Ben A.
Ben H.

"Our salmon is from Canada. All wild salmon in Canada is farm raised."

If this seems suspicious to you, read on.

[Ben A.: 4/9/05 18:43]
Redeeming the Neocons

No surprise that I completely agree with Ben H that the neoconservative movement has gotten an entirely raw deal from a lazy and (at times willfully) uncomprehending press. Maybe if journalists could be bothered to open a book they would avoid these problems. [Ben A.: 4/9/05 18:41]
Bless Those Neocons

It's interesting that the most vilified political grouping these days, the neoconservatives, were for the most part strongly anti-segregation and anti-communist. Tricky Je -- I mean, tricky Straussians! [Ben H.: 4/9/05 09:43]
Every Ideology Should Be Frequently Reminded of Its Failures

I don't think that the left, near or far, has even begun to come to grips with the disaster that was communism.

--Michael Walzer

All too many conservatives were passive during the segregation fight or candidly on the side of segregation.

No Republican here should kid themselves about it. The greatest leaders in fighting for an integrated America in the twentieth century were in the Democratic party. The fact is, it was the liberal wing of the Democratic party that ended segregation.

--Newt Gingrich

[Ben A.: 4/8/05 16:36]
Why New York Is Doomed: Reason #1298

Our contractors have finished building out the firm's new office in Hong Kong. At the same time, we have begun in New York to add two small glass-walled offices to the edge of our trading floor. The total cost of building and furnishing the Hong Kong office: $250K. The cost of adding the two little glass-walled rooms in New York, along with all of the ridiculous code-related changes required to this, the cost of a "facilitator", the costs imposed by our building (like $75/hr to reserve the freight elevator): $125K. Of course, the latter project is far from complete, and if experience can serve as a guide, we will likely face cost overruns. The $250K figure for HK came in exactly in line with the budget, despite the fact that our firm had no one on-site to ride herd on the contractor. [Ben H.: 4/8/05 08:15]
More Technology ≠ Greater Elegance

When I was a kid I had an alarm clock in the shape of a softball. The clock face and the buttons were in a slightly recessed plastic piece. You could cause it to "snooze" by throwing it at a wall or floor. But when it went off again you'd have to go find it.

However, it broke after being thrown too many times. [Doug: 4/7/05 17:20]
Walking Clock

Like most other 25-year-old graduate students, Gauri Nanda sometimes burns the midnight oil -- and pays for it in the morning.

"I like my sleep," said Nanda, a research associate at the MIT Media Laboratory in Cambridge. "I've been known to hit the snooze button for two hours, or even accidentally turn off the alarm."

So when she was asked to create a useful product for an industrial design course last fall, Nanda came up with "Clocky," a runaway alarm clock that goads its bleary-eyed owners into leaving their beds. To turn Clocky off, you have to find it.


When the snooze alarm is pushed, Clocky rolls off the bedside table, tumbles to the floor and, thanks to shock-absorbing materials and rubber wheels, races away from the bed. It bumps into objects, repositions itself, and eventually comes to rest in a place far enough away from the bed that its owner will be forced to get up to find it when the alarm sounds a second time. A built-in microprocessor randomly programs the clock's speed, distance, and routes, so that it won't land in the same spot twice.

More here. (Via Deb) [Ben A.: 4/7/05 09:12]
Rivera's Peak

The speculation here in Boston is of course that the Sox have "solved" Rivera. And while I am happy to indulge the hypothesis for the purpose of baiting you, I have no illusions as to its accuracy.
[Ben A.: 4/6/05 23:43]
Hubbert's Peak And Other Fantasies

I'm no geologist, but then Hubbert's Peak is not a geological argument. It's statistically-informed speculation. Anyway, the layman's thinking about oil is muddled in a familiar way. THe armchair fiscal analyst confuses national debt with federal deficit. One is a stock and one is a flow. Likewise, the "end of oil" crowd conflates tight supply conditions -- a result of lagging oil production, a flow variable -- with the question of oil reserves, a stock variable. We needn't worry for a long time about scarcity of reserves. Proven oil reserves amount to many decades of current production. Call it something like 1 trillion barrels. And remember, that oil reserves in year T are not just oil reserves in year T-1 less year T-1 production. Oil companies speak in terms of their "replacement ratio", i.e. what percentage of oil produced in a given period has been replaced by new finds. This can often run higher that 100%. THe level of geological oil reserves has NOTHING to do with today's high oil prices. TO understand $60/bbl oil, we need to look at flows, namely slow growth in production in recent years and faster growth in demand in the last 2 years (i'm about to hit the sack, so i'll talk more about these two developments tomorrow, if i have time; take my word for their existence for now). Developing proven oil reserves takes time. If today, the world's oil companies decided to increase production, we would not see the effect for a couple of years. And getting oil out of the ground is just the beginning. You need pipeline infrastructure from well-head to port. You need tanker capacity to carry oil across the seas. You need terminals to receive the oil. And that's just the dynamics for crude. If you are worried about high gasoline pump prices, you need to worry about refining capacity, too. You won't be shocked, I'm sure, to hear that refinery capacity has lagged over the past few years. Increasing the world's "oil infrastructure" is a complex process. Yet one thing that is sure to call forth all of these sorts of capacity is lasting $60/bbl oil prices. The oil industry suffered through some horrendous lean years in the late 80s and then again in '98-'00. That drove a certain amount of consolidation; for the surviving companies, "capital discipline" became the watchword. Having invested on the basis of many false dawns, companies now viewed spikes in spot oil as head-fakes, and refused to respond to them by increasing investment. The oil futures curve did not go out very far and tended to exhibit a high degree of backwardation (front contracts higher than back contracts). However, in the last year or so, long-dated oil has rallied quite a bit more even than the spot market. Futures imply a long period of high-$40s oil. That should allow E&P companies to do physical arbitrage. Sell oil (far) forward for $40/bbl and develop like crazy proven fields profitable at net-backs well below that level. It is no coicidence that my fund has been approached by several promoters looking to raise money to either rehabilitate moribund fields or to put untapped reserves into production... [Ben H.: 4/6/05 21:29]
I'm Just the Messanger

ESPN says:

"Mariano Rivera used to be a certainty. Now, it's certain Boston owns him." [Ben A.: 4/6/05 16:43]
Be still my dog of war. The gasoline will be ours. Then you shall have your revenge.

