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Showing posts from August, 2013

Bravo! to Parliament

I have to say "cheers," and "hear!hear!" and all that to the British Parliament, and perhaps especially to those Tory party members who defied party discipline to oppose the march toward war.

US Presidents are hesitant to launch such adventures without the mother country's support. I got some sense of this back when Tony Blair was acting as W's enabler.

Cameron stepped up to attempt to play the same role, but it appears at the moment that Parliament has led him to back down.

That is good for them and it may prove lucky for us.

I'm not sure I can call any possible result of all this "lucky" for the people of Syria. Their fate looks like a dim one on almost any conceivable time line for years to come. Yet I don't believe that US/UK intervention would have made it any better.

Ever since the Obama administration has been talking up a strike, I've been wondering this: when do we start calling a series of [separate?] conflicts a single …

An Elgar catalog

The latest catalog to reach my desk from the Brit business/economics publisher Edward Elgar focuses on management issues. It's also for "handbooks," though I'm not sure how that's defined other than as books with the word "Handbook" on the cover.

Three random selections, and a wisecrack for each:

1. Handbook of Research on Entrepreneurship Policies in Central and Eastern Europe.

272 pages, $160.

Boris Badinov is an entrepreneur now. Natasha is a venture capitalist. "And what is your business plan, my darlink?" "It involves makink big trouble for moose and squirrel."

2. Handbook of Longitudinal Research Methods in Organisation and Business Studies

383 pages, $225

Yes, I had to look it up. "Longitudinal" in the relevant sense means that in the studiesin question the same subjects are observed repeatedly over a period of time. It has nothing to do with, say, trochaic meter, although that was the first thought in my mind.


Rickards' opinion

Recently, on an assignment for AllAboutAlpha, I had the privilege of interviewing James Rickards, the author of CURRENCY WARS.

Since I've been following the Yellen-versus-Summers speculation here somewhat, as to who will be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, I will quote Rickards briefly on both of them here, then send you to the full interview.

On Janet Yellen, he said that she is "a known  quantity, a monetary dove who would be very slow to taper if at all, she might even speed the money creation."

On Lawrence Summers, though, the verdict was more devastating: "Summers is neither a hawk nor a dove. He's a wild card."

Keynes and horticulture

I recently encountered a neat little dialog written by JP Hochbaum entitled "If Keynesians and Austrians were horticulturists."

I don't draw the same conclusions from it that he does, but I admire the brio he brought to his analogy, and I've done my best to hijack it below.

I haven't gotten his permission to quote it at length, so I won't. The gist of it is that the Keynesian wisely wants to water the dying plants. The Austrian economist (supposed to be the butt of the analogy) wants to rely on the natural water cycle, allowing the plants to die if they don't get rain.

"We need to wait for the sky to give us rain."

Now think about this ... isn't the Austrian in the right, even given the terms of Hochbaum's analogy? I think of the plants in question as capital investments of various sorts.  So some investments succeed (grow and bloom), some investments fail (shrivel and die). Any investment should be allowed to fail. There should be n…

Accounting Basics: Part Four

Our earlier discussions on this blog of accounting basics have focused on the assets side of a balance sheet. Now let’s move over to the right-hand side. This includes the two great subdivisions of liabilities and equity. For a simple business entity we might break down the liabilities section into just two parts itself: accounts payable and notes payable.
Accounts payable is the obverse of the accounts receivable heading on the asset side. Payables are (typically non-interest bearing) debts that the firm must pay to its trade creditors, like the due bill to the electricity company for the juice that keeps that conveyor belt moving.
A bit of forensic accounting here: when a business is audited because fraud is suspected (either because the principals of the business are worried about a crooked employee or because investors/creditors worry about the potential crookedness of the principals), the payables are always an object of great scrutiny. The diversion of funds to a bogus vendor thr…

Janet Yellen

The speculation continues about the successor to Ben Bernanke.

From a breaking-glass-ceilings point of view, Janet Yellen, now the vice chair, would become the first female chair. Crash-tingle-ouch.

From an impressive resume point of view, she is a very impressive candidate, glass crashing notwithstanding. She is, after all, the vice chair at present. She was for more than six years President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Under Bill Clinton, she was a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisors.

Going back a bit further, she did her undergrad work at Brown University and her graduate studies at Yale, receiving a Ph.D. from the latter in 1971.

She is what is known in monetary policy as a "dove." The term arose because somebody somewhere internalized the metaphor of a "war" on inflation. So central bankers willing to risk recession or worse to fight inflation are "hawks" and those willing to make peace with inflation in or…

ElBaradei Again

On August 14th, the vice president of Egypt resigned that post after just one month in office.

