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Showing posts from November, 2015

A Hypothetical Debate

Suppose it was your assignment, dear reader, to set up a debate for some conference about "Crude Oil Consumption in the United States."

Your debate, as part of that conference, would have to involve two reputable figures, two distinct points of view on that subject, and one proposition, on which your speakers would take respectively a "pro" and a "con" position.

What kind of speakers might you look for, and what kind of proposition could best express the opposition you'd be trying to bring out?

There are lots of approaches one might take of course....four occur to me.

1. Resolved: that in five years, the consumption of crude oil, per capita, will be greater than at present.

2. ... that in five years, the consumption of crude oil, overall, will be greater than at present.

3. ...that in five years, much of what is now accomplished through burning crude oil, or other carbon fuels, will be accomplished by alternative means.

4. ... that in five years…

Random thoughts on a movie and some South American miners

A movie on the Chilean mine cave-in and on the successful rescue of all 33 of the trapped miners after they had spent three months in a small room 2,300 feet underground, might not have sounded to some Hollywood moguls like the most likely prospect for a big hit.

Yes, it sounds like a compelling theme. But ... on the part of the endangered parties, there isn't a lot of action, after the early scene in which they're shown scrambling to get themselves to the safe room. After that, for them, it was waiting.

Here's a negative review of the movie that focuses on that point.

I enjoyed the movie more than Lizzie Plaugic did, but I see her point.

There was a fun subtheme about "the Bolivian." Most of the miners were local guys, Chileans. There was the one Bolivean, and he came in for more than his share of ribbing. The two nationalities have a long rivalry. There's a nice exchange between him and a fellow miner who thinks all Boliveans are natural thieves.

The Boli…

Submission, by Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq's new book, SUBMISSION, seems to have caused a good deal of stir in France, and is now producing much the same effect in the United States.

Houellebecq is a well-known novelist, although as is surely the case with many important people, places, things, and ideas this is the first mention of him in this or any of my blogs. His previous novels include WHATEVER (1994), THE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES (1998), PLATFORM (2001), and THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY (2010).

THE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES, or in French "Les Particules élémentaires," was first translated into English for the UK market as ATOMISED, then re-translated for the US market with the more literal translation of the title I've provided here.  It may have been his most successful novel thus far.

The new book, though, concerns Islam. At least on its face. It postulates a near future in which an Islamicist political party wins a French national election and forms a government.  Given contemporary politic…

Mildred Pierce: A Thanksgiving Thought

On my mind today is Mildred Pierce, a 1941 novel by James Cain, set in the ten years leading up to the date of publication.

No, I didn't just refer to the movie star best known for playing Sonny Corleone. That's James Caan. I'm thinking now of the   novelist James Cain, born in 1892. Although his reputation is in eclipse now, he was quite well known for a time as a writer of "hardboiiled" crime fiction, a peer of Chandler or Hammett. Cain wrote Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice., both memorably adapted into classic Hollywood films. Mildred Pierce was somewhat different, an effort at offering a naturalistic portrait of southern California suburbia.

Anyway, Mildred Pierce was also made into a movie in 1945, and became a television miniseries in 2011.

The title character has two daughters: Veda (11 years old when the story begins in 1931) and her little sister Ray (7 years). The photo above is of Veda, as portrayed by actress Morgan Turner in an …

Contemporary Numerology

A recent book by David von Leib (a pseudonym for Barclay von Leib), discusses Von Leib's long career as a derivatives trader.

Along the way, the author has much to say about Martin Armstrong, a market guru prominent in the 1990s, when he chaired "Princeton Economics International" and wrote a widely-followed newsletter.

For no good reason (though he appears to believe the practice gives him some legal immunity) von Leib gives to many of the figures in his memoir slightly fictionalized names. Accordingly, he refers to Martin Armstrong as Marty Amwell.

At any rate, here is a numerological process that, in von Leib's telling, led Armstrong/Amwell to some of his business-cycle hypotheses.

Marty thought that there were too many coincidences here not to view the pyramid of Giza as a mathematical treasure chest from history of some sort -- a gift from the heavens perhaps -- something left over from some ancient -- potentially alien -- civilization.

Marty also considered th…

Dov Charney scandal

I'm a little bit late to the fair with this one. But apparently there was a scandal last year involving Dov Charney, the founder and at the time the CEO of American Apparel. There were lots of allegations of misconduct against him., compiled by the chairperson of the board, Colleen Brown preparatory to firing him.

Harper's includes an excerpt from Brown's report in its Readings section  in the October issue, without further comment. So will I. This is an excerpt of the excerpt, which does nonetheless manage to give a sense of the degree to which power corrupts (or attracts the already corrupt).

"Former American Apparel employee Michael Bumbliss, who managed the Malibu retail store, alleged that Charney  'dove at [him], grabbed [his] throat, with both hands,  and began to squeeze.' Charney 'proceeded to scoop up and attempt to rub dirt on [Bumbliss' face.' Employees at the company's La Mirada facility lodged complaints after Charney repeatedly r…

Bad Cases Make Bad Law

The August issue of The Federal Lawyer ran a piece by Spencer Garrett Scharff on streamlining mass tort litigation, a happy event that will only be accomplished, Scharff seems to think, when LEXECON is overturned.

Personally, I suspect it would be better to distinguished LEXECON away and render it prudentially harmless than to overturn it outright. If the decision made bad law it was because it was a "bad case," an unrepresentative fact pattern.

For non-initiates, Lexecon was a defamation case that arose out of a mass tort, the infamous Savings-and-Loan industry collapse of the 1980s. The plaintiff, Lexecon, was a defendants' consultant firm, which came into many cases on the opposite side of the famous plaintiffs' attorneys Milberg Weiss.

A typical Milberg Weiss case in those days -- the heyday of Bill Lerach, pictured above -- might start with these facts: the CEO of XYZ Industries made certain statements on January 15th. Those statements were false, and present…

On Slate's essay against subtlety

The online magazine SLATE recently ran an essay "against subtlety." The gist of it is that the idea that a work of art should be subtle is a bit of New-Critical misdirection that has gone mainstream, has become a cliche, and now ought to be retired. Consider Dickens' names! Heavy-handed and wonderful.

My own reaction -- I'm all in favor of subtlety. (And Dickens, names notwithstanding, had a good deal more of it than he is generally given credit for).

Norman Rockwell once created an illustration of Rosie the Riveter on a lunch break. She was seated with one of her feet resting on a book. The book? Hitler's Mein Kampf, of course! This suggests various distracting  lines of thought. Did she bring the same book in every day? Did she have to sneak it past security, or was this regarded as normal furniture for a break room? Didn't Il Duce ever write anything she might have used to rest her other foot, or to rest THAT one on alternating days?

Yes, yes, Mr. Rockwel…

Cost-Benefit analysis and Voldemort

Until quite recently, Robert Litan was a nonresident senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, a bipartisan Washington think tank with a sterling reputation. The Institution’s website describes him thus: ”a widely recognized expert in regulation, antitrust, finance, among other policy subjects.”
But he is no longer a fellow there, because he had the misfortune to disagree with Senator Elizabeth Warren.
No Proper Risk Assessment
The subject of the criticism, as it happens, was financial regulation, specifically new rules proposed by the Department of Labor (and supported by Senator Warren) that would impose fiduciary obligations on brokers and financial advisors who provide advice for IRAs.A fiduciary obligation, of course, would be a big step up from the present level of obligation under SEC authority. The latter holds merely that those recommendations must be “suitable” for investors, judging suitability by income, assets, and expressed risk preferenc…