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Showing posts from September, 2013

Elephant & Castle

There are three Elephant & Castle restaurants in Chicago. One of them, the better one, is in the Loop in downtown Chicago, on West Adams St.

It had been until recently very much too long since I had had the privilege of eating there, but I corrected this, in delightful company, on September 20.

Elephant & Castle derives its name from a legendary pub on the southern shore of the Thames, in London. That institution (sadly, no longer extant, though there is  still a subway stop at the spot that keeps the name) took its moniker from an Anglicization of the Spanish term for "the daughter of Castile."

The Chicago E&C restaurants are efforts to create an English pub atmosphere. I haven't been in a sufficient number of the latter to judge whether they succeed in that, but I have always enjoyed my trips to the West Adams St. joint, as I did this time.

The Income Statement

In a series of posts in this blog I've discussed the basics of accounting, going through the varous items on the balance sheet. Today I will complete the overview by looking much more concisely at the other critical document, the income statement.


The income statement, also known as the profit-and-loss statement, represents a period of time, rather than the moment-in-time of the balance sheet. If all is working properly, the income statement should give investors an idea of the underlying processes that have made the present condition of the company what it is. One is pasted below.

We won’t spend a lot of time on the income statement, simply because much of what we might say about it we’ve already said. The issues that arise in compiling an income statement look familiar to anyone who understands the latest balance sheet.
For example, the expenses part of an income statement should indicate the costs of goods sold (COGS), that is, the co…

More on Emotions

Recently I made the comment that I found the James-Lange theory of emotions very wise.

Henry followed up, asking whether I was aware of contemporary work that supported that 1880s-era view.

I said "yes," and offered this link: Luca Barlassina.

That's an article published just this year by Dr. Barlassina, a scholar affiliated with Ruhr-Universitat Bochum's Center for Mind, Brain, and Cognitive Evolution, written with the assistance of  Dr. Albert Newen, who has a chair at the same Center.

Barlassina and Newen (B&N) title their paper "The Role of Bodily Perception in Emotion: In Defense of an Impure Somatic Theory." Some definition of terms is then in order.

A "somatic theory" is one that says that the body [that is, to avoid triviality, the set of non-brain portions of the body] plays a critical role in causing emotions (not just in expressing them).

B&N explicitly cite James as an early theorist of this sort and they add another examp…

Headlines and Verbs

I love a good headline.  And I don't mean by this the usual examples, "Headless Body in Topless Bar" and so forth.

I mean headlines where there is a central word that doubles as both verb and adjective, especially when the meaning shifts.

I vaguely recall an example that said something like this: "FBI Links Bomb Plot, Sleeper Cell." The writer of the headline presumably meant that the FBI had discovered facts that connected a bomb plot to a particular "sleeper cell." If you presume that "links" is a verb, that flows nicely.

But what if it is an adjective, telling us something about the bomb plot?

If the headline writer reads his paper's sports section now and then, he knows that "links" is often employed as a synonym for the sport of golf, or more specifically for the lay-out of a course. Thus, perhaps the FBI has created a deep undercover sleeper cell that plans a strike against somebody's favorite "links" s…

Goldhagen v. Augustine

Two days ago (as you reckon time, oh real-time reader of these prepared-for-vacation notes) I said that I am thinking of writing something about the historiography of the Holocaust.

Somewhat related to that ambition: I see that Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, a very high-profile social scientist, formerly an associate professor of political science at Harvard, has a new book out called  The Devil That Never Dies.

From what I've heard it is not so much as history as a work of personal meditation on the past, present, and future of anti-Semitism.

 It is also the object of a very sharply worded critique in the September 13th WALL STREET JOURNAL by Anthony Julius. Julius says that he is himself of Goldhagen's "party," that is, anti-anti-Semitism, but ... to do the good work of that party one has to be a "smart, truth-telling" participant in the "terrible struggle" against the enemies of the Jews. And this, Goldhagen is not.

I shouldn't comment on this …

Accounting Issues: Part V

To our earlier discussions in this blog of the various items on a balance sheet we must add this: many important liabilities and assets – important, that is, for the future of the company – never get on the balance sheet at all. The rules governing what may be kept “off book” generated a good deal of controversy associated with the demise of Enron at the turn of the millennium.
Enron, you may remember, created special purpose entities (SPEs) and supplied these off-book entities with Enron stock. Then it dealt with those entities in ways that spruced up its own books.
The SPEs could be kept off book, under then extant rules, so long as 3 percent of their equity belonged to someone who was neither Enron nor an Enron “related entity.” The 3 percent figure may seem modest under the circumstances. But the point of it was that someone else had to be willing to put their own investment at risk. Indeed, as a matter of corporate law throughout the English speaking world, a defining feature of a…

Holocaust scholarship

I'm thinking of writing something about the historiography of the Holocaust.

I'm not going to do that here, though. Instead, I'll just note for my own future convenience some names with which to conjure, and the year of at least one of their pertinent works.

Hannah Arendt (1963)
Stanley Milgram (1963)
Nathan Eck (1967)
Lucy Dawidowicz (1975, 1981)
Christopher Browning (1992)
Daniel Goldhagen (1996).

Travel Note

If all is going well, then on this day I am traveling to Chicago. I'll stay there until well into Sunday and I'll have neither the time nor the inclination to do a lot of blogging.

Thus, these four posts have been prepared well in advance in order to clear that time up and will not comment on current events.

[E'en if it mean missin' out of hearin' ye scallywags try to talk like a pirate in me comments section. Arrrrgh.] I had to get that out of my system for another year.

In order to mark this as the start of that block, I will simply quote John Steinbeck: " A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."

About God

Last week, in a post about Santayana, I said by way of admitting my own prejudices, "I find reasonable an act of 'will to believe' in a God whose existence I can not prove, as part of my effort to lead a productive and satisfying life on earth."

