Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Non-Barcelona Stuff (Corrected and Updated)

I wanted to write something about Catalan and the sheer arbirtrariness of language categories but I can't think of much that hasn't been said before.   Meanwhile, there is an amazing amount of good stuff piling up in the Instapaper:
Gold Replaces Triple A.

The Sleeping Beauty Problem.

The Hedging Theory of Elites.

Inequality Quiz.

Galbraith v. Keynes Smith.

Note: dead links corrected a week late. sorry 'bout that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lines Penned While Waiting for the Funicular

A maiden so very particular
In an enterprise extracurricular
Said she'd compass a chat
And perhaps a light pat
But she counseled her love not to tickular.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Barcelona Culinary Note: Mercat de la Revolucio

We dined today at the cafe in Barcelona's Mercat de la Revolucio, where you can tuck away a couple of thousand calories' worth of bread,  beer, flan, fried meat and gravy for just 8.50.  It was fine for what it offered though perhaps not as wonderful as its analog at the Mercato Centrale in Firenze (love the white bean soup).  I confess to being a sucker for these old European markets, although there is more and more reason to suspect that have lost their function and persist, if at all, more and more on the force of inertia.  The signals are, I concede, mixed.  There are still fruit and veggie hawkers who look like they have been showing up every morning since Franco was alive.  But there are so many fruit and veggie sellers outside the markets--not to mention the proliferating supermarkets (super and otherwise) that you can't help  but suspect   a government subsidy generated by the nostalgia lobby.

 And the cafe itself--the menu is clearly designed for carters and packers and haulers who need every shot of cheap energy they can get (we were feeding teenagers, which is the nearest modern analog).  Yet there aren't many haulers in evidence any more: most of the people who staff the market spend most of their day standing behind counters.


I  tend to get along easily with these folks.  You could say: of course, it is their business to please me.  But it isn't really: they know perfectly well that I am a passing figure on the scene; they might as well just rip me off and let me go.  But no: they are (almost) unfailingly courteous, helpful and honest about things like small change.  Indeed the only real disappointment is that all those lovely veggies aren't all that good.  They're a bit bland, like in California, as if a bit overwatered.  Could it be that the stall vendors (like all the rest of us?) are falling victim to the enticement of modern marketing?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Arbitrage Opportunity: Gelato

Gelaato (sic) in Barcelona sells 180g of gelato for €3.50 and 240g of gelato for €4.50 and.  So you can buy 2160g as either (a) 12 cups at €3.50 = €42; or (b) nine cups at €4.50 = €40.50.  I fully expect to see some 135-pound Wharton MBA in a black suit at the door arbitraging the €1.50 spread.

Oy Caramba

Sounds like a script for a Mel Brooks movie.


H/T Joel.

An End to World Conflict

Conversation with the young one.  She speaks first:
--Why are there so many different kinds of plugs?  Wouldn't it be easier if we all used the same kind of plug?

--Well, I suppose that when people started using plugs, different nations hit upon different systems.  There wasn't as much travel in those days so it wasn't a problem.  It became a problem only when people started to do a lot of traveling, like we do.   But by then, every country had a lot invested in its own system, and nobody wanted to go to the expense of changing.

I mean, maybe you could think of it like language.  People started speaking different languages.  When people live apart, it isn't a problem,.   It's only a problem when they come together and find they can't understand each other.   Do you think we all ought to speak the same language?

--(After much thought).  Well, I don't think anybody ought to have to give up his or her language.  But I do want people to understand each other. So I guess what I want is for everybody to speak all languages.
Good luck with that, kid.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Supreme Court drops a Smartbomb on Dannielynn Smith

I've  been  otherwise engaged over the last couple of days and so I haven't been able to absorb everything abut the maybe-final chapter of the Anna Nicole Smith saga but it seems to me the one unambiguous inference is that the Supreme Court's five-justice majority has strained every sinew  to make sure that the brat never gets a penny.*  The case presented (as the Court described it) the question "whether a bankruptcy court judge who did not enjoy such tenure and salary protections had the authority .... to enter final judgment on a counterclaim." So stated, this goes to the heart of the matter, but the court responds with a good-for-this-day-and-train opinion, taking out the particular "judgment" and leaving virtually every other interesting issue in abeyance (Scalia seems to have grasped this point).   Thus we learn that the bankruptcy court can't enter final judgment on this sort of issue, and so the judgment in favor of Anna's estate is a nullity. For the moment, I suspect the bankruptcy sodality can finesse the issue by letting the bankruptcy judge propose final judgment for the district judge to enter.    Whether this particular workaround is itself constitutional remains for another day.  But whatever the ultimate result, it is too late for he ghost of Anna.

*Sarcasm.

Barcelona, and the Craftsmanlike Cabbie

We've fetched up in Barcelona after  more hassles than you'd care to hear about.  It's a busier, noisier place than I remember from my last trip here 16 years ago but the main thing that hits you after Paris is how cheap it seems.  Two bucks (dollars) for a supermarket sixpack; a serviceable lunch for five at $75.  But the immediate purpose of this note is to salute the prince of cabbies, the guy who took us from the Maraist out to deGaulle yesterday morning.   He was a debonaire little man with a pressed white shirt and a suitcoat, and I have never enjoyed the services of so deft a driver.   He seemed never to brake or lurch: just threaded his way through the bottlenecks as if it was some kind of performance.  He sported two racks of upscale magazines in the passenger seat, and the whole trip he kept the radio tuned to classical music--I think for his own enjoyment, quite apart from us.    An artist; and come to think of it, maybe he is an artist.   Could it be that this is the guy who came second in the graduation auditions at the conservatory?   And if we went looking, would we find him at midnight on the Chatelet platform, busking for change?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fontaine blue blue bleu bleau (ah!)

The gang did an outing to Fontainebleau yesterday.  It was a first for me--actually, for the whole crowd.   It's a natural for a day trip: just 35 miles southeast of Paris from the Gare de Lyon, which bears an eerie similarity to the trip into southeast England from Waterloo.  We had a hard rain in the morning but around noon the skies cleared and the gardens exploded  in spring green.   The 19-year-old begged for a few minutes just to romp around in the forest; I half expected him to rip off all his clothes.

As to the chateau itself--I'm delighted I went and half sorry I never went  before, but it's a mess: a stew of styles and eras, made more confusing by the habit of previous owners to move stuff around and reassemble.  There's a great deal of techne on offer; lots to admire, some even to inspire a gasp.  Still--correct me if I'm forgetting but I don't remember a single thing that you'd actually call beautiful. Pretty, maybe, but "pretty" in this context is a bit of a slur. Maybe an exception for the outside, stately and restrained, but the inside--my God, no wonder the peasants sharpened their pitchforks.

I'm Thinking, I'm Thinking...

... the Louvre Post Office, which is the only post office in France open 24 hours a day (except 6:20 am to 7:20 am).
Wiki.  Uh, isn't that twenty-three hours a day?

There Ain't No Free Market

Off to accompany the troops to Chartres this morning (perhaps in the rain), but in my absence, take a few minutes to absorb Austin Frakt on one of my favorite themes: there's no such thing as "the market;" there are markets and markets, and some while others work pretty well. Same goes for government, and recognizing this insight makes so much of current debate just noisome gas.

