finem respice


The Abandoned Prefectures: A Tragedy In One Act

Thursday, July 15, 2010 - 20:49 (+0100) by ep

the evil eye to you, and you and you

Oh, but how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child (Emperor). Who, truly, can endure a wanton blindness to sacrifice and service so keen that it cuts to the very bone through even the toughest hides, leathered over many decades of exposure to the withering radiation of the Fourth Estate, the hard and ceaseless rains of the campaign trail and the cruel sting of the crop of franchise. Consider the plight of 253 Prefects of some local renown:

In recent weeks, a widespread belief has taken hold among Democratic House members that they have dutifully gone along with the White House on politically risky issues -- including the stimulus plan, the health-care overhaul and climate change -- without seeing much, if anything, in return. Many of them are angry that Obama has actively campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates but has done fewer events for House members.

The boiling point came Tuesday night during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats in the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) excoriated White House press secretary Robert Gibbs's public comments over the weekend that the House majority was in doubt and that it would take "strong campaigns by Democrats" to avert dramatic losses.

"What the hell do they think we've been doing the last 12 months? We're the ones who have been taking the tough votes...."1

  1. 1. Paul Kane, "House Democrats Hit Boiling Point Over Perceived Lack of White House Support," The Washington Post (July 15, 2010).
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The Privatization and Atomization of Espionage (Sources)

Friday, July 2, 2010 - 04:45 (+0100) by ep

emulating arthur zimmermann?

"Wikileaks is completely neutral because it is simply a conduit for the original document and does not pretend to be the author of the propaganda of a vested interest. But it further increases transparency in that those who make comments and contribute analysis make this readily available with the document but clearly distinguished from it. Wikileaks will publish original documents that were never crafted to be media statements. The newsworthiness of that will be in the eye of the beholder rather than in eye of the public figure and the journalist."1

When we left our Wikiheroes last episode, they were facing multiplying accusations of left-leaning political bias, probably germinating with their decision to begin to release material with summaries or analysis attached, and, like some price-fixing, authoritarian sovereign, to manufacture scarcity by selectively withholding the release of documents. For a time Wikileaks attempted to defend itself from charges like these by, for example, touting Climate Gate, ACORN and Tony Rezko disclosures:

Right wingers should know we originated Climate Gate, ACORN censorship and docs on Tony Rezko/Blagoyevich corruption.2

But such disclosures have become rare and even their terminology ("Right Wingers") betrays an "us versus them" slant that Wikileaks seems pained to suppress. (What about libertarians who want to know why ClimateGate saw literally no activity on the Wikileaks Twitter stream while the Collateral Murder video dominated it for weeks- and, in fact, still does?)

Videos like "Collateral Murder," the Iraqi "farmers" analysis and the "Peace Flotilla" video resemble a quantum system in that the observer is part of the system and the nature of the observation influences the results. Depending on the preconceptions of the viewer, the Collateral Murder video is either evidence of heinous war crimes that should carry the death penalty carried out by outraged citizens of some (unspecified) sovereign, or an example of the tragic reality that "war zones are dangerous" for those civilians that tread therein. Indeed, one otherwise progressive publisher archly titled its review of the Collateral Murder video and the Wikileaks coverage thereof: "Wikileaks Releases Video, Proves War Can Be Fatal." (The piece was later removed).

  1. 1. From an archived version of the original Wikileaks mission statement.
  2. 2. Wikileaks Twitter feed (April 8, 2010 5:46 PM).
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The Privatization and Atomization of Espionage

Friday, July 2, 2010 - 00:43 (+0100) by ep

not quite as destroyed as we were led to suppose

"From 2nd from London # 5754. We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

Signed, Zimmermann."

Of course, the actual message- read:

130 13042 13401 8501 115 3528…

...was authored in German, and was originally sent to Count Johan von Bernstorff, then in the unenviable post of Germany's ambassador to the United States. The "Zimmermann Telegram," so named for its author, Arthur Zimmermann, Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, was forwarded via absurdly circumlocutious route on to Heinrich von Eckardt, Germany's ambassador to Mexico. There, it was intended to persuade Mexico to open a southern front on America's border, and thereby frustrate efforts to fight Germany on the continent, and elsewhere.

