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Showing posts from January, 2015

Churchill controversies

The website of BBC recently ran a list of the ten greatest continuing controversies about Winston Churchill.

Personally, I was a bit surprised to find nothing about Bretton Woods there. Certainly Churchill's relationship to the Bretton Woods conference, of '44, which formally gave the US dollar the central place as the western world's currency, has been a matter of considerable controversy.

I refer the reader doubtful on that point to THE BATTLE OF BRETTON WOODS, a recent offering of the Princeton University Press, which paints the conference itself as a dollar-versus-pound tug-of-war. Churchill either acceded to the lessened significance of the pound, or simply wasn't paying attention, and either fact is an important one.

It is hard to believe that he wasn't paying attention. He had been closely associated with a gold standard earlier in his political career (a fact which also doesn't get into the BBC list), so it is possible he acceded to the supremacy of …

A Bygone Plagiarism Scandal

The January issue of Harper's contains an article on the late Pablo Neruda, by Emily Witt.

My own highly selective take away from the article is its reference to a plagiarism scandal I had never heard of. Apparently, "Poem 16" of Neruda's work, "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair" are "lifted almost verbatim from the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore," Witt says. There was apparently quite a fuss over this back in the 1930s.

Twenty Love Poems, published in 1924, is the work that made Neruda famous. So I gather the plagiarism too a few years coming to light.

I've only vaguely heard of Tagore. But I've given you his image above, thanks to the wonders of googling.

I think I should look into this matter some more.

Annual Dilbert [Headlines] Post

Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created Dilbert, has said that there are only nine news stories, constantly re-written.

Every year at about this time I like to check the newspaper with his list in mind, to see if he is right. I'll start with his wording unmodified by examples.


I surveyed the news on one day (a few days back as it happens). Just by convenience, these headlines are all from January 19th. Well, actually, I cheated a little with one of them, but I'll let you dear reader do the work of figuring out which one that is. Without further ado....


Catastrophic flooding in southern…

David Stockman

David Stockman, who decades ago served as President Reagan's budget director, he of the "Trojan horse" gaffe, has written a wonderful brief essay on the latest move by the European Central Bank, which has jumped pumped one trillion new euros into circulation with a mammoth bond-buying program.

Trillion. With a "t".

This has all the looks of a desperation move to keep together a single-Eurozone system where the centrifugal forces are powerful.

Here is Stockman's take on it. Charlatan of the Apparatchiks.

Stockman introduces the graph above, which shows Europe's consumer price index since 1990.

There has been a good deal of talk about how the ECB's dramatic move is necessary to slay the monster of "deflation." But as you can see below, that isn't much of a dragon worth slaying. The lowest the CPI has gotten since 1990 was -0.5, a mark it hit only once, briefly, in 2009. Then it quickly rose back to 3% and has fallen since, following…

Honeymoon in Vegas

Honeymoon in Vegas opened this week on Broadway.

This is a live musical based on the Nicolas Cage movie of the same title from 1992. If you click on that link you'll get to the imdb page for the movie.

I enjoyed the movie, but the on-line reviews were lukewarm (5.8 out of a possible 10 stars).

Here's the plot summary, in case you're click-ophobic:

On her deathbed, a mother makes her son promise never to get married, which scars him with psychological blocks to a commitment with his girlfriend. They finally decide to tie the knot in Vegas, but a wealthy gambler arranges for the man to lose $65K in a poker game and offers to clear the debt for a weekend with his fiancée. Suddenly the man is insanely jealous, and pursues his fiancée and her rich companion, but finds pitfalls in his path as the gambler tries to delay his interference.

Anyway, I wish the Broadway production the best of luck.

An axiom

I came across the following while web surfing. It doesn't seem to have any elevated origin, besides an anonymous person trying to be clever (and in this case succeeding).

Predict everything, expect nothing.

I like it.