Travel afterthought:  as a geezer traveling with teenagers, I have many occasions to wonder--are they traveling with me, or am I traveling with them?  Or, as is beginning to seem more likely, are they traveling and I trotting along behind?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zazie

The graffiti says:


Le papy de Zazie et le zizi de papa

 Per Google Translate, it doesn't mean much, although at least it has the decency to be a trifle indecent.  I suppose if nothing else it is a riff on Zazie dans Le Metro, Raymond Queneau's 1959 novel (anti-novel?) about the not-very-decent 12-year-old at large in the great city.  I chose it for jetlag diversion because (a) the sentences seemed short; and (b) it's about the Metro, and what's not to like about the Metro?  But that's the point, of course, Zazie never finds the Metro although she certainly finds a lot else.   As to short sentences--well, yes, but Queneau wrote deliberately in a kind of street argot that doesn't appear in my pocket French dictionary nor, I suspect, anyone else's, except perhaps a Dictionnaire de Queneau.

No matter; it's a ripping yarn, as good-natured romp through the city and the language.  I take it Queneau created something of a stir in his time because of his deliberately, almost perversely, non-standard French--this in a country that makes a big deal out of linguistic regularity (or did; the French really seem far more easy-going about matters linguistic than they did in Zazie's day).  My copy does contain a few helpful footnotes, as to tell me, for example, that "fior renvoie au nom d'un  célébré parfumeur, Christian Dior, mais aussi evoques le fion, en argot le derrière ...."  and that "'allors gy' can be read as 'Allons-y! (interjection d'argot).'"



Curious footnote.  I gather Queneau was a fairly big deal in France in his day.   But knocking around Parisian bookstores I find little but scraps, leftovers--this from a man whose biblo apparently contains 40 or more major items  And the same seems to go for any number of others whom we thought of (in my youth) as monuments of French culture--not much Genet, for example, even less Sartre.  A bit of Céline.  Indeed if you are really looking for monuments of (what we remember as) modern French culture, you might be better off prowling the English-language stacks at Shakespeare and Co.   

Monday, June 20, 2011

Paris Semi-Profonde

Okay, so here I'm reading Andrew Hussey on how Paris has been monumentalized and turned over to tourists as the locals are driven off to god knows where.  It's a powerful and not entirely implausible message, though ever since Dean MacCannell invented modern tourism, it's been pretty standard fare.

I suspect it is also mostly true, but I want to introduce a bit of nuance  Sunday afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Buce indulged themselves with a quiet stroll through the back streets a few blocks north of the Seine, like behind the Centre Pompideau.  One thing we noticed: somebody was going in and out of all those massive double doors opening into all those formidable old piles.  And they didn't look like jet setters, either:  more than in an undershirt, with close cropped hair and a cigarette dangling from his lips.  In the street, there were happy strollers in a holiday mood--but best we could tell, they were virtually all French, perhaps Parisians on their day out.  Finally, the Cafe Rambuteau, the brasserie just northeast of the Beaubourg: about mid afternoon, we popped in for a coffee.  I've been by that place  a number of times over the past few years.  I admit that often enough, you'll see tourists taking their ease at the sidewalk tables.  But Sunday, inside and outside, there wasn't a tourist to be seen (present company excepted).  These were all locals and from the look of the place, some of them have been coming here for years--maybe not since the resistance, but maybe since the great Spring of '68, and at least since before the Museum was there (from the look of the crowed, they might not have noticed that the Museum was there).  The menu confirms the intution: snails, tripe, cassoulet with duck confit.  About the only thing cosmopolitan in the whole venue was the lasagne.

I wouldn't make too much of this.  It certainly doesn't look like the rainbow diversity of the 10th Arrondissement just a mile up the hill.  And it'd not remotely like the soul-killing banlieuex where Nicolas Sarkozy liked to brandish his fire hose.  The real message may be that the patina of tourism, though vivid, is neither very deep not very extensive.   It's a corollary of  the point that, however dense the throngs may be around the Winged Victory, you can almost always find repose in the Cypriot collection.  No matter how long the queue at the Cathedral, Paris  semi-profonde continues close by.

Afterthought: Hussey may have a better point, however, when he argues that the French youth are deserting their country for England. That may be true--I believe it was The Economist that observed a while back that the French are now London's principal foreign cohort. But the French youths in London seem to come not just from Paris but from all over--Lyon, Bordeaux, the works. So I'd surmise their alienation has more to do with the top-heavy old guard French government than with anything specifically touristic.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Travel: A Culturally Broadening Experience

Admiring the towers of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, the 17-year-old asked me if The Hunchback of Notre Dame had been a story before it was a Disney movie.

Had she ever heard of Victor Hugo, I asked?   No, she hadn't.  Nor Charles Laughton neither.  But I had never heard of the Disney movie, and so we educated each other.

The Brandeis Curse

Reading William Cohan's new chronicle of Goldman Sachs makes me think of nothing so much as Louis D. Brandeis, late Supreme Court justice and onetime power lawyer in the commercial and economic life of New England.

On Cohan's account, Goldman's greatest evil is not its size or its aggressiveness nor its unmatchable brilliance but its utter incapacity to see a conflict of interest, ever--or at least, ever in any situation that might might make Goldman a dime. It was Goldman, of course, who garnered an unwelcome dose of notoriety (and coughed up a painfully large chunk of cash) for flogging  "Abacus," a mortgage security package that had been designed to fail.  At the time, one could anticipate "the department store defense"--gee, we welcome all customers, we sell suntan lotion and umbrellas, we don't offer an opinion on whether it will rain.  It's a beguiling story, although Cohan's final chapters provide a powerful case for the proposition that it is laughable in the particular context.

But much more: Cohan's version persuades that for Goldman Abacus was not an aberration but a way of life, as much a part of the Goldman DNA as the storied "Fourteen Principles" that are supposed to set it aside from the ordinary herd.  Rather, it would appear that Goldman for as long as anyone can remember has felt entitled to take all sides of every issue, not because they are more sleazy but precisely because they are more pure and thereby exempt from rules that might apply to ordinary mortals.  "Just tell me whether you are my agent or my competitor," Cohan quotes the legendary Sam Zell as saying, in defending his hesitancy to do business with the great money machine.  I grew up taught that your banker is supposed to be your friend, part of your team.  With Goldman, it seems we add the codicil: but not if it costs Goldman a dime.

It's precisely the serene self-approval that makes the attitude so scary and here in particular, the comparison to Brandeis appears apt.  Brandeis treated his habit of  dual representation as a feature, not a bug--"lawyer for the situation" is a phrase that he put into the language.  If he represented adverse interests, betrayed confidences, blurred loyalties, it was all for the greater good and anyway, he was Louis D. Brandeis so he could handle it.

The scary part is, of course, that Brandeis is onto something here: oftentimes it is good to have one even-tempered wise man who can step in and crack heads and make everybody behave.  That sort of thing is less possible once everybody lawyers up (do they say "bankers up?").   But lawyers at least go through the pretense of declaring that they're bound  by principles of client loyalty.   With bankers, it seems much more a matter of lip service.

In the case of Goldman, at least, I can see one ineluctable force that drives the enterprise in this direction--trading, particularly prop trading.  Cohan does a splendid job of accounting for how Gus Levy by his own energy and will transformed Goldman-as-counselor into Goldman as slam-bam-thak-you-ma'am market activist.  Once trading comes to dominate the income statement, I suspect it is impossible not for it to dominate the enterprise.   But by that point, you aren't really an investment bank any more--you are a trading engine with an investment bank in the caboose.  I just wish that Goldman, like Brandeis, wasn't so smug about it. 

