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Showing posts from October, 2013

Bram Stoker

On this holiday we should spare a moment to remember Bram Stoker (1847-1912), the novelist and dramatist who gave to vampire lore its classically Victorian formulation.

 I say "dramatist" because Stoker -- an Irishman -- was an actor at, and the manager of, a London theatre beginning in 1878. To an ambitious Irishman in the arts in the 19th century, politics notwithstanding, going to London was "making the big time." Indeed, it is still thus, as you can see from the attitude of the Dublin musicians in the recent bittersweet romantic movie "Once."

It is, I submit, worth spending the time and pixels to make that observation because Stoker gave to vampire lore the element one might expect from a man who crashed the London dramatic scene in his early thirties. Dracula is the same way. A man trying to make it in the big time.

One theme of the famous novel, I submit, is that the Count could be a frightening bigshot to the peasants of Transylvania. He could hav…

Sort of like Nobel

The story of a man who made a fortune on dynamite, then cleansed his name by creating a Peace Prize, is well known.

Recently I've learned of an analogous story, of a man who made a fortune  running one of Europe's largest asbestos firms, then cleansed his name by turning himself into a philanthropic environmentalist.

This later story is that of Stephan Schmidheiny, founder of the Business Council for Sustainable Government, one of the organizers of the Rio de Janeiro earth summit, and founder of Avina.
a Latin-American oriented endowment for the study of ecological sustainability.

But cleansed though he might have thought he was, Schmeidheiny found that his asbestos-,marketing past was hard to shake, and late in the spring of this year he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his part in the deaths of thousands.

This came to my attention as a page one story in the Hartford Courant last week. It was a front page story only because the Courant cares about our state's …

Jesse Prinz on romantic love

I've written before here (as on September 27th) about Jesse Prinz' recent book on the emotions, a book in which he advocates and in the process somewhat revises the James-Lange theory.

Today I'd like to quote a bit of what he has to say about romantic love, drawing on a classic work by C.S. Lewis (who is pictured above).

"To contrast the constructivist approach with evolutionary psychology, it is instructive to ... reconsider romantic love. Some constructionists have endorsed C.S. Lewis' (1936) provocative thesis that romantic love was invented in medieval France....Apparently, during the twelfth century it became very fashionable for Frenchmen to become infatuated with married women of higher social station....It is hard to know which is more cynical [selfish-gene] reductionism or constructionism. On the former, love is an evolutionary insurance policy, and on the latter, it is a French fad that happened to stick."

Prinz doesn't advocate either of tho…

Handicapping 2016

In the wake of the whole let's-not-default escapade, I don't see Cruz asthenominee of the Republican Party in 2016. He might beanominee, though, in a fractured-party context. In much the same way that the Democrats had three nominees in 1948. Cruz would be a Henry Wallace type figure.
The Bush family remains powerful in the Republican Party and I think they'll back somebody. This could mean Jeb, portrayed above, but if he doesn't want the job (and hemightbe rational enough not to want it) it'll mean some family associate. The Bushie to be named later (TBNL) will be the Henry Truman type figure in my '48 analogy. There may also be an outlier, a regionally-limited figure who nonetheless wants a spot at the table, like Strom T. in the 1948 Democratic context. In the 21st century Republican context, though, the regional outlier will be a northeastern Republican who will be open to the charge that he's a damned liberal.
So this gives us our line up in the primaries…

Where are things headed? US Politics

It may be (unless a leader of unexpected stature and skill shows up soon) that the GOP will go the way of the Federalist Party in the near future. They'll do decently in the midterm elections of 2014, when only the hardcores show up to vote anyway. BUT they could splinter so badly in the run-up to 2016 as to give Hillary Clinton a cakewalk. And if that happens, the splintering will worsen until there is no opposition party to speak of, just as there was not when the Federalists fell apart.

The feelings in the so-called "Era of Good Feelings" weren't especially good, though.

