Thursday, December 22, 2016

Black Swans, Yellow Gold

"An ounce of gold cost $271 in 2001. Ten years later it reached $1,896—an increase of almost 700 percent. On the way, it passed through some of the stormiest periods of recent history, when banks collapsed and currencies shivered. The gold price fed on these calamities. In a way, it came to stand for them: it was the re-discovered idol at a time when other gods were falling in a heap of subprime mortgages and credit default swaps and derivative products too complicated to even understand. Against these, gold shone with the placid certainty of received tradition. Honored through the ages, the standard of wealth, the original money, the safe haven. The value of gold was axiomatic. This view depends on a concept of gold as unchanging and unchanged—nature's hard asset." - Matthew Hart, Vanity Fair, November, 2013

Cited by Michael J. Kosares in Black Swans, Yellow Gold

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant

The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant by Graham Hancock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book over twenty years ago and while I cannot recall the details, I still remember how compelling of a story it was. I write now because lately I watched a video of Graham Hancock and recalled that I could hardly stop reading this book. Interestingly, it's now the #1 best-seller on Amazon in the Books > Travel > Africa > Ethiopia & Djibouti category.

Thankfully Joe Rogan is a fan of Hancock's work and has interviewed him several times. Here's his latest:

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control

The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control by Hilton Kramer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this is not a perfectly even collection of essays, in terms of argumentative force, this is worthwhile for anyone seeking examination of modern social liberalism and its roots in Rousseau and Mill. These essays taken from the journal New Criterion "seek to disentangle what is beneficent from what is destructive" and are worth the time if you are at all interested in prevailing ideas and how they came to be, and how assumptions motivate policymakers and 'thought leaders'. To echo Richard Weaver, ideas have consequences.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Artificial distinction

One critic has said, “The novel is only half secretly about art, the great subject of modern artists.” How do you feel about that?

The theme of art is the theme of life itself. This artificial distinction between artists and human beings is precisely what we are all suffering from. An artist is only someone unrolling and digging out and excavating the areas normally accessible to normal people everywhere, and exhibiting them as a sort of scarecrow to show people what can be done with themselves.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

William Hague on 'quantitative easing'

  1. Savers find it impossible to earn a worthwhile return, which drives them into riskier assets, thus causing the price of houses and shares to be inflated ever higher.
  2. Higher asset prices make people who own them much richer while leaving out many others, seriously exacerbating social and political divides and fueling the anger behind “populist” campaigns.
  3. Pension funds have poor returns and therefore suffer huge deficits, causing businesses to have to put more money into them rather than use it for expansion.
  4. Banks find it harder to run a viable business, contributing to the banking crisis now visibly widespread in Italy and Germany, in particular.
  5. Those people who are able to save more do so because they need a bigger pot of savings to get an equivalent return, so low interest rates cause those people to spend less, not more.
  6. Companies have an incentive to use borrowed money to buy back shares – which they are doing on a big scale – rather than spend the money on new and productive investments.
  7. Central banks are starting to buy up corporate bonds, not just government bonds, to keep the system inflated – so they are acquiring risky assets themselves and giving preference to some companies over others.
  8. “Zombie companies,” which can only stay in business because they can borrow so cheaply, are kept going even though they would not normally be successful – dragging down long-term productivity.
  9. Pumping up the prices of stock markets and houses without an underlying improvement in economic performance becomes ever more difficult to unwind and ultimately threatens an almighty crash whenever it does come to an end – wiping out business and home buyers who got used to ultra-low rates for too long.
  10. People are not stupid; when they see emergency measures going on for nearly a decade, it undermines their confidence in authorities who they think have lost the plot.

