Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reid on Our View of Ourselves as Causes

We are conscious of making an exertion, sometimes with difficulty, in order to produce certain effects. And exertion made deliberately and voluntarily, in order to produce an effect, implies a conviction that the effect is in our power. No man can deliberately attempt what he does not believe to be in his power. The language of all mankind, and their ordinary conduct in life, demonstrate that they have a conviction of some active power in themselves to produce certain motions in their own and in other bodies, and to regulate and direct their own thoughts. This conviction we have so early in life, that we have no remembrance when, or in what way, we acquired it.

Thomas Reid, "Of the Liberty of Moral Agents," Essays on the Active Powers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Poem Drafts

Love by Universe

I love you more than all the earth.
It is not half enough.
Tomorrow I'll love like solar systems;
dismiss it all as fluff.
The after-day one galaxy
will scarce contain my awe --
but still too small, and still too pale.
Wait till you have them all.


Sweet breezes filter moonbeams in the night
to render them anew with seelie light,
with health and dewy argent interwound
like subtle hemming at the edge of sight.
This moonglow casts soft shadows on the ground
to give to every creature depth profound
and outline marked with clearest black and white;

but somehow you and hope are hidden still.
Not all the light of heaven as it spills
gives notice of your presence or your shade,
though memory of you this darkness fills.
But yet I keep a vigil calm and staid --
for you I think this advent night was made --
and, oh! in hope I for your presence thrill!

St. Giovanni di Fidanza

Today is the feast of St. Giovanni di Fidanza. He is never called that, actually; he is usually called St. Bonaventura, or some variation of that. According to the story, Bonaventure was very sick as a child, and his parents brought him to St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis took the young Giovanni in his harms and exclaimed, "O buona ventura!" (O good fortune!), and it stuck. We actually don't know where he gets the name; this legend is first attested a few hundred years after Bonaventure's death. We do know, from Bonaventure himself, that his parents did take him as a child to St. Francis because of a serious illness, but the link with his name seems purely apocryphal. It was a very fitting name, though; Bonaventure was indeed Good Fortune for the Franciscan Order, since he was in charge of the Order during its most difficult years, constantly holding it together while it was in danger of breaking apart. He died at the Council of Lyons in 1274; the (unsubstantiated) rumor has always existed that he was poisoned. There were Spiritual Franciscans who thought he had betrayed St. Francis's vision, but no one has ever been named as a likely suspect for it. Possibly the rumor only arose due to the suddenness of his death.

From one of his most popular works:

Therefore he who wishes to ascend to God must, avoiding sin, which deforms nature, exercise the above-mentioned natural powers for regenerating grace, and do this through prayer. He must strive toward purifying justice, and this in intercourse; toward the illumination of knowledge, and this in meditation; toward the perfection of wisdom, and this in contemplation. Now just as no one comes to wisdom save through grace, justice, and knowledge, so none comes to contemplation save through penetrating meditation, holy conversation, and devout prayer. Just as grace is the foundation of the will's rectitude and of the enlightenment of clear and penetrating reason, so, first, we must pray; secondly, we must live holily; thirdly, we must strive toward the reflection of truth and, by our striving, mount step by step until we come to the high mountain where we shall see the God of gods in Sion [Ps., 83, 8].

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Wild Glow of that Not Ungentle Zeal

Sonnet to Lake Leman
by George Gordon Byron

Rousseau - Voltaire - our Gibbon - and De Staƫl -
Leman! these names are worthy of thy shore,
Thy shore of names like these! wert thou no more
Their memory thy remembrance would recall:
To them thy banks were lovely as to all,
But they have made them lovelier, for the lore
Of mighty minds doth hallow in the core
Of human hearts the ruin of a wall
Where dwelt the wise and wondrous; but by thee
How much more, Lake of Beauty! do we feel,
In sweetly gliding o'er thy crystal sea,
The wild glow of that not ungentle zeal,
Which of the heirs of immortality
Is proud, and makes the breath of glory real!