Here's a blog on the peak oil hypothesis. Fortunately, my position as warlord of a post-apocalyptic crew of dirt-bikers provides a hedge against prolonged oil shocks. I wonder, however, how other market participants view this hypothesis. Is it priced in, Ben H?

via ogged

I Want! I Want!

... to understand Henderson the Rain King. [Ben A.: 4/6/05 16:34]
Saul Bellow Dead

Speaking, Ben, of great writers and death, Saul Bellow has died. I think I'll go have lunch.

Strangely, I was just reading last week a book of Bellow's short stories. I consider myself a great fan, having read pretty much every one of his novels. But at about story #3, I had one of those moments of sad epiphany. All the stories seemed very much alike, and in their likeness implicated several of the novels as well. I started to worry: have I fallen for a guy who has not so much a body of work as a shtick?. On further reflection, the answer is no. However, I think it is true to say that most artists have a particular medium apposite to them, and for Bellow, it was the novel... and NOT the short-story. [Ben H.: 4/6/05 07:36]
Smashing Daniels/Dalrymple Essay on Chekov and Tolstoy


Read it all, but did you know that Lenin wrote the following of Tolstoy:

"the jaded hysterical sniveller called the Russian intellectual, who publicly beats his breast and wails: “I am a bad wicked man, but I am practicing moral self-perfection; I don’t eat meat any more, I now eat rice cutlets."

While Turgenev wrotethe following to Tolstoy, from his deathbed: "My friend, return to literature! ... My friend, great writer of the Russian land, heed my request!" [Ben A.: 4/5/05 17:58]
It Smarts
[Ben A.: 4/5/05 17:45]
Jeter Walk-off!

That's gotta hurt. Not quite so much as complete collapse at point of clinching ALCS, I'll admit, but a nasty smarting sensation nonetheless! [Ben H.: 4/5/05 16:39]
That's a Lot of Drama for Game 2 of 162 [Ben A.: 4/5/05 16:29]
Charlotte Bronte Inpsires a New Generation of Teachers

Deb sends me this passage from Charlotte Bronte's journal, in which she describes the joys of teaching:

I had been toiling for nearly an hour. I sat sinking from irritation and weariness into a kind of lethargy. The thought came over me: am I to spend all the best part of my life in this wretched bondage, forcibly suppressing my rage at the idleness, the apathy and the hyperbolic and most asinine stupidity of these fat headed oafs and on compulsion assuming an air of kindness, patience and assiduity? Must I from day to day sit chained to this chair prisoned within these four bare walls, while the glorious summer suns are burning in heaven and the year is revolving in its richest glow and declaring at the close of every summer day the time I am losing will never come again? Just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.
[Ben A.: 4/5/05 10:14]
Grant Hill

Unfortunately, I could not see the title of the book, though I can avow it was a hard-cover. By the way, Grant Hill does NOT drink Sprite. [Ben H.: 4/5/05 09:40]
Grant Hill

What was he reading? [Ben A.: 4/5/05 08:54]
The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers

Ben H and I were talking about Woody Allen the other day (we both liked Melinda And Melinda) and I mentioned that one of my favorite works of his is a mock play-by-mail chess game. It turns out to be called The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers (and to have been put online by some shameless copyright pirate). [Doug: 4/4/05 16:17]
Fun In Dallas

Arrived this evening in Dallas a little earlier than expected. Having checked into my hotel, I decided to forego my usual Dallas dinner of Potato Chips from the Shell Station mini-mart, and go to a legitimate restaurant down the street. Sitting at the table across from me: Grant Hill, dining alone, reading a book (like me!). Yay, Duke! I guess that student-athlete schtick is the real deal. Now, all those times in New York when I've dined out accompanied only by a book, it wasn't Loser Style, but rather NBA-style! [Ben H.: 4/3/05 22:12]
The Problem With National Review Conservatism, In One Lesson

“The Beatles are not merely awful, I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful... They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music.”

William F. Buckley, 1964

[Ben A.: 4/2/05 11:55]
Foer as Coal-Mine Canary?

And so it begins, and doesn't ever stop - a rain of truisms, aphorisms, nuggets of wisdom and deep thoughts tossed off by Oskar and the other characters as if they were trying to corner a market in ironic existentialist greeting cards.

Ah, the dubious "fun" of postmodernism. Happily, it seems cultural guradians are at last rasing the drawbridge on this stuff. Here, for example, are sections from B.R. Myer's review in the Atlantic:

The interesting thing is that the same person who goes to see the film The Brown Bunny, and groans as the insects pile up on Vince Gallo's windshield, will curl up at home with Everything Is Illuminated and chuckle approvingly at finding the phrase "we are writing" printed 191 times in a row. (Such assuredness—and in one so young!) In short, two aesthetics often exist in the same mind: a moviegoing aesthetic that trusts primarily in personal taste and perception, and a reading aesthetic that is more likely to defer to established opinion.

* * *

Talk is of meeting the writer halfway, or of helping to create the work, this being allegedly more challenging than reading a "traditional" story. But in fact pomo readers work with their writers only in the sense that volunteers from an audience work with the stage hypnotist: emptying their minds from the start, smiling through one humiliation after another, and even working up a tear or two should this abruptly be demanded of them. The hoariest plot, the tritest message—these become acceptably highbrow as long as everything is tossed out in shreds that the reader, mentally falling on hands and knees, must piece together.

