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Showing posts from August, 2015

From a Seth Price novel

"Someone, he realized, needed to come along and devise a painterly abstraction that embodied cultural sophistication and 'nowness.' It had to look classically tasteful and refer to well-known historical byways, but it also had to be undergirded by utter contemporaneity, either of sensibility or production method. Upcycling was evolving as an idea and so was perhaps itself being upcycled: iu the early Nineties it had promsied to help the developing world redeem its waste, at the turn of the century it grew to encompass the food consumption of a smaller set of First Worlders wit extra time and money, and now it would take on fine art, an even more rarefied realm of cultural production available to only the wealthy few."

I found this, part of a much longer excerpt, in the READINGS section of the July Harper's.  The whole READINGS section for the month was unusually compelling.

That is Seth Price's image, rocking back and forth, above.

Thinking about Fiorina

On August 17th, The New York Times' blog, Dealbook., ran a piece by Andrew Ross Sorkin about Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

Fiorina is getting some traction, despite the fact that she has never held public office. She has been a chief executive of a major institution, though. That institution was the computer giant Hewlett-Packard, and that qualification is CF's chief credential (aside from appealing initials) for the post of chief executive of the United States.

Sorkin does not have a high opinion of her performance at HP. He says that he vividly remembers September 2001, when she announced her plans for a merger with Compaq. So here is her, and his, money quote from the column:

“Hang with us,” she said on that same day in a conference call with reporters. “It’s going to be a great party.”

The party never happened, but the hangover was brutal. Hewlett-Packard is still recovering from the ill-conceived merger nearly 14 years later, and recently decided to sp…

Disputes over HFT Near An End

According to a professor of finance at the University of Maryland, the sort of intense debates the financial/regulatory world has had in recent years over "high frequency trading" and its consequences have become, or shortly will become obsolete.

It isn't that the opponents of HFT haven't had a point. The meta-point though is, if I understand professor Albert Kyle, that the valid point they (we) have been making involves disparities between some traders and others based on the difference between those that have the latest gee-whiz technology and those that don't. Whoever has been losing the hi-tech arms race involved has been losing a lot more than just bragging rights.

But, says Kyle, this is just a transition. The high tech stuff is near its limit, and the hardware/software that performs at that limit is itself going to become a commodity. There won't be any "have nots" in the asset management world.

The net effect of the whole thing will be p…

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Greek politics. The left-wing party Syriza, which took office as the result of a populist revolt against pressure from the northern European powers, and especially Germany, and as a rebellion against the perceived willingness of earlier Greek governments to bow before that pressure ... that party, in office, has bowed, in a big way, to just that pressure. That's a short history of recent Greek politics and a primer in why a civil war is now underway in Syriza.

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (pictured here) has now taken to criticizing his former boss, prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

But here's the reason I'm writing about the subject just now. On Monday of this week, YV said that AT had become "the new DeGaulle." Press reports say that this insult constitutes a new level of acrimony between the two men, indicative of the depth of the intra-Syria split.

Really? If I were called a new DeGaulle I'd probably feel flattered. Churchill and Roosevelt found…

A discussion of truth

I have only skimmed this, but I link to it here in the hope that some of the readers of this blog will enjoy it. My interests and those of the author of this little dialog clearly overlap.

I include the above image only because Yudkowsky's dialog makes use of the venerable example of an uncomplicated truth, "snow is white."

The one bit that drew my attention was that where one character asks another "So it doesn't bother you that Josef Stalin believed that snow is white?" Love that. I'm sure he did. The stuff helped win him a war, he was probably happy to recall what it looked like.

Harpers' June 2015 cover story

The June cover story is a piece by David Bromwich entitled "What Went Wrong: Assessing Obama's Legacy."

It is not quite as negative as the headline suggests. Bromwich, whose image you see here, considers Obama superior not only to his precursor, but almost certainly superior to whomever shall be his successor. There is a lot of quotable material here. I'll confine myself to just two quotes, though they will be substantial ones.

That said, there is this:

"In foreign policy, Afghanistan was the first order of business in Obama's presidency. His options must have appeared exceedingly narrow. During the campaign, he had followed a middle path on America's wars. He said that Iraq was the wrong war and that Afghanistan was the right one: Bush's error had been to take his eye off the deeper danger. By early spring of 2009, Obama knew that his judgment -- though it earned him praise from the media -- had simply been wrong. The U.S. effort in Afghanistan was…

Biography of Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow, who passed away ten years ago, was an outstanding man of letters on the US scene for decades, from the success of HERZOG in 1964 to RAVELSTEIN in 2000.

Zachary Leader is working on a biography of Bellow, and his first volume came out this spring.

A review of this book in the May issue of Harper's essentially accuses Leader of excessive absorption in minutiae.

"Leader devotes exhaustive analysis to determining whether the apartment building in which Bellows grew up -- a building that no longer exists -- stood at 3245, 3246, 3340, or 3342 Le Moyne Street." For a brief period, Bellow was the roommate of Ralph Ellison in an apartment in upstate New York. At that time, Ellison apparently was devoted to an elaborate procedure for brewing coffee. Leader tells us that he personally tested this procedure and deemed it not worth while.

