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Showing posts from June, 2013

Les Troyens

"Inutiles regrets" ("Useless regrets" in English, but you probably already had figured that out), is the aria that Hector Berlioz has Aeneas sing as he prepares to leave Carthage and Dido.

I'm linking you to a performance of this aria by Bryan Hymel.


There is much more I might say about this, but I hope to say it at JustSheetMusic soon and don't want to steal my own thunder here.

Mauser and Moral Philosophy, Part II

As I observed in yesterday's entry, Mauser's project commits him to refuting an Humean argument. Yesterday I gave that argument in Mauser's paraphrase. Today I'll give it in Hume's own words.

"In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with," Hume wrote, "I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprized to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relatio…

Mauser and Moral Philosophy, Part I

Bernard Mauser was, as of May 2011, a candidate for a Ph.D. in philosophy from Marquette University.

I've read bits and pieces of his dissertation online. It has the forbidding title, "The Ontological Foundations for Natural Law Theory and Contemporary Ethical Naturalism."

Natural-law theory, to put matters starkly, is the whole body of theory that holds that there is such a fact as "human nature," and that human nature is normative. Understanding our own nature tells us how we ought to live.

Natural-law theory may be theistic. That is, one may couple the "laws of nature" with "Nature's God" as Thomas Jefferson did. But natural-law theory need not be theistic, and Mauser cites Larry Arnhart as an example of a philosopher who invokes the laws of nature while keeping nature's God out of the account.

At any rate, natural-law theory is certainly realist and cognitivist. It necessarily contends that good and bad are objective (real) …

Crusoe, Caruso....

Sound like variant forms of the same name to me.

I'm happy that when he finally got off that island he was able to kick-start his career as an operatic tenor.

Falcon Lord: Book One

Falcon Lord: Book  One, The Lost Isle of Perpetua seems in its early going a standard fantasy/adventure.

Like Carcium although a good deal better.

I was never able to get into Carcium. But Falcon Lord hooked me early. Here is its opening:

"Brighton listened. While feeling the sun warming his face, and taking in the salt air mixed with falcon's musky odors, he heard only the distant waves."

I like the two word minimalist first sentence. Subject verb. The subject is the name of the protagonist in this story, the son of a "Falcon Lord" and eventually, after he has undertaken a hazardous journey and been tested as such a protagonist must be, "Falcon Lord" himself.

The second sentence gives us data from three senses as Brighton experienced it at a certain moment: smell, touch, and hearing are all represented. And the data are familiar from our world, even the duskiness of falcon feathers seems right.

 As I say, in its early going this reads like a sta…

Thinking "outside the box"

I like La Quinta. I've stayed many times at one of their hotels in Stamford, CT, typically when I have to be in NYC the following morning. I love some of the little things, like the fact that they have real wardrobes in their rooms, rather than closets.

But I'm not crazy about the television advertisements. They have a series of ads that attempt to illustrate that a night's stay at La Quinta enables you to do great things, as defined by various clichés (have your ducks in a row, pull out all the stops, get a leg up on the competition, sell ice to Eskimos and so forth). The gag is that at the end of the ad the cliché is presented literally.

The whole campaign is only mildly annoying. There are far worse. But there is one that especially annoys me. A business consultant should stay at La Quinta, we're told, because  when he does he can "think outside the box" at the meeting the next morning. The other presumably inferior consultants, who presumably stayed in …

Gene Patents, the link farm

I wrote here about the MyriadGenetics decision last week.

Today, I'll review what everyone else is saying.

Stephen Jenei, at Patent Baristas, confined himself to a paraphrase of the decision.

Investment bankers are mixed. In the wake of the decision, some upgraded their view of Myriad's prospects, which seems odd. Perhaps it's just the fact that the company has gotten the bad news behind it. Or perhaps it's because in some ways the news could have been worse.

Patent Hawk thinks the circuit court decision that the Supreme Court overturned was simply "incompetent." That characterization belies his pen name a bit. The circuit court's own hawkishness does have defenders.

At any rate, the phrase "patent hawk" inspired a visual for this blog entry. See above.