[Ben A.: 4/2/05 11:39]
Everything Is Ill-Ruminated

Walter Kirn should have come to me for a better title, but the body of his review of J. S. Foer's new book is unimprovable, if the book is in fact the sort of "overstuffed fortune cookie" one expects from writers of that postmodern clique:

"The avant-garde tool kit, developed way back when to disassemble established attitudes and cut through rusty sentiments, has now become the best means, it seems, for restoring them and propping them up. No traditional story could put forward the tritenesses that Foer reshuffles, folds, cuts into strips, seals in seven separate envelopes and then, astonishingly, makes whole, causing the audience to ooh and aah over notions that used to make it groan." [Doug: 4/2/05 10:58]
Berger: Clueless, Dishonest, or Both

I stand by my earlier assessment. [Ben A.: 4/1/05 15:54]
The Cushman Is Looking Mighty Cozy

Miller Samuel's quarterly report on Manhattan apartment prices just came out, revealing surging prices. Remember, though: there's no inflation. Just appreciation. After all, you can buy a DVD player for $20 bucks. You'll just have to figure out a place to plug it in when you're homeless. When this bubble pops, it's going to be u-g-l-y. [Ben H.: 4/1/05 15:14]
An Honest, Bureaucratic Mix-up

Check out the details of Sandy Berger's plea agreement, as reported by WAPO. He snuck classified papers out of the National Archives in his pants and his briefcase. Bad enough. But wait, there's more: he didn't misplace or accidentally throw some of the documents away; rather, he cut them up into little pieces at his office. I mean, what the hell was this guy thinking? I really hope he didn't think he was destroying evidence, not because of the gravity of that crime, but because of what it says about how stupid a man occupied the post of NSA. He didn't know that he had copies? He thought the National Archives would let him play around with originals of which no copies existed? A less alarming intepretation would be that Berger snuck out the copies in order to review them further or show them to someone else and then decided to destroy the copies (which he knew to be copies) in order to make sure no one else saw them. [Ben H.: 4/1/05 14:13]
The Cushman: New York's Hippest New Address!

Corcoran is proud to announce that it will serve as exclusive selling agent for The Cushman, a new condominium project that redefines "luxury efficiency." For the first time, you can own the Manhattan lifestyle without owning an actual piece of Manhattan The Cushman: Bringing the Urban Nomad Lifestyle to New York. Prices from the low 300s!

The bagel carts don't need to have Murphy beds; they can be Murphy beds. At night, you just tip the whole bagel cart to horizontal and sleep on what, during the day, is one of the walls. [Ben H.: 4/1/05 09:53]
Bubblicious NYC Real Estate

Papers this morning say the Jets' stadium proposal for the West-side railyards is likely to go through. Ben H and I had discussed how odd the plan was, given that everyone in Manhattan is crying out for more housing rather than for live football entertainment. ... Crying out for, and willing to pay for. Well, it looks like the market will find ways to satisfy them in any case. The old Metropolitan Life building at 1 Madison Ave. is being bought for almost a billion dollars and turned into 41 stories of condos.. So Ben, I had an idea for your brother, given his obsession with Cushmans -- maybe he can buy up those bagel carts you see on the street and turn them into condos. They're big enough to stand in -- the vendors work inside them -- and if you removed some of the bagel shelves you could probably install a kitchenette. Maybe a murphy bed on the other side ... I think it could work, sort of a New York alternative to the mobile home. [Doug: 3/31/05 09:13]
This is the Most Fantastic F***ing Suprapubic Cystotomy I Have Ever Done in My F***ing Life! I am THE MAN!

Ever wonder how the US ended up with a medical education system that entrusts care of the ill and dying to the severely sleep-deprived? Meet William Halsted: cocaine addict.

Although he largely regained control over his addiction, and was able to continue to practise, addiction to cocaine, and later morphine and alcohol remained in the background for the rest of his life

[Ben A.: 3/30/05 20:20]
November 15: Megan Jasper Day

Commemorating the Great Grunge Hoax.

Harsh Realm! [Ben A.: 3/30/05 12:39]
Advantage Easterly!

Sachs wounded, self-righteous tone illustrates quite aptly what a whinging crybaby he has become. [Ben H.: 3/29/05 17:50]
Sachs/Easterly Back and Forth

Fun! I repeat my cry: Madagascar first! [Ben A.: 3/29/05 17:40]
The Debt "Crisis": Actual Numbers

Selected Components of U.S. Household Balance Sheet ($ trillions)

2004 Q4
Total assets 59.2
  Tangible assets 22.5
    Real Estate 18.6
    Other tangible assets 3.8
  Financial assets 36.8
    Checkable deposits and money funds 1.4
    Time and savings deposits 4.3
    Credit market instruments 2.3
    Equities (direct) 6.5
    Mutual funds 3.6
    Life insurance/pension reserves 10.7
    Equity in unincorporated business 5.9
    Other financial assets 2.0

Total Liabilities 10.7
  Mortgages 7.5
  Credit card 0.8
  Nonrevolving consumer credit 1.3
  Other 1.0
Net worth 48.5

Memo: Financial net worth 26.1
(financial assets minus total liabilities)

The question of the health of U.S. household balance sheets gets bandied about the trading desk with some frequency. My colleague BP assembled this table recently using Haver Analytics data series (which themselves come, I think, from the Fed's household wealth survey). I don't have the historical data in an easily postable form, but virtually all the growth in household debt over the past decade has been matched by growth in household assets. That is to say, households have been indebting themselves not to go out to Alain Ducasse dinners or to buy consumer durables, but rather to accumulate assets, foremost real estate. A debt-financed spending binge would mean household net worth has declined. It has in fact increased. That said, households are more leveraged. That can prove dangerous if liabilities are short-term (and interest-rate sensitive) or asset values are volatile. The former is by and large not true. Mortgages are long-term and still (mostly) fixed-rate*, and mortgages represent 75% of household liabilities. The asset side is a bit more of a concern. Real estate values, for example, have surged to possibly bubblicious levels; equities, mutual funds and life insurance/pension reserves are all subject to the vagaries of the market. Even so, though, we would need to see a terrific crash before household solvency were seriously damaged. A final caveat is that I have shown you aggregate numbers. Assets and liabilities are not distributed evenly among households. So it may be entirely true that some segment of the population is flat broke. But Walter Kirn's banal conventional wisdom, holding that America's households are staggering under heaps of credit card debt, bears little relationship to the true state of affairs. Credit card debt is 8% of total household liabilities, 1.5% of household assets. Hardly what Kirn's imagery would suggest. But I guess that's why serious students of the economy deal in, you know, numbers and not novelistic images.

