approach would have been to provide author's name and title!
I'll cut the author some slack, but somebody at Wolters Kluwer presumably receives a salary for catching things like this and red-lining them. That person was napping on the job.
But another lapse here catches my attention too, and this is something close to the core of what an author is for, so it is harder to give Scalcione a pass. He begins a chapter with a cliche, attributing to George Santayana the sentence, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." The simple fact that it is a cliche isn't the worst of it.
More important: that isn't quite what Santayana said. He said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The italicized difference in wording is important to understanding Santayana's philosophy, but I understand that this isn't especially the priority of most of those who use (some version of) this quote.
Still more important there is the matter of sourcing. Scalcione sources the Santayana quotation with a footnote to the website wikiquote. I have no doubt he found it on wikiquote, or that you can find it on lots of other sources, in the accurate or in any of lots of other inaccurate variations, through a google search. But if he had been doing his job as the author of a treatise on a scholarly subject he would have found the real source for the line. It comes from Reason in Common Sense, the first volume in Santayana's series on The Life of Reason.
Thanks to the miracle known as GoogleBooks, the whole of The Life of Reason is now available and searchable online. The real source and wording aren't hard to find. Indeed, allow me to demonstrate. Click here.
I'd like to talk here someday about what that line actually means, and how the mis-remembered form of it is so often abused, but for now I'm venting about Scalcione's book, so I'll just say that mistakes like this are annoying.
Another example: the city where Enron is headquartered is Houston. It isn't spelled "Huston." Except in this book.
Those are not isolated example. The book is rife with them.
On the plus side, it includes an article of mine in the bibliography. And -- as my mother has kindly pointed out -- Scalcione spelled my name right.
14 January 2012
We will then have to see whether there is any sizeable number of anti-Romneyites who are willing to leave the party rather than get behind him. I have participated in on-line message boards in which some fervent anti-Romney types are threatening such a bolt. (Yes, it is shocking how I fritter time away.) I've seen enough of it to raise a question in my mind. If Santorum or someone of equal or greater prominence lets such a 3d party use him as its figurehead -- things look good for Obama.
That means, in terms of my "long-cycle versus short cycle" dilemma, explained here, that the "long cycle" has trumped the short. If Obama gets a second term, things will change in a very big way in coming years, whatever happens to the composition of Congress. We will be a very different country four years from now than we have been before.
If (1) the Romney steamroller works its way in terms of the nominating fight, and (2) there doesn't emerge any significant intra-party split as a result ... I will be left in uncertainty. A one-on-one Romney/Obama contest may well be decided by factors we don't know anything about yet, by events that will take place between now and November. But if it is decided by such contingencies, that would mean -- heaven forbid -- that we'd have to do without the whole idea of long-term predictive cycles.
13 January 2012
I'll just cite this one passage about Jobs' brief experience with communal living, for its obvious social-philosophy message.
"Alrthough the commune was supposed to be a refuge from materialism, [charismatic central figure Robert] Friedland began operating it more as a business; his followers were told to chop and sell firewood, make apple presses and wood stoves, and engage in other commercial endeavors for which they were not paid. One night Jobs slept under the table in the kitchen and was amused to notice that people kept coming in and stealing each other's food from the refrigerator. Communal economics were not for him. "it started to get very materialistic,' Jobs recalled. 'Everybody got the idea they were working very hard for Robert's farm, and one by one they started to leave. I got pretty sick of it.'"
12 January 2012
For those of you not in the know: the Patriots won their division, the East, in the American Football Conference, and earned a "bye," -- that is, they could take a break during the first weekend of playoffs, the weekend of January 7-8.
Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos had a very mixed season. Despote Tebow's talents (and highly publicized prayers) they didn't do better than a W-L record of 8-8. Fortunately, they were playing in a terrible division, the AFC west, where a .500 record was sufficient to end up the winner. It wasn't sufficient to earn a bye, though. They had to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, a wild card team, this past Sunday.
Indeed, the Steelers, who ended the season 12 and 4, were prohibitive favorites to win that game as they flew into Denver. They had a heck of a surprise waiting for them. The Broncos were all over the Steelers in the first half. Steelers had to stage a rousing comeback to end the regulation time at a tie, forcing the first play-off game overtime since new rules came into play for such events.
The new rules say that the first team to have possession in an OT period in a play-off game cannot win by a field goal. If they get a field goal in that possession, the other team has the right to an OT possession of its own. Teams are getting too good in getting 3-pointers from mid-field. It wasn't sporting to have the game ride on a coin toss that way.
That didn't matter, though, because in a very exciting finish, the Broncos scored a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage of their first possession, ending the game in classic sudden death style.
I'll be cheering on the Patriots, anyway, this weekend. But it was good to see Denver pull that off, and congrats to my Colorado relatives.
