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Showing posts from November, 2012


Villamaino's pre-trial hearing date, last I knew, was set for December 3. Whether it will actually generate any news, I have no idea.

Unless you keep up with the news of certain suburbs of Springfield, MA, you likely have no idea who Enrico ("Jack") Villamaino is. The chap pictured above. Splashy voter fraud case, though., With an odd twist -- but we'll get to that.

Villamaino was a Selectman in East Longmeadow, Mass. He wanted to move up the political ladder and become a state representative (as a Republican.)

The state alleges that he sought to do this through an elaborate scheme for tampering with ballots. He had help from a town employee, Courtney Llewellyn.

In a Hollywoodish touch, Villamaino was actually arrested on October 16th with a passport and a bag with personal effects. He had apparently told witnesses his planned destination was Switzerland. Dude! That sort of thing makes it tough for your lawyer to argue for low bail.

Here's the neat twist. Vil…

In London

If all has gone well, I am in London as you read these words, at the 5th Annual conference on TradeTech Liquidity.

This and the following two posts are pre-posted with more than the usual lead time.

The agenda at todays event.

9 AM: Markets structure/execution landscape panel discussion

10:15 Networking Break in the Exhibition Area

10:50 Regulatory Keynote presentation

11:20 Panel discussion on whether regulators have acheived their goal of fair markets

1:40 PM Dark Pools in the new execution landscape

2:40 High frequency trading and its impact on the execution landscape

3:40 Afternoon networking break

4:10 Panel Discussion on liquidity and uncertainty

5:40 Closing remarks from the chair

Speculation on Oil

Thoughts in the manner of Hazlitt:

Any commodity market is of necessity about hedging from more than one side, as well as about speculating.

An industry that consumes a lot of energy (say, an electric utility) wants to hedge against the price of its supplies spiking up, just as the suppliers, in Texas or Saudi Arabia, want to hedge against the possibility of a sharp downward move. So the markets can serve both hedges.

No: there is no reason why this should artificially drive prices up. Anymore than it artificially forces them down.

The risks of fluctuating crude oil prices will be borne by somebody. The risk exists, nobody other than an advocate of central planning believes that it can be ordered to go away. Somebody will bear it. Utility company, oil producer, speculators, or some combination.

Under normal conditions, then, by letting speculators come in to play a role between the two hedging operational parties I have mentioned, commodity markets perform the valuabl…

Great Barrier Reef: Three Facts

These come from my Amex desk calender, which gives tidbits on Australia's Great Barrier Reef in its November pages.

Three such:

1) "The indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of coastal Queensland are the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef."

2) Its waters "support some 1,500 fish species ranging in size from the 1/4 inch long stout infantfish, the world's tiniest fish, to the whale shark, the biggest fish in the sea, which can reach lengths of 40 to 50 feet or more."

3) HMS Endeavour, captained by British navigator James Cook, ran aground on the reef in 1770.

This will be my final use of that desk calender as grist for blog posts.

Music Stories

In another month or so, I'll be composing (for another blog) a list of the top five big Music-related stories of 2012. Five is a good number for this, because my entries for JustSheetMusic tend to be around 1,000 words each, and it is difficult to say anything worthwhile about any one such story in less than 200 words.

Perhaps I will get out of the way, through some sort of unlisted mention, the fact that the BBC has been torn by a sex scandal around the activities of the late TV host Jimmy Savile. This is a "music" story only because of the nature of the program that made Savile famous, Top of the Pops.  That isn't enough for my list.

The actual stories may be listed from fun to somber, thus:

1. The Ravinia Festival this year teamed up Patti LuPone with Patricia Racette.

2. Rihannas new album, Unapologetic, which seems to have incited polarized reactions.
Legends, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Bruce Sp., also gave us new albums.

3. Fiona Apple is back in the aren…


With all due respect to the Pilgrims, to the traditional sentiments of harvest time, and to expressions of gratitude, both cosmic and local, Thanksgiving Day for some of us constitutes chiefly the center of the football season -- its culmination for high schools, and a good time for the college games that serve as the natural lead-in to the wonders of the bowl-game season. Have you ever noticed, after all, how much a turkey looks like a football?

My personal thoughts in this regard this year turn to my alma mater, Marist College, home of the Red Foxes.

They creamed  the Valparaiso Crusaders on October 30 with the impressive score of 44 to 7, and with stand-out performances from safety Zach Adler (a sophomore) and Michael Rios (a senior). [Well, it was the day before Halloween, so it was kind of a holiday game.]  Adler comes from Walden, NY and Rios from Miami, Florida.  Of course, the natural rivalry for a team that calls itself the Crusaders would be one calling itself the Jihadis…

Rodgers and Hammerstein

If I should ever be asked whether I could name off the top of my head twenty R&H tunes, I should hope I will come up with the following, arranged below by chronological order of show debut:
The songs themselves aren't listed in any particular order, by appearance in the musical or otherwise, just that in which they occur to me, which presumably would be consistent with the terms of the hypothetical dare/bet.