*It is true that ARMs as a % of mortgage origination have increased from 17%ish to 19%ish over past couple of year. But this is still far from the 1980s peak of 24%. [Ben H.: 3/29/05 16:11]
Not Reading NYTM: Beats Beta-Blockers in Blood Pressure Study

My physician thanks you, Ben, for sparing me the artery-popping experience of reading another captious NYTM article for myself. Direct exposure would doubtless have undone all the benefits of this past weekend in Bermuda. It's as if NYTM has patented its own special straw-man technique. When you write about topic Y, assume that your own critical views about topic X are unassailably true, and then write about the hypocrisy, irony, whatever about your opponents views or actions with regard to topic Y viewed in light of the straw man position on topic X. It's sad to see Kirn making use of this hackneyed dodge, since (Ben, I assume you agree) Up In The Air is a book dear to every literate management consultant.

I've seen others point out a supposed contradiction between US policy on Iraqi debt forgiveness and the new bankruptcy law, and like you, Ben, it seems quite obvious that the positions imply no incompatibility. In fact, you might even say that the bankruptcy reform and Bush administration policy shifts on Paris Club debt are of a piece. The bankrtupcy law places more of an emphasis on a debtors actual ability to pay; the Evian initiative calls for greater flexibility in Paris Club restructurings, rather than the very rigid formulae of the old system: Naples terms, Toronto term, Cologne terms, etc. In both cases, the debt relief regime shifts away from pure procedural formalism and towards a more substantive approach.

That said, I don't feel any great enthusiasm for the bankruptcy law. Leaving aside my personal feelings about the merits of the law, I confess puzzlement at the politics of it. At a time when Republicans and Democrats seems united only in enthusiasm for handing out more middle-class entitlements (see prescription drug reform), when even Republicans feel they should argue for their tax cuts based on a tortured argument for their progressivity, how does a bill that makes walking away from debts more difficult, a bill that enhances the value of largely wealthy ABS creditors' holdings at the expense of middle-class and lower class debtors' Chapter 11 put-option pass so easily? Sure, there are good theoretical arguments for it: that honest, sober borrowers will enjoy lower rates if spendthrifts and cheaters are held to account. But similar kinds of arguments against behavior-distorting middle-class entitlements seem to gain zero traction. So, guys, what gives? [And how can creditors of sovereigns get a similar bill passed to look after their interests? I mean, can spend-a-holic foreign governments really have more political clout than millions of red-blooded, American credit-card abusers?] [Ben H.: 3/27/05 18:31]
Kirn Doppleganger?

What have they done to Walter Kirn? Here, some simulacrum of the author "Up in the Air" opines on bankrupcy reform:

For a nation whose very founding can be viewed as an attempt to free itself from financial burdens thrust upon it by a distant ruler; for a government that is deeply in the red because of its own spendthrift ways; and for a political leadership whose emissaries have been pressuring other countries to forgive Iraqi debt, such a reform raises questions, to put it mildly.

Ah, the hypocrisy quest! -- that staple of the lazy polemicist. Note too, the deployment of the craven (and cliched) hedge: "raises questions, to put it mildly." Perhaps Mr. Kirn could be bothered to simply pose the question he implies. Which, I take it is "how can one require a man to pay bills he himself has acquired, while denying his obligation to pay for debts a tyrant acquired on his behalf without his consent." It's a headscratcher, all right.

In truth, bankrupcy reform raises all sorts of questions. For instance: "Are a substantial number of people gaming the system, thus driving up rates for honest borrowers?"; "Will the proposed reform place excessive burdens on the truly unlucky?"; "Do a substantial number of people really spend themselves into bankrupcy, or are most brought low by illness or job loss?" Kirn's essay touches none of these questions, but finds space reference Ben Franklin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Donald Trump (three times). Let me suggest that this perfomance raises the following question: does the NYT magazine confuse the genre of policy essay with genre of disoriented hippie ravings? This, at least, is a question Kirn can answer:

Buy a digital camera for the home team. Stock up on iPods for Uncle Sam. Impulsively buying luxury goods is touted by our political and business leaders as a crucial civic duty.

Here's another rhetorical question: am I making some kind of category error when I try to connect these sentences to physical reality? Who are these luxury-promoting CEOs and statesmen? Do they have names, or physical existence? And what does it mean to stock up on iPods -- does one buy nine of them and store them next to the extra paper towels in the pantry?

[Ben A.: 3/27/05 13:42]
Utopia Around the Corner

Going to the Dinosaur Park, sipping a zero-calorie soda... [Ben A.: 3/25/05 10:50]
No Way. [Doug: 3/25/05 09:20]
Another Good Summers Headline, Months Too Late

"In Speech at Conference, Summers Loses Control of His Faculties" [Doug: 3/25/05 09:18]
Strange Inversions

The Schiavo situation has made for some strange political contorsions. The right, erstwhile champion of federalism and judicial restraint, passed a private bill to give appellate jurisdiction over the case to a federal judge. As you point out, Doug, so much for restraining federal power and giving latitude to the states. The left also finds itself in an odd spot. So attached is it to abortion, that even something as tangential to it as euthanasia becomes a sort of psychological Verdun. They'd rather bleed their principles white than retreat. So feminists rush to the defense of an adulterous husband, one who'd rather spend the money from his wife's malpractice settlement on his new life than his wife's lingering one, and support his claim to own his wife's fate. Strange days... [Ben H.: 3/24/05 12:53]
Why I Am Not A Republican

The Schiavo case is a good example. When I was growing up, the GOP was emerging as the party of ideas and of principles. The Democrats seemed intellectually washed-up; on the one hand were their depressing interest-group/labor-union handouts, on the other hand were their liberal judges and their lofty sentiments whose "enlightened" decisions had no basis in the law. Against this, the GOP stood up for law, and for equality before it.

