Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chris McCandless

Into the Wild (2007) Poster

Who'd a thunk it?

Accepted wisdom, since the publication of Krakauer's book on the life and death of Chris McCandless, has been that the manner of his death was simple enough: starvation.

This now seems to have been revised. McCandless died because some of the seeds he ate as a result of the foraging aimed to stave off starvation were poisonous. Might he otherwise have survived until help (in the form of the hunters who used that school bus as a shelter in their spring hunt, the folks who found his body) might have arrived?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Martin Heidegger

My recent reading (although in this case it is more like a skimming) includes a work on Heidegger's philosophy, by Herman Philipse.

Philipse is concerned, among much else, with the differences between Heidegger and an important precursor, Friedrich Nietzsche. Heidegger criticized Nietzsche, and Philipse believes the criticisms were ill-founded, and that Nietzsche was the greater philosopher of the two.

Here's a link: Google Books. I merely "skim" works on, or within, the continental traditional of philosophy these days, because life is too short, and it is the Anglo-American tradition that deserves such time as I can give to more careful reading.

Still, for those of you who may judge differently, here is a sample of Philipse: "Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche aims at answering two questions: (1) What is Nietzsche's fundamental stance ... within the history of Western metaphysics? and (2) did Nietzsche ask the proper question of philosophy and, if not, why could he not do so? Question (1) clearly belongs to the Neo-Hegelian leitmotif in Heidegger's later works....Fundamental stances are expressed by systems of metaphysics, because metaphysics attempts to characterize the totality of what there is."

The gist of Philpse's understanding of Heidegger's understanding of Nietzsche, then, is this: (1) Nietzsche's fundamental stance is that all entities are expressions of the will to power: (2) in setting out this view Nietzsche believed that he had overcome the previous centuries of metaphysics, but in fact he had been caught in the web of Being, which cunningly conceals itself from generation to generation.

So Nietzsche failed to ask the proper questions. The world had to wait for Heidegger for someone to do that.

For me, at any rate, that is enough. I'd much rather be reading Nietzsche (though this is probably marginally better than reading Heidegger.)   And I'd still much rather be reading, say, David Hume.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Central Bank independence

It was my twitter feed that first alerted me last weekend to the news that Zambia's President had forced the central bank head in that country out of office and vowed lower interest rates.

Good for twitter! this is proof of its value -- the value of net based social media generally -- in tailoring news.


In old-fashioned dead-tree newspapers, whence most of my news used to come (until very recently) the goings-on in Zambia would have been tucked into a small item very deep in the paper, if it was deemed fir to print at all by the papers in the "developed" world.

But in fact, I deem it an important, perhaps the biggest one coming at us that day, and I'm glad to have received it when I did.

One of the significant facts about the story is that it dramatically demonstrates that central banks are only independent of the executive offices of a country when they are allowed to be independent by those executive offices. In other words, they aren't really all that independent. This in fact was the gist of the first tweet I encountered on the subject. Allen Mattich tweeted, "Does anyone every [sic] have any illusions about central bank independence in Zambia?" That inspired me to look at the item he was re-tweeting and commenting upon, and eventually to go to an actual news site (Bloomberg's as it happens) to look this up.

Something else that makes this significant is the guy who has stepped in as the new chief central banker in Zambia. The fellow whose photo you see above. Here is the URL to that Bloomberg story.

Denny Kalyalya takes over. He is a former governor of the World Bank. Just in case I have among my readers any developed-world chauvanists who think Zambia is an irrelevant backwater. In the 21st century economy there are no backwaters. Everybody is interconnected, and the new head of the central bank in Zambia is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts who has sat on the board of directors of the World Bank.

So he is not just a central banker of one developing country, made so by the president's fiat. He is a member of the elite crowd of the globe's central bankers.

So who is controlling whom? Does this development show that the president is in control of his nation's central bank, or that the elite crowd of central bankers is firmly in control of the world's various presidents? It is a little as if Zambia is the spot where a curtain has lifted.