But Leader's work does contain some valuable material. The reviewer, Ruth Franklin, praises it especially for conveying a sense o…

Blackhat (2015)

Blackhat, the Michael Mann movie about hackers and international intrigue, was close to unwatchable. The plot was just an all-over-the-place mess.

In the action sequences, people were shooting at each other. I got who the good guys were and who the bad guys were (more or less) but I seldom really understood why they were where they were and how the showdown there had come about. I've had time to reflect on it since and "kinda" understand the plot but ...

don't see it if you don't like to work that hard.

But I'm not part of the hacker subculture, so maybe I just don't get the appeal ... right?

Maybe. Except that the movie makes some stupid technical mistakes of the sort that have apparently turned off those who are very much of that subculture. At one point, the protagonists asks to borrow another character's phone, asking, "is it an android" and proceeding to make valuable use of it after getting an affirmative answer. Apparently, though, th…

Brandy's rhyme scheme

The 1972 song "Brandy (You're a fine girl)" has it seems to me an unusual lyrical feature. AAAB, CCCD.

That is: most verses contain three successive lines that end witrh the same sound then a fourth line that simply doesn't.

There's a port on a western bay
That serves a hundred ships a day
Lonely sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes.

And there's a girl in this harbor town
And she works layin' whiskey down
They say "Brandy, fetch another round"
She serves them whiskey and wine.

So my question: can any of my readers think of any other song that has lyrics using this dangling-final-line pattern?

Bright Idea from the 1930s

A quote from the cover story in the May 2015 issue of Harper's.

As early as the 1930s, scientists knew that in the process of radioactive decay, an atom's nucleus will release an electron. They were puzzled, though, by variations in the electron's energy level. The law of conservation of energy dictates a mathematical tidiness, whereby all such differences had to be accounted for. The Swiss physicist Wolfgang Pauli suggested a solution: Perhaps the electron was accompanied by an undetected 'ghost particle' which was more energetic when the electron was less so, and vice versa. The particle came to be called the neutrino, or 'little neutral one.' Pauli thought it might never be detected because it would hardly react with matter.  

That is Pauli's visage above.

Blooming, buzzing confusion

I have a vague memory of having written something much like this before, but I don't mind repeating myself.

One of the best known of William James' many well-known well-crafted sentences is this, from PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGY:

"The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; and to the very end of life, our location of all things in one space is due to the fact that the original extents or bignesses of all the sensations which came to our notice at once, coalesced together into one and the same space."

This is sometimes misquoted,  and we get a "great booming, buzzing confusion" instead. The mistake is worth correcting when it occurs, because "booming buzzing" simply contrasts two very different sounds. It refers, then, only to one of the sense and no particular sort of event, and is a good deal less confused than what James has in mind.

The words "blooming buzzing&quo…

Chevron deference on the way out?

An unexpected side-effect of the KING v. BURWELL decision, upholding the subsidy component of the Obamacare statutory scheme, may be that it weakens Chevron deference.

I mentioned this point (too) briefly in my own discussion of King v. Burwell in this blog. I'll quote myself here:

The court could have used Chevron reasoning, after all - it could simply have said, "in such matters of statutory construction, we defer to the administrative expertise of the relevant executive officials." That would have left the scheme in place, but would have left it subject to being overturned if the Republicans win the next election and the partisan loyalties of the relevant administration officials change. But it didn't.

What I should have said there was that the majority opinion, by Justice Roberts, actually went further than simple non-reliance on Chevron. the language of the opinion seems to limit the scope of Chevron.

"The tax credits are among the Act's key reforms, …

Organic Molecules on a Comet

This is really fascinating stuff. The odds that life exists outside the the planet earth seem to be improving with each new tentative step that our noosphere takes into that broader cosmos.

The obsession early in the development of space exploration with sending humans out into space may have been a distraction , a snare and a delusion created by the Cold War. Both the Russians and the Americans had to highlight their/our technological abilities in a way that  could be portrayed as non-threatening, each side wanted to portray itself as the future.

But our species gets to learn more about the world outside our immediate ken more effectively if life support issues are taken off the table, with the work either automated or remotely controlled.

Thus: Philae, the European Space Agency's probe, has the honor of having discovered carbon-based, i.e. organic, molecules on a comet, one known alphanumerically as 67P.

Here's a link: Click me!

Among the organic molecules discovered are am…

A Question about Freud, and the Wrong Answer

Somebody in Yahoo!Answers recently asked the following very broad question:  "How does Freud, Jung or other psychoanalyst explain the development/ manifestation of the Oedipus/ Electra complex within a gay?"

It isn't only very broad, it is ungrammatical. The verb should be either "do" or "did." If we think of the proper names as shorthand for their ideas/texts, then present-tense "do" is better. 

Anyway, it is a fascinating question, though perhaps of diminishing significance as the authority of those names/texts recedes. I'm not scholar enough to take it all on, but I did answer a bit of it as best I could, thus:

My understanding is that in Freudian theory, sexual identity is determined in adolescence, as the 'latency phase' comes to an end. A growing boy 'should' resolve his oedipal conflict by identification with his father, so his father is no longer a rival, and by the development of a sentimental affection for Mom, whi…