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Showing posts from May, 2014

Sydney, Australia

I'm looking again at the annotations of my American Express desktop calendar. This time, I note that the marginalia for the month of June involve the city of Sydney, Australia.

Referencing first the "Bondi-to-Bronte coastal walk," one and a half miles between two of Sydney's beaches, with "dramatic sandstone cliffs" along the way.Then the population of the city, about 35% of which was born overseas, "mostly in the UK, China, New Zealand, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Lebanon, Italy, and South Korea." then the simple fact that Sydney is not the nation's capital (that's Canberra).and ending with a brief description of Sydney Harbour National Park.


A quotation from Zachary Karabell's book, Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the world's Prosperity Depends on It (2009).

[By] 2003, the U.S. economy had become a mystery to most of the people charged with explaining it [a mystery] that was perfectly captured by Alan Greenspan in testimony to Congress [two years later]   when he confessed to confusion about the 'interest rate conundrum' of  long-term rates staying flat even as central bank rates fluctuated widely.

That conundrum has only become more prevalent since, and China and technology are the causes -- along with the inability of people and institutions to adjust their models and orthodoxies. The statisticians kept measuring what they could measure and therefore kept missing the radical shifts that had occurred.

Memorial Day Weekend Reflections

On this Memorial Day weekend, we might well think especially of the war that gave rise to Decoration Day, in time so renamed.

Nancy Pearl has made the observation that every generation of Americans since the end of the civil war has re-written that war in fictional form to reflect its own "dreams, desires, fears, and beliefs."

The nineteenth century was not over yet when Crane wrote RED BADGE OF COURAGE.

Forty years after Crane, Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND gave us a crystallization of nostalgia for the antebellum society of Tara and the O'Hara clan.

Twenty years after that, MacKinley Kantor wrote ANDERSONVILLE, a novelization of the horrors of life in that prisoner-of-war camp.

Identifying more recent books is easy. Deciding which of the more recent ones deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those is more difficult. COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier, can make a strong claim. Pearl mentions others.

On a trip through Virginia a few years ago, I noti…

What Happened with HAMP? Continued

Earlier this month, I wrote about a dispute over the history of HAMP, the Home Affordable Modification Program. This was the program supposedly designed to help homeowners who were in over the heads.

A couple of those who participated in the early Obama administration, notably including Neil Barofsky, portrayed here in full smile, have since said that Geithner administered the plan in an openly cynical bankers'-ass-protecting spirit.

At the time I last wrote about this, Geithner's own view of the incident was known only through bits and pieces, such as his quote to an interviewed from The New York Times that I cited in that blog post.

Since then, Geithner has come out with his own book on his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. Does this shed any light?

Fortunately, amazon allows me to read inside Geithner;'s book at will, so I don't actually have to buy the thing to see what he said about HAMP.

He portrays himself as a faithful public servant who would have loved…

Sprint and T-Mobile Getting Scrod?

Old joke.

A traveller who is a huge fan of seafood arrives in Boston for the first time.  He leaves the airport and hails a cab.  After he gets in, he excitedly says to the cabbie, "Hey, I'm new in town.  Can you tell me a good place to go to get scrod?"  The cabbie replies [in a thick Boston accent], "Pal, I've got to congratulate you.  I've heard that question a lot over the years, but that's the first time I've ever heard it in the pluperfect subjunctive."

That joke is so old that it was first told in an era when large numbers of people could explain what the pluperfect subjunctive is. [You can google it if you like, but of course it won't help. You either find the joke funny or not regardless.]

Anyway, I can't help but wonder how badly T-Mobile and Sprint are finding themselves scrod by the recent FCC ruling on an airwaves auction.

So far as I understand it -- The FCC has set the rules so that most of the available bits of wirele…

News from Switzerland

Hmmmm.  Swiss voters, by referendum resoundingly rejected a minimum wage proposal.

They rejected a proposal, specifically, that would have set the minimum wage at 22 Swiss francs per hour, which is roughly US$25. If I understand this rightly, that would have been the highest minimum wage anywhere.

So some Swiss, at any rate, wanted to go from the back to the front of the pack in terms of the minimum wage, in one big bound. (They have no such minimum now, this would have created such an institution, not merely increased an existing number.)

It was so soundly defeated that none of Switzerland's cantons voted in its favor.

This raises a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I'm feeling too indolent these days to do my own research. Maybe one of my readers will oblige by addressing these questions.

