finem respice

Mach 4

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 11:40 (+0100) by ep


Ernst Waldfried Josef Wenzel Mach, probably best known today for the "Mach number," a measure of velocity that obviously takes his name, is slightly less well known for the "Mach" lunar crater, and the optical illusion "Mach bands." It is even more often forgotten that Einstein credited Mach as "the precursor of the general theory of relativity." Oddly, the "Mach principle," to which Einstein was referring was something Mach himself never formalized in writing, preferring instead to relate the concept verbally to students and colleagues, though Einstein was probably also referring to this passage written by Mach:

The natural investigator must feel the need of further insight - of knowledge of the immediate connections, say, of the masses of the universe. There will hover before him as an ideal an insight into the principles of the whole matter, from which accelerated and inertial motions result in the same way.

Mach served in the upper house of the Austrian parliament after leaving the University of Vienna and in 1916 died in Munich at the age of 78 on February 19th. That makes today the day of his death, the day after his birthday, and the fourth anniversary of finem respice.

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Rome Was Not Built In A Day (But In 410 AD It Was Sacked In Under 72 Hours)

Sunday, January 13, 2013 - 23:39 (+0100) by ep

unlikely hero?

Alas, the only respite from the choking cloud of mortal horror that sublimates from the formerly solid psyche when confronted with the raw depth of the abyssal absurdity trench into which the United States has now descended has been torn from us. The sharp and always astute finem respice reader will already be keenly aware that, while there was once the prospect that it might endure forever, satire no longer has any effect in the present environment. It has been permanently torn from our bosom and cast into that dank cavern where the powerless and flaccid are left to rot, and where it now lies, whimpering pathetically, huddled in the dim shadows next to the utterly broken and useless bodies of John Edwards and Compuserve (though there's still some hope for Compuserve insofar as AOL has salvage value).1 We know this because Megan McArdle has been reduced to wondering aloud how absurd it would be exactly (if at all) for the President of the United States to be found presiding "over the Franklin Mint."2 However, McArdle failed, we are forced to admit, to beat Paul Krugman to the punch. And Krugman, in turn, leads off his award-winning prose by citing financial journalist heavyweight Joe Weisenthal of that financial press mainstay "The Busineess Insider" in quipping "Joe Weisenthal says that the coin debate is the most important fiscal policy debate of our lifetimes; I agree...."3

On the face of it, all this to-do revolves around the question "Can the President of the United States order the United States Treasury to issue a one trillion dollar denominated platinum coin, deposit this coin with the Federal Reserve and thereby avoid hitting the statutory debt ceiling?" Or, at least, that's about how Bank of America Merrill Lynch framed the question in their research report on the issue.4


It is a simplistic and shallow commentator that takes these discussions at face value (if you will forgive the pun). One need expend only a fleeting amount of intellectual horsepower, of course, to realize that implicit in this question is the fact that this purported executive minting power also triggers in the executive the ability to tell anyone trying to use the debt ceiling as political leverage (or simply to... you know... limit debt) to go pound salt. Those tempted to ask "If this sort of thing works why has the United States Treasury borrowed money... ever?" clearly have no appreciation for the finer nuances of kabuki theatre production.

To the untrained eye the "Trillion Dollar Coin" debate seems but one whacky chapter in a collection of comedic, economic short stories, nestled as it is after other chapter titles like "The Fiscal Cliffs of Insanity," "The Debt Limit is Unconstitutional Under the 14th Amendment," and "Tim Geithner for Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System" but before "Paul Krugman for Treasury Secretary," and "AIG's Hank Greenberg is Suing the United States Government Over the Terms of The AIG Bailout." But to the worldly finem respice reader, what truly amazes is the capacity for anyone to be amazed by this whirlwind of fiscal and monetary chaos. To the always observant finem respice reader there is a larger cause at work. The classically-trained finem respice reader would readily name it "némein," and recognize it as the weapon wielded by the vengeful hands of Nemesis, daughter of Nyx. The finem respice reader sees through to the core issue, the source of the irresistible and inexorable gravitational pull around which all these absurdities now orbit:

Despite (or because of) all her hubris, United States is simply broke, and Nemesis will now have her due.