The Republican party has become so degraded that it now does just what they bashed the Democrats for doing. Their "culture of life" is the equivalent of the Dem's good old "right to privacy" and has just as much basis in the Constitution. And the GOP doesn't think twice about kicking over due process when it gets in the way of their lofty sentiments. Depressing. [Doug: 3/24/05 10:08]
Enough With The Snow Already [Doug: 3/24/05 09:52]
If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Is

Malcolm Gladwell notes in some article that the top 10 lengths for the shot-put occured in a period in the late 80s early 90s in which steroid masking technology had beaten steroid detection technology. What does this have to do with Barry Bonds? Why nothing at all [Ben A.: 3/23/05 18:03]
Berber Bombshell

What will Wolfy's Straussian co-conspirators say?! He's going to lose his membership card to the Elders of Zion, for sure! [Ben H.: 3/23/05 15:59]
Shaha Ali Riza

So that's a bombshell! [Ben A.: 3/23/05 13:31]
Updating Mathematical Conventions

I got a new inspiration for mathematical usage while "When Doves Cry" was playing at the gym. I have to work it into my next proof.

"Dig, if you will, a set X such that ..."

[Doug: 3/23/05 13:26]
Etiquette Inferno

Seriously, you don't? What about caterpillar rolls? I have been eating peas with a knife my whole sushi life, I fear.

The ettiquette perils of fusion cuisine seem even more formidable. Am I on firmer ground ordering a muddled cucumber martini with mango-tuna sushi? [Ben A.: 3/23/05 08:33]
Nice European Literature Reference

Hey, did you go to an Ivy League school?

Seriously, if you think what's-her-name's cultural cavils are annoying, maybe it's for the best that you guys aren't relocating to New York. I think it's a good thing on the whole that this city takes life's aesthetic dimension seriously. But it slides into snobbery so easily ... um, one does not dip eel sushi into soy sauce ... [Doug: 3/22/05 21:03]
Will The Eternal Feminine Save Larry Summers?

That's a great headline. Larry, your immortal soul is too important to risk! [Ben A.: 3/22/05 17:02]
Kimchee Karmaker vs Detroit, Revisited

A little over a year ago, I noted the counterintuitive trading relationship of Hyundai and Ford credit. At the time, I said in spite of how weird it sounds, one should stay long the Kimchee Karmaker and short Detroit. Over the last week, GM's credit has been unravelling, taking down GMAC with it. With GMAC trading at wider spreads than Argentina (!!), it is not clear how it can carry on its business of financing consumers' car purchases. Without GMAC funding leases, GM will have a hard time moving its product. I haven't seen much written about this situation in the non-financial press, but if Gm continues to sell off, expect it to become a big issue. I expect there will be tremendous pressure for a bail-out of some kind, most likely some kind of government relief on GM's pension obligations. Saving GM implies a political calculus much the same as that regarding steel quotas. It will be an interesting test of whether second-term Bush can take more politically unpopular decisions than did first-term Bush. [Ben H.: 3/22/05 08:31]

Congrats, too, to Deborah Solomon. In a bravura performance, she demonstrated herself more cultured than Jeff Gannon. Brava! That ivy league education was certainly worth it. [Ben H.: 3/22/05 08:22]

... to Dao and her colleagues, who just launched the new version of C'est magnifique. I'm loving the Georgia font! [Doug: 3/20/05 22:20]
Swiffer World

The "swiffer" is (as you probably know) a dirt-and-dust-removal tool. It's less effective than a mop or a vacuum cleaner, maybe even a bit less than a skillfully-used broom and dustpan, but it's much quicker, as its name implies. We have one because we so rarely have the activation energy needed to haul out any of the other implements I just named. Swiffing is a trivial enough operation that you don't quite think of it as work.

Now I'm trying to apply this laziness philosophy to the bathroom; I bought a spray-bottle of this "shower cleaner", which you spray everywhere after every time you take a shower. The idea is to saturate the surfaces so that mold doesn't even get started. Actual cleaning of the bathroom is thereby reduced to blue-moon frequency, in theory.

I wonder where else we might apply the Swiffer technique?

  • Taxes: what a joy if I could just drop $500 in a slot every week and think about it no further!
  • Exercise: maybe I could just bounce my legs up and down constantly while at work.
  • Laundry: I could put a tub of antiseptic in my closet and just swish my clothes through it for a minute every night after taking them off.
  • Voting: Every time a read an online story about a politician you could just click on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down button; the running total would be submitted automatically every four years and save you the time of standing in line.

[Doug: 3/20/05 22:03]
Journalism Requires a Hoard of Middlebrow Knowledge? That Explains a Lot...

Deborah Solomon interviews Jeff Ganon/Guckert:

DS: Scott McClellan, the press secretary to President Bush, called on you and allowed you to ask questions on a nearly daily basis. What, exactly, is your relationship with him?

JG: I was just another guy in the press room. Did I try to curry favor with him? Sure. When he got married, I left a wedding card for him in the press office. People are saying this proves there is some link. But as Einstein said, "Sometimes a wedding card is just a wedding card.''

DS: You mean like "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar''? That wasn't Einstein. That was Freud.

JG: Oh, Freud. O.K. I got my old Jewish men confused.

DS: You should learn the difference between them if you want to work in journalism.

The mother of a high-school friend once tried to impress on me the value of a liberal arts education with the following story. An executive of her company lacked a liberal arts background, and was completely perplexed when she analogized waiting for perpetually late colleague to "Waiting for Godot." This, she suggested, is why one needs to study the liberal arts.

Well. You would have a hard time finding a more stuffy, elitist, 16 year old defender of the canon than the young Ben A, but even I recognized the purpose of liberal education as something other than getting and making trivial analogies to Beckett.

That Freud quote is, like “Waiting for Godot,” precisely the kind of thing one can't help but encounter while living a certain kinds of life. Anyone educated at a middle-tier liberal arts college would know it, as would everyone in the professional set of an art critic.