From the delightful pen of Bill Bonner

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: The Myth of Democracy

The Myth of Democracy The Myth of Democracy by Tage Lindbom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am reviewing on the title essay alone here. This is a richly fascinating philosophical essay that examines, as so many do not, democracy as idea, as foundation for a moral order to society, and finds it wanting. To wit, this excellent passage:

"Society is a living organism and properly should be the carrier of a
hierarchy of values, of unshakable spiritual and moral norms; society
is of the qualitative order. But this commonwealth is now threatened
with replacement by a centralized world of bureaucracy whose aim is to
dominate the vacuum that a withering civilization is leaving behind.
The modern industrial and social state is quantitative in nature and,
as centralized bureaucracy, it has no moral norms. The aim of the
modern state is to intervene continuously and to regulate the secular
order wherein sensate interests are increasingly dominant. Once upon
a time, in traditional societies, laws were complements and
confirmations of an order of things that had its profoundest roots in
the spiritual realm and in a social morality deriving from that realm.
Now we see the opposite. A feverish, administering, regulating,
legislating activity becomes unavoidable, and the power of the state
necessarily grows apace. Economic and productive life also calls forth
administrative and bureaucratic pyramids. The scope for responsible
citizenship is steadily eroded; man will become more and more a

Not only this, reader, but more gems await, including facets of Rousseau I have not
seen discussed, the two archetypes of liberty and equality, and so on. While at times a bit too general -- examples are sparse -- and 'assumptive' that a God exists and anchors the moral order (in my view, God does not except as an idea, an ultimate abstraction), it is nevertheless absorbing and thought-provoking. Yes, atheists can profit from reading theistic tracts.

The last two essays, The Idea of Socialism, and Lucifer (I'm thinking of Milton now), await.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Random 3

 And I should sleep, and I should sleep!
with this eBook or online at
Fanny Brawne, ‘everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear’. The seat of this
talents, a mark of respect to a great and accomplished orator! The
    And thus he said, Why should not I
named arguments
entered into the temple of God, into which by their law no one was
   Ere the stars arise to their hunting.
        plate nor cup:
Increase k by 1.
providing it to you may choose to give you a second opportunity to
the speaker, who is now aware that he has acquired a new power. Many
Inflation, employment, and long-term interest rates fluctuate over time in response to economic and financial disturbances. Moreover, monetary policy actions tend to influence economic activity and prices with a lag. Therefore, the Committee's policy decisions reflect its longer-run goals, its medium-term outlook, and its assessments of the balance of risks, including risks to the financial system that could impede the attainment of the Committee's goals.
    The rhythmical number

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Random 2

by you, even when others have advised contrary things, I come to you now
rhythmic effects similar to those of the original. Each character in the
or charges.  If you are redistributing or providing access to a work
 Divine, dear, terrible, familiar...
terpnon; eupherosune (cheerfulness) and epithumia explain themselves;
If IsCallable(mapfn) is false, throw a TypeError exception.
και πάγαινα του βασιλιά και τάδινα Αγαμέμνου.
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, the owner of the Project
can he be a good critic, though not commensurate? But there is yet
   Within his folds to hold, altho' his broad embrace
  All of the famed, and the colossal left

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Random 1

"Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other format used in the official version
true conventional-natural is the rational. It is a work not of chance,
because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and donations from
  So fitfully--so fearfully--
   And our lips to show forth thy praise,
government, without wishing for a reformation of abuses? If we except
     * Act. Mart. Lugd. ap. Euseb. lib. 5. c. 1. [--------]

Review: Finding Them Gone: Visiting China's Poets of the Past

Finding Them Gone: Visiting China's Poets of the Past Finding Them Gone: Visiting China's Poets of the Past by Red Pine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cheers to Bill Porter for such pilgrimages -- traveling around China, visting poets' graves and memorial halls, hermitages and quarters of cities where they once lived. He converses with the locals who often know of the poet he is looking for, leading to a delightful comment along the lines of 'Image going around Camden and asking the people where Whitman is buried'.

He mixes poems with travelogue, and his translations to English are not clunkers, noting aside that a friend taught him that when translating a poem, you should make a poem as well.

This introduces me to poets I have never heard of, such as the remarkable Xin Qiji. Porter's translation of his poem set to the tune 'Ugly Slave' is the best I've read, in comparison to those of Kenneth Rexroth and Lin Yutang.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Rejections 1

This is the first in a series of documenting rejected poetry, my own. The purpose is not to exhibit self-pity, but to show what in my view is not bad form, but bad luck. (Also I want to document that it is my own poetry, and not someone else's). I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the role of luck in a writer's career, good or bad.