[Time allocation note: no, I am not wasting, Paris.   This was on the plane.]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ah, at Last!

Two days without internet, five of us, in Paris,  with nothing to do but to enjoy the lures of the great city--how can we help you to understand our suffering?    Hal finally found the reset button and we won't have to leave the living room for the rest of the week.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Off Again, with a Note on Van Gogh

We're off to Paris and Barcelona with a couple of teenagers.  The auguries are favorable, but not everyone has a good time in Paris.   Here is Vincent van Gogh writing from Paris in the summer of 1887 to Theo, his brother and principal source of support, both emotional and financial.

Dear old boy


Thank you for your letter and what it contained. It depresses me to think that even when it's a success, painting never pays back what it costs.


I was touched by what you wrote about home--”They are fairly well but still it is sad to see them.” A dozen years ago one would have sworn that at any rate the family would always prosper and get on. It would give great pleasure to mother if your marriage come off, and for the sake of your health and your work you ought not to remain single.


As for me—I feel I am losing the desire for marrige and children, and now and then it saddens me that I should be feeling like that at thirty-five just when it should be the opposite. And sometimes I have a grudge against this rotten painting. It was Richepin who said somewhere:


“The love of art means the loss of real love.”


I think that is terribly true, but on the other hand real love makes you disgusted with art.


And at times I feel already old and broken, and yet still enough of a lover not to be a real enthusiast for painting. To succeed one must have ambition, and ambition seems to me absurd. What will come of it I don't know; I would like above all things to be less of a burden to you—and that is not impossible in the future—for I hope to make such progress that you will be able to show my stuff boldly without compromising yourself.


And then I will take myself somewhere down south, to get away from the sight of so many painters tht disgust me as men.
Vincent did leave Paris, for Arles in the south, at the beginning of 1888. In the summer of 1890, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Most of what we remember of van Gogh was done during those two and a half years in the south of France. Theo outlived him by just six months; he died of syphillis at the beginning of 1891.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dress British, Think...

Webchat that the next King of England may be Jewish  recall to mind the old LP record (!) in which "Jomo Kenyatta" declared, with suitable comedy-record accent, that it was ambition to be "the first Negro Queen of England" (I can't surface it on Google, though).  I certainly wish Kate Middleton's progeny a better record than Kenyatta achieved in Kenya.

Norquist's Compassionate Libertarianism

Since I find it linked here and here, I understand that this is mostly a spasm of futilitarian wonkiness, but I still have to marvel at the people's friend Grover Norquist as he opposes the repeal of one of the most indefensible of all government subsidy programs, ethanol.  Well, not repeal exactly: he'll let it go if the bad guys will give up the estate tax.


And here we thought Norquist opposed government spending.  Turns out Norquist is fine with government spending as long as  (a) the money goes to some of the least deserving; and (b) he can cloak his enthusiasm in an unmeetable demand.


The Wichita bureau points out that it doesn't have to be ethanol; Norquist could use the same logic for, say, infant health care.  Can we assume that Norquist would concede that we can keep  infant health care if we give up the estate tax (rhetorical question, sarcasm)?  Or does his compassion extend only to the truly indefensible?

Granny Fraud and Facebook

Mrs. Buce reports that her excer-swim classs this morning was all agog about "Granny Fraud," as in "hello Granny, please send $10,000 and please don't tell Mom and Dad"--the call coming, of course, not from the child, but from some rapacious lizard in a sunlit piazza halfway round the world.   The consensus seems to be that it's goin' round: everybody in the pool seemed to know somebody who (or whose sister, or cousin, or girl-the-nephew-is-engaged-to's brother) has fallen victim to this crude and venerable scam.*  The unanimous consensus: it's Facebook.

Is there a rash of Granny fraud?  Possibly.  I get 71 Google hits, which I guess is not quite zero in Google numbers, but it is pretty close to vanishingly small.  And not all of them are on point; at least one seemed to address granny defrauding Medicare, and at least one, the  fraud of (alleged) President Steve Dunham Barack Obama's granny in concealing the (alleged?) President's true parentage.**  Of course not every report will use the snappy monicker.

But if there is an epidemic of granny fraud, is the internet, and particularly Facebook, to blame?  Possibly, but how?  I have 100-odd Facebook friends; I can't think of any whose profile says "here is the name of my Granny, and here is her phone number."  What, exactly, does Facebook offer a troller not offered by conventional sources?  I think the range of possibilities includes these:

1) There's an epidemic of granny fraud.
2) It is caused by Facebook.
3) There's an epidemic of people who see an event they don't like and blame it on a technology they don't understand.
4) 1) and 2)
5) 1) and 3)
6) Other

I guess 3) can stand alone, but not 2). Are there other possibilities?
===
*Actually, Mr. and Mrs. Buce do know a recent victim: we could give you particulars if we were so disposed, which we are not.

**Sarcasm.  But at the risk of getting sidetracked, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did pass as "Steve Dunham" in some company, and some point in his life.   This fact does not, in my mind, rise to the dignity of a Constitutional infirmity.  

Ancient History

“Our plan of operation calls for being long or short up to a maximum of twenty seconds,”

Jack Aron of commodities trading firm J. Aron, about 1979, as recorded in William D. Cohan, Money and Power  (Kindle Locations 4679-4680) (2011).  Wouldn't get him to the quarter finals today, would it?

Footnote:  Another one of  those entirely meaningless titles.  It's a history of Goldman Sachs, but could just as well have been a history of the Chinese central government, not so?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Somebody Drop a Dime on This Guy

I've written before about our friend Lester, the world's greatest handyman and inter alia, the proprietor of the guerrilla redwood forest in Palookaville's fine urban park.

If anybody is his own man, Lester is. He's an independent contractor with a vengeance, working for whom and under such circumstances as he sees fit. He sends bills in his own meticulous block handwriting, on forms that bear the inscription "I sell labor!" A keen sense of self-worth; he is also a bit of an obsessive, which may not be a vice in a handyman. He'll work until doomsday--well, sundown--to get something right. More than once I've expected the veins in his temples to explode.

Something I didn't know, though it should hardly surprise me: Lester also keeps meticulous personal. Rccords. He says he has "spreadsheets" (but not on a computer--Lester has not the least curiosity about computers)--spreadsheets on which he records every penny that he spends, at work or on his own. He can compare month to month, year to year, for all I know day to day.

Apparently it is a family tradition. Lester gleefully recounts the story of the time when his mother was called in for a tax audit. The auditor admitted defeat and accepted her accounts down to the penny. If ever he gets audited, Lester said, he is ready.

I hadn't the heart to tell Lester that I don't think the IRS does audits in quite that way any more, but it did occur to me: nothing would please Lester more than a good tax audit. Then and only then could he prove he was really his mother's son. So, somebody drop a dime on this guy. Make his day.  

The Bankruptcy Judges in Chorus

  Here's a curiosity, ripped from an email circulating among members of the Cal State Bar Insolvency Law Committee:

In a decision signed by 20 bankruptcy judges sitting in the Central District of California, the bankruptcy court (J. Donovan) denied the U.S. Trustee's Motion to Dismiss a Chapter 13 BK case.  The U.S. Trustee argued that a same sex couple did not qualify to file a joint bankruptcy case, based on the federal Defense of Marriage Act's (DOMA) definition of "spouse" as a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.  The court ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional.
I'm  not particularly upset by the substance of the decision, although I think it probably does torture the statute.  But statutes get tortured in much worse ways and as a matter of policy, I don't see any reason why Chapter 13 should not be open to partnerships of any sort, domestic or otherwise (same goes for closely held corporations).

