15 January 2012

That Santayana Meme

I recently received a review copy of The Derivatives Revolution , by Raffaele Scalcione (2011).
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.

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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.