  1. 1. "The newest version of CompuServe, CompuServe 7.0, delivers a new-look homepage, better ways to organize e-mail and instant messaging contacts, updated Channels, an improved toolbar, better search, a new media player, and easier access to a customized Web page. Each enhancement is designed to make members' online and Internet experiences more relevant and convenient than ever before." (About Compuserve).
  2. 2. McArdle, Megan, "Washington Goes Platinum," The Daily Beast (January 8, 2013).
  3. 3. Krugman, Paul, "Rage Against The Coin," The New York Times (January 8, 2013).
  4. 4. "The Trillion Dollar Tooth Fairy," U.S. Economic Watch, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (January 8, 2013).
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An Open Letter to Dr. Janet Rosenbaum

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 09:45 (+0100) by ep

Dr. Rosembaum: It appears today that your efforts to publicize your research ("Gun Utopias? Firearm Access and Ownership in Israel and Switzerland," Journal of Public Health Policy 33, p. 47 (2012)) have accelerated. The most recent showcase for your paper and the concepts that underlie it happens to be Foreign Policy ("A League of Our Own," Foreign Policy (December 19, 2012)) but Ezra Klein showcased your research in an interview for his Washington-Post sponsored Wonkblog some days before ("Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland are not gun-toting utopias," Wonkblog (December 14, 2012)). It is unfortunate then that the body of your research on Switzerland can only be described as "shoddy," at best. At worst it appears more like raw academic fraud.

Here in Switzerland we resent being pressed into forced labor in the salt mines of America's rapidly devolving culture wars, but this would be somewhat easier service to tolerate if your representation of Swiss law, statistics on firearms related deaths and homicides in Switzerland, and Swiss culture were remotely accurate. They are not. Not even close.

Moreover, it is the considered opinion of finem respice that you know it.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 14:30 (+0100) by ep

back from exercises

As finem respice has acquired a copy of "Gun Utopias? Firearm Access and Ownership in Israel and Switzerland," [156kb .pdf] the study by Dr. Janet Rosenbaum recently the center of much attention in the wake of last week's awful events in the United States, it seems prudent at this point to evaluate the claims it purports to address, and the various sources of authority it cites in support of these claims. The results are not going to be pretty and, after careful review, finem respice believes there are grounds to think that Dr. Rosenbaum has violated at latest one code of academic integrity in connection with this research. As such, finem respice now publicly presents this analysis of Dr. Rosenbaum's work:

The attempted assassination of a US Representative in Arizona in 2011, killing six bystanders, renewed interest in the question whether gun control improves or reduces public safety. Gun control advocates claim permissive gun laws such as Arizona’s increase the likelihood of such high-casualty violent events, as well as homicides and suicides within the households of gun owners. Gun advocates claim gun ownership deters and mitigates the impact of violent events by increasing the likelihood of intervention by armed bystanders, without increasing firearm morbidity and mortality. They cite Switzerland and Israel as countries where permissive gun control and widespread gun ownership have improved public health and safety and make three primary claims. First, Swiss and Israeli gun control laws restrict gun ownership only minimally or not at all. Second, gun ownership and licensing rates in these countries are at least as high as in the United States. Third, these governments encourage citizens to own guns for crime and terrorism prevention and to carry private guns in public for personal defense.
This article evaluates these claims with survey-weighted analysis of four waves of International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS) data, literature search, and translation of Israeli and Swiss gun laws. It will be useful for readers to keep in mind the populations of each of the countries: Israel: approx. 7,418,000; Switzerland: approx. 7,664,000; United States: approx. 310,384,000.

We will give Dr. Rosenbaum a pass on her low approximation of Swiss population. She was, after all, using data from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Population Estimates and Projections Section of the United Nations,1 and what's a couple hundred thousand people between friends?

  1. 1. Rosenbaum, Janet, "Gun Utopias? Firearm Access and Ownership in Israel and Switzerland," Journal of Public Health Policy 33, p. 47 (2012) apparently citing: "Switzerland Population (Thousands), Medium variant," Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects (2010).
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Mark to Myth

Monday, December 17, 2012 - 18:47 (+0100) by ep

i'm waiting for my appointment at the genius bar

There's nothing like a good gun tragedy in the United States to focus the always erudite political discourse in that country with a bit of rational and measured debate. Obviously, the truly awful events of last week there are no exception. Accordingly, it has been no surprise at all to encounter the oh-so-calm ministrations of pundits, a plethora of fact-based policy proposals all possessed of what will certainly be highly-effective non-half measures, the calm allocutions of dozens of well-informed legislators not at all having the effect of suggesting that a start-up venture providing Thorazine suppository vending machines in the nation's capital would be lucrative, and, how could one forget, the appearance of the noble visage of a weeping Chief Executive (his psyche so mortally wounded that his tearful countenance appeared at three different times in three different places in the same 24 hour period- perhaps the Secret Service should make sure he hasn't been too badly dehydrated from the near constant liquidity drain of his ceaseless lamentations), and all the normal trappings of a healthy, mature democracy. In fact, the effect was hardly limited to the United States, given that all these symptoms were projected to one in real time regardless of the jurisdiction in which one may at that moment have been sitting.