Now, it would be an embarrassing mistake in an educated East coast circle to mistake Freud for Einstein. Much as it would be at Fenway Park to ask about how many "points" had been scored. We have all made equivalent errors in unfamiliar settings, and felt stupid. The desire to judge others based on these mistakes may be equally natural, but it is not equally blameless. Reifying minor knowledge -- details of etiquette, at best -- into job qualifications or commentary on character, is, of course, the traditional defense of an embattled elite. And those who prize the ability to navigate a series of "in" references are not typically liberals of any stripe, but rather aristocrats of the most disagreeable (and least meritorious) kind.

[Ben A.: 3/20/05 17:00]
Happy Etymology Day

I, for one, am immensely relieved. As I mentioned, I always conceived the phrase as a variation of "in your face." It was only when the Marv Albert (not Musberger, as I originally wrote) biting/weirdness scandal broke that I ever made any other association. Then I felt dirty for being a basketball fan. Thank you Carl! [Ben A.: 3/17/05 20:12]
Facial Solution

Carl C. provides the answer:

Sorry guys, but facial really is a basketball term, in a legit way. It originated in either the late 60's or early 70's (yes I know I'm dating myself) circa Hawkins through Erving. It referred to a spectacular block, especially by certain great leapers, wherein the defender slapped the ball back into the shooter's face. Yes, I know someone will be tempted to point out that the 70's was the era of "Boogie Nights", but there was no etymological connection, Albert notwithstanding.
[Doug: 3/17/05 16:46]
Red Sox Fans: Bad People?

A friend comments on Mariano Rivera's shoulder injury:

"I guess that's what happens when you have to clean your own pool."

Choke on this you Dance-a-Teria Types!

That's the song being whistled in the oval office right now with Bolton and Wolfowitz back-to-back. Serious right-center policy types of my acquaintance consider the Bolton as an unnescessary provocation. On a purely emotional level, however, it's hard for me to regard any provocation of the UN as unnescessary.
[Ben A.: 3/17/05 12:32]
Wolfy It Is!

The President has nominated Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. Some have suggested that the choice proves that Bush is tone deaf. I disagree: he is pitch perfect. It's just that the song he is singing is "Screw You, NGO Weenies."

Speaking of Jeff Sachs, apparently he responded to the nomination by saying that "it is time for other, qualified candidates to step forward." Anyone you had in mind, Jeffrey? Come now: modesty has never forbid you anything before. Interestingly enough, Sachs participated in the Meltzer Commission, which recommended radical reform for the IMF and the World Bank. He and Wolfy probably agree on many of the required changes. The Bush administration has pushed the World Bank to redirect its lending from middle-income nations that have access to private capital to truly poor nations; and to disburse more resources in the form of aid. Isn't Jeff Sachs the one calling for $150bio of give-aways? His real objection to Wolfowitz has little to do with the likely thrust of the man's plans for the World Bank, but rather his association with the Iraq War. Of course, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Wolfowitz's contribution in that regard. However, if greivous failures in waging war disqualify a person from running the World Bank, what the hell was Robert McNamara doing running the place all those years?!!

Sachs' Schemes

THe review you linked to, Ben A., was written by Bill Easterly, whom I had the pleasure of meeting some months ago. Easterly worked at the World Bank for ages, and ultimately wound up getting drummed out for propounding the near-heretical idea that countries should be held accountable for how they use aid. If you want to know why Sachs' ideas are doomed, read Easterley's fascinating The Elusive Quest For Growth.

One of my favorite EM memories was watching Jeff Sachs give a talk on the reasons for Africa's dismal economic performace, at the 1997 African Development Bank annual meetings. Sachs waxed eloquent about Africa's unfortunate lack of navigable rivers, scarcity of harbors, and its crippling endemic diseases. The audience of African dignitaries assembled in a banquet room of the Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan nodded and applauded. Scarcely mentioned was Africa's rampant corruption and Big Man syndrome, even though we were sitting in one such Big Man's pharaonic white elephant and a little sign up in the lobby invited delegated to take a day trip to another (the huge cathedral at Yamassoukro). Sachs' patronizing and self-deceiving analysis, leaving out charges that might make the object of his analysis uncomfortable, illustrates a key reason, discussed at length in Easterly's work, that Western assistance has not much helped Africa to advance economically.

One of my colleague Ben M's favorite EM memories also involves Sachs. The boy wonder economist gave a talk at the CFR on global poverty, consisting principally of a harangue about how if all the money spent on Wall Street bonuses were directed to curing malaria, Africa could be redeemed. When the moderator opened the floor to questions, another friend of ours, a famous vulture investor (and incidentally, a great wit of the markets) asked, in a very polite tone, whether reluctance to throw tax money at development programs might have to do with their dismal practical record of failure and corruption. For example, he continued, USAID programs to assist Russia had backfired miserably, as documented in the book Collision and Collusion. (Sachs, of course, was head of HIID at the time, and the book is a scathing indictment of corruption in HIID's work in Russia -- something which everyone in the room almost certainly recalled). Even before the question was over, Sachs leapt up and started squealing, "that wasn't me! That wasn't me! You need to tell them it wasn't me, there going to assume it was me!" And my friend, slowly turned to the audience, with a delicious smirk on his face and said, half-laughing "OK, Jeff. It... wasn't... you." [Ben H.: 3/17/05 05:30]
Curing World Poverty for $150 BB

I don’t know what to make of Jeff Sachs, but I do know this: his proposal to turn over $150 BB over the UN for a comprehensive overhaul of the 100 poorest nations is utterly insane. Yes! Yes! This is what international development needs, an immensely expensive program, of spectacular ambition, all to be administered by the UN.