What intrigues me is this business of a joint decision--I guess you would call it an en banc--from the twenty judges (is that 100 percent?).  And on a "constitutional issue," at that.

Thing is, the judicial power of the bankruptcy judge in any event is very close to an exercise in smoke and mirrors.  Thing is, the Constitution provides that " The judicial Power of the United States" may be exercised only by one appointed to serve "during good Behaviour."  By almost universal assent, this translates into "lifetime appointee."   The district judge is clearly a lifetime (=220 volt) appointee.  The bankruptcy  judge is appointed for a term of 14 years (= 12 volts).  In order to tease any power out of the bankruptcy judgeship, you have to  persuade yourself that the bankruptcy judge is either (a) not exercising "judicial power;" or (b) not exercising power at all but merely working as some sort of instrument of the district.

That, in crude oversimplification, is the framework established back in 1982 in a Supreme Court decision called Marathon.  Bankruptcy judges today may be best understood as doing a bit of both--a bit of (a), a bit of (b).   Like a lot of ramshackled institutional constructs, it works a lot better in practice than in description, though I suspect there are a fair number of lawyers--the more thoughtful, reflective sort--who remind themselves that the whole thing is a bit of shadow puppetry.

Anyway, the rickety framework may be good enough to get the judge through the daily calendar of dischargeability cases, claims adjudication, that sort of thing,.  "Constitutional" issues might be seen as somewhat above the humble servant's pay grade.  But constitutional issues have an annoying habit of popping up just anywhere (there's a fine old opinion by Justice Douglas that started out as a vagrancy case in Louisville police court--I know, I happened to be there that day).   So maybe the bankruptcy judges has the right/power to open his mouth as the case whizzes by on its way to higher authorities.

But what's this business about an en banc?  Twenty times nothing is still nothing, and if the judge deciding the case has such slender authority, what can it mean for the other 19 to scratch their John Hancocks?     Formally, I can't think of any.  Functionally, it certainly is a way of saying "hey guys, we really mean it.  And it is the way will behave until some real plucks our ears."

The way they will behave: there is perhaps one better argument to be made in favor of the judges than the dismissive travesty I've put together here.   That is: if a judge has jurisdiction over anything it is perhaps the conduct and management of his own court: to set times for hearings, to direct when the clerk's office will open and close, to tell a recalcitrant pro se litigant that he should just shut up.   This case might just be a case about  "what should the clerk do when the joint petitioners present a petition?"  The answer may be, simply as a matter of court management--go ahead put a stamp on it, accept it as filed.  "Accept it as filed" doesn't tell you much but it doesn't tell you nothing, and it tells you something that 20 LA judges are ready to accept these petitions.

Statement of Interest:  Why should I care so much about an arcane sideshow in the bankruptcy court?  Well may you ask.  One reason is that I provided over a similar shadow-play myself when I was a bankruptcy judge in LA.  I had written an opinion on what you might call a vexatious procedural issue.   I rather admired my own handiwork: I invited my colleagues to affix their names to it and some did (in some cases, I suspect, more as a courtesy to me than from any deep conviction).  The opinion went into the reports where I presume it reposes unmolested to this day.  I remember wondering at the time just exactly what in hell it was that I was doing.  FWIW some years later I began to have some second thoughts about the judgment.  But second thoughts are not a permissible luxury in a judge.

Michael Hudson Keeps us All Honest

If you are tempted to think good thoughts about a banker, let Michael Hudson jerk you back by the neck.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bagehot Envies American Fiscal Rectitude

Walter Bagehot, marveling at the persistent habit of the United States government to run budget surpluses, laments that it's not likely to happen in his own  country:

No one who knows anything of the working of Parliamentary Government will for a moment imagine that any Parliament would have allowed any executive to keep a surplus of (United States) magnitude. In England, after the French war, the Government of that day, which had brought it to  happy end, which had the glory of Waterloo, which was in consequence  exceedingly strong, which had besides elements of strength from close boroughs and Treasury influence such as certainly no Government has ever had before--that Government proposed to keep a moderate surplus and to apply it to the reduction of debt, but even this the English Parliament would not endure.  The administration with all its power derived from both from good and evil had to yield; the income tax was abolished, with it went the surplus, and with the surplus all chance of any considerable reduction debt for he time.  In truth, taxation is so painful that in a sensitive which has strong organs of expression and action, the maintenance of a great surplus is excessively difficult.  The opposition will always say that it is unnecessary, is uncalled for, is injudicious; the cry will be echoed in every constituency; there will be a series of large meetings in the great cities; even in the smaller constituencies there will mostly be smaller meetings; every member of Parliament will be pressed by those who elect him; upon this point there will be no distinction between town and country, the country gentleman and the farmer disliking high taxes as much as any in the town. To maintain a great surplus by heavy taxes f debts has never yet in this country been possible, and to maintain a surplus of the American magnitude would be plainly impossible
 So Bagehot in The English Constitution 52 (Dolphin ed.).   He goes on to say that "in reality, America is too rich, daily industry there is too common, too skilful, and too productive, for her to care much for fiscal burdens." 

Cowen's (and Friends') Hungarians

Tyler Cowen posts his favorite things Hungarian and attracts 40-plus comments in the first eight hours, many of them in the dark of night.  Apparently there is no shortage of Hungarian candidates for greatness.

One name I didn't notice: György Lukács, possibly the greatest literary critic of the 20th Century (surely the shrewdest Marxist literary critic), who saved his neck by transforming himself into Stalinist toady. There's a theme here, I think: forty years ago, you could have named half a dozen bigfoot Marxist intellectuals who still cut a swath across the night sky. Aside from Lukács, think Louis Althusser, Lucien Goldmann, Antonio Gramsci. Outside of a fairly small (and I bet not-young) circle, I suspect you'd have tough time getting much name recognition for any of these people today. For my money, there is a lot in Lukács that is worth saving. Perhaps Gramsci too but I suspect he wins points for having the most sympathetic human story of the four. The other two can probably best be left on the battlefield for the crows to pick at.  In general, though, the phrase "influential Marxist theorist" is getting down way close to "worthwhile Canadian initiative." 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quixote Sees Nothing


"I see nothing, declared Don "except three farm girls on three jackasses."


"Then God deliver me from the devil!" exclaimed Sancho. "Is it possible that those three hackneys, or whatever you call them, white as the driven snow, look like jackasses to your Grace?  By the living God, I would tear out this beard of mine if that were true!"


"But I tell you, friend Sancho, it is as true that those are jackasses, or she-asses, as it is that I am Don Quixote and you are Sancho Panza.  At least that is he way they look to me."
So begins Chapter 1o of Part 1 of Cervantes' Don Quixote.  So begins also Chapter 14 of Eric Auerbach's Mimesis, justly recognized as the greatest work of literary criticism of the 20th Century.  Auerbach's particular genius is to give us an exercise in "how we see," through the eyes of 20-odd literary creations form  Homer through Virginia Woolf.  It was written in Istanbul (Auerbach was a refugee from the Nazis) and first published in Switzerland and it is nothing if not cosmopolitan in scope: only one of the authors under scrutiny is German (Schiller) though we have along with the  Cervantes such luminaries as Dante, Shakespeare and Montaigne.

