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Showing posts from November, 2014

The Big Bang Theory

I'm thinking of the TV show now, not the actual theory.


One snippet of dialogue from an early episode sticks in my mind as a fine example of concise writing and character development.


In the character's world, they are fans of a reality teevee show about aspiring supermodels, and the various beautiful young women aspiring to that status all live together, "Big Brother" style, in a house in southern California.


One character, Howard, is determined that he will find the location of that house and visit the supermodels within the week.


The dialogue (I'm working from memory) goes something like this:


LEONARD: You'll never be able to get in there, Howard.


HOWARD: That's what they said to Neil Armstrong about getting on the moon.


SHELDON: No one said anything of the sort to Neil Armstrong. An entire nation spent a decade getting him there.


HOWARD: [Affecting a Kennedy accent]: Well, my fellow Americans, before this week is out, we will put a Wolowitz on one of…

Roy Bhaskar died recently

A Marxist philosopher, Roy Bhaskar, passed away on November 19, 2014. May he rest in peace.,


He is of interest to me only because he was such a magnificently terrible writer.


Marxism doesn't necessarily produce an awful, impenetrable, jargon-ridden prose style. Hell, Christopher Hitchens, Sidney Hook,  Terry Eagleton were all Marxists of one sort or  another (were or are -- I believe Eagleton is still amongst us). Yet each could write quite well.


But Bhaskar? Here is a sample of his work (chosen with malice of course, but all the better for that):


"Indeed, dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal -- of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/ Aristotelian provenance, of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and-or psycho-somatically buried source) ne…

Thanksgiving Football Thoughts

With all due respect to the Pilgrims, to the traditional sentiments of harvest time, and to expressions of gratitude, both cosmic and local, Thanksgiving Day for some of us constitutes chiefly the center of the football season -- its culmination for high schools, and a good time for the college games that serve as the natural lead-in to the wonders of the bowl-game season. Have you ever noticed, after all, how much a turkey looks like a football?



My personal thoughts in this regard this year turn to my alma mater, Marist College, home of the Red Foxes.



Their football season is over and it wasn't a resounding success. Their 11 games yielded a 4-7 record. But on the last of those games, November 15th, they kicked the butts of the Davidson Wildcats, with stand-out performances from their seniors. Of course, it sounds like a natural rivalry, a canine wild creature against a feline analog.


One senior, running back Emmanuel Onakoya, scored two touchdowns in the first quarter. Anothe…

Municipal Bankruptcy and Artworks

On November 7th, a US bankruptcy court judge, Steven Rhodes, approved Detroit's plan, allowing its exit from bankruptcy court protection.


One of the remarkable subplots in Detroit's bankruptcy-court saga has been the availability of works of art as collateral.


Rhodes' opinion described the Detroit Institute of Art as "an invaluable beacon of culture" and declared that the liquidate its assets, that is, to sell its artworks for the benefit of the creditors of the city, would be "to forfeit Detroit's future."


I'm not sure I believe that. After all, the works themselves would have remained intact, surely? Unless we believe that the high bidder would be someone with a malicious design to destroy what he/she/it was buying. I think the reasonable guess is that the artworks involved would generally have ended up in the hands of other museums, or in a smattering of cases in the hands of wealthy collectors willing and in fact eager to take good care o…

Chevron in Ecuador

I'm guessing that post headline will serve as click-bait. Welcome, new readers. This is my first mention of the famous/notorious Chevron/Ecuador controversy in this blog.

And I mention it simply to refer to a new book on the subject, Crude Awakening,Information here,

The author is Michael Goldhaber, an adjunct professor of law at Fordham University.

Vent your spleen (at either side in the controversy) in the comments section. Thanks.

Tavakoli on the "Unveiled Threat"

Janet Tavakoli has a new book out entitled Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Fundamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism.


Yes, I know. There are hordes of people these days wielding pens (or keyboards) these days to give their view of the world's discontents and the violently discontented. One can't keep up with them, nor should that be an aspiration.


But I know Tavakoli. We aren't close friends but we are work acquaintances -- I have been happy to quote her as a source or to call her for guidance on ongoing stories. None of these ongoing stories has had a lot to do with terrorism. So this drew me up short.


You see, Tavakoli is an expert on  "structured finance." her firm, unsurprisingly called "Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc." offers as her webpage says "independent risk consulting and expert witnesses services ... for derivatives, credit derivatives, synthetic collateralized debt obligations, total return swaps, special purpose ent…

CBOT/CME Merger: An Arithmetical Subplot

I've been thinking again, for no very compelling reason, about the merger of the two great Chicago exchanges in 2007. In form, it was an acquisition of the Chicago Board of Trade by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, after the CME won a bidding war with the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE),

I'm looking at Erika Olson's book about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that ended in that result. One of the many subplots involves ERPs, the "exercise right privileges" possessed by many CBOT members with regard to yet another Chicago institution, the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
This takes some explaining. First, neither the CBOT nor the CBOE is a mere set of initials. Each is a true acronym, "see-bot" and "see-bow" respectively. Second, the CBOE, established in 1973, does what the name implies. It provides a forum for the trade in options. It was initially a spin-off from the CBOT, and they had a close continuing relationship. One part of that: everyo…

Classic Jamesian text

"In one sense at least the personal [side of] religion will prove itself more fundamental than either theology or ecclesiasticism. Churches, when once established, live at second-hand upon tradition; but the founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine. Not only the superhuman founders, the Christ, the Buddha, Mahomet, but all the originators of Christian sects have been in this case; -- so personal religion should still seem the primordial thing, even to those who continue to esteem it incomplete."






VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

Stefan-Boltzmann Law, Part II

In contrast to my usual practice, this time I'm putting the blog entry's image at the bottom of the page. Pretty wild and crazy of me, eh?
Resuming discussion of the same law we discussed yesterday. As a historical observation, it has its name because Jozef Stefan inferred it from experimental evidence in 1879, five years before Ludwig Boltzmann derived it in theoretical fashion.


The law is of considerable importance to certain contemporary issues, because the Earth itself, including its atmosphere, can be considered for purposes of prediction as a "gray box" of the sort I discussed in the last post. If we know how much radiation the earth is receiving from the sun, and we know how much of that energy is reflected away, vis-à-vis how much is absorbed, we should be able to say something about the heat of this box, this planetary system, as a whole.


The International Panel on Climate Change says that 30% of the sun's energy is reflected away, the remainder is abso…

Stefan-Boltzmann Law Part I

This came up in the climate-change discussion group I've mentioned before.

One participant in a heated exchange, seeking to boost his own scientific cred, challenged the other to explain the Stefan-Boltzmann Law. The second fellow refused to participate in that discussion, saying, "I suspect you copied the question from elsewhere, and would be unable to actually converse on the topic ... are you real or are you Memorex?"

That last reference tells me something about his age, at least.

Anyway, now I'm curious, so I do a little research. The S-B Law describes the radiation from a black body as directly proportional to the fourth power of that black body's thermodynamic temperature. Huh?

A "black body" is an ideal state, somewhat akin to those "frictionless surfaces" you encounter in "Intro to Physics" courses. But you don't get to this ideal state until you get to "Intro to Thermodynamics."

A black body is one that a…

Thoughts on "Gone Girl"

SPOILER ALERT.

I'm about to discuss a movie still in theatres. I will do so without regard for whether you want the various twists and turns to come as a surprise. So if you're going to this movie, and you do want to be surprised, stop reading now.

It isn't that I'll spoil all the twists, but I'll simply write in a way indifferent to what I spoil. Clear? Good.

Still with me? Better. Here's the thing. The central female character in the movie is famous, in a way she does not welcome. She is named "Amy," and is the daughter of a husband/wife writing team who have created a successful series of books collectively entitled Amazing Amy. The fictional "amazing" character's life is a somewhat fictionalized version of the actual Amy's life growing up.

The police detective who first investigates Amy's disappearance buys into this confusion, at least early on. She recognizes "Amazing Amy" related materials around the house and s…

The Point of It All

What is the point of human life? We're all going to die anyway, after all, inhabiting thereafter an everlasting nothingness.

Here's an answer to that question that doesn't try to deconstruct it.

The point may involve saving the universe from itself. The Big Bang of contemporary astronomical theory, combined with the conventional understanding of the 2d law of thermodynamics, leads to a rather dismal prospect of a universe that expires slowly but inevitably into nothingness, by spreading out and cooling off until nothing is left. Like a clock that can never re-wind itself. Like our own lives, but on a really big scale. And with nothing left to carry on, nor any project left to be carried, or any place to carry it.  

Can the universe avoid that fate? Perhaps -- I suspect that advanced species can and sometimes do get far enough in their own scientific development to figure out how to beat the 2d law in their cosmic locality. Those localities then become sources of growth …

Writing a Script

If you're wondering how working journalists ... work.

Personally, I'm not good on the phone. I become self-conscious about such things as what my voice sounds like and I end up stammering. To avoid or reduce troubles, when I have to make a phone call, I often prepare a script for myself.

This lets my most favorite thing, writing, do some of the work of my least favorite thing, talking off the cuff.

Example:

"Hello ma'am/sir. I'm a reporter for Marijuana Investment News. We're a website that focuses on news of interest to investors in the new field of legal marijuana as many states change [relax?] their view on the subject.

"I understand that about a year ago South Hadley, at a town meeting, voted in favor of a zoning bylaw that would govern medical marijuana dispensaries. is that right?

"Also, in January of this year, your planning board discussed a site review plan for Gaylord Street that was to involve the growing of marijuana.

I'd like …

The Adjective "ultimate"

In the Facebook group "anarcho-capitalism," one participant asked this: "Hypothetical: If I ran for political office on the platform that I ma an anarchist and that my ultimate goal is to end the government would you vote for me?"

Among anarcho-caps there is of course a lot of distrust of the institution of voting as such, whoever is eliciting votes. So this is a natural question for the group. My own answer:

No. I distrust the adjective "ultimate." Everybody is for all nice things "ultimately" even people who are doing quite nasty things now. Or especially them. All warriors are for "ultimate" peace, etc. And every Lenin or Chomsky will tell you he is for a stronger state but that since it will "ultimately" wither away, not to worry.

Now, that was more concise than complete. There are contexts in which I don't distrust the word. There is some value to metaphysical/eschatological discussion of ultimates. But one isn't…

A Sufi poem

"Until college and minaret have crumbled
This holy work of ours will not be done.
Until faith becomes rejection, and rejection becomes belief
There will be no true Muslim."

Aba Said ibn Abi-l-Khair

1952 recalled some more

She (my friend) then added her own comment:

There were a lot of things wrong with the 50's, but one parent working with another one staying home (which they owned) was doable when the onus of taxes wasn't on citizens.

The onus of taxes wasn't on the citizens because it was on the "corporations" you see. She seemed to be agreeing with the Sanders quote she attached that we ought to get back to that.

But what does it mean to tax corporations exactly? Is it a free lunch for the "citizens"?

Of course not. Depending on a variety of circumstances, a corporate tax gets money into the Treasury from one of three sources: the shareholders of the corporation in question; the consumers of the products and services it creates; the employees.

If the labor market for the sort of labor a particular corporation needs will allow, the corporation (a legal form for the interactions of natural people) will pass the cost of the tax that way. If the labor market doesn't…