Lac Léman is another name for Lake Geneva on the border of Switzerland and France; Byron and the Shelleys spent a holiday there in 1816 with some other friends. The result was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Polidori's The Vampyre, and a number of poems by both Percy Shelley and Byron, including Shelley's Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon. So apparently Lake Leman decided to continue its work as the Lake of Beauty.

Grade Inflation

I see that grade inflation is in the news again. (ht)

As I've said before, I think grade inflation is a myth. By this I mean not that there's no phenomena the phrase describes, but rather that calling it 'grade inflation' is a misdiagnosis. What we are actually experiencing is grade confusion, not inflation. If you look at the standards for grading from college to college, you will find very quickly that (1) they are all vague, and part of the reason for this is that they throw together absolute measures (students did work) with relative measures (students performed exceptionally well); and (2) they do not obviously match up with each other, with some colleges emphasizing the absolute measures and others emphasizing the relative measures. The absurdity in the whole thing is the common assumption that grades are univocal measures. They are not, and there is no way for faculty to coordinate grading on a national scale, which is what would be required for faculty to do anything about it even if they wanted to do so. Part of the problem is (as you can see from the charts at the link above) people started out with what at least seems to have been a common understanding of what the grades A, B, C, and D were supposed to mean (just judging from the shapes and medians of the curves it looks very much like the original understanding was that it was supposed to measure not the degree to which students had met standards of competence but performance relative to one's peers). What we have seen since is not inflation but the breakdown of this common understanding. It was stupid from the beginning to take every A to be equivalent to every other A; what has changed is merely that it has become obviously stupid.

The suggested cause of the shift, consumer-based approaches to education, is probably part of the cause, but is not likely to be the only one in operation. As I think I've also said before, a lot of the shift, so far as faculty are concerned, can be attributed entirely to two psychological facts: (1) most teachers like their students; and (2) most teachers hate grading. There are other pressures on teachers, but most of them are not likely to have a largescale effect on their own. One of the candidates for the primary cause of this shifting in grades is given in the article above as if it were just to be expected:

The authors argue that grading standards may become even looser in the coming years, making it increasingly more difficult for graduate schools and employers to distinguish between excellent, good and mediocre students.

Surely it has occurred to some of these people that the fact (and even if it weren't a fact, the impression) that employers use grades to sort hires provides more of an incentive and pressure on students, faculty, and administration for increasing A's than anything else that could be put on the table? Given this, it was inevitable. And there's no putting things back because, again, it's a matter of different grading philosophies across the board, not inflation of an otherwise univocal measure. Those who regard this as a problem really have only one option available to them: start pushing for a different kind of grading system.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spam in My Dreams

I had a weird dream last night in which I was very distressed because I had deleted a comment, written in Cyrillic letters, from my spam filter; the reason for the distress was that the comment was actually a secret code carrying information of life-and-death importance.

The Fraud, Part III

(Part I) (Part II)

How subtle are the gods! But cleverness and doom
are partners hand in hand. The treachery of gods
to gods will bring an end. The fraudulence of gods
will sprout with fiercest force, and bring to them a night.
The honor of the gods must ever be maintained.
By treaty and by troth we net the world around;
by covenant we rule, by word that never dies.
In this our power lies, the truth within our blood,
and bale of fate are those who pass the bounds of trust,
though they be gods on high. You sing for joy for Freya.
This is a righteous joy. But sorrow in its seed
in joy's own birth was sown. Now hear, and hearing, dread:
Because the gods with cheat have turned the word of trust,
the evening doom will come. Because dishonor ruled
though but a moment's time in Aesir's thought and deed,
and of dishonor's fruits the gods have all a taste,
the evening doom will come. Because by rot of troth
all gods have tasted joy, the twilight doom will come.
Because by death of truth the gods have kept their joy
the death of gods will come. Because with trick the gods
have countered honest pact, a number marks our days.

