finem respice

The Clandestine Risk Free Lunch Subsidy

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 12:37 (+0100) by ep

c'mon, it was only hulled once or twice!

Most likely it was the combination of location and the propensity for sailors (and shipowners) to gossip that made Edward Lloyd's London coffeehouse a natural choice as a forum for insurance brokerage. Strong and regular information flows were, of course, a critical function to evaluating and then pricing risk, and therefore properly funding risk pools used to diversify the hazards of seafaring ventures. As far as that went, ready access to loss and casualty data, and the slow accumulation of a book of same, is "what it was all about." Kill risk pricing information, and insurance is (eventually) doomed. It simply ceases to be insurance.

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.373 (51 votes)

The Divine Right of Kings (of Our Choosing)

Friday, February 5, 2010 - 16:38 (+0100) by ep

how easy is this going to be really?

“There is one change, then,” said I, “which I think that we can show would bring about the desired transformation. It is not a slight or an easy thing but it is possible.” “What is that?” said he. “I am on the very verge,” said I, “of what we likened to the greatest wave of paradox. But say it I will, even if, to keep the figure, it is likely to wash us away on billows of laughter and scorn. Listen.” “I am all attention,” he said. “Unless,” said I, “either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun. But this is the thing that has made me so long shrink from speaking out, because I saw that it would be a very paradoxical saying. For it is not easy to see that there is no other way of happiness either for private or public life.” Whereupon he, “Socrates,” said he, “after hurling at us such an utterance and statement as that, you must expect to be attacked by a great multitude of our men of light and leading, who forthwith will, so to speak, cast off their garments and strip and, snatching the first weapon that comes to hand, rush at you with might and main, prepared to do dreadful deeds. And if you don't find words to defend yourself against them, and escape their assault, then to be scorned and flouted will in very truth be the penalty you will have to pay.” “And isn't it you,” said I, “that have brought this upon me and are to blame?” “And a good thing, too,” said he; “but I won't let you down, and will defend you with what I can. I can do so with my good will and my encouragement, and perhaps I might answer your questions more suitably than another. So, with such an aid to back you, try to make it plain to the doubters that the truth is as you say.” “I must try,” I replied, “since you proffer so strong an alliance. I think it requisite, then, if we are to escape the assailants you speak of, that we should define for them whom we mean by the philosophers, who we dare to say ought to be our rulers. When these are clearly discriminated it will be possible to defend ourselves by showing that to them by their very nature belong the study of philosophy and political leadership, while it befits the other sort to let philosophy alone and to follow their leader.” “It is high time,” he said, “to produce your definition.” “Come, then, follow me on this line, if we may in some fashion or other explain our meaning.” “Proceed,” he said. “Must I remind you, then,” said I, “or do you remember, that when we affirm that a man is a lover of something, it must be apparent that he is fond of all of it? It will not do to say that some of it he likes and some does not.” “I think you will have to remind me,” he said.1

  1. 1. "The Republic" 5.473c - 5.474c, Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 Translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1969).
...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.765 (17 votes)

This is Too Easy

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 21:45 (+0100) by ep

just reactive enough (for a while)

Of late my (admittedly limited) experience suggests that Americans like their politics like they like their '40s era fission experiments: reactionary, but not too reactionary and- even then- placed directly under a large bank of retarding control rods besides. This last week in particular drives the point home quite nicely. But, then, election years always have these days.

Both republicans and democrats are in entangled particle mode, with republicans in spin up angular momentum (read: the Massachusetts election is a firm display that Americans hate everything about the utter failure of a president that is Barack Obama and his legions of cloned fiscal storm troopers, their energy policy, their elitism, their handling of the nation's economy, a degradation of national morals manifest in the inability of The Bachelor to consummate even a single enduring marriage after fourteen seasons, and, oh yeah, the health care bill) and democrats in spin down angular momentum (read: the Massachusetts election is a firm display that Americans hate everything about Martha Coakley and the pack of shiftless, good-for-nothing vagabonds she apparently pulled in from the homeless shelter to clandestinely staff her campaign with such ninja-like invisibility and silence that neither the White House or the Democratic National Committee was able to detect the abyssall depth of their deficiency until late yesterday afternoon after it was too late... and plus we are just going to pass health care anyhow even if we have to change the Senate rules, you'll see).

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.449 (49 votes)

He Was Wearing My Harvard Tie. Can You Believe It? My Harvard Tie.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 18:21 (+0100) by ep

mr. valentine has set the price

Without question a large number of venerable institutions that spent most of the last several decades basking in their accomplishment, reputation and influence (not to mention affluence) have found themselves confronted with the unfamiliar sensation of ignominious defeat (or merely "substantial setback"). One could pick any number of cogent examples, but between the drubbing dealt to its endowment, and the general anti-finance, anti-Ivy (and anti-intelligentsia) sentiment that has gripped the United States, Harvard University seems to be something of a standout.