With everything else that is going on in Egypt, this didn't get a lot of attention in the U.S. The crowds in the streets get attention, the killing to clear protest camps, even the imminent release of former president Mubarak. These things  get attention.. But ElBaradei? Meh.

This is important, though, because this particular Vice President was an internationally respected name, and critical to the post-Morsi government's hopes of receiving broad recognition of its legitimacy.

Regular readers will recall that I made the same point at the time ElBaradei became VP (something of a lateral move from that of prime minister.)

As I noted then, ElBaradei is the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In that position he was appropriately skeptical of American claims about weapons of mass destruction in either Iraq or Iran, but he took a hard line on the subject of North Ko…

Animals as Machines

Rene Descartes believed that only humans have souls. Thus, only humans are capable of thought: animals are entirely mechanical.

When you think that your dog is thinking, then, you are actually just confused by the marvelous intricacy of the machinery.

I used to think that this was a rather straight-forward idea. There would be times when I thought it idiotic and times when I thought it represented a fairly subtle sort of mistake: but in either mood I thought it easily enough grasped. It was, as Descartes himself said of ideas he approved, "clear and distinct."

But recently I encountered an article by John Cottingham that persuades me that getting right what Descartes has to say about animals is a bit complicated. There are ambiguities here.

I should confess here that the Cottingham article is no very new contribution to scholarship. It was published in 1978, and has evaded my attention until this week. Still ... here we are.

 In Part V of RD's DISCOURSE he explains …

LewRockwell: Please Stop Running Fred Reed's Silly Stuff

I'm an anarcho-cap, not a "libertarian" in the usual sense of the term (that is, not a minarchist).  But I sympathize with the libertarians, I was active in the LP myself for a time, and I would like to see them prosper.

One of the online journals of opinion that does some good toward that end is It proudly describes itself as "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market." Bravo on all three counts.

But I do wish they would stop running pieces by wolves in sheep's clothing, by social conservatives like the imbecile Fred Reed.

Here's a further explanation of why.

Argentine midterm results

Argentina held an election on Sunday, August 11th.

The election was called a "congressional primary," but the term doesn't seem to suggest down there what it would mean in the US. Here, such language would suggest votes by which the contending parties decide their nominees for Congressional campaigns. I'm not sure what exactly it means there, but ...

the point, the reason for my interest in the vote, is that the "congressional primary" serves as a midterm popularity check for President Cristina Fernandez (portrayed above).

Reuters, by the way, simply calls her Fernandez, and I'm following their style here. By Argentina naming conventions, she's also known as Fernandez de Kirchner, the "de Kirchner" a reference to her marriage to her precursor in the office, Nestor Kirchner (who left office in 2007 and left this vale of tears in 2010).

She and her party didn't do well. Her coalition received only 25% of the vote.

Bad news for Ms Fer…

Reviving Steady State Cosmology?

As regular readers of this blog and its precursor know, I'm always happy to find support for myown prejudice against Big Bang cosmology.

Sometimes my search for such support has led me into blind alleys, and I back out of those as quickly as I can. Recall this discussion from September.

Here are a couple of pieces I've written that mention alleys that might not prove to be so blind.

Maxwell's demon



might both bear upon the big cosmological questions.

Today, I can report something else worth further investigation.

Something from Robert Matthews' website:

Cosmology and other questions

Matthews, a Brit, is a professor who teaches at the Dept of Information Engineering at Ashton University, is a working scientist (a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, author of dozens of articles for refereed publications about statistics, encryption, neural networks, and related matters)  as well as a science journalist. Here is the full CV.

The money quote from th…

What's a "Maillard reaction?"

On July 23, here, I referenced three books about religious matters.

I knew nothing more about them than what I got from a book catalog, and a bit of surmise. But one of them in particular intrigued me and in the meantime I have purchased the book.

Here's what I wrote at the time.

Thomas de Wesselow, THE SIGN: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection
Dutton 2013.

De Wesselow, an art historian by trade, contends that the famous shroud is not a work of art or a fraud but an authentic burial cloth from first century Palestine. Also, he contends that the shroud was central to the origins of Christianity.

He seems not to believe in the orthodox Christian account of events -- he is skeptical that the tomb was found empty or that Jesus later appeared to his disciples and ascended into heaven, etc. But he does believe that the early Christians believed in the resurrection with sufficient ardor to be martyred for it. So ... what convinced them? A mysterious piece of cloth.