And all in silence heard. Then hammer-bearing Thor
with lightning in his eyes rose up with stormy wrath.

Who knows not the source of all our new-found woe?
Of all the gods, who sowed the seed that birthed this course?
One god holds all the blame: red Loki is his name.
Hear now! The doom begun, it may not be undone
but by the pain of one who made it to be born.
With iron born of stars let Loki now be bound,
with steel from heaven far that subtlety confounds,
that in these holy halls the doom may be forestalled.

What fools are now the gods who clamor for my pain!
To such I give no thought but merciless disdain!
Who were the ones who begged my aid in saving spring?
Through the razor-edge of cleverness, all gods sing
of every lovely joy of spring-encircled Freya.
Are cowards newly found behind high Asgard's wall?
If death will come, no bond will stay that ceaseless doom;
on all of us it falls like evening in its gloom.
But you will still have spring! Raise up your song and sing;
face the mask of death that nears with every breath.
And I, I spit on all who seek to pass the blame
in hope the coming death might never on them fall.

Not even gods can stay the fate we now will face.
Our truth is now corrupt, nor will our hearts repent
and give the spring to Hrim. The twilight doom will come.
But slowed its steps may be and fate at walking pace
may march its stayless march. The flame has broken bond,
corrupted holy troth; let flame in steel be bound.
Thus space against the night the gods will have from Loki.

And from the holy house, the city of the gods,
the god of flame was thrown and bound with chains of steel
beneath a serpent's tongue, that for a little while
the twilight might delay before the horns of war
ring out in holy Asgard. Then Naglfar will sail.
See its pilot, Hrim, who comes to smash his wall!
See Loki now return to consummate his war!
Then vengeance will destroy, and flame devour, gods.

The Fraud, Part II

(Part I)

How subtle are the gods! And yet more subtle flame!
Thus Loki moonlight took, the blindness of the snow,
the heartlessness of cold; he mixed them with his fire,
that madness might take shape, the handiwork of gods.

Work on, fine horse, with speed, O Svalthifari swift!
Work on, and shift these stones, with steady pace work on!
The day is nearly done, the winter nearly passed,
but Hrim will blessing have, and springtime in his bed,
for one and one alone of all the stones is left!
And have I not long dreamed of pouring down my joy
upon her lovely form, and have I not recalled
with every working night for months that came and went
without a rest or cease, the first fair sight I had
of she who haunts my dreams? Such sweetness and such light
would I not crown with gold? The gods in foolish troth
a concubine would give for but a simple price;
but she is more and more, the finest of the gods,
inspiring awe and love. The work was hard and long,
but nothing to compare with flawless, fairest Freya.
And almost are we done! Work on, work on, work on!

Then Loki took his work, the frenzy born of flame,
and sent it through the air. It curled around like scent,
it trickled forth like breeze, and reached the titan-steed
who breathed it deep inside. And madness flamed in eye;
it flecked the jaw with foam; the steed with phantom fears
was seized and overcome, and fled, and dragged the stone
until the leather broke. And off it went like wind.
And Hrimir, crying out, in vain did try to calm
the frenzy of the horse, and when the horse was lost,
he seized the strap that held the final piece of wall
and pulled with titan pull, as giants pull, and strained,
and moved the stone an inch and then an inch again
and did not cease to pull. But far the frenzied horse
had dragged the heavy stone and when the giant reached
again the gap of wall, the day and sun were gone:
the winter reached its end. The ground grew rich with frost;
its gentle shards spread out to farthest edge of sight
in thick and snowy growth, for, sinking to his knees,
his head upon his hands, the giant Hrimir wept.

