finem respice

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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Empires and the Arrow of Time

Monday, September 3, 2012 - 15:40 (+0100) by ep

sure, but don't you think my birds are pretty?

A question that causes much reflection (and no small amount of consternation) among theoretical physicists and their ilk regards the "arrow of time." Why, they dare to wonder, does time appear to be asymmetric? That is, why should it travel in the direction it does, and not in any other? Why must entropy necessarily increase over time? Why is order far more difficult to create (and maintain) than disorder? Why, in turn, do the laws of thermodynamics seem destined to cheat humanity out of the promise of infinity? Arthur Eddington described the issue with no small amount of elegance back in 1928:

Let us draw an arrow arbitrarily. If as we follow the arrow we find more and more of the random element in the state of the world, then the arrow is pointing towards the future; if the random element decreases the arrow points towards the past. That is the only distinction known to physics. This follows at once if our fundamental contention is admitted that the introduction of randomness is the only thing which cannot be undone.

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The [Negative] Net Present Value Of Cute (Epilogue?)

Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:45 (+0100) by ep

is she smirking with us, or at us?

Regular finem respice readers will recognize that calculations of present value that include infinitely high (or low) future value variables are a common theme in the prose found here. And, after all, if ascending to heaven is infinitely blissful, what future value is more infinitely awful than the heat death of the universe? Well, the Big Crunch, maybe, if you are a proponent of a closed universe (and you know how those people are). The always reasonable finem respice user will, however, probably forgive your humble author if she points out that the distinction is likely very (infinitely?) small. But, like so many of finem respice's inner monologues, this line of discussion occasions another. To wit: What is the value of an additional ten seconds added to the time until the heat death of the universe? If, dear reader, your own inner monologue immediately shouted "What's my discount rate?" you should seek professional counseling (or be working in finance, but probably both). Whatever the answer, it should seem clear that there comes a point when one's utilitarian contribution to the Cosmos is outweighed by the heat your body produces owing to the fact that this bled-off entropy hastens the coming of the heat death of the universe. If you have been living anywhere other than in the London Olympic Village (otherwise known as Hedonism IV) for the last many weeks it should also seem clear that Greece has long ago passed this threshold.

Oh, and the Julian Assange affair too.

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Let Them Eat (More) High Speed Rail

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:22 (+0100) by ep

oh and can we have dental on our benefits plan too?

It is entirely possible that an event of great moment managed to escape the notice of even the uniquely astute finem respice reader. Specifically, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (or "Amtrak" as it has become known) began service 40 years ago last May. Even the most attentive readers of finem respice might be forgiven for permitting this important event to go unmarked, accompanied, as it was, by a $1.47 billion loss for Amtrak's 2011 fiscal year. This figure is, in all actuality, not as impressive as it seems. For the last two decades Amtrak, which was expected to break-even three (3) years after its founding in 1971, has been running losses of this size. In fact, its cumulative losses for the last 20 years add up to an Imperial Fuckton of red ink. Clearly, some hard choices have to be made with respect to collectivized rail transit in the United States. Fortunately, finem respice has acquired an advance copy of the drafting transcript entitled "The Revised Amtrak Vision for the Northeast Corridor". Clever finem respice readers will realize that this report transcript is best read in conjunction with (and as an alternative to) Amtrak's original report entitled: "The Amtrak Vision for the Northeast Corridor 2012 Update Report."1



Trixie? Take a letter will you please?

A Letter from Joe Boardman, Amtrak President and CEO:

  1. 1. "Amtrak Vision for the Northeast Corridor," Amtrak (July 2012).
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Meyer Lansky is Shocked, Shocked to Find that No Gambling is Going On Here

Monday, July 9, 2012 - 16:19 (+0100) by ep

libor winnings?

Lurking somewhere in the sordid recesses of dim light and flickering shadow that comprise finem respice's checkered past is the memory of a sporadic (and obviously memorable) visit to a private collection of gambling instruments owned by a certain friend of finem respice (also, as it happens, an accomplished fund manager). Among the items on display was a rigged roulette wheel, purportedly counting a Meyer Lansky casino (perhaps in New Orleans?) among the torrid entries in its ignoble provenance. On first blush this is curious, as Lansky establishments were widely reputed to be among the most honest purveyors of wagering entertainment and games of chance- the Lansky straw having been not so delicately inserted into the milkshake quite a bit further downstream from the players- in the counting rooms to be exact- where it sucked dairy product rather more directly from the teats of the casino's shareholders. But one does not lightly cast aspersions on property of the "Mob's Accountant," even almost three decades after his passing. And, after all, it is entirely possible that this particular instrument of probability skew predated Lansky's revelation that honest casinos tend to pay more in the long run. Or, perhaps, it simply resided in one of Lansky's smaller, and therefore less scrupulous, establishments.

Wherever the binary call-writing table hailed from, its connection to Lansky, the tension created between structural and artificial bias in Lansky gambling havens that the table's very existence highlights, and observations on the design of "fair" systems all come together in the green 00 pocket. It is this nexus- and certain recent examples of artificial, systemic bias- that occasion finem respice's instant prose.

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Erections Have Consequences

Friday, May 18, 2012 - 11:29 (+0100) by ep

he is obviously not reading the journal

To hear it told in the European press (well really, to hear it told just about everywhere), the horror of "austerity" presently looms over Europe like some dark specter that draws energy from the state, sucking the color right out of its flagging host as it mercilessly exsanguinates cash, growth and hope from an otherwise chaste, vulnerable and pious body politic. (Fiscal vampires prefer catholic virgins, you understand). Even The Telegraph's normally moderate and sage International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard seems to have been taken in by the methodical, decades-long campaign to conflate state spending and growth- a premise as manifestly absurd as it is widely accepted. To wit, Evans-Pritchard's May 15th piece on Italy bears the sub-header:

As Greece erupts, Italy is moving into the eye of the storm. Its economy is contracting at speeds not seen since the depths of the slump in 2009 as draconian austerity bites, greatly increasing the risk of social revolt and a banking crisis. (Emphasis added).1

Of course, it is entirely possible that Evans-Pritchard's editor was responsible for that little edition, given that the tone of the article's body treads with a much lighter foot. Even so, the tenor of the piece follows a regular, and regrettable, pattern:

Rising anger has led to a spate of violent attacks by terrorist groups over recent weeks, all too like the traumatic 'years of lead' in the late 1970s. The government is mulling use of troops to protect targets after anarchists shot the head of Ansaldo Nucleare last week and hurled petrol bombs at tax offices.2

Read: "If the Germans don't pay us, there will be revolution. The Germans better damn well pay us."

Angelo Drusiani from Banca Albertini said the only way to avert catstrophe is to convert the European Central Bank into a lender of last resort. Otherwise Italy faces "massive devaluation, three to five years of hyperinflation, and unbearable unemployment."3

Read: "If the Germans don't pay us, there will be revolution. The Germans better damn well pay us."

The Italian Banking Association ABI accused Moody's of an "irresponsible, incomprehensible, and unjustifiable" smear. "Moody's decision is an attack on Italy, its companies, its families and its citizens," it said, calling on the EU authorities to clamp down "severely" on rating agencies.4

Read: "'Shut up,' they explained."

  1. 1. Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose, "Italy's Banks Shaken as Economic Slump Deepens," The Telegraph (May 15, 2012).
  2. 2. Ibid.
  3. 3. Ibid.
  4. 4. Ibid.
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