One has to hope that Democratic Party dominance won't last and will have the consequence (as it eventually did in that context) of a splintering within their own ranks. The Whig Party came about because through the course of Monroe's 8 years large chunks of the Democratic Party decided they couldn't abide the consequences of their triumph, and they walked.

So ... Hillary wins as th…

Mystical Experience

A dialogue.

MYSTIC: I know there is a God. I have attained cosmic consciousness and have touched His face.

ATHEIST: There are lots of problems with that, but I'll start with this -- the rest of us have no way of knowing that you aren't lying.

MYSTIC: I don't care, dude.

EPISTEMOLOGIST: But I care. If only a small portion of the human race has mystical experiences, and if they are locked up, so to speak, inside the consciousness of each one, then do they inform the rest of us at all?

ATHEIST: That's what I said.

EPISTEMOLOGIST: I heard you. BUT ... since our friend has gone off into his reveries and only you and I can talk....

MYSTIC:  Om mani padme hummmmmmm

EPISTEMOLOGIST: I'd like to point out that there is another side to this.  The point in favor of an argument from mysticism to the existence of a God is that it IS an argument from experience. It is possible that some of them are lying, but it seems unlikely that all of them are lying. And if any of them a…

Pulling Threads in the Hobbesian Fabric

Are there loose threads in the fabric of the thought of Thomas Hobbes? If you pull hard at one of these threads, does the whole thing (and especially the goal of delegitimizing the Cromwellian revolution and revolutions in general) unravel?

Hobbes was a much more fascinating guy than the cartoon versions of him suggest. and these loose threads make him more so. Hobbes was sufficiently logical that he had to admit there was such a thing as a right to rebel. Or something quite analogous, anyway.

Logic compels Hobbes to write things like this: "If the sovereign command a man, though justly condemned, to kill, wound, or maim himself; or not to resist those that assault him; or to abstain from the use of food, air, medicine, or any other thing without which he cannot live; yet hath that man the liberty to disobey." I take this to mean: if you are on death row, no contract or duty rationally deters you from resisting your executioner or seeking escape. Further, the resistance wi…

A joke

Today is my birthday so in a life-of-the-party spirit remarkable for a 55 year old geezer like myself, I will tell a joke.

A chemist, a biologist, and a statistician are out hunting deer together.

The chemist shoots first, and misses the deer five feet to the right.

The biologist shoots next, and misses the deer five feet to the left.

The statistician says, "I'm not going to shoot at all. On average, we've already bagged that deer."

Okay, I didn't promise I'd tell a good joke.

If you've got a funnier joke in which a statistician delivers the punchline, let me know.

Guelzo on Magliocca

A recent issue of The Wall Street Journal included a review of a new book by historian Gerard Magliocca, pictured here.

Magliocca is the author of American Founding Son, a biography of John Bingham, apparently the leading figure in the creation of the 14th amendment.

The reviewer is Allen Guelzo.

I'll simply offer what I regard as a candidate for the title "money quote":

"Even so, as the author concedes, it is hard to peg Bingham as a radical. He opposed secession, but he also rejected radical abolitionist Rep. Thaddeus Stevens's campaign to 'territorialize' the Confederate states. Bingham designed the 14th amendment to clarify the constitutional meaning of U.S. citizenship and allow that meaning to include the newly freed slaves, but he waffled on whether this should include voting rights. And he drew a shade over the close of  his congressional career with his anti-Catholicism and his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal, in which a dummy cor…

Tumbau 21

I have high hopes for this project, an album set to be released early in 2014, that will combine a Latin beat with the Big Band sound.

I'll leave a link to a story at AllAboutJazz for anyone who'd like to pursue this further.

Click here

Accounting Issues: Part VI

The other central document of accounting is an income statement.This 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.

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 costs directly attributable to such of the goods that have gone out the door in the hands of a customer over the past year or quarter, separately from all the other costs, especially the “general and administrative expenses.”
The issues that arise when valuing COGS are the same issues that arise when valuinginventory …

From Hemingway to Fitzgerald

A personal letter, sent on July 1, 1925, from Burguete, Navarra:

Dear Scott --

We are going to Pamplona tomorrow. Been trout fishing here. How are you? And how is Zelda?

