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Showing posts from June, 2014

Ten lines from Longfellow

Two days ago I perpetrated a bad pun on the name Torquemada in the course of a brief comment on Schama's latest fat book of macro-history.

Let my penance for the pun be a few lines by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. TORQUEMADA was the title of one of his poems, part of his TALES OF A WAYSIDE INN. The title character is eager to persuade the old Hidalgo to give evidence that his daughters are heretics.

He heard in silence the Hidalgo's tale,
Then answered in a voice that made him quail: 
'Son of the Church! when Abraham of old
To sacrifice his only son was told,
He did not pause to parley nor protest,
But hastened to obey the Lord's behest,
In him it was accounted righteousness
The Holy Church expects of thee no less!'

A sacred frenzy seized the father's brain,
And Mercy from that hour implored in vain...."

Go to Longfellow to read the rest, if you dare. Or simply take the above as suitable Sunday fare.

Simon Schama's new book

Schama's new book is a single-volume thing called THE STORY OF THE JEWS: FINDING THE WORDS 1000 BC - 1492 AD.

Wow. Not quite 2,500 years. And about 500 pages, so if we round off both numbers a bit we get a coverage of five years per page.

I suppose someone tried to talk Schama out of ending his book with the circumstances of the Jews in the reconquered Spain of 1492. Someone must have tried, but couldn't 'torquemada' any such thing.

I've always been fascinated by really sweeping books like this, especially the single volume type, because multi-volume sets seem like cheating.

Digging into a small patch, writing a micro-history and finding it as complicated as, well, 2,500 years in the history of Jews, is another kind of achievement, and its value has come to me only more recently, as I've appreciated the fractal nature of historical fact.

You can write history as fascinating working at the five-minutes-a-page scale.

Good budget-wonkery quote

"Given how ubiquitous and central the CBO has become to government policy, it's surprising how recently it was created [in 1974]....The CBO is responsible for analyzing the effects of spending and of commitments to spend on the long-term federal budget. As the federal government began to rely on deficit spending in the 1980s, the Congressional Budget Office was anointed the official keeper of budget statistics, along with the OMB. This was formalized in 1985, when the rising public anxiety about mounting deficits -- a foreshadowing of much higher levels of concern after 2008 --le to the passage of a bipartisan bill to keep the deficit in check.
"...One of the core functions of the CBO is to estimate how much the government will spend on health care and Social Security. Though the CBO is staffed by nonpartisan economists and accountants, its analysis is based almost entirely on guesstimates about the future rate of inflation, the future rate of growth, and the future ra…

Cuba Missile Crisis

Over at Yahoo!Answers, I fielded the following question, "How did the Cuban Missile Crisis fit into the Cold War? How does it help one to understand the cold war?"

My answer:  "The Kennedy administration found it necessary to make a concession but impossible to be SEEN making a concession. They publicly claimed they wouldn't offer any tit-for-tat regarding withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba, but privately through a back channel they DID offer a tit-for-tat in connection with missiles in Turkey. And that was accepted."

Added. They had to keep this back channel a secret so they could get headlines that said things like  "Reds Back Down on Cuba."  Returning to my yahoo answer....
"Robert Caro has a good account of this in his latest volume of his biography of LBJ, who was of course VP at the time.
"How it helps one understand the cold war is that it offers an example of a dangerous combination of power politics and juvenile posturing.&quo…

Photo lifted from Facebook

This is an adorable photo. Forget, if you can, the individual cuteness of each pup. The composition of the whole is striking.

Look at the fellow second from the right. (Your right, as viewer.) He is probably the smallest and cutest of all of them. His individual toes are well defined, whereas for each of the others we have to take a "paw" as the smallest print-establishing unit. So call the little fellow "Toesy." Further, his toes are held back from the line of each of the other's paws, as if he is the most timid member of the crowd.

Now imagine that Toesy isn't in the photo at all. Photoshop him out, and then shorten the tub so he leaves no empty space. You would then have a remarkably symmetrical arrangement of five Sheltie pups.

The middle pup of those five would be the only one howling. The two that flanked him would be (are) the only two with a lot of black fur. And the two that flanked them (again, without Toesy) would be the only two with their t…

Principle of Plenitude

I recently encountered a critique of Arthur Lovejoy's well-known book on the "great chain of being."

I've discussed that book in this blog, focusing on what it says about theodicy, that is, efforts to justify the ways of God to man.

But the critic I encountered recently, Jaakko Hintikka, the fellow portrayed here, focuses on the "principle of plenitude."

So let's look at that for a moment, gentle reader. The P of P is one of the "unit ideas" in Lovejoy's account of the great chain. It is one of the atoms that came together to form that molecule.

In Lovejoy's formulation, the P of P is the idea that every kind of creature that is possible is also actual. In one form, this means that in the fullness of time, anything that is not the case now either once was the case or at some time will be the case, as when Descartes wrote that due to the laws of nature "matter takes on, successively, all the forms of which it is capable."


The move of US exchanges into penny pricing in the 1990s is sometimes given credit for lessening something called a "spread," and thus to a degree the price of purchased securities. Let's pause on this point.

The spread is the difference between the bid and ask prices at any moment: that is, the highest price that a would-be buyer has offered (that no one yet has accepted) on the one hand, and the lowest process that a would-be seller has asked for (with the same qualification, which I will hereafter drop) on the other.

Books and articles and even blog posts that purport to teach you how to trade -- and this is emphatically not one of them -- will talk a good deal about which one of you should be the one to "cross the spread." It can all sound a bit like the musings of the wallflowers at a junior high school dance.

As prices came to be quoted in smaller and smaller increments, there were (as the SEC expected there would be) greater opportunities for traders …


So ... I was watching the ceremony on Sword Beach, Normandy, France last week.

At one point, while a ballet was underway on a map of Europe laid down on the sand, the cameras caught Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin in the midst of an animated conversation.

Hmmm. I wondered: what could they be saying to each other? My lip reading skills are so bad that they would be no help even if we could assume they were talking to one another in English, which seems unlikely. So I'm forced to fall back on sheer guesswork.

PUTIN: "Our army would have crushed the Third Reich anyway, even if nothing had happened here."

MERKEL: "You are wrong, Vodka breath! Without any enemies in our rear, we would have stopped you before you got to Konigsberg."

PUTIN: "Kaliningrad, you mean."

Or, it's possible it didn't go that way at all....

The Good Girl

I recently watched a DVD of THE GOOD GIRL, a 2002 movie that parodies the old "brooding/bad boy" romances.
Anniston plays Justine Last, a 30-year-old woman in a not-so-happy marriage to Phil Last, who is a house painter when he isn't getting stoned, and who is devoted to her in his own goofy way but is neither attractive (he is played by John C. Reilly after all), nor especially bright.

Justine Last works at a place called "Retail Rodeo." It's a Walmart-type place with a cowboyish theme, simply because the movie is set in west Texas, in the middle of the "nowhere" which is so abundant there. Her job involves applying make-up to the faces of women shoppers by way of making them see their need for the cosmetics products available. In the course of the plot she gets a promotion to head of the cosmetics department, so she gets to supervise another woman who is actually applying the make-up to the shoppers in the later scenes.

The brooding-bad-boy t…


SIFMA and the SEC have of late been contending mightily over a fairly narrow set of issues that concern fees charged by exchanges to exchange participants for "non-core" market data.

Here is a link to what I have had to say about this subject: WhatWouldSouthey say?

Relatedly, my comment on this to my twitter followers was, "The cartelization of securities industry and oversight of cartel by various Nat'l authorities remains firm."

The above illustration is what you get when you enter the word "cartel" into

Nuff said.