I've read poetry of successful poets -- 'successful' defined as published in book form by regarded presses with good distribution, and wondered how it made the grade. It seemed to be printed not on the merits of the poetry itself, but because the poet had already made a name for him/herself.

Perhaps poetry, like music, cannot ultimately be objectively judged as good or bad, but depends on myriad subjective judgments -- moreso than music, however. Though our ears tell us when music is out of tune -- a faculty that seems to be innate -- we have a far lesser ear for the rhythms, cadences, tones of a poem. It could be that sense gets in the way; poetry is, after all, language. I'm thinking of the old dance of sound and sense, and which is the leader. I hold that they must be paired; there must be a formality to this dance, of some kind.

Anyway, I don't want to digress too much on general poetics. The following two poems were rejected recently. (By whom is not at issue, pun intended)



is brightly lit but spartan
like an improvisational night
and we see three stools
in free association

"Welcome, everyone,
we're going to say
whatever we think
and we need just a word"
and there is a pause as they whisper

"Artist" casts one
"Picasso" pipes two
"was not so upbeat" notes three
and backstage there is a row

We hear the audience shuffle
and a boy of nine
talking to himself
"Picasso" (downbeat)

"There is just enough
revision in this world"
whispers his father
"keep calm and carry on"


what are we saying
what are we
saying what we are

what we are saying
what we are
we are

Friday, July 22, 2016

Propaganda Is Subtle

The freer the society, the subtler the propaganda must be, in order to get citizens to think 'correctly'. Take this story in The Washington Post today. Note the non-sequitur of the second paragraph.
A video clip posted on Twitter showed a gunman opening fire outside the McDonald’s as people dashed for cover. The man appeared to fire on passersby with a handgun, seemingly at random. 
A U.S. investment adviser and blogger, Eddy Elfenbein, tweeted Friday that his brother was in Munich. “He was helped to safety by a young Syrian immigrant. The young man’s family called from Aleppo to see if he was OK,” Elfenbein wrote. 
In Washington, President Obama told a group of law enforcement officers at the White House that the United States is offering German authorities “all the support that they may need in dealing with these circumstances.” 
He said the Munich attacks serve as a reminder that “our freedoms, our ability to go about our business every day, raising our kids, seeing them grow up .... that depends on law enforcement. It depends on the men and women in uniform every single day who are, under some of the most adverse circumstances imaginable at times, making sure to keep us safe.”
Secondly, note that the president must equate freedom with a state of law enforcement. By this logic, why not just have a police state to get even more freedom out of it? How does Trump differ here? I'll leave you to think.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Imagery of the Candle

First, this translation by Arthur Waley (1918)^


I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;The poems are finished: the candle is low: dawn not yet come.With sore eyes by the guttering candle still I sit in the dark,Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.
Second, this emendation of the same by Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker (1996)*


I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;The poems are finished, the candle is low, dawn not yet come.My eyes smart; I put out the lamp and go on sitting in the dark,Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.
I've underlined the relevant changes. Aside from the two typographical changes in the line above, they cite the reason as follows: "Since Waley made these translations early in the twentieth century, some of their language now feels archaic, and we have slightly emended several of them to soften this effect." To my ear, however, "guttering candle" is unusual, but not archaic. It actually imparts a greater effect of the imagery of the candle. I'm no scholar of Chinese; I can't read or write or speak the language. But I'm guessing that the original does not really state that "I put out the lamp."

Waley notes in his introduction that "I have aimed at literal translation, not paraphrase. [...] Above all, considering imagery to be the soul of poetry, I have avoided either adding images of my own or suppressing those of the original."

For an excellent discussion of the art of translation, see this interview in The Paris Review.

