finem respice

Prefab Phoenix

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - 12:57 (+0100) by ep

any color you want as long as its canary yellow or concrete brown

Since before the first versions appeared in the Sears catalog 1908, if you had quick and dirty housing needs, you resorted to prefabricated building. There was great appeal in their low cost and quick construction time, as well as their disposablity. Of course social drives like the Gold Rush and various military buildups had significant effects on the market for shelter you could move by train. Further, the sudden surge in shelter needs for assembling troops pushed a combined growth in trailer homes and prefabricated structures before and during World War II, and the military sold hundreds of thousands of galvanized Quonset huts as surplus in the postwar years. It’s hard to beat the ability to lift in and drop 720 square feet with a crane in two hours or less when you plan to arrive quickly and leave before too long. And it is hard to beat the price if someone drops a 250kg bomb on one.

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Monday, March 2, 2009 - 18:28 (+0100) by ep

what goes up

Now seems as good a time as any to experiment with novel ways of looking at bubblesque data from around the economy. While toying around with Google charts and the animated data methodologies therein is fun, I can't quite get what I want out of the end product. Instead, I have been laboriously constructing what I want by hand. It is a time consuming process, (particularly for an animation novice) but allows for a lot more customization. On the theory that finem respice is as good a place to experiment with these things as anywhere else one of the first betas (a comparison of FRE and FNM assets and agency MBS issuance) is attached below. Obviously, there are still some gaps in data (I have earlier data for MBS issuance than balance sheets for the agencies at the moment) but the overall picture seems clear.

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Karma, Lobotomized

Monday, March 2, 2009 - 14:32 (+0100) by ep

sounded good on paper

Karma is a very unappealingly idealistic concept. It may be some innate cynicism on my part that colors the lenses through which I see karma, but I find traditional understandings of karma to be an unlikely dynamic in any version of the cosmos that is not self-servingly laced with a sufficiently toxic dose of anthropic bias to return very high LD50 numbers. The sort of bilateral and evenhanded “cosmic justice,” for lack of a better term, that is implied stretches the imagination a bit past the limits of suspended disbelief. However, performing a rather radical hemispherectomy on karma results in a substantially more compelling version of the dynamic. Negative karma, of a sort, seems quite common. One wonders if the surgeon responsible for the procedure warned the patient and his or her wards about the possibility of hemiplegia and vision issues following the surgery. As an aside, one also wonders what cosmic karma seizures looked like before the operation.

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The Fourth Deadly Sin

Sunday, March 1, 2009 - 09:25 (+0100) by ep

inventor to be

I have always hated the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention." Necessity is not the mother of invention, sloth is the mother of invention. Give me an incentivized master of sloth anytime over someone who values mindless "hard work" for hard work's sake. I still marvel at people who brag about how many people their business employs and wish that practice would go the way of programmers who brag about how many lines of code are in their application. Hard work has no intrinsically redeeming properties except among body builders. Mammals grew to dominate this planet by being clever, not having big teeth. If you align incentives properly, you get the most done with the least work and innovations pop up all over both to game your incentives and to get the work done faster so that your employees can hit the ball game and stimulate the economy.

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The Man Who Fell To Earth

Saturday, February 28, 2009 - 15:44 (+0100) by ep

race to the bottom

It is obscure enough today that it bears a detailed accounting, and though long, indulgence on the part of the reader promises to reward and, for the sloth, it is in any event quicker than the 139 minutes its full appreciation would require. It begins with a sort of montage. A sudden illumination of the blackness with the orange flames of a stage separation. The background of planet scape is obscured for a moment with mirage-like ripples of flame cooling to the undulating tendrils of mere heated gas as the craft pulls farther and farther away from its blueish home. A double entendre here. The fire of the departure imposed atop the blue planet scape has both the most obvious connotation and a more obscure one- the dry, hot, and perhaps Malthusian death of a once blue globe. This latter interpretation highlighted by the subtle but sure sound of whale song in the background. We watch the craft cycle through its stages, pass endless kilometers before crashing down to earth- significantly, in the quasi man-made lake of an abandoned rock quarry, towering spray high into the air in front of green trees and rocky hills. Water here is valueless enough to fill a quarry with, for no reason other than boredom. Or scenery.