"Predict everything, expect nothing" is a perfectly good axiom. I take it to mean, "plan your future as best you can, but don't be disappointed if and when the plans don't work out right -- they seldom will -- and learn to roll with the punches." But of course it's a lot snappier than my paraphrase.

Let's get behind this and try to make a cliché of it. I predict success for that endeavor. But of course I don't expect it.

Lyrics I admire

Michael Bolton's big hit "How am I Supposed to Live without You" begins thus:

"I could hardly believe it/When I heard the news today/I had to come and get it straight from you/They said you were leavin'/Someone swept your heart away/From the look upon your face I see it's true."

That  strikes me as a marvelous bit of story telling. The rest of the song, unfortunately, soon slips into standard-issue '80s ballad.

But what exactly do I like about the above?

The first line sets up the rest, pressing the listener to ask what was so unbelievable.

We might guess that a romantic disappointment was the hardly-believed thing, but we are steered subtly in another direction by "when I heard the news today." That's very different from, say, "when the gossip reached my ears" or "when someone told me so." We've come to regard the news as something authoritative and public in nature. The Beatles played on this same expectat…

The Three Amigos

I employed the last three blog entries to discuss a book that offers a much-contested interpretation of  certain critical passages in the writings of David Hume.

The conclusion of it was that Galen Strawson sees a closer relationship amongst Berkeley, Hume, and Kant than many other commenters do. He sees a single message coming from the three of them.

I'm going beyond Strawson now, but I'll try to formulate the philosophy of these amigos in a series of propositions.

1. The world we unreflexively think we're living in is real only in a conditional sense, it is less than fully real.

2. Since our intellect and senses are adapted for [or to] this living world, we are definitionally not adapted to comprehension of the fully real world.

3. It is reasonable to expect that in that Really Real world there exists a relationship of cause and effect, though as implied in (2) there is much we cannot know about that.

4. One possibility we might imagine (though we may not claim to kn…

The Secret Connexion, Part III

Continuing the line of thought from yesterday and the day before....

So far in this discussion I've quoted Hume only once, that bit from the Enquiry about how "we are ignorant of those powers and forces" etc. So here are a couple of other quotes used by Strawson in laying out his broad thesis. From the Treatise he quotes, "[I am] ready to allow, that there may be several qualities both in material and immaterial objects, with which we are utterly unacquainted."

Note the duality, "material and immaterial." One of Strawson's underlying points is that Hume considered Berkeley's metaphysics a plausible one -- neither certain nor probable, but coherent and on its own terms irrefutable. Berkeley saw the world as consisting of a God, various human minds, and the ideas that God implants into their/our minds. These ideas include the entire sensory world, including the regularities we might describe as examples of causality. Berkeley too, then, believe…

The Secret Connexion, Part II

Continuing yesterday's train of thought...

Strawson (pictured here) observes that there are differences between the young Hume and the mature Hume: the fellow who wrote the TREATISE (1740) and the man who wrote the ENQUIRY (1748). To some extent, at least, the positivistic reading of Hume on causation follows from some dramatic overstatements in the earlier book, overstatements that Hume later regretted. In the latter book he said, "the positive air, which prevails in that book, and which may be imputed to the ardor of youth, so much displeases me, that I have no patience to review it."

Strawson also sometimes quotes from DIALOGUES ON NATURAL RELIGION, which was written subsequent to the ENQUIRY by at least another couple of years, and specifically of course the words of Philo, the Humean mouthpiece there.

At any rate: Strawson reads Hume, at all stages of his working life, in such a way as to connect the issue of causation/Causation to the issue of the independent real…

Causation: A Political Imposition

As I admitted two days ago, during my vacation I did some trawling in MEN'S JOURNAL for blog topics. This will be my second and last entry drawing upon that source.