Quixote is almost too obvious a candidate for inclusion in such a conspectus; perhaps no single writer makes so radical a departure from the literary sensibilities that preceded him.   But two things I have just lately learned about Auerbach's Cervantes.   One, it was apparently added as an afterthought, three years after the original publication, for presentation in a Spanish edition.  And two, evidently it made the Spaniards mad: Auerbach treats Quixote as essentially a comedy--far too impertinent for the Spaniards for a foreigner dealing with their national hero.  

John Mauldin Wants a Mulligan

He favored repeal of Glass-Steagall.  He now believes he was wrong.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Me and Ignoto and Robert Rubin, with Jovial Joe

I guess I missed it when I read his own memoir, but I see from the new book about Goldman Sachs* that Robert Rubin began his Goldman career in 1966 with a salary of $13,000.  I was making $11,000 that year as a fairly anonymous Washington correspondent for the Louisville newspapers.  Meanwhile my friend Ignoto (five years younger) tells me he was knocking back $8,500 as a beginniner at a white shoe Wall Street law firm.


I don't think I grasped then that a humble reporter actually earned more than a baby hotshot lawyer; as to bankers, I'm pretty sure I didn't even know a banker--not the Goldman sort, anyway.  Still, it does amuse me to learn that my salary at the time was just two bills away from the salary of the future King of the World.


Ignoto points out that it's not about where you start, it's where you finish.  Rubin presumably saw big bucks in the windshield.  I, meanwhile, was just beginning to experience the uneasy sense that I had pretty much topped out.  Indeed, back in Louisville at the beginning of 1967, I had begun to cast a cold eye across the room on the old guy we can call  Jovial Joe.  Joe was, by almost any measure, a busted flush: an buffer, likeable enough in his way, but not much use to anybody (in the city room at least), lucky to work for an employer who didn't like to fire people.  More than that: at 55-ish, Joe was taking Saturday morning shifts so he could get time and a half so he could pay for his daughter's braces.


I have often said I left journalism for law because I kept meeting lawyers who seemed no smarter than I was who were making twelve times as much money.  This is an exaggeration: most of them were not making twelve times as much money (vide Ignoto, supra).  Anyway, the real reason I left journalism for law is that I didn't want to wind up like Jovial Joe.

Update:  Fifty-five.  Old.  Yes, sure seemed old to me.

How do you Bomb Sand back to the Stone Age?

Asks the Wichita Bureau. NATO has shot its arsenal dry in Libya in two months.  Cf. link.

"Right now," he adds, "I bet the Turks could take Vienna."

Oh Yes We Can

Who says we can't spot a bubble?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

What it is about Paralegals

I assume Marin anticipated the sh*ststorm s/he ran into with the post dumping on paralegals (ha!  I see it has zero "likes"!), but I think a lot of the commentary misses a key point.  It's  not just the smug ignorance and the aristocratic hauteur.   The real thing about being a paralegal is that it's an entirely different skill set--one that does not, on the whole, pay nearly as well as law grads dream of being paid, but one that lawyers dispense with only at their peril.

Good lawyers come with a variety of skills (though it is rare that any one lawyer has all of them--like the title role in Hamlet, the script is just too rich for any single actor to explore it all).  One skill most of them do not have is picking up the pieces.  Good paralegals are great at picking up the pieces at assembling the data, at not-missing the unmissable deadline.  We've all known--okay, I have known--good lawyers who travel with their paralegals as if joined at the hip like Steve Wilson and Lorelei, one doing whatever it is that he does and the other making it all happen.

I suspect I am treading on the outer reaches of a much larger issue here: the whole universe of the "second banana," Sancho Panza, Doctor Watson, Bunter, whatever.  But damn, it's real.    Top executives, the public face of the company--particularly the creative types (eg, fashion designers), but just about anybody highly visible front person--squint a bit and you'll see that almost anybody in this situation operates with a less visible sidekick who keeps it on track.

Women readers, if I have any, are seething at the moment, ready to yell heyThat is precisely the kind of condescension and trivializing that kept my female ancestors in their cages for so long!  I can sympathize and there is at least a large kernel of truth in the view.  I'll try to sidestep it (at least in part?) by insisting that the second banana need not be a female.  Certainly all those career military noncoms who have shepherded countless generations of officers were not female, nor even, come to think of it, remotely feminine.  And FWIW, perhaps the most interesting second banana in literary history is Pallas Athena in the Odyssey, always pullinig Odysseus; chestnuts out of the fire.  I also leave aside for the moment the contentious question of how many women took up the second banana role because it was thrust upon them, not because it was their natural metier.

Sadly, one way to get insight into the matter is to watch what happens to great paralegals when they get fed up with working for a jerk and decide to go to law school themselves.  Some of them do fine, of course, but a lot of them find that their particular skill set just doesn't travel very well and that they have given up  career they were pretty skilled at and secure in for one in which they can find no natural home. One class of second bananas (bananae?) who have famously understood this are the "clerks" ("clarks?") who run/ran barristers' chambers in the classic British law-model.  They learned to practice an aesthetic of 'umble; they also knew how to run rings round their betters, and to make them jump through hoops.  Maybe good paralegals know the same thing and aren't telling us.  

Levitin on Levitin: Polishing the Argument

For comment on credit/mortgage issues, I think nobody tops Adam Levitin.  And for world view in general, I think he is basically on the side of the angels.  But here is an argument that seems to me to need some polish:
 There isn't a binary division of public and private, but a spectrum of various types and levels of government involvement. For example, the basic building block of what you would term private behavior--contract--requires government to exist. Absent government, contract performance is optional, which seriously impedes contracting. Even the Mogadishu arms bazaar has some government involved--the warlord in charge has a monopoly on violence and decides what the rules are going to be in the bazaar. Government is always involved; the only question is how.


Indeed, consider what the US economy would look like with no federal spending. The defense sector, the higher education sector, the transportation sector, and the agricultural sector would barely exist. We wouldn't have the Internet. The financial sector would also be in huge trouble because of lack of market confidence absent a credible regulatory regime.
My analysis starts from the assumption that government exists in every form of human society....
There's so much to agree with here that it is hard to articulate a criticism, but try this: he doesn't go nearly far enough.  It's not just that "government is always involved."  The point is that by our very nature, we are social beings, caught in a web of our loyalties and betrayals, to govern or be governed (or perhaps better, both at once) is what it is to be human.    So to talk of being "free" of "government," is incoherent: freedom is never an abstraction; it is always merely the sum total of those "restrictions" that we regard necessary or appropriate.

[This explains, by the bye, why the libertarian case is at once so plausible and so incoherent.  Of course we want to be free: who wouldn't?  But not one libertarian in a hundred thinks through the idea of "freedom" much beyond "I want mine."]

Adam does a commendable job of trying to incorporate some coherent principles into his definition (and to be fair, of course, he is writing no more than a blog comment, not a treatise).  But I think I he falls into too common a trap: by "government," he seems to be thinking of the highly specific and particular case of a post-Medieval state system--or even more specific, the Kant/Mill duty/welfare jambalaya that underlies most of our conversations about government today.

