Tuesday, October 1, 2013

“You can’t be Syria!” -- Popcorn by The Colonel #64

Part I: Wonkery

Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises claimed that economics is "aprioristic" rather than historical, that is, that economics consists of unpacking and elucidating the logical consequences of the category "human action," the basic datum that humans act to relieve felt unease. This differs from the method of the physical sciences (observation, data collection, theory construction, testing, verification and falsification). The science of human action Mises called “praxeology,” and he said the best-elaborated part of praxeology (so far) is economics. A subset of economics is “catallactics,” sometimes called “economics in the narrow sense.” Catallactics is the analysis of market phenomena, which are "actions taken on the basis of monetary calculation." 

Milton Friedman was not a member of the "Austrian school" (which ironically today has no Austrian members of note), but a member of the Chicago school, also called "monetarism." The two schools overlap, but differ in important respects, notably over money. The Chicago school made its peace with "fiat money," money backed by nothing but the credit of the government issuing it. To avoid inflation and exaggerated business cycles, they favor a "monetary rule" under which the money supply would expand automatically by a small percentage each year. The predictability of the rule would, the monetarists say, avoid both inflations and recessions.

The "monetary rule" is the alternative to discretionary management, which the monetarists think is impossible to do well (like timing the stock market), and ends up being pro-cyclical, that is, it tends over time to exaggerate, not dampen, economic ups and downs. Austrians distrust the ability of "independent" monetary authorities like the Federal Reserve to withstand political pressure to keep increasing the money supply. They would use a gold standard, preferably worldwide.

Keynesians like Paul Krugman claim that recent events have discredited Austrians and monetarists alike with their fears of inflation resulting from monetary expansion. "Where's the inflation?" Krugman asks in the wake of massive waves of "quantitative easing" (Fed purchases of U.S. government debt.)

Part II: Related Anecdotage

By way of "tapering off" this subject, an anecdote about an aphorism: Sir John Sinclair brought his friend Adam Smith the news of the surrender of General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne to the American rebels at Saratoga in October 1777, and exclaimed in tones of deepest concern that the (English) nation was "ruined." Smith was not so sure. "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation," was Smith's oft-quoted reply. We understand him to have meant that plenty of rottenness infests even a well-run, prosperous, thriving country without foreboding imminent collapse.

Richard Nixon once said something similar: “The American economy is so strong it would take a genius to wreck it.” The nation has been sadly blessed with ample such genius.

Part III: Mesotopal Miscellany

In the universe of paraprofessionals (paramedics, paralegals, etc.), what’s the correct name for a parateacher? Apparently it's not "parateacher," "assistant teacher," or "teaching assistant." Permissible alternatives are "para-pro," "paraeducator," "paraprofessional educator," "instructional assistant," "educational assistant," "teacher's aide," and "classroom assistant."

Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (RDCB) produced hard-cover anthologies of abridged books from 1950 to 1979, when the series became Reader's Digest Select Editions. Possibly the team's most ambitious (hubristic?) effort, was The Reader's Digest Condensed Bible (1982), although RDCB apparently lost a whole task force named "Abridge Too Far" that went mad trying to condense Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel "Gravity's Rainbow" down to 240 pages as a service to the busy modern paranoid.

"Figuring out what it is like to read Pynchon is what it is like to read Pynchon."
--Jonathan Lethem

Batgeek's utility belt clanks like a charm bracelet full of remotes for stereo, TV, and air conditioner, plus laser pointer, pager, bottle opener, wire stripper, voltmeter, and magnifier. They're all so small that people wonder whether they can possibly work. Friend or foe, just hope that your life never hangs on the answer.

Part IV: Poetry Corner Sans Poetry

Algernon Charles Swinburne attended Balliol College, Oxford 1856–60 with a brief hiatus when he was rusticated from the university in 1859 for having publicly supported the attempted assassination of Napoleon III by Felice Orsini, returning in May 1860, though he never received a degree. Swinburne was an alcoholic and algolagniac, but never a swineburner, or "burnswine," if you like tosspot words.

A. E. Housman, a sophisticated, measured, but somewhat hostile critic, devoted paragraphs of praise to Swinburne’s rhyming ability. Nevertheless, Houseman felt that the job of being one of England's very greatest poets was beyond Swinburne, despite Swinburne's being, in the popular mind, England’s premier poet, the successor to Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning, from the age of 30 to his death in 1909 at age 72. 

How blessed were those who missed both the Napoleonic wars and World War I by living between them.

Housman, a genius and one of the greatest classical scholars of all time, had a contempt for inexact learning and a willingness to criticize academic colleagues whom he considered stupid, lazy, vain, or all three. Of his own field of textual criticism, he said, "A textual critic engaged upon his business is not at all like Newton investigating the motion of the planets: he is much more like a dog hunting for fleas."

It has been said that it doesn't pay to pick a fight with a newspaper or anyone who buys his ink by the barrel. In a similar way, it didn't pay to cross a colleague as articulate as Housman. It's tough to image a snappy comeback to this: "Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all others is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders, and brains, not pudding, in your head." A younger colleague collected some of Housman's attacks and said they were "often savage in the extreme," which may have been an understatement. A colleague described Housman as "descended from a long line of maiden aunts." He died in 1936, aged 77.

Part V: Apopemptic Apophthegmatter

"Calamities are of two kinds: misfortunes to ourselves, and good fortune to others." --Ambrose Bierce

"Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones." --Bertrand Russell

"Property rights are like rabbit rights. Hippity hoppity, that’s proppity." --Donald Trump or Professor Out There, whoever has better hare.

"If baby rabbits and baby hares both called 'bunnies,' that's confusing." --Dormaus

"If my name were Harry Angstrom, I'd change it to Harry Short. Why be unnecessarily specific?" --Roy Marshrigger

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