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The Mating Calls of Modern Authoritarian Sovereigns

Monday, June 21, 2010 - 11:30 (+0100) by ep

the team

It will be no surprise to regular finem respice readers that athletic diversions play only the most tangential role in these pages (or their predecessors). Short of a somewhat pathological affinity for the Chicago Cubs- who can, after all, fail to indulge in a smarmy sort of appreciation for the unusual brand of mediocrity that permits a team to play 49.80% ball since 1908 (7835-7899), make so many postseason appearances in the same period and still somehow fail to win a World Series championship in over 102 years,1 a streak so long that it not only exceeds that of any other professional sports team in the United States, but also predates the very existence of the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Football League- great (or infamous) athletic endeavors play little part in the behind the scenes ruminations that shape the prose here. Despite this, it is simply impossible to permit North Korea's World Cup appearance to pass without comment.

As one of the last, desperate, hacking coughs ripped out among a long series of dying gasps emanating from the hospital ward where the world keeps its terminal command and control economy test subjects, North Korea is shaped by strange and (to those citizens, and not a few subjects of the world without a "Dear Leader") utterly foreign motivations. The dynamics of and the stakes for North Korea in international sporting competitions like this are dramatically different than for the rest of the planet. The public spectacle and ritual (not to mention the crowds) that accompany large-scale, international sporting events tap directly into the psyche of authoritarian regimes. The global, nationalistic sporting competition is the modern authoritarian mating call.

  1. 1. A 33.70% lifetime post-season record takes a particular kind of talent.
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Remembering the Rote Blandness of Chaos

Sunday, May 30, 2010 - 05:01 (+0100) by ep

were there really two of them?

It is difficult to find a devotee of the cinema who would not, on being asked to identify the most memorable performance by Dennis Lee Hopper, fail to quickly name Easy Rider or Blue Velvet. Reportedly, Hopper convinced Lynch to cast him in the latter, more sinister piece by calling him and declaring "You have to give me the role of Frank Booth because I am Frank Booth...." And though I will readily admit that Frank Booth still has the ability to haunt the darker (and even significantly taint some of the lighter) of my dreams in the solitary and quiet nights that inevitably follow a viewing of Blue Velvet (not least because it is so easy to imagine Hopper is merely playing himself in depicting Frank Booth) I am not sure Lynch's suburban nightmare would mark my answer. But then, if Lynch can be said to understand the cinematic navigation of the dark side, Hopper is (or "was," and, oh, how painful it is to make that correction) clearly the wise old man of the Sea of Darkness. Said Lynch of Hopper's effort in Blue Velvet:

Dennis had to have been through experiences on the dark side to have owned that character.1

  1. 1. Bary Egan, "Keeping Your Hair On," The Irish Independent. (November 4, 2007).
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Order! I Said Order!

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 22:47 (+0100) by ep

i'll give you order alright....

Of late (that is, since Obama's performance in the face of questioning at the House republican Retreat last week- which is not a new practice, as it happens, only a newly televised one) it seems to have become somehow fashionable to suggest that what the United States is really lacking is some version of "Questions to the Prime Minister," (or more colloquially and hereinafter "Prime Minister's Question time" or "PMQ") a constitutional convention that has afflicted the United Kingdom in some formal format or another since 1961. (Certainly, it would be gratuitous of finem respice to suggest that the spread of television may have contributed to the adoption of regular schedule for PMQ in the United Kingdom).

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The Clandestine Risk Free Lunch Subsidy

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 12:37 (+0100) by ep

c'mon, it was only hulled once or twice!

Most likely it was the combination of location and the propensity for sailors (and shipowners) to gossip that made Edward Lloyd's London coffeehouse a natural choice as a forum for insurance brokerage. Strong and regular information flows were, of course, a critical function to evaluating and then pricing risk, and therefore properly funding risk pools used to diversify the hazards of seafaring ventures. As far as that went, ready access to loss and casualty data, and the slow accumulation of a book of same, is "what it was all about." Kill risk pricing information, and insurance is (eventually) doomed. It simply ceases to be insurance.

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The Divine Right of Kings (of Our Choosing)

Friday, February 5, 2010 - 16:38 (+0100) by ep

how easy is this going to be really?