Here is my counter-offer: fix Madagascar. If Sachs thinks he can end poverty for 150BB, than an island with a population of 17mm should be a couple of orders of magnitude cheaper. Sachs should scare up $1.5 BB from Bill Gates, the Swedes, or whomever – heck, I will even go in for a couple grand myself – and shock Madagascar into a lemur-exporting paradise. Then maybe we will believe that he’s not just selling smoke.
[Ben A.: 3/16/05 18:09]
Fair enough, none of us is so square as not to know the acceptation you refer to, but my question is, is that what Brent Mussberger was refering to, all those years? His allusion (as far as I can tell) cannot have been to the Bliss Spa treatment. So what was it to? I've received answers to this question before but none so convincing that I've remembered it. [Doug: 3/16/05 09:34]
I Thought A Facial Was Something You Buy at Bliss Spa!

"Facial" has a specific meaning in the context of bond trading. If you lift a screen offer (hit a screen bid) and the re-offer (re-bid) immediately comes in a at lower (higher) price, you've been "facialed." Now, I never thought about the quite obvious and yucky origin of this term, until I used it in its technical sense in a conversation with a young woman somewhat new to the markets. The look of disgust written across her face suddenly snapped the etymology into place. [Ben H.: 3/16/05 06:47]

Ben Folds covers Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit"; MP3 here. I'd say this track has more value than just its snarky incongruity. But what do I know. [Thanks John G. for link.]

Also, Gerry's punk band Rockethouse is playing at Mercury Lounge on Houston a week from today. This is the big time, man! Sleater Kinney was just there! [Doug: 3/15/05 23:57]
Basketball Jerks

Again, riffing off comments below, I think it took me two games of pickup ball to realize that socialism was doomed in a multi-ethnic society.

Did I ever tell you guys about playing ball in Hemenway gym with Harvard Law students? It was such a self-parody that one almost suspected agitprop: yes, both handchecking and three seconds were called. [Ben A.: 3/15/05 22:53]
Jordan ... Delivers the Facial!

Appropos of your comment, Ben H, the popularization of this phrase fascinates me. I don't think there's much doubt that Marv Albert was patient zero on this one. Whenever someone got dunked on in a particularly excruciating way, there was Albert, with his syncopated enunciation: "delivers ... the facial." As a Knick announcer he certainly had much occasion to use the locution (haw haw), and he moved it almost single-handedly into the popular vocabulary as a synonym for "show up." I remember crowing "delivers the ... facial" in many youthful moments of videogame triumph.

So here's the thing. We know now, as we did not then, that Albert is a grade A pervert. Doesn't this put his famous catchphrase in a new and disturbing light? What I thought of a harmless market of one-upsmanship turns out to be a creepy image of humilation worthy of the darker moments of V.S. Napul. Thanks a lot, sicko. [Ben A.: 3/15/05 21:57]

How do you think the first 400 names in the Cambridge phone book would have voted? [Ben A.: 3/15/05 21:18]
So Much For Petitions!

Larry facialed by the Faculty [Ben H.: 3/15/05 19:15]
Be Careful Driving, Ben A!

Do you think it is too late to rename the Central Artery Tunnel The Tip O'Neill Pork Barrel of Death? [Ben H.: 3/15/05 09:47]
Persians in Malhalla

Actually, many of them are Jews. There's a huge Persian Jewish diaspora community in Orange County. I remember the jerks on the basketball court well -- the games often felt like a special version of basketball for lawyers, but I can't say which faith they professed. Their stridency and histrionics argue for Muslim; but their nearly Talmudic interpretation of and debate over the rules of the game argue for Jewish. [Ben H.: 3/14/05 15:09]
More On Muslims In Mallhalla

I totally remember seeing that "hunger" strike at UCI -- I wrote a letter to Salon about their coverage of it.

Also, if I might strike a racist counter-blow and fan these flames a bit, do you remember those Persian guys we played pick-up basketball with at Irvine? What a bunch of belligerent jerks! If your t-shirt brushed against them they'd be in your face calling a foul. And then at the other end of the court they'd totally maul you, and get all indignant if you said anything about it. Maybe they were confusing Johnny Cochrane's "Dream Team" with Michael Jordan's. But I think their culture is just aggressive like that. Dao's sister goes to this Persian bakery and sees scenes like this: a mother walks in with her kids and tries to buy six loaves of flatbread; she's referred to a sign reading "two loaves per customer"; she gives two loaves to each of her kids and says "Fine, there you go, three customers, six loaves. Ring us up."

However, all these people are not necessarily Muslim. They could be Zoroastrian. [Doug: 3/14/05 13:40]
Muslims Vs Jews at UCI

When I first started hearing about these accounts of Muslim anti-Semitism at UCI, I was puzzled. There are enough Chinese-American Jews and Muslims to have rallies?

In all seriousness, though, it does strike me as a little strange. In my 18 months living across the street from UCI, I found the place surprisingly (for university) apolitical. The biggest campus uproar involved the attempt of the graduate students to unionize, an effort which, though I found it disagreeable, had little to do with typical student protest movements in that it actually touched on students' self-interest rather than arising out of a taste for mere psychodrama. And, yeah, there was a hunger strike in protest against the celebration of Colombus Day and in support of more money for ethnic studies. And yet, even that was revealing of the moderated passion of UCI activism. The "hunger" strikers starved themselves in 12-hour shifts, during which they permitted themselves water and, ahem, Gatorade! [Ben H.: 3/14/05 09:06]
Living in New York is a Good Idea?

