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Showing posts from April, 2013

A Word About Neoplatonism

In my teen years, I went through a "Neo-Platonist" phase. I actually read the Enneads,  the work of the most prominent Neo-Platonist, Plotinus.  I was amused that the name seemed so fitting: did Plotinus just accidentally have a name that sounds like "Platonist"?  Still not sure of that,

Anyway, I burned through a good deal of notepaper writing obviously unprintable treatises of my own about how the Enneads rightly read can give us the answers to the problems of the 1970s, or something. I was doing this even after my first contact with the much saner writings of William James, though in time the latter rescued me from the former.

Anyway, since this is my own bloomin' blog, I'll indulge myself and say a few words on Neo-Platonism.


Before every neo there is a paleo. what about paleo-Platonism and what in it led to the neo?

Plato's dialogs were exploratory, digressive, dramatic, and not especially systematic or even consistent. That was …

Daniel McAdams makes a related point

Following up on my observation yesterday that the critical actors in the manhunt were private citizens, I should add that Daniel McAdams has made a good related point. One of the two private citizens I discussed yesterday was actually acting in violation of the police demands when he made the critical discovery.

A private citizen, "happened to go out and check on his boat (i.e. violating the lockdown order of the cops)." The police, then "achieved nothing but the psychological conditioning of the population...."

From the Lew Rockwell report.

Boston Manhunt: Victory for Private Citizens

I expect that if I don't say something about this subject I will soon be the only regular blogger in the northeastern United States who hasn't.

My sympathies of course to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, the dead and the injured and the families of both. The death of someone as young as Martin Richard is always especially heartbreaking.

But you don't come here for the usual hearts and flowers dear reader. Let's see if we can say something not already said.  We can do so if we turn our attention to the manhunt, which began in earnest Thursday evening with another crime, the murder of a security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Late Thursday evening, Sean Collier, responding to a disturbance, was shot and killed. That set off a wild 24-hour period that ended with one of Collier's murderers dead and the other in custody.

Perhaps this is something of a take-away. We're often told that government is necessary to keep people safe, …

The catatafish

Regular viewers of South Park will recognize the term "catatafish." It is a fishy ghost first found inside the stomach of a semi-regular character called Mr. Slave. Presumably the body of the fish got there as a result of Mr. Slave's devotion to S/M.

As you can tell from this clip, the catatafish is a catfish, and also has a vaguely samarai-like outfit.

It's the samarai connection that presumably inspired a play on words in the character's name.There is a bit more going on than the addition of a couple of unnecessary syllables to the word "catfish."

One traditional samurai weapon is the katana, a slightly curved sword as portrayed above. As the link here indicates, the Catatafish appears to have a katana, in a bejeweled sheath, on his back.

So I'm thinking catatafish is a portmanteau of katana and catfish. Sound right to everyone? Only sign onto this if it sounds right to you. I'm not here to make you do anything. Not like those stories they…

The 'tautological' argument for faith

Last week I mentioned three philosophical arguments that concern very different subjects (and have very different advocates) but that have this in common: their critics think them tautological.

Under the prodding of a commenter, I'd like to be more specific about one of them today.

Some people argue that belief in God is necessary, and thus that God's existence must be postulated even if His existence cannot be proven, because He serves as the foundation of moral behavior. Let us call this argument FFM (faith for morals).

The critics say this is tautological. Does God tell us not to commit adultery because it is a bad thing, or is it bad because He tells us not to do it?  According to the critics of FFM, the FFM argument must say "both." Thus, it falls into circularity and tautology.

Now particular advocates of FFM might well have expressed themselves in ways that sound like this. But that isn't a very interesting inquiry. A much more important inquiry is: on…

Bitcoin Linkfarm

Last month and this have seen dramatic developments in the world of bitcoin. Let's try to catch up.

Bitcoin is one of a group of efforts to create a pseudo-currency online.  Its existence is a testimony on how little trust exists for the legal tender of the US, the one-time world numeraire. An issue I discussed at book length here.

There was a massive sell-off on Wednesday, April 10, which resumed on Thursday.

Daily Bail

Natural News

Conspiracy theories abound, both as to the run-up in the value of bitcoins that began in July 2012 and in the crash in April 2013.

