Friday, January 1, 2010

Crappy Musicians that All Europeans Seem to Like, for some reason

Chet Baker, Keith Jarrett, and Pat Metheny.

(This remains a mystery, except perhaps when you think of the existence of the Europop Festival)

...and some great musicians that most of them don't know about:

Johnny Griffin
Art Pepper
Lennie Tristano
Lester Bowie
Roland Kirk
Gigi Gryce

They also tend to overrate Oscar Peterson a bit, but I guess there's no helping that. The guy sounds the way you imagine jazz ought to sound if you haven't listened to a lot of jazz. He's just a little too correct and straight-ahead to offer a visionary breakthrough. A virtuoso, but a template.

So spread the word and make some friends.

Oh and they love Bill Evans, which is fine -- but usually the wrong Bill Evans. Turn them on to the earlier stuff, like Sunday at the Village Vanguard, before Scottie LaFaro died.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Illusory Rationality: No one can "understand" the market

DailyKos has a contribution to the mythology of rationalism today.

It is a misconception to think that someone who makes money in the stock market "understands" something that is missed by someone who loses money.

The simple fact is that we all have incomplete and unreliable information -- even the market players do (though they have the advantage of being able to move the markets with massive amounts of capital, and hence are in a position to "cheat" in the short term -- something they often do at the expense of their own clients).

If you made money sometime as an active investor, then more power to you.

But you were simply lucky. Lucky to have avoided a 1987.

Those who bet short on the 2007 market had a little more vision, but they were also lucky not to have been squeezed out of their shorts by a further year of index inflation, which might easily have happened.

There is little to "understand" about the market; Plato makes the distinction between knowledge and true belief; the latter is the best we can hope for.

There are too many factors influencing the dynamics of a market for it to be understood or predicted by any model. The so-called "professional" portfolio managers do no better than the average Joe in Peoria.

Where does this leave us, then? In terms of the investment component of the capitalist system, it must put us in a position of skepticism regarding one's self-determination, and raise doubts about the value of the application of the mind to this area of economic activity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Never Miiind

Greenspan: I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms…

Waxman: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.

Greenspan: Absolutely, precisely. You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.


Can't we just let Rand go out of print now?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Liz Cheney's College Paper

Well, one of them, actually. I was a professor of Liz Cheney's at Colorado College in Colorado Springs in the late 1980s. As I cleaned out my closet lately, I encountered a box full of old papers, some of them unclaimed students' essays.

One of these was a 6-page examination of Jefferson and constitutionalism by one Elizabeth Cheney, who is positioning herself to run for higher office.

It's a perfectly good paper, free from any hint of the advocacy for the overthrow of checks on presidential power through which her father wrought such destruction on America and the world.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Know Thyself: on Mark Krikorian's name

Again we ask: Who let the dogs out? A particularly weak and baffling Mark Krikorian piece over at the NRO is getting a lot of play lately. This fellow seems to object to the way Sotomayor pronounces her name, adding this to the pile of presumed outrages the judge has perpetrated against the American public.

Another gratuitous Rothko to ease the pain

The gentleman says she mispronounces her own name, and would impose this (doubtlessly authoritarian) practice on the suffering American public. To quote Randy Newman here: Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Could be, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

I'll leave most of this discussion to the big boys (Olbermann ranked Krikorian as the world's worst last night), but there's one aspect of the article that has been ignored. As a linguist, I just can't let slide a remark Krikorian makes about his own name:

For instance, in Armenian, the emphasis is on the second syllable in my surname, just as in English, but it has three syllables, not four (the "ian" is one syllable) — but that's not how you'd say it in English (the "ian" means the same thing as in English — think Washingtonian or Jeffersonian).

This is simply not true. The ending "-ian" is exceptionally common in Armenian names. It is a so-called patronymic, meaning "son of" ("-son"), and has counterparts in every language, like "-itch" and its variants in the Slavic language or the "-ez" in "Lopez" and "Fernandez" and so many other Spanish names, or the "Mac-/Mc-" form in Scots and Irish names. I could go on to list counterparts in virtually every language on the planet, but you get the idea.

In other words, Mr. Krikorian offers a misinterpretation of his own name, while insisting on the mispronounciation of another's. For this fellow, the superficial -- pronounciation -- is more important than the substantial -- meaning -- and his ignorance about the meaning of his own name is a springboard for his clinging to the mispronounciation of another's.

It's also touching that the (incorrect) parallels he chooses are the names of two of the most illustrious figures in American history. (I think a powerful self-assimilationism is at work here, something we often see in conservatives that would in the 1950s have been quaintly called "ethnic.") Still, presumably they knew what "-ton" and "-son" meant.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On the Cusp

There are moments in the history of a culture when we witness a particularly focused change, and can recognize it as such: we know that certain forces in public life us will become, in a matter of a few short years, mere remnants that have lost their force, except for a fringe few. The generational shift in attitudes toward gay marriage is one such shift; more generally the conservative mode of thinking -- in its present state -- is another remnant that is fading before our eyes. So heavily does it rely on a denial of obvious realities, and on manufacturing an alternate universe of "facts," that its framework, its infrastructure, is collapsing.

Collapsing, so far, to the 21% level, but there is no reason to count on an imminent rebound, since the movement is also undergoing paroxysms of self-immolation in these months.