Will we hear a booming voice soon saying, "pay no attention to those machinations behind the curtain"?

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Truth and Politics," Hannah Arendt

Image result for hannah arendt

"I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoint of those who are absent; that is, I represent them. This process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else, and hence look upon the world from a different perspective; this is a question neither of empathy ... nor of counting noses and joining a majority but of being and thinking in my own identity where I actually am not. The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion."

"Truth and Politics," THE NEW YORKER (1967).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Supreme Court appointees

Image result for Supreme Court

Someone asked me recently what qualities I believe a Supreme Court appointee should have.

I'm the author of a book on related issues, considered historically. But I had never thought to create such a list.

Putting aside anarchistic arguments, thinking within the box of the existing constitutional system, I offer the following. [I'll use the generic pronoun 'he' below for convenience only.]

  • He should be independent-spirited, willing to tell anyone (including the other 8, including the consensus of legal opinion, including the President who appointed him) to go to hell rather than putting himself in the wrong in his own eyes.
  • He should be learned in the HISTORY of the law. He should commune in his own mind not with the other eight folks in the conference room with him, but with Jean Bodin, Edward Coke, John Marshall, and Hugo Black.
  • Finally, he should have some experience of the business world. Perhaps just by having run a law office with his own name on the door at some time in his life, worrying about everything from hiring a qualified secretary to paying the light bill, and of course serving the interests of the customers, uh, clients.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

One of Those Things

I've often misheard the lyrics to the Cole Porter tune "One of those things."

It has been an odd misunderstanding, hardly worth calling a mondegren. I in fact developed an elaborate theory about how the words that I heard or THOUGHT I heard, words that didn't make a lot of sense, came to be.

I thought the lyrics, as least when sung by female vocalists such as Anita O'Day, included the phrase "Goodbye dear lay-men."

Why would she say "lay-men"? Because the song is addressed to non-professionals?? 

Why, indeed. The lyrics are addressed to a specific person of the opposite sex, so the term there shouldn't be plural in any event.

I had a goofy theory, which was that Porter had written it for a man to sing, and had written "Goodbye dear ladies." When a lady is singing, she turns it (according to this bad logic) into "goodbye dear lay-men."

Pretty dumb, as I say.

Only recently did I check on any of this. The line reads, "So good bye dear, and amen, here's hoping we meet now and then."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Eaglevale Partners

Eaglevale Partners, a hedge fund founded by three veterans of Goldman Sachs, acknowledged in a recent letter to its investors that it has made "incorrect" calls on Greece, and Eaglevale's main fund has taken hits as a consequence. A smaller fund within the firm's stable, one aimed specifically at Greek opportunities, has taken something more than a mere 'hit.' It has taken a clobbering, losing half its value last year.

This would not be news, outside of the hedge fund world anyway, except that one of the three founders of Eaglevale is Marc Mezvinsky, the husband of Chelsea Clinton, and thus the son-in-law of a formidable power couple. His partners are Bennett Grau (whose previous experience is in the commodities trading world chiefly) and Mark Mallon.

One of the investors in the dedicated Greek fund is Marc Lasry, a billionaire who has been a donor to Clinton family political campaigns.

I haven't said anything new here. The facts I've just stated have been well reported already in any number of outlets. But it inspires in me the need to comment. I am very glad that nobody yet has suggested a bail-out of Eaglevale. Things have gotten so bad that one almost reflexively expects that such a well-connected operation, small as its numbers are, would be deemed too big to fail, too essential to fail, too familial to fail, or something! The evidence thus far is that if Eaglevale doesn't up its game, it will be allowed to fail.

That isn't really banner celebratory news, but it's something.

Oh, and a happy valentines day to all loving couples out there. Including Chelsea and Marc.

I suppose her income as a late-night talk show host helps with household expenses, Oh, sorry, wrong Chelsea.