^ A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, transl. Arthur Waley, Constable & Company Ltd.
* The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader, eds. Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, The Ecco Press

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology

The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology by Faubion Bowers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a 'thing' for Dover Press books, as well as haiku, so this was doubly fun to read. Dover books are often so well done for so little cost that they are like bop trio versions of big band standards. Informative introduction by Bowers, with many a helpful footnote on both biographical details and cultural context that reveal more than I can gather from the poems alone. This was also great for introducing me to haikai masters other than Basho, such as Buddhist nun Chiyo-ni (Kaga no Chiyo) (1703-1775) and Uejima Onitsura (1661 – 1738). Plus, for some of the poems, more than one translation is offered, which is a delight to see. Finally I also enjoyed the transliterations, giving a sense of the 5-7-5 sound in the original Japanese. There are even 'outliers' of 7-7-5 that make the grade. I will leave my opinion on haiku written in English for another time, heh.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review: Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby

Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby by Geoffrey Wolff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It may have been Bukowski's correspondence with Caresse Crosby that led me to seeking more about this "Lost Generation" character, or some other tangent I've now forgotten. This is the second, counting Cowley, and likely last biography of the minor poet Harry Crosby. (Aside, minor figures do not get much new treatment). Bearing this in mind, it becomes more important to take in the story with a skeptical eye. Is it definitive? In the face of the author's research against our lack of it, we can only surmise. On that note, Edward Brunner has a good take here:

Brunner writes: "Geoffrey Wolff broke from Cowley’s example by refusing to accord Crosby representative status, but his decision instead to focus on Crosby as exemplifying a weak and indulgent character, while it made for a gripping (if heavily moralistic) narrative, hardly served to promote interest in his writings." I agree that the narrative can be heavily moralistic, an annoyance.
Otherwise there are passages of good analysis and overall, this account is worth reading. The roles of other literary figures that were drawn to the Black Sun flame, Lawrence, MacLeish, et al., are fascinating.

Last but not least, the telling of how Harry and Caresse chose Lescaret as their printer, and of the genesis of the Black Sun Press as a whole, makes for interesting reading about a small, deluxe press that furthered the cause of literature, beautifully.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review: On Writing

On Writing On Writing by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very enjoyable and fascinating book of excerpts from Bukowski's correspondence -- his views on various writers and publishers, the nature of writing, the commitment to the craft, etc. Debritto does a good job of framing the excerpts in his afterword.

Particularly appealing are Bukowski's comments on prudish or politically-correct reactions to his stories and poems. For example: "The right of creation is the right to mention what does exist" in a 1972 letter to Darlene Fife. Yes.

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review: How Few Remain

How Few Remain How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been a year since I've read this, so any review won't be detailed, but I loved the speculation here. There is work in it. Turtledove clearly thinks as a historian thinks. This training is ably put to use in describing what might have happenend, had the Confederacy won the Civil War and 20 years later, another one were to begin. Great portraits of Frederick Douglass and Theodore Roosevelt in particular. I learned more about these historical characters from their fictional mirrors here, than I can recall ever learning in school texts or other works of history. And the book is not as 'wild' as Guns Of The South, in that there is no time-travel conceit or anything of a sci-fi or fantasy bent. Just straight what-if enjoyment. Also the portrayal of Mark Twain as a San Francisco newspaper editor is quite entertaining.

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Review: Stay Alive, My Son

Stay Alive, My Son Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an outstanding memoir of survival. And the author was not trained for it, as we conventionally think of athletes, climbers, et al. having some fitness for it. I was astounded at all the turns of fortune that the author experienced, wrenched by his losses, and just simply amazed that he survived to tell the tale. The writing is good, and those especially interested in Cambodia in the time of the Khmer Rouge will find this all the more riveting. The tale also helps to destroy any illusions that communism is a utopia worth striving for or an idea at all worth holding. History matters. Thank you, Yathay.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Review: The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship

The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sour, funny, with gems of observations about writers and writing. I laughed (yes, out loud) at his accounts of his cats and his excursions to the racetrack. Here is someone who notes that his writing has changed, drawing from "the power of age" and no long from the power of youth. Plus the illustrations by R. Crumb are great.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Rogan & Saad

Took in a 3-hour podcast yesterday while it was raining per the usual. Joe Rogan and Gad Saad discuss many things of interest: social justice politics, evolution, Wellesley, the appeal of Sanders, and why Trudeau is good or bad for Canada. Tune in. A warning though: it's profane at times. Strong language, strong opinions.

Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing & Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption and author of "The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption" and "The Consuming Instinct". 
The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is a long form conversation hosted by comedian, UFC color commentator, and actor Joe Rogan with friends and guests that have included comedians, actors, musicians, MMA instructors and commentators, authors, artists, and porn stars.