I am feeling better than I’ve ever felt—havent drunk any thing but wine since I left Paris. God it has been wonderful country. But you hate country. All right omit description of country. I wonder what your idea of heaven would be—A beautiful vacuum filled with wealthy monogamists, all powerful and members of the best families all drinking themselves to death. And hell would probably [be] an ugly vacuum full of poor polygamists unable to obtain booze or with chronic stomach disorders that they called secret sorrows.
To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine …

Carried Interest Loophole

Jason Kelly, in a recent book about the private equity industry, tells a story about a visit he made to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan in November 2011. As you may remember, the “Occupy Wall Street” folks had taken over the park two months before and were seeking to focus public anger about “Wall Street,” both as a literal and as a metaphorical term.
When people think of “Wall Street” they think first of the big investment banks, the folks who received their much-discussed bail-outs in the fall of 2008. They don’t necessarily think of private equity: of Bain Capital, or Carlyle, or even Blackstone. But at least some portions of the Occupy movement wanted to change this.
As Kelly was walking around the park he saw as sign that said, “No Bulls, No Bears, just Pigs.”That was catchy: it played upon well-known animal metaphors for Wall Street optimists and pessimists respectively.  But he also saw a sign that was a good deal less catchy. It was made up of orange cardboard, and it had the …

Morality and Mortal Trolleys, a link

For those who, like myself, have developed a certain fondness for trolley car related hypotheticals as one of the ways in which moral philosophy is nowadays done, I offer simply: a link.


Drawing us in

The October issue of Harper's has a neat story by T.C. Boyle.

The premise is: the first-person protagonist lives within walking distance of the home of a recluse  who was once (in the late 70s, early 80s) a member of a "third-tier" but financially successful rock band.

The rocker/recluse has just died, and no one noticed that fact until people walking by the house smelled an overwhelming stench and called the authorities.

The protagonist feels compelled early one morning to enter the now-empty house and look around, getting to know the enigmatic decedent.

This entry and examination takes place by degrees, and the story does a great job of drawing us in to how the narrator is himself ... drawn in.


There was a grand piano in one corner (Steinway, white) and across from it an electric version hooked up via a nest of wires to a pair of speakers that stood on either side of it. I had an impulse to lift the lid on the Steinway and try a key or two -- who in this wo…

Implicit Exchange

There are, it seems to me, many situations in which an explicit exchange of A for B is punished by the law or by societal disapproval or both, but an implicit exchange is tolerated. I'll just mention two. My real point here is the second of them, which is a simplified version of something that has been in the news recently.

1: Prostitution. A john pays a hooker, the hooker provides sex. It is all very transactional. I understand that undercover cops posing as prostitutes are told to wait for an 'explicit offer of cash' before they can make the bust. [News you can use!]

On the other hand, if we see an elderly and wealthy man in the company of his stripper girlfriend 50 years or more younger, we generally figure that the A-for-B exchange is implicit, and not so immediately transactional. Like Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall. We may shrug at the gold-digger/sugar-daddy connection, we may give it an indulgent chuckle. We don't call the police, nor do we general…

Iran's Governing Elite and the Holocaust

In recent days we've seen in quick succession:

(1) a report that Iran's leaders were acknowledging the historic fact that there was such a thing as a Nazi effort to eliminate the Jews;
(2) the unraveling of that report as a bit of overly hopeful mistranslation;
(3) frenzied attempt by the U.S. administration to arrange a photo op of the heads of state of the US and Iran shaking hands;
(4) the failure of those efforts, and finally;
(5) the hyping of a telephone call in which the two men finally do make some sort of contact.

What, if anything, can or should we make of all of this?

If I were a suspicious sort, the sort given to conspiracy theories, I might say that the fix was in for (5) even before reports (1) above. Reports (1) were in some sense planted, in order to prepare public opinion for the grand breakthrough that we're supposed to believe (5) was.

That's if I were a suspicious sort of fellow ... but instead I'll simply observe that the notion that the…