The Daily Blague

Daily Office Archives

Daily Office:


23 February 2010


Matins: Despite misgivings, we have set our fear of a Trojan Horse aside, and decided to take an essay from The American Conservative at face value: evidence of real discussion in the conservative community — no more. With fairly painstaking analysis of the numbers, Ron Unz dismantles "His-Panic."

Furthermore, contrary to official bureaucratic categories, Hispanics are hardly a monolithic ethnic group and actually exhibit large variations in their cultural traditions based on country of origin. The very low Hispanic imprisonment rate in Florida may reflect the considerable economic and social success of the Cuban community centered there. Another set of obvious outliers are the states of the Northeast, primarily the New York/New England region, in which relative Hispanic imprisonment rates generally run two to three times higher than the national Hispanic average, as shown in Chart 2. These exceptionally high Hispanic incarceration rates probably reflect the considerable social and economic difficulties long experienced by the large Puerto Rican and Dominican communities that have settled in that region.

The high incarceration rate for these Caribbean Hispanics may partially explain general perceptions of Hispanic crime rates. A large proportion of America’s intellectual, media, and political elite lives in the Northeast, in cities like New York and Boston, and if the Hispanics traditionally living in those areas have unusually high rates of criminal activity, there would be a natural if mistaken tendency to assume that this same pattern also applied to Hispanic groups throughout the country.

Lauds: Jens Laurson packs a bundle of history into a brief account of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, not only one of the oldest and largest of its kind but certainly the the most prestigious.

Throughout, the Gewandhaus Orchestra performed its concerts. Mozart conducted them in his own works, they first performed Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto” (and played all his symphonies in his lifetime). They premiered Mendelssohn’s “Scottish Symphony” as well as Schumann’s “Spring Symphony, Brahms’ Violin Concerto, and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. The Gewandhaus Orchestra acquired world fame under its director Felix Mendelssohn who became Kapellmeister in 1835 and formed it into a ‘Philharmonic Orchestra’ in the modern sense, with a repertoire and associated academy for recruitment of talented musicians. In 1840 it became the official city orchestra, acquiring with that title weekly performing duties in the Leipzig churches (hence its Bach tradition) and the opera house, while continuing its concert schedule. As a result of all these activities, the LGO is the world’s largest professional orchestra with 185 full time musicians employed.

Contrary to unexamined opinion, orchestras don't grow on trees. (Ionarts)

Prime: The Epicurean Dealmaker professes to evince what's wrong with Goldman Sachs from the behavior of its PR man, Lucas van Praag.

I think van Praag is completely on-message. I think he is conveying exactly what Lloyd Blankfein and the other executive managers of Goldman Sachs want him to convey: that Goldman Sachs has done nothing wrong, that we deserve our fearsome reputation and our outsized compensation, and, if you don't like it, you can all go fuck yourselves.

This is a trader's mentality. A trader never apologizes. A trader never admits he made a mistake. A trader never says he's sorry. To do so, in his mind, would be to admit weakness. Another trader could use such an admission against him in the next trade. By the same token, a trader never sits back and takes it. If someone attacks him, he attacks back, preferably in greater strength, to discourage similar attacks from his opponent or others in the future. Perceived weakness is blood in the water in trading, and it attracts other sharks.

At the same time, a trader understands that all other traders behave in the same fashion, and he should not take sharp elbows or direct attacks personally. After all, most trading is conducted among a relatively small number of firms, among a relatively small number of traders, all of whom know or know of each other. At the end of the day, you've gotta shrug off your wounds and bruises from the battles of today and get ready to trade with the same bunch of assholes tomorrow. No harm, no foul. No hard feelings.

Goldman Sachs is run by traders. Lloyd Blankfein is a trader. Gary Cohn is a trader. Lucas van Praag's career at Goldman has coincided with the rise of traders into positions of power during the Great Moderation and credit boom. van Praag made partner in 2006, not too long after Henry Paulson, the last of the Goldman investment banking old guard—corporate finance client guys—left the CEO slot for Treasury. Traders already held most of the executive power by then anyway. Lucas van Praag has been running public relations at Goldman Sachs just like he would have for a giant institutional hedge fund. Because that's what it has been.

I suspect the disconnect in many people's minds—including mine, I must admit, on occasion—comes from the fact that Goldman perfected the image so many years ago of being a selfless, anonymous, client-first organization dedicated solely to their clients' success. Parts of it still operate that way, but the power and most of the money are made elsewhere. And it is made for Goldman alone.

Tierce: Although we are confident that Descartes's "psychological" metaphors will one day be overturned, we must acknowledged that that day has not yet arrived. Jonah Lehrer, at The Frontal Cortex:

Like Crick and Koch, I believe our head holds a raucous parliament of cells that endlessly debate what sensations and feelings should become conscious. These neurons are distributed all across the brain, and their firing unfolds over time. This means that we are not a place: we are a process. As the influential philosopher Daniel Dennett wrote, our mind is made up "of multiple channels in which specialist circuits try, in parallel pandemoniums, to do their various things, creating Multiple Drafts as they go." What we call reality is merely the final draft. (Of course, the very next moment requires a whole new manuscript.)