Dennis Crouch at PatentlyO, had "twenty thoughts on the importance of Myriad." One of these thoughts is a quote from John Duffy to the effect that the decision is "a full victo…

Scalia v. Roberts

I never claim to know what words like "right" or "conservatism" mean. So I was happy recently to encounter a discussion of the respective rightwardness of two Supreme Court Justices, Scalia and Roberts. It gives me grist for my anyway restless mental mill.

As you, my well informed reader, probably remember, Justice Roberts cast the critical vote rescuing (most of) Obamacare from a constitutional challenge. Scalia would have struck it down.
Also, and more recently, Scalia voted to strike down state laws that allow for the swabbing for the purposes of DNA collection of all arrestees. Voting with Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan -- not the company in which he is accustomed to find himself.  On the other hand, Roberts voted with the majority (consisting also of Kennedy, Alito, Thomas, and Breyer) allowing the practice.

In both cases, Scalia was adopting [and given his originalist ideas, attributing to the Framers] a libertarian conception of government, limiting its s…

Gene Patents Limited

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued another important decision on the limits of intellectual property law this week. Specifically, it now holds that pieces of the human genome are not patentable when they are identical to the naturally occurring segment. "[A] naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated."

The method of isolation would presumably be patentable -- but that wasn't the question before the court.

SCOTUS has been returning to its efforts to set limits on the reach of patent law on a fairly regular basis of late. For example, there was the Bilski decision against the patenting of abstract ideas. That was three years ago.

 Or a patent decision concerning Stanford University and Roche. Here is my blogged discussion of that from two years ago.

Or the Prometheus decision, from last year.

This week adds to that list the case of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics.

The unusual …

The story of John Breit

Financial institutions have “risk managers,” whose job is, in essence, to worry about such matters as we’ve been discussing. A risk manager assesses the risk to an institution’s portfolio or portfolios, assigns the appropriate number, and (to the extent his organization allows) does generally try to mitigate it. Speaking a bit roughly, there are four things to do about any given risk: avoid it, mitigate it, transfer it, retain it.
If a risk manager persuades his superiors that a particular proposed merger comes with a lot of risk, because a “due diligence” review shows the potential target company has a lot of off-balance-sheet liabilities, then he may scuttle the merger entirely. Mission accomplished.
If he can’t scuttle the merger, he can at least suggest ways in which the risks of the merger may be reduced, by for example making it a condition of any deal that the target entity spin off its more troublesome subsidiaries first.
When it can be neither avoided nor reduced, risk can oft…

Rough video of the debate

Last week I briefly described in this blog a debate held on June 3 under the auspices of Columbia University, over monetary/fiscal issues and two types of non-Keynesian heresy in our still-Keynesian world. 
It appears that no high quality video of that event is yet available. It is still being edited. Here's a link to a very rough recording.


Note, on the assumption you don't want to stare at a couple of empty chairs for a long time, please skip forward to 22 minutes in, where they actually get the thing underway.

Happy viewing.

"The family that honeymoons together...."

Back in the ancient days, the before times, there was a very corny television show called Bonanza, about a rancher and his sons.

 There was also a magazine called MAD that did parodies of such shows. Their parody of Bonanza was especially inspired, and has stuck in my mind from that day to this.

It begins with the father and his sons in a big bathtub. One of the sons says, "The family that bathes together, stays together." Variations of that quote recur in the story, getting increasingly corney.

At the end of what passes for a plot, the paterfamilias is getting married and going on a honeymoon. The sons invite themselves along. This causes the final bit of dialog between two of them:

"The family that honeymoons together eats prunes together."
"That doesn't even make sense."
"They can't all be gems."

I can't believe I've been blogging for as long as I have and have never mentioned that episode. It haunts me....

Turkey, Secularism, and the Price of Oil

A few thoughts about Turkey.

The readers of this blog are a well-informed bunch, and I'm sure they know the basics. To wit: on May 31,  protests were underway (peacefully) in Istanbul, where the catalyzing issue was the government's plan to replace a historical park with a shopping mall. Police responded that day in a heavy-handed way, tear gas, water cannon, 63 arrests. This has led to a spreading of the protests and a wider range of grievances, while Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has asserted that he has the high ground, and called the protestors "hoodlums."

This is clearly about a good deal more than a single land-use dispute.

It reminds me of something I wrote in my book, Gambling with Borrowed Chips. I sought to explain an upswing in crude oil prices that began in April 2007 and that continued until the summer of 2008.