The trouble with this approach is that this kind of "government," no matter how pervasive, is culturally specific, an artifact, and occupies only a fragment of human space or time.  And humans have governed and sustained government in one form or another since they crawled out of the slime. Maybe "the state" does it; but maybe not; maybe the church, or the paterfamilias, or the army, et cetera.

"The church" is a particularly useful example, because our "separation" of church and state is in large measure rooted in a particular historical accident--the fact that neither the Pope nor the Holy Roman Emperor could trump the other in the Middle Ages.  It's a model which, however attractive (and I do find it attractive) would strike most people in most places as a perverse curiosity.

"The  army" may be an even more useful example.  We might "privatize" (interesting choice of words) all our military functions by, say, deeding West Point over to Blackwater but we wouldn't be less "governed" thereby.  Ironically, the interesting thing about the military is the number of situations in which the military has washed its hands in the actual activity of governing, finding the quotidian just too damn hard and preferring to stay in the background as a court of last resort.

I suppose Adam might say he knows all this as well or better than I and no doubt he does.  But confusing "the particular,"--the culturally specific modern Weberian "monopoly of legitimate violence" with the pervasive nature of government in all times and all places can leave him defending things he doesn't want or need to defend.    The immediate example would be, I think, the government (sic) role in the mortgage market.  We've certainly got ourselves into a horrible cockup on that one, and straightening out will at best requrie some active, ongoing "public" involvement.  But I hope he doesn't want to go back to the institutional model we operated on prior to 2008--and certainly not to think that such a model is the essence of "government."  Oh and by the way, without stretching this post too far: Adam, you might want to back away from Amtrak.  Like you, I'm a huge fan, but for defenders of public involvement, it is not an ace card.   


Transcription Error

All this chatter about the Congressman with the tee-hee name brings to mind an episode in a simpler time involving the old Boston Evening Transcript.  You remember the Transcript, that bastion of Back Bay propriety, the one that  used to publish Harvard College orations in Latin--call it L'Osservatore Romano for the codfish aristocracy.

Any, one day a Transcript music critic, in a grumpy mood, recounted how the cello player had sat stolid "like Buddha regarding his navel."  An editor spotted this indelicacy in the first edition and, horrified, ordered its immediate removal.   These were the days of those great lead-cast stereotype cylinders where the only way to excise an offending phrase was to chip the plate. So for the rest of the evening, the Transcript reported that the cellist sat stolid "Like Buddha regarding his        ."
 

Simpler time.  Now this, from T.S. Eliot.

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, "Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript."

Con Artist

The Emperor Constantine the Great was the son of Constantine I.  Constantine the Great had half sibs named Constantius and Constantia, as well as a nephew named Constantius.  Among Constantine the Great's own children, he counted a Constantine., a Constantius, a  Constantus and a Constantia.


[Sourece: The Genealogy of Constantine, page 14 of Jacob Burckhardt, The Age of Constantine the Great (Pantheon ed. 1949)]

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

There'll Be an App for That

Garance Franke-Ruta writes (in The Atlantic):

Heck, after Weiner, I'll bet more men take up the practice of sending photos to women than are scared off by his example. 
Very likely, with the qualifier that the practice surely isn't all that new.  What I hear, it was fairly common back in a simpler time for the knuckle-dusters down at the watering hole to snap Polaroids of their tackle and ship them off to selected friends--perhaps as a guessing game, with valuable prizes (to my everlasting sorrow, I was never invited to participate).  Chances are the recipients were the same ones who livened up the office Christmas party by Xeroxing their butts.

Note that I succeeded in getting two brand names into the previous paragraph, tagging this as a kind of technology story.  Which suggests that somebody, somewhere, even now as we speak, is trying to figure out a way to monetize The Anthony and repackage (heh!) it as--as what?  A computer game?  An alternate reality?  An aggegator?   Yes, an aggregator sounds like just the thing.  Think about it.  No, don't bother, someone is doing that for you.

Underbelly's Morning Steal: Plagiarism

Andrew Gelman says he's never done a top ten list before but I'd say his inaugural offering--on excuses for plagiarism--is so good that it deserves plagiarism republication in full here:

10. Someone snuck into my house and edited the file while I was in the shower. So sue me!


9. Out of loyalty to my hard-working graduate students, I refuse to pin the blame on them, even though it’s their fault. I take full responsibility.


8. Even a monkey typing at random, if he were to write more than 160 papers and five books, might occasionally To be or not to be, that is the qjuiosusdfu79lkjew.


7. I didn’t plagiarize them, they anticipated me!


6. If I don’t publish a new article or book this year, a puppy will die. Sorry—that’s just the way it is.


>5. Sure, I could’ve copied the original document word-for-word, but that would’ve been really boring. Also, I changed the font,


4. Nobody complained when Dr. King did it.


3. Hey—look over there! Is that a yellow-bellied sapsucker?


2. Somebody hacked my twitter account.< 1. Clippy!

The only improvement I can suggest is that he needs to work in the passive voice, as in "the deed was done" or perhaps the ever popular "sorry if someone was offended."

Afterthought:  I had completely forgotten Clippy.   But I think this guy ought to be tied to an anthill and covered with honey.



Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Houghton Responds to Buce on Mau-rice

Good, he followed through: Ken  Houghton is up with his promised post undertaking to show how and why I was too kind to Maurice (don't call him "Mo") Greenberg in my (re)telling the story of the debacle that is AIG.  Houghton's is a fascinating post and is worth your time and effort whether or not you read my original (which is here).    I can be magnanimous not least because I really don't have a dog in the fight: I was retailing what I read in Roddy Boyd's absorbing account of the debacle, and my account possibly be any more accurate than Doyle's.  As to Greenberg himself, it's clear that Houghton entertains, as the late Speaker John McCormack said about a political foe "a minimum high regard for the man."  Yet here is the oddity: on the issue of Greenberg's role in the crisis, I'm really not sure there is all that much real estate between us.   Houghton and I agree that AIG probably would have hit the skids whether or not Eliot Spitzer had attacked.  It might be that I was too credulous in falling for the line about Greenberg's management skills.  Yet the fact is, as Boyd makes clear, the bolts were loose and the wheels were beginning to wobble long before Spitzer made his move--and indeed it was precisely because he scented weakness that Spitzer figured he could move in for a cost-effective kill.

I don't think there can be any doubt that Boyd was impressed by Greenberg's apparent skill at his job.  One thing I guess everybody agrees on is that Greenberg was an obsessive detail oriented workaholic.  I'd have to concede that if he was successful in his detail-oriented workaholism, he was as kind of an outlier: detail obsession is the one thing you are not supposed to do as a top manager:  you are supposed to know how to identify people you can trust, and farm things out.  Obsession about detail also leaves the obsessive and his company vulnerable to one phenomenon that clearly did overtake AIG on Greenberg's departure: a gaping, yawning, black hole, with nobody who can fill it ("what is the combination to the paper clip vault?"--"I don't know, Maurice had it memorized").   And indeed if there is one important charge on which Greenberg seems clearly culpable, it is in allowing AIG to wind up with the man they chose as Greenberg's successor--a glorified insurance salesman who seems to have been utterly out of his depth in the management suite.  Dogged loyalty may be a promising route to the front office but it makes for a black mark against anybody that lets it happen.

Anyway, at the end of the day we are still at wouldacouldashoulda, but at the end of the day there is one point on which Houghton and I seem to agree: Spitzer or no, it probably would have happened anyway.  