Such as: how easy or difficult is it to get such a proposal on the ballot in Switzerland?

Also, who were the intended beneficiaries of the passage of such a law? Two possibilities com…

Primitive Christianity

A quote from Bart D. Ehrman,

"One of the most interesting features of the early Christian debates over orthodoxy and heresy is the fact that views that were originally considered 'right' eventually came to be thought of as 'wrong'; that is, views originally deemed orthodox came to be declared heretical. Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of the first heretical view of Christ -- the view that denies his divinity....the very first Christians held to exaltation Christologies which maintained that the man Jesus (who was nothing more than a man) had been exalted to the status and authority of God. The earliest Christians thought that this happened at the resurrection; eventually, some Christians came to believe it happened at his baptism. Both views came to be regarded as heretical by the second century CE, when it was widely held that whatever else one might say about Christ, it was clear that he was God by nature and always had been."


Russell's Theory of Descriptions

Someone at Yahoo!Answers asks, "What is Russell's Theory of Descriptions about?"

Hey, I do what I can to help those in need.

Russell was concerned with the truth or falsity of a statement of this sort, "The King of France is bald." The statement appears at first to violate the law of the excluded middle (LEM) -- roughly, the notion that any sufficiently unambiguous and clear proposition is either true or false. Russell wanted to keep LEM for his own metaphysical and epistemological reasons, so he needed a theory that could show that the proposition, "the King of France is bald" is either true, or false, or ambiguous.

Notice that the statement is in the present tense. France is nowadays a republic, and was a republic when Russell wrote. There is no King, thus he is neither bald nor does his head have hair.

Russell's solution, the theory of descriptions, says in effect that what the statement in question really means is this: the world I live …

Delaware's Court of Chancery

The Delaware Chancery Court issued an important decision early this month (May 5th), allowing Sotheby's to proceed with its annual stockholders' meeting the following day.

The significance of that? -- the court is taking a laissez-faire attitude toward a new more aggressive use of the "poison pill" by corporate boards.

A "poison pill" in corporate law is the colloquial term for certain shareholder rights plans devised back in the 1980s to make hostile takeovers more difficult. Typically, a plan will provide that when a particular shareholder owns more than some threshold percentage of the equity (say, 15%), there will be a new issuance of shares, to the other shareholders, at a discounted price.

The block of shares that puts the potential trouble maker over the 15% mark then, is in two senses "poisoned." It dilutes the value of his equity (for the obvious supply/demand reason) and it significantly lessens  the trouble maker's weight in pro…

Kurt von Hammerstein

A random quotation.

“I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

Von Hammerstein was a General under Germany's Weimar Republic, between the wars, resigning in January 1934, one year after the start of Hitler's Chancellorship.

Sigmund Freud

May 6th was the 158th anniversary of the birth of Sigmund Freud.

In commemoration thereof, here is a lengthy and fascinating quotation from Freud's Moses, a book written by a professor of Jewish History, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, and published in 1993.

The bit I'm about to quote is simply Yerushalmi's summary of Freud's views on Moses, without at this point any editorial comment by Yerushalmi (or by me). It is, I think, a remarkable example of a commentator who did a better job of describing Freud's views on this point than Freud himself ever managed.

Monotheism is not of Jewish origin but an Egyptian discovery.  The pharaoh Amenhotep IV established it as his state religion in the form of an exclusive worship of the sun-power, or Aton, thereafter calling himself Ikhnaton.  The Aton religion ... was characterized by the exclusive belief in one God, the rejection of anthropomorphism, magic, and sorcery, and the absolute denial of an afterlife.  Upon Ikhnaton's d…

The best argument for the dark side?

On a message board, I recently encountered the following question, addressed to free market advocates such as myself:

"Of all the arguments against the libertarian or free market position, in your opinion, which one do you think is the most persuasive or simply the best."

Fair enough. I received some training in advocacy once upon a time. I should be able to argue against even my deepest convictions.

So I wrote this:

The most intuitively powerful arguments in favor of statism, planning, etc., all involve long thin and useful things. Roads, railroad lines, pipelines carrying anything from fresh water to human waste to natural gas, and electrical wires all share these properties: long, thin, useful.

We tend to think of real estate as rectangles, maybe even squares, of claims on the surface of the ground extending both up and down from there indeterminate distances. To satellite orbits? to the earth's core? Anyway, if we do think of RE in this way, then all those long thi…