Once you have science (and particularly modern science, focused far more than its ancient counterpart on method, on the inherent virtues of a testable system of investigation), you cannot go back to irrationality. The alternative to pure mystical irrationality, in a greater rational world, is crude denial of conditions as they exist, and insistence on something else.

Or more precisely, insistence on the falsehood of truth.

That's right: insistence is the method. Simple repetition, in ever-wilder voices. (I believe we were on redoing the American Revolution when I checked last month, costumes and all. I'm not sure what it is at the moment.)

One form of shouting, of course, when you haven't got anything else, is to claim the Direct Line to God. Remember, this is something not intended for public consumption, so the shouting would have done little good anyway:

God on our side: Comic book prepared by Rumsfeld for W's morning reading, and GQ breaks the story? Postmodernism in action.
(Go ahead and click on it -- just not while swallowing food.)

This image, and the others like it in a series of internal memos for the (apparently) indecisive Decider, have but one purpose: to clear the conscience of the President regarding the authorization of further attacks. Now Rand. She shares, with the current conservative short circuit, the insistence on abolishing the conscience in daily affairs: we should not be inhibited by an excess of sympathy for others, sympathy that will paralyze us in the fullest exercise of our personal freedoms.

Interesting here is the implicit acknowledgement that, if you did not deny conscience, it would bother you. The Randians and the conservatives know that conscience is human, in other words, and that all non-sociopathic vertebrates have one. It's just better to behave like a sociopath, even though we have never seen a functioning society where this is the norm. This is one aspect of Rand's antihumanistic tendencies we alluded to earlier. Here the antihumanist takes up ranks with the antisocial (what is the social structure of the Gulch, exactly?) to offer nothing on a silver platter.

Well, you can go back, but it won't be so cozy any more. And you won't have much time there.

To clear the palate, let me leave you with a Howard Nemerov masterpiece that is the consummate formulation of this entry's title. On the cusp -- the moment of change, recognized as it happens:

The Dependencies

This morning, between two branches of a tree
Beside the door, epeira once again
Has spun and signed his tapestry and trap.
I test his early-warning system and
It works, he scrambles forth in sable with
The yellow hieroglyph that no one knows
The meaning of. And I remember now
How yesterday at dusk the nighthawks came
Back as they do about this time each year,
Grey squadrons with the slashes white on wings
Cruising for bugs beneath the bellied cloud.
Now soon the monarchs will be drifting south,
And then the geese will go, and then one day
The little garden birds will not be here.
See how many leaves already have
Withered and turned; a few have fallen, too.
Change is continuous on the seamless web,
Yet moments come like this one, when you feel
Upon your heart a signal to attend
The definite announcement of an end
Where one thing ceases and another starts;
When like the spider waiting on the web
You know the intricate dependencies
Spreading in secret through the fabric vast
Of heaven and earth, sending their messages
Ciphered in chemistry to all the kinds,
The whisper down the bloodstream: it is time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea for Two Hundred or So

Good to see the Right getting back to its good ol' Astroturf® roots. The Fox News tea parties managed to inspire a few people to set down the remote for an hour and a half to participate in a self-indulgent orgy of incoherence detached from any reality (which, as we know, has a liberal bias). Like the fact that 95% of them just got a tax cut, courtesy of Obama, if his budget passes.

But I guess if you're going to hold your little thingy on tax day, then you just have to moan about taxes, even if you did just have your rates cut. Did I say 95%? I was lowballing: how many of these types are making $200k?

OK, how many of the ones dressed up in blue-and-yellow satin George Washington suits with spittle running down their faces, ranting about fascism and communism and socialism? (Have I left anything out?)

Are these people even Americans? How many of them could tell you what a safety squeeze is? Or Marbury v. Madison? Fageddaboudit. They're Amurkins, doing what their TV has told them to do.

But don't blame this on the low end of the bell curve. Blame it on an ideology that takes no prisoners but the truth. The reporters -- people who in theory should know better -- who have played a shameful role as organizers and open advocates for this frat party (while denying all along that they are behind it), cannot see the simplest ironies of what they are doing. In California, they gather at the Sacramento State house in a muddle of anger, but against whom, they are a little confused. California is charging them more -- but their federal government, in the vast majority of cases, is asking less. No matter; it's all the same to them.

Speaking of California, but really à propos of nothing, here's a fabulous Diebenkorn, on the cusp of his move to abstract expressionism. Just something to help you stomach this unpleasant subject.

Salon's Mike Madden called it "Woodstock for Ayn Randers," which is so catchy that it's hard to resist. But of course, these people have no music at all, or love, or joy. This sad state probably springs from the desperation of their personal lives. And it's a desperation that's not so quiet, no matter what Thoreau says, but this isn't "most men" we're talking about. This is the left-hand end of the bell curve, where things get scrunched up and the only energy they have access to is the bawly and (at least verbally) brawly type. We should have some sympathy for these folks. They have nothing else.

Reason, indeed.

We didn't see much direct Randian talk going on, but the Who is John Galt? meme that's been floating around lately is really not these folks' cup of Salada. These are not the rugged individualist self-proclaimed hero types, but the safety-in-numbers crowd.

The heck with productivity. These types want revolution. Televised. In funny costumes. With their takeout burgers in little bags.