Oklahoma! (1943)

1) the title song
2) O What a Beautiful Morning
3) Surrey with the Fringe on Top
4) The Farmer and the Cowman
5) I Cain't Say No

Carousel (1945)

6) You'll Never walk Alone
7) Soliloquy (My Boy Bill)
8) This was a real nice clambake
9) If I Loved You
10) When I Marry Mr. Snow

South Pacific (1949)

11) Bala Hai
12) You've Got to be Carefully Taght
13) Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair
14) Nothin' Like a Dame
15) One Enchanted Evening

The King and I (1951)

16) Shall we Dance
17) Getting to Know You
18) Whistle a Happy Tune
19) March of the Roy…

The Secret Race

The Secret Race is the new book by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle about the Tour de France and doping.

Even if, like me, you aren't much of a cycling fan and are prepared to take a no-first-stone-from-us-sinners attitude toward whatever exactly Lance Armstrong might have done, this may be a compelling sociological study about a particular and very competitive subculture.

I say "may be" because I'm not prepared to pretend to having read it.  A couple of quick points from the publicity though: the first named author, Tyler Hamilton, is the former denizen of that subculture. He rode with Armstrong on 3 of those Tour de France races. He teamed up with Coyle (whose photo I have installed above)  to borrow some writing chops for this project.  

Last weekend's New York Times Review  of Books contained a piece on this result by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, who turns a nice analogy.

"We are left with Armstrong, who  increasingly looks like the sporting answer to Alger His…


I'm sorry, but I don't understand intelligence-agency type controversies unless they are put into terms any moviegoer can grasp.

Petraeus wasn't Bond, James Bond. He was M, the boss of this country's answers to Bond.  M, if married, obviously can't mess around on the side, since that would give Goldfinger a really good tool for blackmail.

Of course, if everybody knows about something, it is no longer material for blackmail. David Letterman told the world about the indiscretions he had committed, disarming his blackmailer in one televised blow. Likewise, I don't see how anyone could blackmail Bill Clinton with the news about Monica Lewinsky, since we have already all been thoroughly sated with that.

So the problem with Petraeus wasn't just that he couldn't keep a secret, but that he could neither keep his affair a secret nor effectively be open about it. That is the zone of blackmail-ability.

Am I getting this so far?

Anyway, you can watch some relev…

Cumulative Recorders

What is a cumulative recorder? Apparently, it is an important term in behavioral psychology in the tradition of B.F. Skinner.

The idea is that a cumulative recorder is a device that creates a graph over time on the paper turning on a rotating drum, as abve. The graph would in turn display the responses of the rat or pigeon or whatever to the experimental stimulus.

The functions of a cumulative recorder in the old mechanical sense have been supplanted in our age of digital computers, but one still finds references to these machines in the periodicals of this branch of psychology.

This little vocabulary lesson has been brought to you by trhe letters "C" and "R."

Darwin and Gray

Charles Darwin once wrote to Asa Gray, "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradation my reason tells me I ought to conquer the odd shudder."

This quotation is well known. But Matt Ridley, a columnist for the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, devoted last week's column to Darwin and the eye, and he has me thinking abou the  matter anew, too. The eye was presumably giving Darwin shudders because it is a very complex organ. One has a tough time imagining any single "random variation" that would give a newborn of some mammalian breed a pair of eyes that its parents had not had. THAT would be an implausible jump.

Thus, the eye must have come about through increments. Yet it seems difficult to construct a chain of slow increments from no sight at all to the full carbon-based cameras that mammals suggest.  As Ridley asks rhetorically, "What use is half an eye?" I was going to write something more here …

Final Carson Quotes for 2012

This will be my last use this year of jokes from the Johnny Carson joke-a-day calender.

On February 8, 1977, Johnny was doing some riffs on the silver anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II.

"As a matter of fact, I wired the Queen of England a congratulatory wire and said I thought it was very nice of her, showing up every day for twenty-five years without using a guest Queen."

On November 12, 1980, he said: "It is so dry out there today, I saw a robin rubbing Vasoline Intensive Care on his chapped worm."

Okay, that doesn't make a lot of sense. But I'm sure it was preceded by Ed McMahon asking him dramatically "how dry IS it?"

Finally ...

On March 15, 1990, Johny said: "Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together wothout arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place."

(And happy birthday to my kid brother Mark, a youthful 53 on Nov. 10, 2012).

The James-Barzun Connection

One critical fact about the philosophy of William James is that it is a good deal more subtle than many newcomers to philosophy expect it to be.