My own view is that bitcoin has been (at least for now) the victim of its own enthusiasts, who got ahead of themselves. On March 29, Jeffrey Tucker of Laissez Faire Books wrote, "Maybe the price will keep climbing," etc. One of those this-time-its-different things that often get themselves written just before a bubble bursts.

Robert Wenzel called him out.

It appears Wenzel was right. Anyone who listened to Tuck…

Schiller's philosophy

This will be the last post in which I'll be working from Leon Chai's book on the connections between Europe's romantics and America's Renaissance figures, because I am near finished with said book.  For one of my earlier invocations of Chai, go here.

That scholar's summary of Schiller's philosophy is as follows: "For Schiller, there is a pathetic, moving eloquence [in the relation of consciousness and object]: never can the object attain the nature of the idea, in which reposes the infinitude of the purely ideational. Consciousness here embodies, implicitly, a state of striving or aspiration: having informed or identified itself with an object, it then attempts in relating that object to an idea to pass from finite to infinite, the transcend the material element of its own content through realization of the purely ideational."

What the heck does that mean? I don't know.

To those of us who aren't ever going to be tested on our grasp of 19th…

Thinking About Stock Options

I was thinking of writing here something about the now-concluded college basketball season. But since Great Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away recently I've changed my mind. I think the best tribute I can do Thatcher is to continue my recent discussions of some considerations pertaining to market economies. I'm told that was something of an interest of hers.

Besides, I didn't have anything especially incisive to say about basketball.

Today's question, then: First: what IS a stock option?

It is either an option to buy (call) a stock or an option to sell (put) a stock. An option to buy a stock is a contract by which the buyer acquires the right (without incurring any obligation) to purchase shares of a stock at a specific price on a specified date.An option to sell is much the same, except as you might already have inferred, the buyer of an option to sell acquires the right (again, without obligation) to sell shares of a stock at a speci…

Three (alleged) Tautologies

The idea of a "tautology" and especially of its use in philosophical debate, has bugged me for years. Let me express my analytical (or synthetic) reaction here and see if I get an illuminating response.

Many of those who dislike the idea of evolution, or Darwinian evolution anyway, make a point about the nature of the alleged mechanism. The notion that evolution works by "the survival of the fittest" can not, they say, be a substantive insight at all because it is a tautology. The fittest are defined by survival, and then survival is attributed to their fitness. An obvious circle.

Likewise, those who dislike the notion of market efficiency make the same point, though they may not recognize its similarity. They say that the notion of efficiency is defined by what the market does, and then the market is said to be efficient. An obvious and invalidating circle!

Another example: those who argue that a God is necessary, and must be postulated even if His existence cannot…

The Disney Case: Sharpening Up a Premise

In June 2006 the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware handed down a decision on the duties that members of a board of directors owe to the stockholders. Because of the high-profile boardroom fighting behind the decision, and of course the famous name of the company, this decision is better known than are many equally-important corporate and securities law decisions: Yet In re Walt Disney Co. Derivative Litigationhas a good deal of significance even aside from all that.

A major New York corporate-law firm, Wachtell Lipton, recently mailed its various corporate clients a "Compensation Committee Guide," explaining how they can determine the salaries, perqs, etc., of their Big Shot executives with minimal litigation blowback. It intrigues me that in a 2013 pamphlet prepared for this purpose, a 7-year-old Disney case, something that happened before the great financial crisis, before Dodd-Frank, before the recent say-on-pay litigation, still has to be given and is given a good…

Efficient Capital Markets Hypothesis

I said a few posts back that in order to understand the assumptions behind the efficient capital markets hypothesis (ECMH), it will help us to state the case for that hypothesis with some clarity.

Here we go: when there is a way for someone to make alpha, that way comes about because there is some exploitable inefficiency in the system. For example, XYZ may be listed on stock exchanges in two cities: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Due to some inefficiency, XYZ trades at a lower price in Philly than in Pittsburgh. We know that’s inefficiency because the equity of XYZ is worth only what it is worth; there is only one possible complete discounting of all relevant information on that matter. If Pittsburgh and Philadelphia differ, one or both are wrong.
Since listed exchange prices are themselves public information, arbitrageurs will almost instantly pickup on this, and will quickly start buying XYZ at the lower price in Philadelphia and then selling it for a risk-free profit for a higher pri…

Quick book note

James Dodson, who once taught writing at Hollins University, in Virginia, has more recently written  and Vintage has now published, a book with the grand title AMERICAN TRIUMVIRATE. Those of us with an interest in US antebellum political history will naturally read that title and expect a discussion of Calhoun, Clay, and Webster.

