Ben A.
Ben H.
The Longest Inch

For two weeks I've been reading this set-theory paper, in order to familiarize myself with the sorts of structures that I think will help make my model of spacetime less vague. (Namely, the degrees of constructibility of Cohen reals.) Its body begins with Theorem 1.1; for a "proof", it just waves vaguely at two places in an old textbook without even bothering to hint how they establish the theorem. Probably it is a warning: if you can't figure this out on your own, you have no business reading further. Although Theorem 1.1 takes up about one column-inch, I haven't been able to find a proof for two weeks. I think I just figured how to do it. My relief is tempered somewhat by the fact that I haven't really worked out the details. Also by the fact that, at this rate, I will reach the paper's end by 2011. [Doug: 4/29/05 16:49]
Glut of Savings

Sure isn't helping the biotech IPO market, is all I'm saying... [Ben A.: 4/29/05 15:24]
"A Fee-Structure Masquerading As An Asset Class"

Hedge funds: they're springing up like mushrooms after a rain. Unfortunately, a forest that consists mainly of mushrooms does not constitute a healthy ecosystem. Well, who ever said New York was healthy? Every idiot with a year or two of finance experience can hang out a shingle and attract some credulous investors. What's behind all this easy money? The Fed, in part. But also, I think that the world is facing a glut of savings. The parts of the world that are growing fastest (Asia) are places that have shown a cultural disposition to high savings. In addition, demographic trends globally point to stagnating population growth. Masses of people need to save for an uncertain retirement, with fewer in prospect to support them. All this conspires to make capital cheap; and tells me that this is the worst time to be a hedge fund guy. Capital is plentiful. It is ideas requiring capital to become reality that are scarce. Now is a great time to have some pharaonic scheme that can capture the imagination (or is it desperation?) of the horde of second-tier MBAs charged with investing the flood tide of investable savings. Earth-circling set of replicas of the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps? [Ben H.: 4/29/05 14:45]
New Competition For Ben H

This morning at Starbucks, while beating my head some more on infinite boolean algebras, I overheard next to me, not the usual homeless guy's mutterings, but an interview for a job with a hedge fund startup. They're called the "Southpaw" fund, because the founders are left-handed, and because they come to the hedge fund business from a different angle. Specifically, and I quote, "We buy discounted securities. That's the nature of what we do." Buy low, sell high -- sounds like an idea that could work. But why risk disclosing this proprietary trading strategy in so public a location as Starbucks? [Doug: 4/29/05 11:26]
Supreme Inversion

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has taken flak from conservatives recently for her professed enthusiasm for using foreign law as a source in consitutional interpretation. Strange, then, to see her dissenting opinion, published today, in Pasquantino, a case which held some interest for me because Bernie worked on an opinion in a parallel case before the 2nd Circuit. The case deals with the so-called "revenue rule": the notion that the U.S government should not be in the business of enforcing foreign tax law. In Pasquantino, the government brought wire fraud charges against some fellows who conspired to smuggle alcohol into Canada, on the theory that they "deprived another party of its property", the property being Canada's right to receive tax revenues. A rather tendentious theory, in my view, but then I am no lawyer. The Supreme Court upheld the wire fraud convictions by a vote of 5-4. Here's the weird part: Ruth "Let's Look to Foreign Law" Ginsburg wrote the (sound, in this layman's view) dissent. She notes sourly that, "The Government's prosecution of David Pasquantino [and his associates] for wire fraud was grounded in Canadian customs and tax laws." Hear, hear. And what of those Ginsburg-supported Supreme Court decisions (execution of minors?) grounded in European law?? [Ben H.: 4/27/05 18:12]
An Economist Speaks the Truth

I still don't want cell phone use on planes, but I'm not going to tell you some fancy-wancy academic story about externalities imposed on infra-marginal consumers. I am still, however, looking for a good argument to use against him. Can I claim that cell phone calls are a socially wasteful means of signaling to your spouse that you care?

