Thursday, September 3, 2015

The continuing attack on irony

An unseen woman singing and bending down with the microphone. The background is red lights with shadows, and the words "Alanis", "Morissette" and "Ironic" are written in white cursive letters at the bottom half of the image.

Irony has been out of fashion in some quarters since 9/11/2001.  Later in that awful September, TIME published an essay by Roger Rosenblatt that began, "The one good thing that could come from this horror: it could spell the end of the age of irony."

Yet irony has hung in there, as have critiques thereof. Christy Wampole has written the latest such attack, THE OTHER SERIOUS.

She titles it that because in her view the problem with her contemporaries -- me and you, dear reader -- is not just that we over-use irony as a literary device but that irony is the default mode we adopt when we are being "serious." She wants a "recalibration" of what it means to be serious.

She also, like so many writers before her, doesn't quite understand what the kids today are up to. "As a Gen-Xer, I wonder how it must be to grow up in this environment today. What does it feel like to be in high school, for example, where your life is constantly available for comment online?...Can you ever say how you really feel, using your own name?"

The reviews satisfy my curiosity about this. There will be a lot of rain on a lot of wedding days before I read this book.

By the way, as to this infamous Alanis Morissette lyrics: yes the "rain on your wedding day" thing is a misfire. Something isn't ironic just because it is inconvenient. But ... I love the phrase "who would've thought? it figgers." The conjunction of those two reactions to the same event is irony.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

From a Seth Price novel

"Someone, he realized, needed to come along and devise a painterly abstraction that embodied cultural sophistication and 'nowness.' It had to look classically tasteful and refer to well-known historical byways, but it also had to be undergirded by utter contemporaneity, either of sensibility or production method. Upcycling was evolving as an idea and so was perhaps itself being upcycled: iu the early Nineties it had promsied to help the developing world redeem its waste, at the turn of the century it grew to encompass the food consumption of a smaller set of First Worlders wit extra time and money, and now it would take on fine art, an even more rarefied realm of cultural production available to only the wealthy few."

I found this, part of a much longer excerpt, in the READINGS section of the July Harper's.  The whole READINGS section for the month was unusually compelling.

That is Seth Price's image, rocking back and forth, above.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thinking about Fiorina

Image result for carly fiorina for president

On August 17th, The New York Times' blog, Dealbook., ran a piece by Andrew Ross Sorkin about Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

Fiorina is getting some traction, despite the fact that she has never held public office. She has been a chief executive of a major institution, though. That institution was the computer giant Hewlett-Packard, and that qualification is CF's chief credential (aside from appealing initials) for the post of chief executive of the United States.

Sorkin does not have a high opinion of her performance at HP. He says that he vividly remembers September 2001, when she announced her plans for a merger with Compaq. So here is her, and his, money quote from the column:

“Hang with us,” she said on that same day in a conference call with reporters. “It’s going to be a great party.”

The party never happened, but the hangover was brutal. Hewlett-Packard is still recovering from the ill-conceived merger nearly 14 years later, and recently decided to split the company up. There were some 30,000 layoffs. Its stock price plunged and badly lagged its competition.


On the other hand ... I have heard from a long-time stockholder in HP that the drop after the Compaq merger was merely a bump on a fairly well-paved road. Further, there may be a case to be made that it was a bump worth enduring.

After all, the computer-manufacturing industry in which both HP and Compaq were major players was due for a consolidation at the time of the merger. The PC/desktop business, the mainstay for both firms, was due for some shrinkage -- I say, as I type this post on a laptop -- and combining the companies allowed them to prepared for that.

To be specific, I'm typing this post on an HP Chromebook. It is possible Carly helped prepared HP for the new more mobile world that was on its way.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Disputes over HFT Near An End

According to a professor of finance at the University of Maryland, the sort of intense debates the financial/regulatory world has had in recent years over "high frequency trading" and its consequences have become, or shortly will become obsolete.

It isn't that the opponents of HFT haven't had a point. The meta-point though is, if I understand professor Albert Kyle, that the valid point they (we) have been making involves disparities between some traders and others based on the difference between those that have the latest gee-whiz technology and those that don't. Whoever has been losing the hi-tech arms race involved has been losing a lot more than just bragging rights.

But, says Kyle, this is just a transition. The high tech stuff is near its limit, and the hardware/software that performs at that limit is itself going to become a commodity. There won't be any "have nots" in the asset management world.

The net effect of the whole thing will be positive: a reduction in equity market transaction costs.

Kyle expressed these thoughts at the Centre for International Finance and Regulation conference on August 11-12.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Yanis Varoufakis

Greek politics. The left-wing party Syriza, which took office as the result of a populist revolt against pressure from the northern European powers, and especially Germany, and as a rebellion against the perceived willingness of earlier Greek governments to bow before that pressure ... that party, in office, has bowed, in a big way, to just that pressure. That's a short history of recent Greek politics and a primer in why a civil war is now underway in Syriza.

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (pictured here) has now taken to criticizing his former boss, prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

But here's the reason I'm writing about the subject just now. On Monday of this week, YV said that AT had become "the new DeGaulle." Press reports say that this insult constitutes a new level of acrimony between the two men, indicative of the depth of the intra-Syria split.

Really? If I were called a new DeGaulle I'd probably feel flattered. Churchill and Roosevelt found him an annoying ally, but that was in essence because they would have preferred a more tame French lapdog as a figurehead for the French resistance. He wouldn't be their lapdog. And doesn't that fact undermine YV's point?

What aspect of DeGaulle's career gives point to the use of this as a gibe?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A discussion of truth

I have only skimmed this, but I link to it here in the hope that some of the readers of this blog will enjoy it. My interests and those of the author of this little dialog clearly overlap.

I include the above image only because Yudkowsky's dialog makes use of the venerable example of an uncomplicated truth, "snow is white."

The one bit that drew my attention was that where one character asks another "So it doesn't bother you that Josef Stalin believed that snow is white?" Love that. I'm sure he did. The stuff helped win him a war, he was probably happy to recall what it looked like.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Politics in Thailand

Image result for foo foo birthday party thailand

The military rulers in Thailand make use of the monarchy as a rallying symbol, and of section 112 of the criminal code, which says: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." They interpret it so widely that it even applies to "insults" allegedly levelled at a King who ruled in the late 16th, early 17th century. In October 2014 a Buddhist and social activist named Sulak Sivaraksa was charged with violating this law because he questioned a legendary victory by Siam over Burma under the leadership of the King of that time, Naresuan.

Sivaraksa was arrested and bailed out, I haven't been able to find whether the matter went any further than that.

Speaking of the royal family, King Bhumibol has reigned for 68 years. Though his name is still invoked where convenient, neither he nor the Queen appears in public any more. The heir apparent, Vajiralongkorn, is very unpopular with the masses, an unpopularity that no amount of enforcement of 112 has been able to hide.

One's impression, then, is that upon the demise of Bhumibol, things might get even trickier for the military rulers than they are at present.

This video has become very popular, illustrating the decadent lifestyle many Thais resent in Vajiralongkorn, his then-wife, and their poodle.

The royal family sought to address their unpopularity by throwing the princess, seen above mostly naked, under a large ricksaw. The Heir Apparent divorced Princess Srirasmi in December.

Apparently she is allowed to continue calling herself "Princess," and the Prince keeps FooFoo.