08 January 2012
The report seems almost quaint at a distance of 24 years as does the trading technology then on the cutting edge.
But it was part of Brady's own journey. He became Treasury Secretary before the year was out. The elder Bush, who of course became President about a year after publication of this report, kept him on in that job, and he stayed until 1993, in the process helping defuse the great sovereign-debt crisis of his day with the creation of "Brady Bonds."
Okay, this was a random trip down memory lane. Now return to your regularly scheduled activities.
07 January 2012
Here is an abstract to the work, by Manmohan Singh.
As you'll see if you visit that page, those of us who allude to the existence of this paper are sternly warned that it "should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF." It represents the views of Mr Singh alone.
Coincidentally, Mr Singh has the same name, first and last, as the current prime minister of India. This has fueled conspiracy theories about the prime minister as a "world bank/IMF agent".
The name, though, is the only connection. The IMF economist didn't leave that employment to become PM of India! He is still there, and this paper bears a quite recent release date as if to illustrate the point.
At any rate, the paper appears to me to be sound work and I hope it draws a wide audience.
06 January 2012
Anyway, I do think Weiss has written insightfully about a wide range of issues and I have learnt a lot from his efforts.
I say all that as preface to this: Gary has unfortunately decided to stigmatize the Ron Paul campaign for president as a uniquely "crackpot" effort. I have to publicly take issue with him there. It is just about the least cracked thing happening within either of the two major parties at the national level just now. Like the US dollar among the other major currencies of our time -- the Paul campaign is the cleanest shirt in a pile of dirty laundry.
I wrote Weiss via the comment section of his blog about these views. I'll reproduce that comment here, with minor cosmetic changes, below:
"I have to tell you Gary, Ron Paul is the only candidate (including the incumbent) who makes any sense to me these days at all.
"I won't defend everything that's appeared in his newsletter
"As to the civil rights statutes, I agree with Paul that the use of the 'interstat
"The one change in federal policy now that could do the most for the improvemen
I wrote those words prior to this Tuesday's developments in Iowa, and I ended by saying that I would be "delighted" by a Paul win there. As indeed I would have been. In the first hour of Tuesday night's count, there was a neck-to-neck-to-neck three way tie. Only gradually did Paul fade a bit, becoming a backgrounded third to the true neck-to-neck drama of Romney versus Santorum. That is unfortunately, because it means this teaching moment, our opportunity to throw libertarian memes about in the mainstream, may already have ended.
I guess that's why they call them "moments"!
05 January 2012
This year's Amex calender doesn't have the "30 years ago this week" feature that last year's did. I wonder why they axed it? I would imagine that 1982 was at least as interesting a year, week-to-week, that 1981 was.
Maybe they simply realized that I can always check out 30-years events at websites like this: CED Magic.
Separately, my month-by-month calender for the coming year, from Universe Publishing, provides me with classic illustrations from the career of Tintin, now the protagonist of a Spielberg movie. The movie has been in the works for a long time, apparently since soon after the death of Tintin's creator, Hergé, in 1983. At one time it was to be a Universal/Paramount partnership, but Universal pulled out, and the movie now in theatres comes to us from Paramout and Sony. Personally, I hope it proves to be a long and successful franchise. It seems to give Spielberg a good excuse to revert to his Indiana-Jones phase.
Finally, for the day-to-day or "box" calender on the top of my dresser, I am done with "non sequitur" and have propped up a box consisting of one witticism a day from Johnny Carson, in the glory days of the Tonight Show.
Out with the old, in with the new!
01 January 2012
1. I promised to take good care of my car. Well, I did, although the "car" involved in that resolution changed through no fault of my own! An idiot ran a red light in February and ruined my old Toyota. But it was in great shape right up to that moment, and I've done a fine job thus far with its replacement.
2. Keep up with the insurance on car. Done.
3. Venture outside of the borders of the U.S. Oops. Never got that done in 2011. I did get as far as Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, though.
4. Make progress toward the publication of another book. This, I've accomplished. I've accepted the fact that the publication of this book will have to be self-financed, but that is more of an observation on the state of the commercial publishing world today than on the merits of my book. At any rate, I've come to a point where the wording of the corresponding resolution for next year will be unconditional.
5. Keep track of Nassar Saber. Done. He is still writing about how he is working on his next book. Maybe 2012 will be the year it actually comes out. But I've decided not to include such tracking on my next list.
1. Get my car ("Doug") through December 2012 in good working order
2. Make an entrepreneurial investment. Shouldn't just talk a good game on the anarcho-cap stuff.
3. Regarding technology: enter the 21st century. For example, get audio back for my computer. Get Skype capacity for it. Learn how to use -- heck, become comfortable using -- my scanner.
4. Publish GWBCs and sell at least 1,000 copies.
5. Venture outside the borders of the U.S.
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.