--Tyler Cowen [Ben A.: 4/27/05 12:18]
Sleestak... Delivers the Facial!! [Ben H.: 4/26/05 07:36]
Bill Laimbeer, Revealed!

This explains so much. [Ben A.: 4/25/05 16:51]
Oeuf Mollet

A year and a half ago I mentioned this incredible appetizer I had at the restaurant Laurent in Paris. The core of it was a soft-boiled egg with a breadcrumb-and-butter coating browned under a broiler. With this in mind, we made a salad with my best approximation of that egg yesterday. It was good but not great. While surfing around for improvements afterwards I came across Laurent's recipe itself! (I may have mis-described the asparagus as artichokes in my earlier post.) I highly recommend it.

[Doug: 4/23/05 23:37]

Your comparison to Maureen Dowd, Doug, is apposite. Friedman benefits substantially by implicit comparison to the rest of the op-ed page. After reading Dowd, or Herbert, or another soporific Gail Collins editorial, I turn to Friedman and think "hey, a least the guy occassionally leaves his apartment."

Also, your prose style outshines Friedmans as the sun does a lamp. Don't put yourself down. [Ben A.: 4/23/05 09:20]
In Defense of Friedman

Friedman's prose -- like my own, I should hope -- is good and clear and unbrilliant. Hitchens, Derbyshire, Kinsley, and Lileks (just to pick examples with lots of consonants) are all better wordsmiths. But Friedman has a better instinct for finding the truly important story and making it clear in a short space. Three of the four others I mentioned often get sidetracked -- Hitch by his contrarian schtick, Derb by his polymathy, Lileks by his conservative blinders and his overfondness for soft targets. Only Kinsley combines surpassing verbal talent with an instinct for the important story.

A quick review of Friedman's recent columns shows them to be uninspired (probably he's too caught up at the moment in book hoopla) but nowhere near as linguistically maladroit as that hatchet job says. I have little patience for hacks like that guy. It's immediately obvious that their goal is to draw attention to themselves. Anyone who's read Maureen Dowd knows real inanity when he sees it, and this guy loses all credibility by putting Friedman in the same category as her.

[Addendum: Would I want to read a book by Friedman? Probably not. His nothing-special to-the-point style seems better suited to weekly columns.] [Doug: 4/22/05 18:11]

I think Taibbi is being sarcastic. Maybe he should have used scare quotes around "genius." Perhaps Friendman's observation aren't all fatuities. But, Doug, do you really think Friedman has value as a wordsmith? [Ben H.: 4/22/05 16:07]
Taibbi and Friedman

You must remember this... [Ben A.: 4/22/05 15:37]
Hatchet-Man, Edit Thyself

Friedman is "incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius"? I.e., he is incapable of dullness?

I happen to think Friedman is in the top rank of newspaper columnists, although I haven't the time or inclination to back that up now. [Doug: 4/22/05 15:28]
It's His Tom Friedman Haters' Club, We're Just Junior Members

Matt Taibbi, the genius behind that gusher of bile, the Moscow-based expat paper, The Exile, has penned a truly marvelous anti-Friedman screed, in the form a review of the Great Bloviator's new book.

It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

Taibbi rarely misses either, and he surely hasn't this time.
[Ben H.: 4/22/05 15:08]
Hard Work


Thanks to Ben Wolfson. [Ben A.: 4/22/05 13:04]
On "Ease" In Mathematics

You probably all know the following joke:

The scene: a mathematics class, the professor is standing at the blackboard, doing a proof.

Professor: "Now that we have shown step 7, it is obvious that the conclusion follows."
Student: "Why is it obvious?"
Professor: stops ... turns to the blackboard, starts to speak, stops, sits down at his desk, is silent for 2 minutes, then finally gets up and walks out of the lecture hall.
He returns 30 minutes later.
Professor: Yes, it is obvious.
[Ben A.: 4/22/05 12:51]
On "Ease" In Mathematics

I got three hours less sleep than usual due to the following line on p. 264 of Jech's Set Theory (2nd Ed.): "Let B be a complete Boolean algebra and let D be a complete subalgebra of B. If G is generic on B, then it is easy to see that GD is generic on D [...] ."

