finem respice

You Are Going To Get A Big Spanking Young Lady

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 19:11 (+0100) by ep

father knows best

In 1889, the not yet 23 year old Umberto Giordano took sixth place in what was by then a well-known and widely-followed one-act opera contest sponsored by Sonzogno, then one of the more substantial publishing houses in Italy. Sonzogno had benefited greatly from Italian unification and served for many decades as a sort of crude talent clearing house for all of Italy.1 Giordano was the son of a Pharmacist who regarded his progeny's dalliances in art and music with cold distaste and preferred for his son the career of a champion fencer, forcing the young hopeful to study in secret until 1880 when his father finally relented and permitted him to attend (after failing the first entrance exam) Naples Conservatoire San Pietro a Maiella, housed in a former monastery at the far end of Via dei Tribunali.2

  1. 1. Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," which has since shown at the Metropolitan Opera over 650 times, took first prize that same year. Today, Sonzogno is probably most famous for publishing Helen Fielding (author of The Bidget Jones's Diary).
  2. 2. The conservatory is located in the edifice that was once the monastery of San Pietro a Maiella which, after the monastic suppression by the Neapolitan Republic in 1799, suffered a rather clumsy Baroque "restoration" by the Spanish in the 1600s and has recently undergone a "re-restoration" that has returned it to its former, brooding period appearance. Interested finem respice readers are highly encouraged to wander the Gothic walls that housed so many young and hopeful artists.
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Confederation Osteuropa

Monday, February 23, 2009 - 06:29 (+0100) by ep

the wounded lion

As the aftershocks of the Battle of Castillon began to fade, those who had taken up arms and developed a taste for the nearly ceaseless conflict of the previous 116 years began to foster the mercenary life as a profession. Demand for their services was, as it happened, as keen as supply. Calling on one's many subjects (who likely had been milking cows before being pressed to service) to fulfill their duty as conscripts served little purpose after Castillon, the first significant use of military cannon, other than to provide, what William Makepeace Thackeray would much later so elegantly describe as, "food for powder."1 Of course, the reputation of the Swiss in freeing themselves from the Hapsburg yoke and expanding into Italy commended them to various European princes, as did the ability to "rent out" what was effectively a Cantonal militia and thereby deploy a pre-trained, pre-organized, pre-equipped fighting force to brutally pike to death your irksome neighbors without all the fuss of recruiting and training your own heavy infantry. What resulted was the "Reisläufer." The traveling Swiss warrior.

  1. 1. Thackeray's Barry Lyndon (arguably his best work) has this take on conscripted armies of Frederick of Prussia some hundreds of years later: "The great and illustrious Frederick had scores of these white slave-dealers all round the frontiers of his kingdom, debauching troops or kidnapping peasants, and hesitating at no crime to supply those brilliant regiments of his with food for powder."
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Fighting Uncertainty With Uncertainty

Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 15:03 (+0100) by ep

i have a cunning plan

True to the populist environment that characterizes the clear air turbulence we all have to fly through for the next n months, mortgage "cram-downs" are a hot topic. Why not? On the surface they seem like an easy fix. Even from a Chicago School of Law and Economics perspective they have a certain charm, dare I even say, a certain charismatic appeal? Who would ever argue that between the creditor (large international financial institution) and the debtor (middle class- but increasingly upscale- individual) it is the debtor that holds the title of "least cost avoider"? And, of course, there is political capital to be accumulated by lunging at the banks and piercing a lung with the rapier of "financial justice." These combine nicely to create a bitter amalgam that, as a topical salve, is about as likely to cure the patient's syphilis as bleeding him. To borrow from a more brazen, amusing and fictional cynic: "I think I'm on the point of spotting the flaw in this plan."

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Death of the Modern

Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 02:38 (+0100) by ep

the fog does not vanish just because you are above it

One can occasionally find deep contradictions in what otherwise would be considered the unadulterated artistic product of Romanticism as a movement, or perhaps, more widely, the brilliantly optimistic trappings of the Enlightenment. Deeper and darker threads, even in works hailed as hallmarks of individualist optimism, present themselves to the meticulous critic after sufficient scrutiny. This is to say, that which appears transparent and plain, rarely is. Be this a consequence of the deep and insatiable lust of curiosity that characterizes our species (more simply, that we are just seeing things), or some actual, tangible darkness in all expression, I'm not sure we know. Suffice it to say that, where the affairs of man are concerned, transparency is an illusion. Always.

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Look To The End

Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 11:40 (+0100) by ep

the corruption of power

The birth of finem respice comes at an unfortunate time. This site's motto, finem respice, seems particularly apt when the long-term consequences of ill-considered ventures threaten to be so severe. Incredible as it seems, the possibility of a default by the United States is no longer considered alarmist. In fact, after a little bit of reflection, this doesn't even seem all that incredible anymore. Whatever your view of the likelihood of an actual default- and flaccid arguments about the semantics of the term “default” notwithstanding- it is difficult to overstate the gravity of this kind of sentiment. If anyone needs a more definitive statement of the danger of a crisis of confidence for a highly leveraged institution, then they weren’t paying attention when Lehman Brothers slipped smoothly beneath the dark and frigid waters of financial ruin.

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