A friend wrote me immediately that he was surprised by this rather modest confession of faith. He said he thought the phrase "whose existence I can not prove" was rather misleading, since it suggests that I may have some evidence of God's existence, though it is evidence inadequate to clear the bar of proof. He thought "for whose existence I have no evidence at all" would be a more frank statement of the epistemological situation.

My reply:

I do believe that I have evidence that God exists that falls short of proof, so I don't agree that I was cheating with the phrase "whose existence I cannot prove."

The evidence is human subjectivity itself, the stream of consciousness. It remains i…

Rousseau and Primitivism

Just thinking aloud here....                                 

Jean Jacques Rousseau became famous as an advocate of a philosophy that sounded to his contemporaries like a primitivism. (There is a good deal of dispute among scholars as to whether primitivism in the usual sense is what Rousseau actually meant, but rightly or wrongly, it is the appearance of primitivism that made him an Enlightenment star.)

His first successful philosophical work was his "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences." He wrote it in response to an essay contest inspired by the Academy of Dijon, which had asked the contestants,  "Has the restoration of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of morals?" The wording of the question indicated that the Academy thought there were two possible answers -- (1), no, human moral character stays constant through time whatever happens in the arts and sciences, or (2) yes, there has been a lot of wonderful progress since the Renaissance and …


Human emotions are the phenomenological side of instinctive physiological responses.

This was William James' view, expressed in a chapter of PRINCIPLES, and with a proper extension of credit to James' co-discoverer, Carl Lange.

James' words:

"Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations must first be interposed between, and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble.... without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to…

The Monty Hall Paradox

An old paradox, named after a game show host, the emcee of "Let's Make a Deal" continuously from 1963 to 1976, and intermittently as revived thereafter.

Monty Hall presented contestants with three curtains, often labeled A,B, and C, and asked them to make a choice. They would get whatever gift was behind the curtain they chose.

In the story/paradox, Monty tells you that behind one of the curtains is a magnificent new car, the car of your dreams. Behind the other two curtains, not-so-desirable gifts.

You tell him: "I pick A, Monty."

Monty: "Not so fast! I will now reveal what is behind curtain C."

The curtain opens, and there is some worthless gag gift, say a pile of shaving cream.

Monty: "Now, you can stay with your choice of A, or you can switch to B."

What should you do?

The usual first response, and for many people a very powerful intuitive response, is that it doesn't matter what you do. You now have just two curtains left, so the…


A participant in Yahoo!Answers asks:

"Who is the best atheist philosopher?  Out of Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Democritus, etc. who is the greatest/best atheist philosopher of all time?"

I answered thus:


Since you've said "etc." I guess we can move beyond your list.

I have to answer: George Santayana.

A word of bias acknowledged: I'm a Jamesian pragmatist in philosophy myself, and I find reasonable an act of "will to believe" in a God whose existence I can not prove, as part of my effort to lead a productive and satisfying life on earth.

But you didn't ask for best fideist. You asked for best atheist. And Santayana, who was something of a protégé of James, became that. He combined Plato in matters of value with Democritus in matters of existence, a fascinating combination.

Here's a quote: "Now I was aware, at first instinctively a…

One Paragraph on Fracking

"Importantly, the Duke study did not find any fracking fluids in the waters they tested. This supports the industry position that the liquids are injected well over a mile beneath shallow aquifers, making contamination virtually impossible. It should be noted that most states do not require disclosure of what exactly is in the fracking fluid. Industry has argued it should remain a trade secret. At a recent conference speech, the CEO of Halliburton, an industry leader in the field, held up a glass of the company's new fracking fluid  and asked an executive to come on stage and drink it. Observers were impressed, but said they would have been more impressed had the CEO himself drunk the fluid."

- James Salzman, DRINKING WATER: A HISTORY (2012), p. 130.

The Sociology of Deference

"If an individual is to act with proper demeanor and show proper deference, then it will be necessary for him to have areas of self-determination. He must have an expendable supply of the small indulgences which his society employs in its idiom of regard -- such as cigarettes to give, chairs to proffer, food to provide, and so forth. He must have freedom of bodily movement so that it will be possible for him to assume a stance that conveys appropriate respect for others and appropriate demeanor on his own part....He must have a supply of appropriate clean clothing if he is to make the sort of appearance that is expected of a well demeaned person. To look seemly may require a tie, a belt, shoe laces, a mirror, and razor blades -- all of which the authorities may deem unwise to give [a mental hospital's patient]. He must have access to the eating utensils which his society defines as appropriate ones for use, and may find that meat cannot be circumspectly eaten with a cardboar…

Marvin may be a relative, after all

This is neat:

Biochemical evidence that life did not originate on earth, that our gene lines may have originated on Mars.

Professor Benner says an oxidized mineral form of molybdenum, which on some models would have been critical to the origin of life on earth, would not have been available.

Mars had plenty of the stuff three billion years ago, though. This is "yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet."

James and Spirituality

A friend recently asked me, as a Jamesian, about spirituality.

She wrote, quite perceptively, that spirituality "is one of those words that everyone uses but likely means something different by it. Lack of precision about this term causes difficulties in discussing matters of the mind, soul, consciousness, and the like."

I replied:


I doubt that James often used the term, surely not in the loose way in which it is used today as an all-embracing New-Agey thing.

I think I know what you have in mind though, and what in James answers to it. He was of the opinion that the human spirit was at its best if it had come through a storm, if you will. Not only coming through a storm, but internalizing it to a degree, keeping some of the storminess inside you -- that, to James, was key to psychic health, to what one might well call spirituality. Not the effort to live only under sunny skies.   "Some men and women, indeed, there ar…