I now discover the reason why this came "easily" to me only after three hours or so, a parenthetical comment of Jech's third edition: "Caution: A subalgebra A of B that is itself complete is not necessarily a complete subalgebra of B." Well duh! [Doug: 4/22/05 08:09]
Instant Academia

As Ben H mentioned recently, we wrote this screen-saver back in college that generated hilariously plausible humanities paper titles. Inevitably, someone has gone all the way and made a complete advanced-humanities paper generator. (Try refreshing with different querystrings to keep the page from caching.) Link via Maximum Awesome. [Doug: 4/21/05 14:03]
I Love A Coup In The Afternoon!

It was shaping up to be a boring day at the office, until the fine people of Ecuador rescued me from ennui. Amid rapidly-swelling and seemingly spontaneous protests, and the refusal of the army to quash them, the Ecuadorean Congress voted to oust embattled President Lucio Gutierrez. While Gutierrez clearly had lost most of his popular and elite support, few expected such an abrupt end to his mandate. However, his decision to allow the return of Abdala "El Loco" Bucaram from exile in exchange for the support of Bucaram's party drove the people of Quito to take to the streets. The Congress dared not fail to oblige them; it helped that few legislators in the body had any more use for the president.

Unfortunately for Gutierrez, he had not, it seems, closely studied the manual for dealing with a South American coup. 1) Flee the Presidential Palace before the crowd tears you limb from limb 2) Flee the country before the new authorities arrest you; and 3) Get yourself to the Kennedy School of Government before you run out of money. Gutierrez lost the thread after step (1). He was apprehended at the airport several hours after leaving the Palace in a helicopter. Why he stalled out at the airport is hard to say, though, low as my opinion of Gutierrez is (and I have actually met the guy twice), not even I think it was because he wanted to fill up on pretzels and free drinks in the Admiral's Club. He was rumored to be on his way to Venezuela; if he was relying on any Venezuelan airline to get him out, then the delay in actually getting moving is totally understandable.

Vice President Palacio has been sworn in to the top office. He is a rank leftist without much popular support or party backing. Ecuador has a history of coups, so it needs to do something special to make this one worthy of note. The country may go for the rarely executed Executive Double Dump. A correspondent has just written to me that the mob has returned to surround Congress (and the new president), demanding Palacio's dismissal. The army and police have stood aside; several congressmen have been assaulted. Letting the mob menace the Congress may be the Army's way of signaling its displeasure with Palacios and its preference for an interim president from outside Ecuador's putrid political class.

Appendix: Recent Ecuador Presidents: Tale of the Tape

Name: Abdala "El Loco" Bucaram.
Exit: Declared mentally incompetent by Congress (fitting, given his nickname). Ousted.
Retirement: Indicted for corruption. Exile in Panama.

Name: Rosalia Arteaga
Exit: Was Bucaram's VP. After asserting she was rightful president, quit after two days. Smart woman!
Retirement: Ran for President in 1998, trounced.

Name: Fabian Alarcon
Exit: Served rest of Bucaram's term, just barely.
Retirement: Indicted in 1999 for corruption, jailed. Later freed.

Name: Jamil Mahuad
Exit: Mob of Indians, assisted by elements of Army, drives him from office. Flees country.
Retirement: Indicted for corruption, finds a home at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Go Crimson!

Name: Gustavo Noboa
Exit: Serves rest of Mahuad's term, just barely
Retirement: Indicted for corruption, flees, seeks asylum in Dominican Republic.

Name: Lucio Gutierrez
Exit: Under siege from mob, Congress ousts him for "abandonment of office"
Retirement: Heads for Venezuela, caught at the airport. "Hello, Dad? I'm in jail."

Name: Alfredo Palacio
Exit: Pending. Surrounded by angry mob as we speak.
Retirement: Imminent.