There's a fascinating though brief item about contemporary changes in van design. For purposes of historical perspective, the author [Jamie Lincoln Kitman, portrayed above]  mentions an action of President Johnson in 1963. The new President, unhappy that France and Germany had imposed duties on US poultry exports, retaliated with a tariff of his own, one that amounted to a 25% increase in the price of imported vans. Kitman refers to this act of retaliation as the "chicken tax."

What Kitman didn't say was whether this was something Johnson did by slipping a relevant amendment into some omnibus tax bill that then became law, or whether it was something accomplished by executive order (pursuant to some earlier mandate) or ... what. He writes as if Jonson unilaterally decreed the chicken tax, which leav…

Dissent is Not Allowed

You will be assimilated into the Borg!

Regular readers probably know that I believe that the infrastructure of contemporary capital markets is broken. The broken character of it is sometimes (misleadingly) attributed to the speed at which trading is done, or (not quite so misleadingly) to the automatic, Borg-like, algorithmic character of such trading. The initials HFT (high frequency trading) have come to serve as short hand for a range of issues that have made markets overly easy for some players to rig at the expense of other players: and at the expense of issuers, the going-public process, even the over-all economy.

Mary Jo White, the chair of the SEC, is setting up a panel to advise her and the whole of the Commission on such issues. Unfortunately, it appears that the panel is rigged in favor of assimilated into the Borg.

Bloomberg is reporting that economist Joseph Stiglitz (a Nobel Prize winner)  has been excluded from the body precisely because he has expressed anti-Borg vie…

Three Calendars

I begin this year, as I seem to begin each year, with three calendars. I have a new desktop/appointment calendar from American Express; a month-by-month wall calendar advertising the Boston Red Sox baseball team, and a day-to-day calendar atop my dresser filled with trivia regarding a television program, The Big Bang Theory.

The AMEX calendar, as is its year-by-year custom, tells me to travel to various exotic places where I can use my blue card to go into debt. Among the locales highlighted this year: Cancun, Mexico;  Oslo, Norway; Cusco, Peru. In connection with the latter, we're told amidst space for mid-September 2015 appointments that visitors to high-altitude Cuzco should keep well hydrated and avoid heavy meals and alcohol. Got it.

The Red Sox calendar gives the stats for different players each month, starting in January with Jon Lester, Pitcher, #31. Lester also gets a very dramatic photo portraying him in full stretch, mid-pitch.  If you're curious, he was born in Ta…

The ghost of predictions past

John Cochrane, the beaming fellow in this photo, took on Paul Krugman here:

Okay, I'm a little late to the fair, but I'm traveling this week, not doing any blogging at all, so you're reading something written when that Cochrane blog entry was still fresh.

Cochrane's point is that NY Times columnist (and Nobel Prize winner) Paul Krugman repeatedly, in 2009 and 2010, warned of a deflationary disaster if the Fed didn't really put the pedal to the medal on money creation.

Well, the Fed didn't. Not by Krugman's standards. And the deflationary disaster didn't happen.

In case you didn't follow the above link, I'll paste the gist of Cochrane's take-down here:


"But deflation is a huge risk — and getting out of a deflationary trap is very, very hard. We truly are flirting with disaster."

"So we're really heading into Japanese-style …

"The Pursuit of Happiness"

That phrase comes, of course, from the Declaration of Independence. It is the third of the unalienable rights, along with life and liberty. The word "property" often shows up as the third item on such lists, and does so for example in both the Bill of Rights and the 14th amendment. But Jefferson wrote of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Much heavy water has been made of this in the last 2 and 1/3  centuries. I'm reminded of an episode of The Sopranos in which Tony is complaining to his psychologist about his terrible life.  He says that he saw a documentary on The History Channel in which the anchor said that the US is the only nation in the world with a founding document that explicitly mentions happiness.

"So where is my happiness," he cries.

Dr. Melfi, "'Pursuit' is what it says."

Tony: "Yeah, there's always a fucking loophole."

Anyway, one common question is the origin of Jefferson's phrasing. I…