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You Are Going To Get A Big Spanking Young Lady

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 19:11 (+0100) by ep

father knows best

In 1889, the not yet 23 year old Umberto Giordano took sixth place in what was by then a well-known and widely-followed one-act opera contest sponsored by Sonzogno, then one of the more substantial publishing houses in Italy. Sonzogno had benefited greatly from Italian unification and served for many decades as a sort of crude talent clearing house for all of Italy.1 Giordano was the son of a Pharmacist who regarded his progeny's dalliances in art and music with cold distaste and preferred for his son the career of a champion fencer, forcing the young hopeful to study in secret until 1880 when his father finally relented and permitted him to attend (after failing the first entrance exam) Naples Conservatoire San Pietro a Maiella, housed in a former monastery at the far end of Via dei Tribunali.2

  1. 1. Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," which has since shown at the Metropolitan Opera over 650 times, took first prize that same year. Today, Sonzogno is probably most famous for publishing Helen Fielding (author of The Bidget Jones's Diary).
  2. 2. The conservatory is located in the edifice that was once the monastery of San Pietro a Maiella which, after the monastic suppression by the Neapolitan Republic in 1799, suffered a rather clumsy Baroque "restoration" by the Spanish in the 1600s and has recently undergone a "re-restoration" that has returned it to its former, brooding period appearance. Interested finem respice readers are highly encouraged to wander the Gothic walls that housed so many young and hopeful artists.
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Confederation Osteuropa

Monday, February 23, 2009 - 06:29 (+0100) by ep

the wounded lion

As the aftershocks of the Battle of Castillon began to fade, those who had taken up arms and developed a taste for the nearly ceaseless conflict of the previous 116 years began to foster the mercenary life as a profession. Demand for their services was, as it happened, as keen as supply. Calling on one's many subjects (who likely had been milking cows before being pressed to service) to fulfill their duty as conscripts served little purpose after Castillon, the first significant use of military cannon, other than to provide, what William Makepeace Thackeray would much later so elegantly describe as, "food for powder."1 Of course, the reputation of the Swiss in freeing themselves from the Hapsburg yoke and expanding into Italy commended them to various European princes, as did the ability to "rent out" what was effectively a Cantonal militia and thereby deploy a pre-trained, pre-organized, pre-equipped fighting force to brutally pike to death your irksome neighbors without all the fuss of recruiting and training your own heavy infantry. What resulted was the "Reisläufer." The traveling Swiss warrior.

  1. 1. Thackeray's Barry Lyndon (arguably his best work) has this take on conscripted armies of Frederick of Prussia some hundreds of years later: "The great and illustrious Frederick had scores of these white slave-dealers all round the frontiers of his kingdom, debauching troops or kidnapping peasants, and hesitating at no crime to supply those brilliant regiments of his with food for powder."
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Fighting Uncertainty With Uncertainty

Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 15:03 (+0100) by ep

i have a cunning plan

True to the populist environment that characterizes the clear air turbulence we all have to fly through for the next n months, mortgage "cram-downs" are a hot topic. Why not? On the surface they seem like an easy fix. Even from a Chicago School of Law and Economics perspective they have a certain charm, dare I even say, a certain charismatic appeal? Who would ever argue that between the creditor (large international financial institution) and the debtor (middle class- but increasingly upscale- individual) it is the debtor that holds the title of "least cost avoider"? And, of course, there is political capital to be accumulated by lunging at the banks and piercing a lung with the rapier of "financial justice." These combine nicely to create a bitter amalgam that, as a topical salve, is about as likely to cure the patient's syphilis as bleeding him. To borrow from a more brazen, amusing and fictional cynic: "I think I'm on the point of spotting the flaw in this plan."

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Death of the Modern

Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 02:38 (+0100) by ep

the fog does not vanish just because you are above it

One can occasionally find deep contradictions in what otherwise would be considered the unadulterated artistic product of Romanticism as a movement, or perhaps, more widely, the brilliantly optimistic trappings of the Enlightenment. Deeper and darker threads, even in works hailed as hallmarks of individualist optimism, present themselves to the meticulous critic after sufficient scrutiny. This is to say, that which appears transparent and plain, rarely is. Be this a consequence of the deep and insatiable lust of curiosity that characterizes our species (more simply, that we are just seeing things), or some actual, tangible darkness in all expression, I'm not sure we know. Suffice it to say that, where the affairs of man are concerned, transparency is an illusion. Always.

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Look To The End

Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 11:40 (+0100) by ep

the corruption of power

The birth of finem respice comes at an unfortunate time. This site's motto, finem respice, seems particularly apt when the long-term consequences of ill-considered ventures threaten to be so severe. Incredible as it seems, the possibility of a default by the United States is no longer considered alarmist. In fact, after a little bit of reflection, this doesn't even seem all that incredible anymore. Whatever your view of the likelihood of an actual default- and flaccid arguments about the semantics of the term “default” notwithstanding- it is difficult to overstate the gravity of this kind of sentiment. If anyone needs a more definitive statement of the danger of a crisis of confidence for a highly leveraged institution, then they weren’t paying attention when Lehman Brothers slipped smoothly beneath the dark and frigid waters of financial ruin.

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