[Ben H.: 4/20/05 18:47]
The Federalist Frenchie-Style

It seems that the European Constitution will fail regardless of how the French vote. The Dutch public is leaning heavily against it, to say nothing of the reliably Brussels-phobic UK electorate. French voters operate, as you note, Doug, on a different logic from these others. The Dutch and the British have fairly specific gripes both with the present operation of the EU (particularly the budget, to which both contribute much more than they draw) and the future mechanics as provided for in the draft constitution. But the French should have no such objections. A former French President presided over the Constitutional Convention and vigorously pushed France's interests. France still receives a rich allocation of EU budget funds under the Common Agricultural Policy and will do so for the foreseeable future. EU rules that France finds inconvenient -- like the recently vitiated Stability and Growth Pact -- have a tendency to get relaxed. What we are seeing is pure spite... [Ben H.: 4/20/05 18:37]
Ressentiment watch

More proof that Nietzsche was right to use the French word for "resentment" when writing in German. France is the natural homeland of resentment. By and large, the French have bitter contemptuous hatred for anyone who launches ambitious projects to make things better (and who seems likely to succeed -- they have a soft spot for les causes perdues d'avance). First they tried to block our Iraq war. Now they're going to torpedo the European constitution. Note that those who will vote against the constitution have no particular problem with it; they just want to "send a message" that they hate the current government (which they elected), as well as humanity, their own lives, etc. [Doug: 4/20/05 13:25]
Mixed Metaphors: Gold Medal Winner

"Some analysts describe Ratzinger as the leader of the neoconservative faction."
--Sylvia Poggioli, National Public Radio (April 15, 2005) [Ben A.: 4/20/05 11:21]
Viva Il Papa? More Like Heil Papst!

JP II spent time under the Nazi boot in WWII. I suppose it was time to give the other side its due!

Yes, well, as it turns out, he was required to join Hitler Youth and he deserted the German Army shortly after he was sent to Hungary. But let's see which journalists try to make a serious case that the Catholic Church has done something scandalous by elevating a cardinal with "a Nazi past." Then let's check whether they have made any complaint about Senator Robert KKK Byrd's senior stateman role in the Democratic Party... [Ben H.: 4/19/05 14:34]
Movie Recommendation

Look At Me is a very good movie. [I erased some other comments I said about it here, since they made it seem more French-culture-specific than it is. It should please you regardless of how much you care about France.] [Doug: 4/18/05 17:58]

Weird it would be, though I'll wager that some restaurant in New York has charged $30 for it at some point. [Ben H.: 4/18/05 15:32]
Short the Telcos! (a continuing series)

Back in conuslting days (after your time, Ben H) we did an interview series with a number of futurists, business-book blurbers, and assorted high muckamucks. I remember almost nothing from this project beyond the investment advice of one b-school professors: "What's my strategy? Take all your money and short the telcos. Those guys are hopeless."

The prediction of imminent telecom catastrophe is a hardy perential, to be sure. That said, Skype is pretty cool. Even a pre-millenium 56.6 kps connection provides excellent sound quality. [Ben A.: 4/18/05 15:22]
It would be weird as lo mein! (8) [Doug: 4/18/05 15:21]
Millenium Lemur Project

I had no idea that thebandarlog ranked so high on Wolfowitz's blogroll. On the facts, however, it's hard for me to know waht $110MM means in aid terms. Is a grant over four years equivalent to .5% of yearly GDP really significant? The goals seem appropriate enough: land reform, bank reform. So perhaps the policy chages spurred by aid can have a multiplier effect.

America (Snow) Blows

In New England, the snowblower has achieved a fetish status. Senior scientists at my company spend hours describing the features and capacities of their machines. The cultic significance of homecare items baffles me. Can either of you explain this?

[Ben A.: 4/18/05 13:15]
The Ben A. Plan Put In Place!