Time and Space

C.D. Broad:

"In a linear spatial series there is no asymmetric dyadic relation intrinsic to the series… In the temporal series of experiences, which constitutes a person's mental history there is a genuine dyadic relation which is intrinsic to the series and involves no reference to any term outside the latter. This is the relation "earlier than". It is the fundamental relation here, and temporal betweenness is definable in terms of it. In the temporal series there are two intrinsically opposite directions, earlier-to-later and later- to- earlier. In the linear spatial series there is no intrinsic direction. If direction is to be introduced, this must be done extrinsically, either by reference to motion along the line (and therefore to time),"

The point, if I understand it, is that time is a very different sort of thing from space, and when physicists talk of "spacetime" as one thing they are, for their own valid purposes of course, glossing over thi…

Ashes or Dust?

“I would rather be ashes than dust!"
"I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
"I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
"The function of man is to live, not to exist.
"I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
"I shall use my time.”

- Jack London

Anarchism in cartoon form.

If this comes out illegibly, here's the text.

Top left panel, question: "So you think there should be no government?"

Top left panel, answer:  "Well, yes. Call it what you want: anarchist, voluntarist, advocate for a stateless society -- whatever. I am against a monopoly on force, I think everything it does is immoral, and everything it does produces worse results than would be produced without the state."

Top right panel, question: "I am skeptical but intrigued. Say, could you answer how police could work in that society as well as give some further material on learning?"

Top right panel, answer: "Absolutely! Now I won't know how every aspect would be handled as no one can know plus there being many possible competing solutions, but I can provide you a basic outline and give you some stuff to read and watch."

Top right panel, Jeffrey Tucker: "Good job, guys! Asking inquisitive questions plus info for further insight followed by…

Bernanke to Give Testimony

Some of you may remember that in 2011, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg's corporate alter ego, Starr International., filed a lawsuit against the United states for $25 billion.

Greenberg's mug you see above. His lawsuit objected to the US seizure of 80% of the equity of AIG by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in September 2008, a condition of the bail-out of AIG.

Greenberg objects that this is an unconstitutional taking of property without due process of law: by way of the dilution of the stakes of everyone who had held equity before that.

There is a lot that might be said about that lawsuit. I won't say any of it now except for covering the one point that justifies the above headline.

Greenberg's lawyers have satisfied the trial judge that the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, is an important witness in the case and that a deposition of Bernanke is integral to the "discovery" phase of the proceedings.

A deposition of Bernanke about th…

Accounting Basics, Part Three

An issue quite analogous to depreciation is depletion. For businesses that operate by extracting resources from the ground, surely one of their most important assets is the expected amount of oil, coal, diamonds, or whatever-it-might be that is still down there, yet to be extracted, on the land owned or leased by the company for this purpose. Over time, as oil [let us say] is removed, necessarily the remaining oil under there is depleted.
The issue has often been politically contentious. Indeed, references to the oil depletion allowance in various stages of its development run like a Wagnerian motif through the various volumes of Robert Caro’s work on the life and times of Lyndon Johnson, who as both Representative and Senator from the oil-rich state of Texas was a stalwart defender of a very generous allowance for the tax accounting books, one which does not have to be duplicated in the financial accounting books.
But let’s stick to the latter.One way in which accountants might value …

Summers & Yellen: Some Links

The econoblogosphere is abuzz with the question of the relative merits of the two people most likely to receive Obama's nod to become the next Federal Reserve chairman when Bernanke leaves next year.

It seems to have come down to Janet Yellen or Larry Summers.

Nine links, presented without further comments.

Felix Salmon /

Ezra Klein


Also Slate

Sheila Bair


Recent speech by Yellin


Boston Globe

Falcon Lord Book Two: Restoration

I wrote something about the first Falcon Lord book last month, here.

I would now like to add a few words about the sequel, the title of which also serves as the headline to this blog entry.

I can't be as enthusiastic. We return to the same familiar island and meet the old gang again, and the plot is handled well -- a nice mix of the new the old, and some twists on the elements that are carried over.

BUT ... Metrov's command of prose style seems to have left him. I'll give just one sentence by way of example.

In the midst of the climactic battle of good and evil, when all his epic machinery comes together, Metrov writes this: "The fighters became pawns in a dizzying ballet, a symphony, cacophonous and head-splitting, orchestrated by a devil's baton."

There are lots of ways in which I hate that sentence.

Let's start with the end: "orchestrated by a devil's baton." An orchestra might be conducted by a devil, and by a natural metonymy it mi…