“There is one change, then,” said I, “which I think that we can show would bring about the desired transformation. It is not a slight or an easy thing but it is possible.” “What is that?” said he. “I am on the very verge,” said I, “of what we likened to the greatest wave of paradox. But say it I will, even if, to keep the figure, it is likely to wash us away on billows of laughter and scorn. Listen.” “I am all attention,” he said. “Unless,” said I, “either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun. But this is the thing that has made me so long shrink from speaking out, because I saw that it would be a very paradoxical saying. For it is not easy to see that there is no other way of happiness either for private or public life.” Whereupon he, “Socrates,” said he, “after hurling at us such an utterance and statement as that, you must expect to be attacked by a great multitude of our men of light and leading, who forthwith will, so to speak, cast off their garments and strip and, snatching the first weapon that comes to hand, rush at you with might and main, prepared to do dreadful deeds. And if you don't find words to defend yourself against them, and escape their assault, then to be scorned and flouted will in very truth be the penalty you will have to pay.” “And isn't it you,” said I, “that have brought this upon me and are to blame?” “And a good thing, too,” said he; “but I won't let you down, and will defend you with what I can. I can do so with my good will and my encouragement, and perhaps I might answer your questions more suitably than another. So, with such an aid to back you, try to make it plain to the doubters that the truth is as you say.” “I must try,” I replied, “since you proffer so strong an alliance. I think it requisite, then, if we are to escape the assailants you speak of, that we should define for them whom we mean by the philosophers, who we dare to say ought to be our rulers. When these are clearly discriminated it will be possible to defend ourselves by showing that to them by their very nature belong the study of philosophy and political leadership, while it befits the other sort to let philosophy alone and to follow their leader.” “It is high time,” he said, “to produce your definition.” “Come, then, follow me on this line, if we may in some fashion or other explain our meaning.” “Proceed,” he said. “Must I remind you, then,” said I, “or do you remember, that when we affirm that a man is a lover of something, it must be apparent that he is fond of all of it? It will not do to say that some of it he likes and some does not.” “I think you will have to remind me,” he said.1

  1. 1. "The Republic" 5.473c - 5.474c, Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 Translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1969).
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This is Too Easy

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 21:45 (+0100) by ep

just reactive enough (for a while)

Of late my (admittedly limited) experience suggests that Americans like their politics like they like their '40s era fission experiments: reactionary, but not too reactionary and- even then- placed directly under a large bank of retarding control rods besides. This last week in particular drives the point home quite nicely. But, then, election years always have these days.

Both republicans and democrats are in entangled particle mode, with republicans in spin up angular momentum (read: the Massachusetts election is a firm display that Americans hate everything about the utter failure of a president that is Barack Obama and his legions of cloned fiscal storm troopers, their energy policy, their elitism, their handling of the nation's economy, a degradation of national morals manifest in the inability of The Bachelor to consummate even a single enduring marriage after fourteen seasons, and, oh yeah, the health care bill) and democrats in spin down angular momentum (read: the Massachusetts election is a firm display that Americans hate everything about Martha Coakley and the pack of shiftless, good-for-nothing vagabonds she apparently pulled in from the homeless shelter to clandestinely staff her campaign with such ninja-like invisibility and silence that neither the White House or the Democratic National Committee was able to detect the abyssall depth of their deficiency until late yesterday afternoon after it was too late... and plus we are just going to pass health care anyhow even if we have to change the Senate rules, you'll see).

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He Was Wearing My Harvard Tie. Can You Believe It? My Harvard Tie.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 18:21 (+0100) by ep

mr. valentine has set the price

Without question a large number of venerable institutions that spent most of the last several decades basking in their accomplishment, reputation and influence (not to mention affluence) have found themselves confronted with the unfamiliar sensation of ignominious defeat (or merely "substantial setback"). One could pick any number of cogent examples, but between the drubbing dealt to its endowment, and the general anti-finance, anti-Ivy (and anti-intelligentsia) sentiment that has gripped the United States, Harvard University seems to be something of a standout.

But even in the midst of overt, popular ire (just look at the increasing popularity of the word "elites" as a neo-class warfare weapon for example) old and venerable institutions still have appeal. Despite the fact that the "elites" may become hated, they manage to remain deeply envied (one might even wonder after a connection therein). And so it is not remotely difficult to find oneself fielding requests for, say, letters of recommendation to these institutions.

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