Ben A not long ago proposed that when it comes to grand plans for the alleviation of global poverty, the rule out to be "try it first in Madagascar." Ben speaks, the White House listens. This week, the U.S. government will disburse the first award under its Millenium Challenge aid program: $110mio for Madagascar! [Ben H.: 4/18/05 07:37]
America Blows

As you already know if you live there (I write this mainly for my Manhattanite friends) America is obsessed with loud, obnoxious, neighborhood-shaking leaf-blowers. Can I explain this? I cannot. Perhaps it is the same urge to transcendent purity that sends some of us on this side of the Hudson up to kneel before $100,000 pieces of yarn and fluorescent tubes (see below). Perhaps it's something else. In any case, every other citizen of this republic seems to be outside blowing leaves from their lawn. And not just leaves. And not just their lawn. At my parents' house in Michigan I always see people blowing their driveways, and sometimes the roofs of their houses. I see them chasing a lone leaf on a gusty stochastic walk across their property until it settles on the street. This weekend we saw some guy blowing a dirt parking area that had no leaves on it to begin with.

In Jason and Rachel's neighborhood near West Point, the urge to create engine noise extends to vehicle motors. Their neighbor wakes up every morning and runs his Ferrari engine for a few minutes. (Then he buffs it and gazes at it. A few hours later he drives it slowly around the block.) There was another guy in front of his house revving the engine of his motorcycle, not seeming intent on going anywhere. I guess this last thing can be explained (you have to get the bike's engine in shape after a winter's worth of disuse) but combined with everything else it was still freaky. [Doug: 4/17/05 23:14]
Dia: Beacon

It occurs to me that our own experience of radical a(sc/esth)eticism is a nice complement to yours at Masa. We spent the weekend with our friends Jason and Rachel, who have a house near the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson, about an hour north of the city. One of the things we did was visit Dia: Beacon. (Note that the colonic irrigation of highbrow humanism has now gone beyond paper titles, to the names of its hauts lieux. Note also the anagram "Abide a con".)

Dia: Beacon is an industrial-loft museum of minimalism. The art is all nugatory. What's neat is the museum itself, an airy, sunlit space with "34,000 square feet of skylights". I am enough a man of my age (and of my city) to be staggered by the sheer real estate of it all. The garden outside was very pleasant too.

You have to respect the museum's devotion to minimalism. Almost all the main space is devoted to works of pure sterility. The dick-and-turd sculptress Louise Bourgeois is kicked upstairs, and the only audio-video work is kicked downstairs. So the effect of the main floor is very meditative and zen-gardeny, and in me it inspires questions about the mentality of its patrons/curators/audience. There is clearly some kind of spirituality/desire for transcendence going on here, and I applaud that as a good thing. I just wish that the bicoastal latte class (which I belong to) would acknowledge its spirituality/desire for transcendence and work it into a coherent, compelling philosophy for everyday use, rather than project into a few devotional objects and leave them for one sunny weekend a year. The D:B's constituency is so confused and conflicted philosophically that even their high priests tell them their faith is in vain. Take this quote from the fluorescent-bulb artist Dan "Ribo" Flavin, pulled from the D:B site:

"It is what it is, and it ain't nothin' else. . . . Everything is clearly, openly, plainly delivered. There is no overwhelming spirituality you are supposed to come into contact with. I like my use of light to be openly situational in the sense that there is no invitation to meditate, to contemplate. It's in a sense a "get-in-get-out" situation."

When High Art has come to this, it's no wonder that the ruling class now uses food as its preferred signifier of cultural superiority. [Doug: 4/17/05 22:53]
Ben, wasn't it Marx who said that internal contradictions in capitalism would be its downfall? Looks like he might have been right ... [Doug: 4/17/05 21:26]
They Keep Coming, These Restaurants: Part III