Just Askin': Cloud Software

If Steve Jobs is going cloud, will there be any further need for DropBox?  For Evernote?  Oh, and Instapaper, which I just started using last week?

Update: NYT Bits says maybe so.   In the short term I get that, but it's beginning to look like this is another soupbowl in which she sharks will swallow the minnows.

Vote for Bill Aims!

In the soon to be vacant New York 9th:

Bill Aims to Protect Hotel Workers from Sexual Abuse

Monday, June 06, 2011

Oh to be 70 Again

One of the grandbabies thought this picture looked like me.  She was right, but my center of gravity has gone lower since then.

Aunt Selma and the Motorcycle Gang

Here's a bit that just surfaced in some old household debris.  It's a letter from my late Aunt Selma, sent to several of her nieces in 1952.  She was a highly respected and respectable (if not entirely proper) manager of the office of a law firm.  She liked to tell people that she was a virgin.


Afterthought: "If I live to be 40"--cute.  As was no secret, in 1952 Selma was 48.

And an update: My sister Sally, one of the original recipients, adds--"Oh my, remember well the motorcycle letters ... They made us laugh then.  Now I see them a little differently as sort of a longing for some excitement that never quite came her way and that seems sort of sad now don't you think?"

Weird-seeming Blog Post Subject
That is not as Weird as it Sounds


Background: thing is, the Poles are really good at this sort of thing.  Somewhere I think I still my framed print of a Polish circus poster, with the Mona Lisa doing a handstand, her feet behind her head.

Market Niche

The New York Times identifies a market niche hitherto unknown to me --"relatively ordinary people of means."  In Timesspeak, that translates into people who are willing and able to pop "upward of $10,000 a month ... for a particular combination of space, light, grandeur and amenities."   And here I thought I was a relatively ordinary person of means...

Sunday, June 05, 2011

What Money Can't Buy

There's a noteworthy absence of schadenfreud in the blogosphere tonight over the fact that poor North Korea had to settle for second place in the much-awaited world happiness sweepstakes.  Todd Buchholz is reduced to an exclamation point (followed, to be fair, by a useful discussion of "happiness indeces" in general);  the rarely-at-a-loss Tyler Cowen, to a double exclamation point.   No doubt Tyler was impressed that North Korea so so narrowly squeaked past Cuba (#3) and Venezuela (#5): we assume these laggards will regain their mojo once they get nuclear weapons and then everybody on the first team can be number one.

Proving again that money doesn't buy happiness, the United States American Empire came in 203d. No word on what it would take to overcome our competitor at 202d (not, indeed, any word as to who it is).

For a more sedate inquiry into the measuring of happiness in China, go here.


P

Write Your Own Headline

From CNN, April 2, 2009

Some economists say the U.S. economy won't recover until 2010 or beyond.

Levitin Explains What was Right with Glass-Steagall

What to do to correct the banking mess?  One of the first things you almost always here is "bring back Glass-Steagall," that bedrock of bankstructure which, from 1933 uintil 1939, kept commercial and investment banking each in its own sandbox.

I've been a skeptic.  True, repeal of Glass Steagall was a major victory for banker power. Yet it has never been evident to me that breakdown the commercial/invstment wall had much to do with the current crisis.  If breaking the wall did not create the crisis then reconsructing the wall--no matter how much banks hate it--might not be the solution.  The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Adam Levitin, who just keeps getting better and better on mortgage/banking issues, weights in with a really good reason to regret the demise of Glass Steagall.  It's part of a longish post that touches on several issues (worth reading in its entirety).  But here is the Glass Steagall point:

The politics of regulation is where Congress really got it wrong with Dodd-Frank. The fundamental assumption underlying Dodd-Frank is that the financial crisis's root problems stemmed from a market that had out run regulation and that the fix was to be found in adding or subtracting some regulations.  In other words, Dodd-Frank diagnosed the financial crisis as a regulatory problem. And there were certainly regulatory failures involved in the crisis.


But the real problem wasn't the regulations or financial economics, but the political economy of regulation.  Put in lay terms, the problem was political not regulatory or financial. In most instances, federal regulators had the power pre-Dodd-Frank to have cracked down on many of the practices that led to the financial crisis, in both the mortgage market and the derivatives market. They simply failed to exercise those powers. What's more, Congress and particularly the regulatory agencies themselves engaged in significant deregulation. .


The fundamental problem in financial regulation is that bank regulators and large parts of both political parties in Congress have been effectively "captured" by the financial services industry....


Dodd-Frank didn't fix the dysfunctional political economy of financial regulation. And even if the Volcker Rule had been adopted in full measure (rather than gutted by Scott Brown), it wouldn't have made any difference. The last financial regulatory measure that really addressed the political economy problem was the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933.


No one every conceives of the 1933 Glass-Steagal Act as a political economy move, but by splitting the investment banks from the commercial banks, it divided the financial services industry, which meant (1) that each segment had much less weight to throw around, and (2) they could be played against each other.  That was the story with the passage of the Trust Indenture Act of 1939 (William O. Douglas got the commercial banks to support the legislation to screw the investment banks out of the indenture trustee business), and the story of a lot of turf war litigation between commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies. All of that ended with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which created a financial services lobbying Vultron, much more powerful than the sum of its parts. In retrospect, the political economy effect might have been the most important aspect of Gramm-Leach-Bliley. The Volcker Rule wouldn't undo this political economy effect.


So we're still in a situation in which the fate of financial regulation is decided not on its merits, but by political clout....
"Divide and conquer."  Powers of the weak. Regulation a la Sun Tzu.  Why didn't I think of that?   

Critical Judgment of the Day

Haydn filtered through John Coltrane's kidneys.

Robert Greenberg on Beethoven's last quartet.  



[Disclaimer: I heard him live in Davis this afternoon, not sure the quoted remark is on the disc.]

Saturday, June 04, 2011

No Jury Would Convict...

Asked at a Senate confirmation hearing if he had ever in public or private pinched a woman’s behind, Mr. Eagleburger replied: “Can I divide that into two questions?”
 From the NYT death notice of legendary diplomat Lawrence S. Eagleburger.

Ha! Here it Is!

Joel once wisely observed that my bicycle looked like I used it to carry bombs down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Now this:


(From the Smithsonian Museum History of American Wars)  

Another Underbelly Milestone

I am (or was a while ago) the #1 hit at Google Iceland for the search 'Icelandic talc."

Hoisted from the Other Guy's Comments: Romney as Prince Hal

This one makes me really uneasy.  Tom Marney says:

 I think Romney might be shrewdly telegraphing the message that he'll say literally whatever it takes to get elected, then throw it all away once he's in and do sensible things as president. Not too far from Obama policywise (since the range of sensible things that can be done is quite narrow at this point) but without Obama's burden of unconditional opposition from the entire Republican Party, not just the crazies.
 The scary part is that this just could be true--but it is way too much like a cargo cult, or "if only the tsar knew," or young Prince Hal disporting himself in the stews of Eastcheap as he awaits the day to astonish the world by presenting himself as a King.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behaviour I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
-- William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part I I.ii.173–195.  
 
Yeh, right.   

Jail and Criminal Elites

The usually-right Glenn Greenwald has an overwhelmingly right piece up this morning about double vision at The Washington Post over criminal law: one law for us, the political elites, another for them, the great unwashed who deal dime bags in the 'hood.   Or perhaps I should say no law for the elites who in the eyes of the post ought to be able to do pretty much what they damn please.