The crude use of the word "pragmatism" to mean "unprincipled" or "opportunistic" has contributed to the false impression that there isn't a lot of intellectual/philosophical substance to it. Also, the  fact that much of what James wrote on the subject was written with a wider audience in mind than his fellow academics, has had the unfortunate  side effect of giving it a reputation in some quarters as the philosophy for those without the patience, or perhaps the intellectual heft, to read real philosophy.

Barzun, in A Stroll with William James, devoted his own considerable gifts to clearing up such misconceptions.

I won't retread that ground here but will move to a related problem: we associate pragmatism as much with Dewey as with James, and through Dewey it has come to have a close connection with &qu…

A Fake Quotation

Sloppy thinking is still sloppy, even if the sloppy individual's heart is in the right place.

Example: a fake Wilson quote.

By way of introduction, please understand that I have become a more and more committed hard-money guy over the last four years.

I have come to believe that prices are only going to be rational, that economies are only going to work efficiently, if the money supply is disassociated from the decisions of central bankers, such as members of the board of the US Federal Reserve.  I also have come to believe that a link to gold might be one good way of disassociating money from policy, or rather of subordinating policy to money, as is right and proper.

So count me among the world's goldbugs if you like.

I find, nonetheless, that within this company there is a lot of sloppy thinking, and part of that is the profligate use of willful unchecked quotations.

For example, Woodrow Wilson, the president who signed the banking reform act that created the Federal R…

A sentence from SPILLOVER

"The University of Kinshasa sits on a hilltop near the edge of the city, reachable by an hour's taxi ride through the broken streets, the smoggy sprawl, the snarled traffic of vans and busses and pushcarts, past the street-side vendors of funerary wreaths, the cell-phone-recharge kiosks, the fruit markets, the meat markets, the open-air hardware stores, the tire-repair stores and cement brokers, the piles of sand and gravel and garbage, the awesome decrepitude of a postcolonial metropolis shaped by eight decades of Belgian opportunism, three decades of dictatorial misrule and egregious theft, and then a decade of war, but filled with 10 million striving people, some of whom are dangerous thugs (as in all cities) and most of whom are amiable, hopeful, and friendly."

Say that in one breath!

Spillover is a recently published volume by David Quammen, a piece of popularized science quite analogous to Microbe Hunters, the classic history-of-medicine book.

Quammen in interes…

Selections from a Correspondence

On Thursday I wrote here a brief notice of the passing of Jacques Barzun.

Since then a fellow admirer of JB has asked me about two points: if I would care to comment on the tie between Jacques Barzun's thought and that of William James; and if I would share some selections from my correspondence with the former.

Given the title of this blog, I can hardly reject the first of those invitations ... though I will put it off, perhaps for another week. Today, I will satisfy the second request. Here are four excerpts from Barzun's letters to me, each dated and preceded by some very brief comments by me (in ital) for context only.

I won't even try to defend the views of mine that Barzun is criticizing here.  This is about him, not me.

October 17, 1986.

I had presumptuously made the case for libertarian political philosophy to him, while in the process dissecting what I saw as the faults of other libertarians, especially Robert Nozick. Jacques replied with good humor and thoroug…

Random Book Notes

Every once in awhile I receive in the mail a catalog of "bargain books" from the Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company in Falls Village, CT.

If there ever was a time when I knew how I had gotten onto their mailing list, that time has long since gone.

Still, the catalog makes for some downtime browsing. Here are seven randomly chosen entries, by category:


The Mammoth Book of Tattoos. Ed. by Lal Hardy. Brings together 80 leading tattoo artists from the US, UK, and Europe who have made a name in body art. Over 500 photographs of tattoos cover the full range of styles, including new work made possible only by recent advances in the medium. Includes work from George Bone, Tim Kern, Kim Saigh, and others. Full illus in color. 447 pages. Running Press. Paperbound. Pub. at $18., $12.95.

Birds & Butterflies: Painter's Quick Reference.  By the eds. of North Light Books. This easy to use reference features over 40 step by step demonstrations for painting beautiful bu…

R.I.P., Jacques Barzun

Jacques Barzun died last week, just a month short of his 105th birthday.

I've written of Barzun before: here for example, and here.

I had the honor of a long, though epistolatory, friendship with Prof. Barzun, and it now seems incumbent upon me to donate his letters to some appropriate scholarly repository. I do think that some of this correspondence will help shed some light on his thought, for future researchers.

I'm certain that his reputation is bound to grow over the coming decades. Perhaps the definitive biographer, the one who can do for Barzun what Barzun did for Hector Berlioz, is still 81 years away. Berlioz, after all, died in 1869, and Barzun's two-volume work on his life and times appeared in 1950.

And it did so in no small part because Barzun heard Berlioz's "Ballet of the Sylphs" performed when he was only four or five years, a memory that never left him.

Perhaps we can best pay tribute to Barzun in his passing with some words he wrote of &…