And yet, and yet...There is the problem of the election. If this blink of conscious perception is a vote, then where is the voter? We can disguise the mystery with euphemisms (top-down attention, executive control, etc.) but the mystery still exists, as mysterious as ever. We deny the ghost, but still rely on models, metaphors and analogies in which the ghost controls the machine.

Sext: We're not making this up! There used to be an irrational exuberance for portraits of Alan Greenspan, and Erin Crowe was to the go-to Gainsborough. Times have changed. (WSJ, via Arts Journal)

In Washington, Kevin Dolan, a former senior vice president of Merrill Lynch, bought his painting for $3,000. He decided to donate it to a charity auction that took place on the firm's trading floor in December 2006. It went for nearly double the price, he recalls.

He doesn't believe that would happen now, saying he is relieved that he donated his painting to charity when Mr. Greenspan "was still a god."

Dallas hedge-fund manager David Norcom still has his Greenspan, which he purchased for $3,000 when the Fed chairman's reputation was sterling. "There is not one person who comes to my office that doesn't talk about it," says Mr. Norcom. "When Greenspan was more admired, people walked in, looked at him and made positive comments about him," says Mr. Norcom. These days, the comments are more acerbic.

"It is a conversation starter," says Mr. Norcom. People say: "Man, everyone thought he was hot, but he turned out to be a dog."

Ruff! (Which reminds us: we've got to copyright our Homeric epithet for Mr Greenspan: "Ayn Rand's libertarian boytoy.")

Nones: As if Greece weren't already taking twenty whippings for its financial improvidence, the pan-European problem of nationality-based citizenship is heating up there. (A Fistful of Euros)

Previous Greek governments operated under the assumption that Greece simply did not want non-Greek citizens, and that guest workers were just that — temporary guests. The system was thus designed to keep immigrant workers on a perpetual treadmill, always either applying for a new permit, about to apply, or nervously waiting for one after the old one expired. All the immigrants were thus vulnerable to expulsion for any reason or none: feature, not bug.

But this consensus is now breaking down. Part of the reason is simply the passage of time. 20 years after the first wave of immigrants arrived, there are now tens of thousands of Albanians and Bulgarians who have been in Greece nonstop for most of their adult lives. They own houses or apartments, speak fluent Greek, and are settled members of their communities. Furthermore, there are now about a quarter of a milllion children of immigrants; in some schools, they outnumber native Greeks.

Vespers: On the occasion of Dick Francis's death, the London Review of Books reminds us of a very strong appreciation of his work by Wendy Doniger from 1998. 

The Francis myth, like any myth, is driven by a doomed desire to provide an answer to an insoluble paradox close to the bone of human existence: in this case the riddle of pain and endurance. The theology is one of pain. It strikes me as significant that C.S. Lewis published The Problem of Pain in 1957, the year in which Francis published his first book, The Sport of Queens, a rather premature autobiography, telling the story of his first life as a champion steeplechase jockey. Francis did most of his riding on and about the Berkshire downs, around Lambourn and Newbury, just a short distance from Oxford, where C.S. Lewis lived and taught; I like to imagine them strolling on the Ridge Way, perhaps gazing down on the White Horse carved into the clay of the hill, comparing the paths they took, from such different worlds, to their discovery of the role of physical pain in the construction of the human spirit.

Compline: We'll let you work out the relationship between Common Sense and Conformity for yourself. (Hint: they have little in common!) First, William Polley on Common Sense.

Whether those involved are capable of using common sense (in the way that most reasonable people would) is, I admit, a legitimate question--the implications of which go well beyond a simple blog post.  I will also admit that it is a challenge for anyone to be fair and consistent in dealing with a diverse range of situations.  I understand why zero tolerance is appealing, and perhaps in some extreme cases desirable as a "second best" solution.

But some people are capable of using common sense.  They should be put in positions where they can use it.  Those who are incapable of using common sense should not be in those positions.

A good litmus test would be to ask whether they support zero tolerance policies.

Second, at Psyblog, "Ten Timeless Influencers" of Conformity. Dissent is the second.

As soon as there's someone who disagrees, or even just dithers or can't decide, conformity is reduced. Some studies have found conformity can be reduced from highs of 97% on a visual judgement task down to only 36% when there is a competent dissenter in the ranks (Allen & Levine, 1971).

Dissenters must be consistent, though, otherwise they'll fail to convince the majority.

And what's more consistent than Common Sense?

Permalink  Portico

Copyright (c) 2010 Pourover Press

Write to me