But the subtitle is more informative: SAM SNEAD, BYRON NELSON, BEN HOGAN, AND THE MODERN AGE OF GOLF.

Also an interesting subject. The New York Times tells me this "is a fascinating biography of three gifted, unusual men...."

It also brings to my own mind some family history. My mother and her brother, when they were kids, used to make up stories to amuse each other about a fictional character called Sam Snead, a Paul Bunyan type figure. They simply adopted the name "Sam Snead" because the sound of it amused them and fit this purpose.

Some time later, as I understand the tale, Mom was with my still-much-in-the-future Dad, and there was…

Foundationalism in Epistemology

At Yahoo!Answers I recently encountered the following question:

I'm having trouble understanding Foundationalism and Coherentism?If I wanted to say that truth or knowledge lays in "objective facts"... for the most part.
Would I class this as foundationalism - I suppose by saying that facts = foundation?
Or, could I say that objective facts make sense and are consistent and cohesive with each other and us.. therefore... coherentism makes sense...?

I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around these concepts.
Any help is appreciated.

As regular readers of this blog know, I sometimes mine my answers from that site here simply to economize on anything that seems like work. I'm lazy, a bit like the fellow portrayed above.

So I will proceed with the copy-and-paste. To the above I replied as follows....
You might begin by distinguishing between theories of truth on the one hand and theories of knowledge on the other. Both are parts of the broader inquiry known …

That Image in Your Head

Suppose I say the phrase "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

What is the first image (not the first word or phrase) that pops into your mind?

I'm guessing for many of you the first image is of a man in a fedora running frantically away from a giant boulder through a narrow cavern, in imminent danger of some nasty flattening.

Thanks to Mad Dog Movies, we have available a recreation of the moment at which that scene came into the head of director Steven Spielberg, under prodding from  producer George Lucas.

Lucas, just coming off the success of the Star Wars opening, met Spielberg and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan for some old-fashioned spit-balling. Some of the ideas discussed in that first meeting were immediately discarded, others were left open at the time but never made it into the movie, still others like the boulder became images permanently affixed in our heads.

Here's the transcript.

At the top of p. 4, Lucas says, "I thought it would be interesting to have hi…

New Books from Elgar publishing

HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH on IPOs, ed. Mario Levis, 512 pp.

Catalog says that this book "provides a comprehensive review of all the emerging trends and directions in the global IPO markets."

Another research collection just out is: GOVERNANCE AND FAMILY FIRMS ed. Julio Pindado and Ignacio Requejo, both of the Universidad de Salamanca, in Spain. Catalog quotes Lloyd Steier, of the University of Alberta, "The compilation of articles in this book offer some of the most rigorous and relevant research relative to governance conducted in the pas decade."

Something more abstract/theoretical: WHY IS THERE MONEY?: Walrasian General Equilibrium Foundations of Monetary Theory, by Ross M. Starr, University of California, San Diego.

Walras' work is generally thought to have been superceded by the Arrow-Debreu model. This author begs to differ.

I'll give a final item, on a trade policy question:

THE US-CHINA TRADE DISPUTE Facts, Figures and Myths, by Imad Moosam of the M…

Risk-return tradeoff and the U.S. treasury

In our last post devoted to the mathematics of finance, we mentioned that the standard deviation of a bell curve showing the range of possible returns from an asset can be employed as a surrogate for its risk. I'd like to pursue that point a bit.

It is the chanciest corporations, the ones that do have significant risk, that have to bribe you into buying their bonds with a higher return than their safer brethren need offer: thus, a trade-off.

One way of looking at the trade-off is this: suppose I come into your neighborhood and offer to play a simple game. You will roll a pair of dice I provide and I will give you $1,000 times the number shown on the dice when they come to rest. I require only that you pay me $1,000 before we begin.
The lowest possible score is 2, so the lowest possible pay-out is twice what you’ll pay me up front. This, then, (if I am honest and actually have the money I’m offering to pay) is a can’t-lose proposition for you. The worst outcome is you gain $1,000. …