finem respice

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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Fiscal Effects of French Heroin in Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Patients

Friday, May 4, 2012 - 07:39 (+0100) by ep

just be happy it doesn't come in suppository form

To finem respice's way of thinking, the reputation generally afforded Armand Jean du Plessis (the Cardinal Richelieu) as the father of the modern state and modern statecraft is somewhat inflated. The Parisian statesman is routinely credited with exercising a keen financial genius on behalf of the state, winning the "Thirty Years' War" for France, and ushering in a period of enduring French hegemony during his tenure as Louis XIII's "first minister" between 1624 and 1642. All this despite the fact that he left the Royal Treasury nearly empty, the treaties of Osnabrück and Münster (known along with the Peace of Münster as the "Peace of Westphalia") were actually signed six years after his death, and that France's continental domination is generally accepted to have begun much later.

Details, details.

If anything, it is much more accurate to understand Richelieu as one of the early pioneers of authoritarian centralization, a master at manipulating (and a massive beneficiary of) state-dominated crony capitalism of a kind that would not again see the light of day for nearly three centuries, an ingenious architect of novel, punitive, and highly regressive tax schemes disguised as progressive revenue raising initiatives, and a shameless employer of insider dealing.

In short: He was French.

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Calculating The Present Value of Discounted Cash Flows to My Vagina

Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 05:18 (+0100) by ep

what's the bid-ask?

Apparently it has somehow become popular in the United States over the last several days to itemize up the costs of feminine hygiene products, contraception (including hormone therapy used to deal with "irregular menses, dysmenorrhea, vaginal bleeding, ruptured cysts, or hemorrhagic cyst [sic]"),1 depilatory, and grooming products and use these figures to make the case that somehow women are a special healthcare case (that is, at least more special than men), and therefore prophylactic (if you will forgive the term) health care entitlements, in the form of expansive "insurance" of course, are critical to social justice. (I am reminded that finem respice touched on this subject years ago with The Clandestine Risk Free Lunch Subsidy). To wit, Jezebel's editor Tracie Egan Morrissey's latest missive: "This is How Much it Costs to Own a Vagina: An Itemized List."

Obviously, any knave so callous as to attempt to argue this point must be part of the vast right-wing conspiracy to steal the ladyparts of unwitting citizens.

Americans, your country is doomed.

  1. 1. Morrissey, Tracie Egan, "This is How Much it Costs to Own a Vagina: An Itemized List," Jezebel (April 6, 2012).
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The Rise and Fall of the Magic Kingdom

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 01:35 (+0100) by ep

specially magic exceptionalism

An interesting (if somewhat archaic) feature of contemporary American political discourse that characterizes its last half decade is the propensity for Founder worship. In the context of what one hopes is the death rattle of the welfare state, the great clash between neo-liberal and conservative (perhaps even neo-conservative) forces in the United States is nearly (but not quite yet) joined. But when it comes to taking sides finem respice grows decidedly despondent. After all, there is no free-market party in the United States any longer- and on reflection one might ask: "since the post war period, has there ever been?" Be this as it may, however, it isn't difficult to surmise that the catalyzing agent for this conflict is the impending collapse of the quasi-socialist "blue model" and, depending on the degree of pessimism one possesses, the collateral doom of Western democracies. And finem respice must, by necessity, use this term "Western democracies" rather expansively.

Certainly the sovereigns in the European Union, being subject to the whim of unelected officials in Brussels on almost every matter from product labeling to agricultural and fiscal policy, look nothing like "democracies" anymore. How else does one explain the situation in Greece, where the embattled prime minister's efforts to "go to the people" and hold a national referendum on European Union aid packages resulted not only in no referendum, but also in his prompt sacking... by the European Union. (!) Sad tidings for the cradle of modern democracy, no?

But in the United States such push back against the slow but unending accretion of the state as has found root in the new right (same as the old right) seems to rely on rather dubious windows-into-the-soul making speculation chased immediately with a stiff shot of intellectual time travel. What would Jefferson say? What would Adams think? How would Hamilton react? Won't William Few protest? (Ok, no one actually knows that William Few was a Founding Father. This is illuminating.)

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The Flaccidity of Modern Marxist Revolutionaries

Monday, March 12, 2012 - 19:10 (+0100) by ep

fat and flaccid

It is quite an undertaking to execute (as opposed to, say, simply murder) a sovereign. Certainly, the nation's accuser, Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, could not but have trembled, just a little, preparing himself to walk out into the chamber of the National Convention, such as it was. And, without doubt, those many years ago in the chill of December 1792, the French son of a lawyer must have cleared his throat quite pointedly before admitting to the National Convention the theretofore unprecedented "Rapport sur la conduite de Louis XVI depuis le commencement de la revolution, fair par Robert Lindet au nom de la commission des vingt-un." ("Report on the conduct of Louis XVI since the beginning of the revolution made by Robert Lindet in the name of the commission of twenty-one"), a literal narrative of the Convention's version of their grievances against the royal person, and the "Acte enonciatif des crimes de Louis" ("Act of enunciation of the crimes of Louis"), crude sort of 33 point indictment against the Bourbon monarch that was distilled from that narrative.

It would be quite difficult to overstate the degree to which the atmosphere in the France of 1792 was charged. The National Convention, for example, faced open hostilities between waring revolutionary factions inside it, the Jacobins and the Girondins in particular. This was severely complicated by the presence a wound-up and even slightly power-mad population that regularly exhibited a level of blood lust- certainly aroused by the surprisingly effective press and pamphlet infrastructure1 2 that characterized the French Fourth Estate at the time- that seriously alarmed the more moderate (relatively speaking) contemporaries of the French revolutionary elite.

  1. 1. The works of Darnton on this subject should be considered mandatory reading: Darnton, Robert "An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris" (Presidential Address to the American Historical Association) Volume 105, Number 1, The American Historical Review (January 5, 2000).
  2. 2. See Also: Private, Equity, "Let Them Eat High Speed Rail," finem respice (March 28, 2011).
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Occupied or Vacant?

Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 03:42 (+0100) by ep

little busy in here right now, michelle

Apparently, it is fashionable this week (mostly among members of the Occupy movement) to suggest that the sudden shift in venue for the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David on Monday proves that Obama is afraid of the Occupy movement. Ugly protest scenes so close to a difficult re-election effort could get... well... ugly, the reasoning goes. And Occupy certainly does seem to have slipped her bridle given that every time one sees her gallop past she is riderless and bucking wildly. But if one is going to engage in rank speculation why focus on such an absurdly obvious and base analysis? Fortunately, finem respice has a much more obvious, ranker, and decidedly more absurd explanation for the mercurial nature of the G-8 invitation engraving order.

Near as we can tell the Occupy brag goes something like this:

Chicago was selected for the 38th G-8 Summit back in mid-2011. June 22, 2011, in fact, was the semi-official announcement. There was no "Occupy" movement yet (here, let me get you some tissue). Since the presence of the Occupy movement is all that has changed in the intervening months, Occupy's later emergence has clearly scared the Obama administration into fearful and last minute scatterings away from Chicago because bad press and the Chicago Police cracking skulls is lethal this close to an election.

Absolute nonsense.

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