As is somewhat common during events of this kind, many of the aforementioned participants in this latest world stage production elected to dust off the example of Switzerland to make one point or another about firearms ownership, safety, crime, cuckoo-clocks (actually invented in Germany), Apple's theft of the Swiss railways clock face design, and the true origins of Swiss Cheese. Another group of the aforementioned participants hurriedly engaged in the traditional biennial attack on Switzerland for their own political purposes. Neither of these groups could be mistaken for being possessed of a scholarly attitude towards what one might so offensively label "facts."

In fact, the absolutely shameless use of Switzerland as ammunition in America's ongoing and rapidly devolving culture wars has been so extensive that one could be forgiven for wondering aloud if, even as the unusually erudite readership of finem respice reads these very words, Switzerland is not formulating plans to invade the United States built around the seizure of key media outlets by Fallschirmaufklärer Kompanie 17 (one wonders which of the Washington Post or the New York Times would put up firmer resistance).

Normally, such events would be beneath the literary notice of finem respice. Indeed, even in the face of persistent prompting by one close friend of finem respice and a referral to an outstanding Swiss myth-debunking piece by another, it was still possible to resist jumping into the fray. That was, that is, until, on December 14th, the field of battle was saturated in a thick, sticky literary miasma belched out by the industrial strength fog machine of American political discourse:

Ezra Klein.

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The State of the Empire is Strong

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 06:07 (+0100) by ep

who will join me?

It would be extraordinarily difficult to identify a document hailing from ancient Rome more controversial than Scriptores Historiae Augustae, more commonly known as the "Historia Augusta" or the "Augustan History." At one point or another nearly everything about the document has been associated with the terms "fiction," "fraud," or (somewhat charitably) "imagination." About all that can be said for sure about the document is that its origins do indeed lay in ancient Rome. As to its author(s), factual validity, or historical relevance... who knows?

Despite its mysterious and sketchy backstory (or perhaps because of it) Scriptores Historiae Augustae provides a wealth of entertaining reading in the tradition, as it were, of a single bound archive comprising the complete and compiled works of Us Magazine, People Magazine, and In Touch Weekly. To wit:

I should like this passage to be read by Junius Messalla, with whom I will dare to find fault frankly. For he has cut off his natural heirs and bestowed his ancestral fortune on players, giving a tunic of his mother's to an actress and a cloak of his father's to an actor — and rightly so, I suppose, if a gold and purple mantle of his grandmother's could be used as a costume by a tragic actor! Indeed, the name of Messalla's wife is still embroidered on the violet mantle of a flute-player, who exults in it as the spoils of a noble house. Why, now, should I speak of those linen garments imported from Egypt? Why of those garments from Tyre and Sidon, so fine and transparent, of gleaming purple and famed for their embroidery-work? He has presented, besides, capes brought from the Atrabati and capes from Canusium and Africa, such splendour as never before was seen on the stage. All of this I have put into writing in order that future givers of spectacles may be touched by a sense of shame and so be deterred from cutting off their lawful heirs and squandering their inheritances on actors and mountebanks.1

Whatever the identity of our mysterious scribe(s) TMZ is quite lucky said author was reduced to dust over a thousand years ago (though a persistent rumor has him writing a contemporary column under a pen name for the New York Times' "Features" section).

  1. 1. "Carus, Carinus, Numerian," Scriptores Historiae Augustae Vol. 3 § XIX, Translated by David Magie, Harvard University Press (1968).
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The Decline of Western Title Sequences

Saturday, December 1, 2012 - 04:35 (+0100) by ep

see it, believe it

What passes for modern film critique today leaves much to be desired. In the instant case one "Carles" a "Staff Writer" for Grantland and founder of the "authentic content farm," "Hipster Runoff," (no, really) felt the irresistible urge earlier today to pen "Post-Empire Thinking," a review of the most recent, and third, season of HBO's original series "Boardwalk Empire." Just by way of context, "Hipster Runoff" describes itself thusly:

HIPSTER RUNOFF is a blog worth blogging abt, created by Carles that is trying 2 stay relevant. It blogs abt buzzbands, alt_stuff, and memes.[sic]

Perhaps we are going out on a limb, but we suspect that, aside from the entertaining title, Hipster Runoff might have escaped the notice of the always discerning finem respice reader. Such would have been its fate with finem respice as well if not for the jarring and hopelessly ignorant prose purporting to review Boardwalk Empire as a series and, more importantly, the title sequence thereof.