By some miracle you've come by $5mio, so you can afford an apartment of a size apposite to raising a family, even though you almost certainly don't have so much space such that when your neighbor cooks boiled cabbage you don't smell it. And somehow you have enough dough left over to pay the $26k per year required to send each child to private kindergarden, the public schools simply being outside of consideration, in spite of all the taxes you pay. Yet, it turns out that overpaying for what your taxes should have bought may not even be an option, because no amount of money can get your child into a "top preschool." Bloomberg News reports:Manhattan Preschoolds Become Harder To Get Into Than Harvard. But, really, these parents should just relax. Investing in your New York kids is pretty much a waste, anyway. In all probability some blessed adherents of the Religion of Peace (tm) will probably vaporize them with a nuke before you have to worry about college admissions. [Ben H.: 3/14/05 08:32]
New Philosophy Book Promises to Be Shockingly Good

Academic philosophy stultifies me: not a secret. Here's one of the only exceptions I've found. It's a partial draft of the career-capping book NYU professor Peter Unger to be published next year. I just read the preface and am excited to read more. Check this out:

For just one saliently stultifying example of the almost perfect uniformity to which I've alluded -- and with which I've so long been bored beyond belief -- I'll offer this obvious observation: During the last thirty-some years -- or, by now, maybe even yet more years -- almost eveyone who's anyone, in academic philosophic circles, has subscribed to a materialist metaphysic. Or, if not quite that, then, among the just fairly few who haven't been materialists, almost all of them have subscribed to a view -- to one view or another -- that's only most marginally different from unadulterated materialism. These Marginally Different Views, as I'll call the terribly similar medium-rare positions -- which are also, I suspect, just some several similarly half-baked positions -- well, they're all so enormously like flat-out physicalism that there's scarcely any difference ...

... It's only a slight exaggeration to say that, right next upcoming, here's the first commandment of, or the first working principle of, contemporary core philosophy: "Thou shalt not contradict the man in the street" or, maybe better, "Thou shalt not contradict the atheist in the street."

... How is it that so very many highly similar thinkers all manage to stay interested in their inordinately similar projects, for much more than a decade or so?

Maybe the answer lies in this happy state of affairs: Like so many of those in so many of the real sciences, they are greatly excited by, and quite rightly excited by, their taking part in the discovery of, or the production of, an ever-increasing body of knowledge. Or, if it's not quite that, well, then, maybe it's something very like that. Unfortunately, there's not even a snowball's chance in heck that such a suggestion is even roughly right. ...

[Doug: 3/13/05 13:25]
Anglicisme du jour

Dao pointed out to me in the Paris metro that advertisers were noting their support for the city's 2012 Olympics bid by calling themselves "supporteurs de Paris 2012." Now, the word "supporteur" is not really Académie-approved French. Even when I lived in France a few years ago I don't think I ever heard it. Advertisers have adopted it, I think, because there just isn't a French word meaning "enthusiastic helper". There are a few words in the semantic ballpark. "Parrain", literally "godfather", is used frequently but for top-level financial helpers. Ditto for "mécène", meaning "patron". "Partisan" is closer but evokes a struggle, if not outright war, between competing sides. "Défenseur" is too ideological.

The reason the French did not import "supporteur" long ago is that the verb "supporter" is extremely common and very different from its English cognate -- it means to tolerate. So the natural way to read the neologism "supporteur" is as "tolerator". "We tolerate the Olympic games coming to Paris!" Maybe the inaccuracy isn't so great, though, if you renormalize to the Parisian scale of enthusiasm, which ranges from "jamais" to "beuh" to "bof" to "oui, ça va à la limite" at the top end. [Doug: 3/13/05 09:23]
Don't Use the Necronomicon as your Set Theory Text

I think it's all about which text you use. No one ever lost their mind reading Suppes, whereas we know what linear algebra can do in the wrong hands.

Studying Kant's theory of space in any form, however, has predictable results. [Ben A.: 3/12/05 23:13]
The Dangers Of Doing Set Theory

I'd been stuck for a while on this one version -- the "boolean model" version -- of Cohen's proof of the consistency of unconstructible sets. I just figured out that my misunderstanding of something called "ultrafilters" was to blame. Anyway I was looking for other info on the web (I really should enroll at a university since this method has been fairly useless) and came across an Amazon review of "THE book for studying Boolean-valued models of set theory". The reviewer is from Boise, Idaho, one of the oddly-scattered centers of set theory research. At the bottom of the page the reviewer reviews something else, the video of the final "V" episode (not the Pynchon book but that 1980's TV series which I quite liked):

Like many people, I saw many of the episodes of "V--The Final Battle" on TV when it was first aired. I had no idea at the time that there was any significance to the movie--it seemed like just another one of those stories about aliens. In the last few months, though, I happened to read the book "The Biggest Secret", by David Icke. Icke provides massive evidence to support his belief -- as outlandish as it may appear -- that human beings are the genetically manipulated creations of an ancient reptilian race that has maintained control of this planet by controlling the major political and financial systems in the world through human-reptilian hybrid puppet leaders, and that has as its objective the consolidation of all financial, military and political powers to create a New World Order, and thereby complete its goal of reducing mankind to a slave race. Wow. Anyway, Icke says that of all the popular films he's seen, the movies "V" and "V--The Final Battle" come closest to revealing how things really are in the world today. Hey, I bought these movies and watched carefully. It was very very interesting...

[Doug: 3/12/05 15:54]
I actually wasn't impressed with the Jesse Jackson dance mix. It has nothing on the famous "scream" remixes that helped bring down Howard Dean, to say nothing of the classic "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" (which is in a slightly different subgenre).

On the other hand it did lead me to this classic Adam Kotsko line on a nearby thread about celebrities who are supposed to be hot but aren't:

Is Paris Hilton really "supposed" to be attractive, though? I thought that she was supposed to be just a grotesque walking piece of shit, as though the bare reality of Capital itself had a TV show. "A porn video -- starring... MONEY!"

[Doug: 3/11/05 19:26]
Boston Classic

Who is the highest paid employee of the city of Somerville, you ask? Is it the mayor? The superintendent of schools? No, of course not, it's patrolman McNally. [Ben A.: 3/11/05 16:44]
Instant Club Hit

I think we've found the first sample for Thin Mynt. rockin!

Courtesy of the omnitalented Fontana Labs.
[Ben A.: 3/11/05 16:42]
I got invited to a party in Williamsburg that I can't make, unfortunately, where the entertainment is being provided by DJ Reaganomics. That name rates very high on the hipster hip-hop nickname scale. In France I think I was once upstairs from a club where DJ Warrio was playing. Again, very good. I've mentioned on the bandarlog that Thin Mint is my own hip-hop name. Maybe one of you would like to do a joint album with me as "Obstreperous B and Thin Mint". [Doug: 3/11/05 13:04]



Ben A.
Ben H.