But even in the midst of overt, popular ire (just look at the increasing popularity of the word "elites" as a neo-class warfare weapon for example) old and venerable institutions still have appeal. Despite the fact that the "elites" may become hated, they manage to remain deeply envied (one might even wonder after a connection therein). And so it is not remotely difficult to find oneself fielding requests for, say, letters of recommendation to these institutions.

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.989 (1386 votes)

Dealing With Dissidents Online

Saturday, January 16, 2010 - 05:55 (+0100) by ep


One hardly expects any particular quarter to maintain the kind of monopoly on what can only be described as intellectually vacant ideas intended to bolster central control or the the exercise of unquestioned authority that is routinely demonstrated by the more egregious of nation states. (North Korea, Venezuela and China come readily to mind, for instance). Bearing this in mind, consider the likely source of this passage:

Recall that extremist networks and groups, including the groups that purvey conspiracy theories, typically suffer from a kind of crippled epistemology. Hearing only conspiratorial accounts of government behavior, their members become ever more prone to believe and generate such accounts.
Informational and reputational cascades, group polarization, and selection effects suggest that the generation of ever-more-extreme views within these groups can be dampened or reversed by the introduction of cognitive diversity. We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity. Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.


A 15 year old report from the Chinese Minister of Information?
Memoirs of a Venezuelan PSYOPS Officer?
A 1990's era State Sponsored Russian Hacker?

No. Not actually.

Try: A paper written last year1 by the appointee to the position of Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the most transparent and open administration ever to breathe air.

In other words, Cass Sunstein.

  1. 1. Apparently first "uncovered" by Mark Estrin earlier this week.
Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.800 (15 votes)

Death to the Doomsday Clock

Friday, January 15, 2010 - 01:39 (+0100) by ep

serious science for serious scientists

One might be forgiven for wondering if Martyl Langsdorf knew what she was getting into when she accepted an invitation to design the cover for the June issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists back in 1947. That little project resulted in the creation of an absolutely fantastic and long-lived bit of propaganda, the famous "Doomsday Clock," a representation of which has been stylistically embedded (with varying degrees of style) in every cover of the publication since.

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.389 (18 votes)

Two is One, One is None

Thursday, January 7, 2010 - 13:08 (+0100) by ep

the shape of

Apparently, Andrew Sullivan, who writes "The Daily Dish," a blog over at The Atlantic, is a favored punching bag for... well about everyone not on the far left. I became vaguely aware of the existence of Mr. Sullivan and his blog last week in an event apparently so unmemorable that I can't remember it anymore. It was, however, enough to cause Sullivan's recent attempt at penetrating investigative reporting in the panty-bomber case to catch my eye.

Sullivan relays the email of a "reader" who seems to suggest that this whole attempt-to-blow-up-a-plane thing was some kind of artifice intended to do... well... more damage by not actually blowing up the plane, I think.

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.700 (40 votes)

The False Climate Claims Act?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 06:54 (+0100) by ep

to collect your share of the reward

It wasn't long ago when I wondered aloud in these pages if accepting grant money from public and private sources might not give rise to a cause of action, not least of all based on the False Claims Act. That would be a particularly interesting rub on things, given the number of potential causes of action we can find lurking around. (I've toyed with the idea of evaluating civil RICO as a means to pursue matters as well). Apparently, I wasn't the only one to consider this possibility.

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.462 (13 votes)

Science is Dead

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 - 14:04 (+0100) by ep

his reach exceeds his grasp

It is not often that one finds a particular discourse shot through with the sort of threads, intertwined silver filaments, that touch at once on so many personal interests and gather so many errant thoughts into a larger whole that the emotional aftermath is best characterized as the shock of a sort of theoretical unification. It is even possible, only just, to appreciate (if not share) the kind of emotion that must prompt individuals to claim religious experiences as explanation. Even the hint of disappointment following the discovery that these thoughts were not uniquely one's own, that one could no longer lay claim to their original authorship, is blunted by the pleasure of discovering a kindred spirit and the small reminder that, at least as an intellect, one is (or was) just a little bit less alone in the universe.

...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.660 (97 votes)


Sunday, December 6, 2009 - 09:36 (+0100) by ep

unhand me!

Thoughts on the death of this particular incarnation of "climate science": In the hours before his seizure at the Hôtel de Ville, Maximilian Robespierre was either shot by Charles-André Merda or shot himself in a suicide attempt. In either case, his jaw was left in tatters which, as one might imagine, greatly reduced the prospects that his legendary skill at oration would moderate his increasingly dire predicament. Indeed, he was, of course, eventually executed.

To give the blade of the guillotine an unobstructed fall, the executioner tore away the paper bandage that had been holding his jaw together.... Animal screams of pain escaped, silenced only by the falling blade."1

  1. 1. Schama, Simon, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, 1990.
...continue reading and rate this entry.

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.467 (15 votes)