"Carles" opines:

Boardwalk Empire opens with a one-minute, 33-second title sequence before every episode. Steve Buscemi's character, Nucky Thompson, stands on the beach of Atlantic City as he watches thousands of bottles of alcohol emerge in the waves. He glares with anger and gazes in deep thought, then walks toward an illuminated Atlantic City as modern rock music plays. For the first two seasons, I would get angry watching just five seconds of those credits, wondering how it fit with the show, what it even remotely symbolized. For years, I tried to string together a theory that the show as a whole would be perceived differently if that title sequence were abstractly accessible in a Mad Men–y kind of way, or even a more generic montage of cast members.1

Our interest in this obscure bit of writing and critique stems from the fact that, contrary to myriad assertions of "Carles," the opening sequence to Boardwalk Empire is among the most exceptional, brilliant, and apropos openers that has found itself front-running for a one hour drama. It is nearly inexplicable that an author with just cause to hold himself out as a critic would fail to pick up on the many, multi-faceted, and multi-layered themes, conflicts, and narratives so wonderfully and succinctly played into a mere 90 seconds.

  1. 1. Carles, "Post-Empire Thinking," Grantland (November 30, 2012).
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Contemplating Valiant Rearguard Actions Against Intractable Foes

Friday, November 23, 2012 - 00:04 (+0100) by ep

if only we had a fiscal english longbow

A remarkable feature of the English military is its historical propensity to transform near mathematically certain defeat into resounding victory (or at least a crafty retreat that left the enemy bloodied and suddenly bereft of a taste for pursuit). The always skeptical and worldly finem respice reader might be tempted to retort that between 1187 and 1801 England's militancy, her unquenchable thirst for foreign military adventure, and her often substandard understanding of the arts of war gave her much opportunity to distinguish herself by performing odds-defying feats- chiefly characterized by luck- to extract herself from existential threats on foreign soil to which she had so ignorantly hazarded herself. In an effort to set the record straight against this cynical and mean-spirited critique finem respice can only reply: "Precisely."

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The Strongest Argument for a 100% Estate Tax is Actually "The Fourth Estate"

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 10:22 (+0100) by ep

reporting the really big stories

For reasons that should be obvious even to the neophyte finem respice reader, anonymity (and pseudonymity) are topics near and dear to these pages. Unfortunately, in this respect, there is a trend that goes back a long ways. Before the Dark Times. Before Going Private. You see, every 18 months or so, like cheap but alarmingly accurate quartz crystal clockwork, some barbaric event of such unyielding horror, and possessed of such unbearable and dark malevolence as to chill even Kate Upton's off-the-Scoville-scale blood to carbon dioxide's freezing point is committed by an anonymous or pseudonymous internet personality. The other day, that intelligence event-horizon creating event took the form of one (presumably but not certainly intoxicated) @ComfortablySmug pecking out a slew of what appeared to be wildly exaggerated or outright false Twitter-rumors about the severity of Hurricane Sandy's impact on New York City, including one suggesting the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange was under three feet of water.

Just another Twitter loon on another crazy Twitter evening.

Except it wasn't.

You see, this was a particularly special Twitter loon on a particularly special Twitter evening. @ComfortablySmug, you must appreciate, was "trusted by journalists" (finem respice leaves the terrifying and alienating contemplation of the bleak horror suggested by that phrase as an exercise for the reader). This is to say that many, many exhalted members of the ethically pristine and honorable Fourth Estate (also famed for the possession of personal literary hygiene habits entirely above reproach) found @ComfortablySmug's jocular if often childish antics and his, dare we say it, smug Twitter stream to be amusing and, occasionally, informative. @ComfortablySmug's Twitter account touted (and still touts) more than 6,000 followers. In the currency of Twitter Followers (1 ZWD = 2,503.40 TWF) this placed @ComfortablySmug in the "Fairly Tumescent and Pendulous Phallus" department. More (or less) importantly, among these number were are long list of "important" (and not so "important") journalists including the likes of:

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Very Sorry

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 12:22 (+0100) by ep

what does it mean?


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