A skeptic will say--well, what about DSK, the uber-elite who spent at least a few hours at Rikers on his rush trip to ignominy?  It's an interesting question and strictly speaking, I don't know whether the Post has weighed in on it or not--though from what we hear, the French establishment seems to be taking the Post-like view that you just don't do such things to such a (nice) (powerful) (well-dressed) man.

But here is a possible distinction: DSK's offense looks like a crime.  As the old Kingston Trio song goes: I don't know whether to hang you or not but thisshere shootin' o' deputy sheriffs has just naturally got to stop.  Trying to inflict yourself on an African maid is uncool, at least the new uncool.  At least in the case of white-collar crime, that might be one reason for the iconic American perp walk: you want to make em look like criminals, for those citizens who simply cannot make head or tail out of the actual charge.

Flipside: it is very hard to tell the difference between aggravated criminal politics (or banking) from what they appear to do every day.  Let me think about that...


Afterthought: this is perhaps what the Post editors don't want to put their friends through.  Or anyone else, you would think.

Get Ready for the Breakaway Republic
Of Vanatu-Philipovia


Vanuatu’s government faces a dizzying task, trying to govern a wildly diverse population scattered in 82 volcanic islands over a territory of almost 5,000 square miles. Daniel Scott, a travel writer who recently returned from there, described one ethnic group, the Yaohnanen, who worship Britain’s Prince Philip, believing that he is the incarnation of one of their ancestral spirits, and believe he will one day return to their island and rule the world.
Link. Thanks, Larry.  Oh, and there's a Wiki.

L

Kevorkian Cheap Shot of the Morning

Dr. Jack Kevorkian's father ran "a small excavation company."

E. Coli Datapoint of the Morning

The E. Coli virus bacterium,* currently making such a nuisance of itself in Germany and elsewhere, was "discovered" (isolated, identified) by a German physician just 137 years ago.  That would be Theodor Escherich, the "e" in the name.  Escherich was employed at Mainz.  He made his first public presentation on the topic at Munich, based on observations he had made at a cholera epidemic in Naples.

The sequencing of the deadly new variety was carried out in April at the Beijing Genomics Institute, the world's largest.    German scientists had been scrambling to identify the virus.  The Chinese, using samples provided by researchers working in Germany, cracked the code in three days.
---
*Thanks to John for the correction. He seems to be correct, although "e coli virus" (in quotes) gets 133,000 Google hits, many from sources you would think ought to know ("e coli bacteria" gets 807,000). A possible source of the confusion may be that it's a virus--a bacteriophage--that turns normally harmless E.coli into a killer.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Shakespeare On Sexual Obsession, Again

Funny,remembering Angelo's speech of lust and isolated horror, I find myself thinking of another Shakespearean obsessive just a few years later, this one (in even more clotted verse) projecting his own corrupt fantasies onto his entirely undeserving wife:

Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and ears a fork'd one!
Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play.
There have been,
Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now;
And many a man there is, even at this present,
Now while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm,
That little thinks she has been sluiced in's absence
And his pond fish'd by his next neighbour, by
Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there's comfort in't
Whiles other men have gates and those gates open'd,
As mine, against their will. Should all despair
That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind
Would hang themselves. Physic for't there is none;
It is a bawdy planet, that will strike
Where 'tis predominant; and 'tis powerful, think it,
From east, west, north and south: be it concluded,
No barricado for a belly; know't;
It will let in and out the enemy
With bag and baggage: many thousand on's
Have the disease, and feel't not.
 That would be Leontes on Winters' Tale.  Between the two we find the isolated, obsessive and even more damaging Othello.    

Mrs. Buce on the Mafia Diet

It's all a matter of keeping your priorities straight.   Chez Buce read a study a while back of "the Mafia diet"--stuff they eat at mob powwows in Sicily (perhaps it was this one).   As you might guess, some of the "diet" turns out to be ordinary stuff.  They like to start off with olives, for example, and little chunks of salty pecorino (yum!).  They follow that up with pasta loaded up with heavy stuff--fried eggplant is good.  And champagne; not so much  because they like champagne, but because they know it is expensive.  Lots of champagne.   And so it goes except that at the end, somebody gets shot.

Well you might as well go, says Mrs. Buce.  You're going to get shot anyway.  At least you get a meal.

Oh Quit Pickin' on Sarah

My  mother made me learn The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere when I was about six years old.  Not an imposition, really.   My mind has always been kind of a sinkhole for doggerel verse, and better Longfellow than this.  It was years later before I learned that the whole thing is a pack of lies.   But it isn't supposed to be true; you don't expect truth from Longfellow, any  more than you do from Parson ("cherry tree") Weems or Oliver (just about every mad fantasy in the language) Stone. So I say give Sarah a bye one this one.  If she wants to tell us that we are coming to warn the British about their second amendment rights, God bless her. You might want to ask her, though, who she thinks is the ninth freest economy in the world.


Afterthought  Ever one to press her luck, my mother also made me learn this, so I was a natural for a multipolar world.

A Vader by Any Other Name would Smell as Sweet

Names define us; I think it was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who pointed out that you were more likely to be treated as Irish if your father was named "Hogan" than if your mother was.  And I feel for all those little Osamas on the playground (unless the playground is in, say, Riyadh).  In the same vein, in law school it struck me that people named Smith and Jones were less likely to get entangled with the law than people named, say, Katzenbach and McClung.  I used to invent fanciful case names.  Who can get a fair trial in, for example, Vader v. Little Sisters of the Poor?

But this guy leaves me in the dirt. 

Ready When You Are, AB

Happy to hear the real story.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Romney and Freedom, with a Note on Health Care

Oh boy, if Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann said it, you could write it off as just wilful ignorance or batshit looniness, but when Mitt Romney says that we are  "only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy," you'd just have to write it up as an arrogant, insolent, baldfaced lie.  Which is pretty much what they are calling it  over at Politifact, the Poynter journalistic fact-checker (sourced, ironically, in large measure, to those bomb-throwing insurrectionists at the Heritage Foundation).

Poynter confers particular attention on the Heritage economic freedom index for 2011, on which the US ranks ninth from the top "freest") out of 179  (actually 183, adding four more "states" where government is so chaotic they cannot be ranked--a kind of freedom itself, of course). None of this is surprising to anyone of even mildly wonky sentiments, a group which clearly includes Romney himself.  But here's an extra irony I hadn't noticed before: health care.  Namely that every one of those top eight has some kind of universal public health care.  And they virtually all get better results than the US has, and at substantially less cost.

Local mileage may vary, of course, and each of the eight eight solves the problem in differnt ways. I suspect that Singapore (number two on the list) provides relatively the smallest amount of direct government cash.  But (as Bryan Caplan makes clear, in a generally approving review) there is nothing remotely "free" about the Singaporean health care system: shorthand, it's a mix of compulsory savings  and means-tested backup, plus a (dare one say it?) public option.

 I dunno, maybe Romney (who can clearly say anything with the same schoolboy grin) will soon be telling us that Singapore and Hong Kong (and Switzerland, and Denmark, and Canada, and Ireland, and New Zealand, and Australia) are just mired in post-Leninist purgatory.    Others might say otherwise: they might say it shows that freedom can be enhanced (even on a  Heritage definition) by the right kind of government intervention.  Like, say, in Massachusetts.