I went out last night with a group of Turkish brokers to Masa, the tiny Japanese restaurant in the AOLTW Mall, one of the recent clutch of establishments that have distinguished themselves through stratoshperic prix fixe pricing. The place ought to be renamed "The Sushi Nazi." The eponymous owner serves you and the three other tables in the spare, completely silent room a sequence of, well, whatever catches his fancy. As soon as you enter, you get a lecture on their "strict cellphone policy", namely that SMS is permitted but frowned upon, and all other cellphone traffic is expressly forbidden. Now, I have no problem turning off my cellphone from time to time, especially on a non-school night, as it were, but my exposure to emerging markets has taught me that cellphone addiction has reached levels of acuteness in Eastern Europe and the Middle East never yet seen in the U.S. Our evening devovled into a game of cat-and-mouse between, on one side, the cellphone-addicted Turks, and on the other the Sushi Nazi and his minions. One of my tablemates' phones (he had multiple) went off (not due to a call, as it turns out, but an alarm) and instantly one of Masa's apprentices dashed over and declared testily that cellphones must be set to silent mode. The Turk tried to explain that it was in silent, but somehow that did not disable the alarm; to which the Sushi Gauleiter snapped "well, OFF would be better!" Later in the evening, another one of my companions received a call, sending him dashing out of the restaurant. His mistake was to snap open the phone a few paces short of the door. The hostess eyes darted from the phone to the Sushi Nazi, her face a frozen mask of terror. Luckily, the transgression escaped the Fuhrer's notice. After the caller returned, the hostess came over, and basically pleaded with him not to flout the policy. "He gets really, really angry," she simpered. "He WILL kick you out!!"

At this point, his pride inflamed by having been brought up short by the staff, he decided to try his best to needle the staff. He needed to make another call. He walked to the door where the Fuhrer was seeing off another group of customers and, directly behind his back, snapped open his phone and gave a dirty look to the horrified hostess. WHen the cavalcade of sushi began, the waiters brought finger-bowls, explaining that their Fuhrer asks (though from their tone of voice, it seemed like they meant "commands") you to eat the sushi with your fingers, the chopsticks somehow interfering with the flavor. The sushi kept coming for literally hours; our stomachs were stretched to the breaking point. The Turk decided that it would be funny to keep asking every server he could if they could give us a doggy bag; knowing, of course, that if the Fuhrer would not even let a chopstick touch his sushi, he would be scandalized by the very idea. The looks of shock and confusion playing across their faces kept us amused for several courses... [Ben H.: 4/16/05 13:02]
We Are Not Men, We Are Divo

A full-page ad in the weekly bible of middlebrowdom (the Times Arts & Leisure section) introduces us to the boy band of opera cheez. [Doug: 4/16/05 09:10]
And At Quarterback ... #7 ... Ron Mexico!

I am a bad person for finding this funny. [Ben A.: 4/14/05 18:22]
The Delicate Definition of “Mainstream”

It did not surprise me to learn that Andrea Dworkin had an atypical private life: to wit, a male husband/partner who was gay, and who wrote books about rejecting manhood. Nor did it surprise me to learn that he was a magazine editor. It surprises me a great deal, however, that the magazine he edits is AARP magazine. It’s like learning that Jack Chick also writes “Ziggy”. Or maybe he does…
[Ben A.: 4/14/05 09:22]
Opening Day

Best A-Rod Mocking Chant

Jeter's better. Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. Jeter's better. Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

Best Yankee Sportsmanship

Mariano Rivera laughing and tipping his cap after being ostentatiously and sarcastically cheered during the introductions (comparison: the bat boy was soundly booed).

Best Manifestation of Abiding Bostonian Misanthrophy

The guy in front of me, on the World Series banner: "Yeah, and we could see it too, if it weren't for the Pope."

(No penant can fly higher than the American flag, which was at half staff) [Ben A.: 4/12/05 01:26]
Set Theory Update

I've started sitting in on a seminar at the CUNY graduate center, run by its only set theory professor. There are three students in it, all roughly in their fourth year of their PhD's, plus another student who just received his PhD. Their enthusiasm is off the charts relative to other grad students I've met. I mentioned after class that I was interested in knowing why the existence of a measurable cardinal implied the existence of unconstructible sets, and they sat me down and started explaining -- "Okay, so you need to know about ultrapowers. Do you know about them? No? Okay, so there's this cool way of generating new models from a given model ...."

This should give my math studies a shot in the arm.

[Doug: 4/10/05 16:56]



Ben A.
Ben H.