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Showing posts from November, 2016

Thoughts on the Death of Fidel Castro

I have little to add to all the commentary that is flooding the internet on this event.

But I will add something, because to fail to do so might be thought idiosyncratic. Also, because I was born in 1958, the year that ended with Castro's victory. So I have some sort of fortuitous connection with the man, and it would be bad karma to ignore his death.

I think of the movie Godfather 2. And by this route, thinking about Castro will bring us around to William James and pragmatism.

The best scenes in that movie were the Cuba scenes, centering on the Corleone family's efforts to get in on the action in Cuba in 1958. The family was late in its timing, and had to make a hurried exit during the New Year's' Eve festivities that the revolution had so rudely interrupted.

Before the plot gets to that final collapse of the gangsters' friendly regime, though, it shows us that Michael (Al Pacino) has a premonition that Castro will win. He has seen that the rebels are willing to …

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy? A New thing?

My sometimes random web-surfing has just brought me in contact with what seems to be a thing in the world of psychotherapy. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) apparently takes its name as a mutant of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is well established.

David M. Clark of Oxford was a pioneer in CBT, in the 1980s, merging the already established (but until then adversarial) cognitive and behavioral approaches, originally with the idea of helping people cope with trauma and anxiety disorders.

That much I knew. What I didn't know until recently was that this, too, gets the dialectical twist from the see-saw brigade. Hegelian badness looms over everything.

Just one word: Aaaaargh.

Autumn Statement

On Wednesday, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered what is known as the "Autumn statement" to the House of Commons. This is one of two economics-forecast statements each year.

It was much anticipated. Parliament wanted to know what the government knows, or believes, about the consequences of Brexit.

The Chancellor, and those who work under him at the Office for Budget Responsibility, haven't given many hostages to fortune in their statements, though. They assume that the UK will leave the European Union in April 2019. They guesstimate that the purely administrative costs of departure will amount to GB₤412 million (around US$511 million).

But on the critical issue of "passporting," they don't take a view. That is: in a "soft Brexit" scenario the banks headquartered in London will be able to negotiate for themselves or with the help of their government "passports" with the EU or constituent nations that will allow them to …

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm giving myself an easy holiday out by repeating with minor variations, last year's Thanksgiving observation. 

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 "hardboiled" 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.

As it happens, 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 …

Why do people still value fiat money? Part I

Why haven't we gone to barter? Or adopted systems such as bitcoin much more widely?

Few people really trust the fiat money created by governments, their printing presses, and their captive central banks. The distrust has been growing in intensity ever since people came to understand that  the official money isn't backed by anything and isn't going to be backed by anything. So ... why haven't people abandoned it?

Because the government forces us to use its money?

No, it doesn't not really. We must be able to convert some of our wealth into its money at tax time. just as you must be able to pay for your trip on the subway with a subway token. But you can make that conversion just before your subway ride.

So other than that: why do people still value the US dollar and other examples of fiat money?

One thinker who offers a provocative answer to this question is Guillermo A. Calvo, a former chief economist with the Inter-American Development Bank.  The institutions o…

Thirty Year Cycles

I used to believe there was an enduring 30 year cycle in the history of the US which became especially evident in presidential politics. Four years ago I abandoned that belief in the face of what seemed clear Popperian falsification.

Now I'm wondering if I have to go home again, in a conceptual sense.

The 30 year idea included the view that there is a general drift of reform in our history in which each train of reform runs out of steam as its central figures age, get tired, and fall out into competing factions. When that train has lost forward momentum, there is a strong counter-reform move. I don't remember what the term for this is. Let's call it the Rightward Shove for now.

The second election of Grover Cleveland to the Presidency, in 1892, was such a shove. Never mind now just in what respects. The next Rightward Shove after that came in 1920, bringing in Harding and bringing an end to the Progressive Era. The next Shove after that ... 1952, Eisenhower and the end of…