The world price of crude is of course very sensitive to news about the politics of the middle east. In April 2007, when the upward move in q…

Debate Notes

On June 3, Columbia University hosted a debate on monetary/fiscal issues between Warren Mosler and Robert Murphy.

Murphy (pictured above) is an associated scholar at The Ludwig von Mises Institute, and he defended the Austrian school's views: specifically, that the key to understanding a bust is to understand the boom, and that in modern circumstances booms come about due to interest rates that are lower than the natural rate, due to the imprudent actions of governments and central banks, and that these booms are responsible for the subsequent busts.  Central banking, then, is the disease that it affects to cure.

Murphy was opposed by Warren Mosley, an advocate of what he calls "soft currency economics." He maintains that "the natural rate of interest is zero," that is both national debts and the monetization of those debts via central banks are non-problems, imaginary problems in which only the dupes of obsolete theories believe.

Mosley's view, it appea…

Islamic Finance -- a bit of history

So with my astonishment noted as yesterday., let me proceed on the subject of Islamic Finance. This is a set of practices (and accompanying theories) that have grown up to allow devout Muslims to make use of their savings, without keeping them in a mattress on the one hand and without committing the offense Muslims call riba on the other.

Riba is often understood to mean contracted-for rates of interest on debt in general.

How does finance work without interest? There are lots of ways to go about answering that question.

I've recently read a book by Muhammad Akram Khan entitled What is Wrong with Islamic Economics?   that holds among much else that rather too much ingenuity has been expended on trying to devise a system of finance without interest. The simple answer he prefers is that riba in the relevant sense is quite a narrow range of conduct, and completely distinct from the practice of charging for a borrower's access to investment capital.  Riba only means (according t…

Islamic Finance: Astonished at my own silence

I find that I have never yet discussed on this blog the issue of Islamic finance -- that is, the financial institutions and theories that have arisen out of the Koran's prohibition of riba (roughly: usury).

This comes as something of a surprise, because this blog has been around for almost a year now, I have opined and observed here on a wide range of subjects from the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes at News Corp. to the foundations of epistemology. yet during all this time Islamic finance has been a great curiosity of mine. I've never mentioned that here?  Really?

Even at the precursor to this blog, Pragmatism refreshed, which I kept for more than five years before starting this one, I don't seem to have written anything squarely on point. I came close, noting certain relevant statements I had encountered in a listserv for example, here.

And I have written of it more squarely elsewhere, for example in AOL's DAILY FINANCE. I wrote a piece on how "Dubai&#…

Three Types of Risk: Default, Interest Rate, Country

Picking up a discussion we had been engaging in of late about the types of risk faced (and, one must hope, managed) by financial institutions.... Default risk is the risk that some counterparty with which the risk manager’s own concern is doing business, and from whom they are receiving contracted-for payments, will stop making those payments. They might stop payment either with malice aforethought (as with crooks who take your valuables, promise you a series of payments, and then skip town), or they may stop payment due to some financial crisis that leaves them incapable of doing so. In other words, your own liquidity risk as defined above is somebody else’s default risk.
Interest-rate risk is the risk that a change in interest rates will undermine the value of an entity’s assets. For example: on any given day there is some risk that a central bank’s decision to increase interest rates will hurt the value of stocks (because it makes lending money relatively more attractive vis-à-vis ow…

Green Mountain: Doing Well With the New Moat

It was in October 2011 that David Einhorn presented a slideshow to the Value Investing Conference. I frankly haven't kept close tabs on the consequences: what has happened to the stock price of Green Mountain (NASDAQ: GMCR).

The two year stock price chart is available here.

GMCR was on its way down, off its September 2011 peak price of $110, before Einhorn said anything. For GMCR, the fall was horrid. The price was below $30 by the start of the new year 2012.

It didn't start recovering for more than a year. In September 2012, its patent on its K-cups expired. This was a critical part of Einhorn's original argument: the intellectual property was the moat keeping competitors away. Those neat little pods let you brew coffee one cup at a time in your kitchen, (or in a hotel suite) and people were willing to pay premium prices for that convenience. After September 2012 had passed and the patent protection was lost: at least that loss had been further discounted into price. The…