And thus with joy the gods returned to holy Asgard.
Their songs above the bow brought colors to the world
beyond mere mundane hues; and spring herself in light
was crowned upon the hill as harps were played with notes
of which we only dream, to celebrate the wall
and fairest Freya saved. But Odin on his throne
in dread and dark did brood. The ravens at his side
were silent as the night. One eye looked forth through time
and saw the endless years. No joy was in his face.
And from his throne he went in cloak of shadowed night
and stood in grim and gloom amidst the Asgard-dance.
'O gods!' the father-god did shout, and silence grew
and spilled out on the green until the breeze itself
was waiting for his word. The wisest god then spoke.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lungs like Boreas

People in the early modern period took their theater seriously. I've been reading a bit recently on the Old Price riots, which occurred when Covent Garden, one of London's most important theaters, was rebuilt in 1809 after a fire had destroyed it. Since the other major London theater, Drury Lane, also ended up burning down in the meantime, Covent Garden was the theater. The expense of rebuilding was considerable, so when it reopened, the manager, John Kemble, raised the prices across the board.

The result was remarkable. On its first opening night, the crowd coming in was no more rowdy than any other theater crowd of the time. But once Kemble was on the stage (the play was Macbeth, I think), the people in the pit and gallery heckled the play all the way through, getting more and more rambunctious. When the play ended, the audience refused to leave, so Kemble brought in the police, which made things worse: there were too many people in the audience for the police to handle, so it did no good, and it was held against him as a grudge. After that first night, people would come during the half-price time with banners and placards attacking Kemble and the theater for raising the prices and heckle and riot as they had before.

Kemble attempted to argue his case in the press, but this, too, only made things worse; people in response began to organize into a movement, the Old Price movement, or the OPs. The OPs started having parties in the crowded pit and in the gallery; instead of watching the play, they'd tell jokes and sing songs and have dances. Aristocrats started attending to watch the fun; younger aristocrats started coming out of the private boxes to soak up the atmosphere. Coins and buttons were distributed so that gentlemen could wear them on their hats. The Old Price riots are interesting in that, while very boisterous and noisy, they were largely nonviolent -- the crowd only descended into actual brawls when Kemble brought the police in, or (at one point) some boxing toughs to keep them in line. The theater suffered no damage whatsoever, and this is remarkable, because one of the grievances of the OP movement was the enclosed private boxes.

Part of Kemble's problem was that Covent Garden was a patent theater: it had something like a public charter, and this led the theater-goers to regard it as at least partly a public venue that was being mishandled for private gain. Part of it was the architecture of the new theater. As I said, one of the major grievances of the OP movement was the enclosed private boxes; these reduced the seats available to the general public, interfered with what most people regarded as one of the most important entertainments of the theater (seeing who else was there), and were regarded as denigrating to people who couldn't afford the best seats (because the seats they could afford were not very good at all -- in the 'pigeon hole' seats you could only see the actors' legs). The riots cut across all lines of social and economic class; everybody felt that Kemble was out of line.

Kemble held out for a bit more than two months, then finally cracked and made an apology. Everything went quiet until it was discovered in the next theater season that he intended to keep about half the enclosed private boxes. The riots broke out again, and he had to give in on that as well.

I was amused by this anthem of the OP movement (one of several):

Old Prices
A parody of God Save the King circulated in Covent Garden Theatre, on the night of October 18, 1809, during the celebrated O.P. riots.

God save great Johnny Bull,
Long live our noble Bull,
God save John Bull.
Send him victorious,
Loud and uproarious,
With lungs like Boreas,
God save John Bull!

O Johnny Bull be true,
Oppose the prices new,
And make them fall;
Curse Kemble's politics,
Frustrate his knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix.
Confound them all!

No private boxes let
Intriguing ladies get
Thy right, John Bull.
From little pigeon-holes
Defend us jolly souls;
And we will sing, by goles,
God save John Bull!

It would be hard to find protesters with such a sense of humor these days.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I really like this story about the origin of the English word 'kangaroo', apparently quoted from Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (Picador, 2002):

As for kangooroo, this was a fair approximation of the Guugu Yimidhirr word, which Eric rendered gangurru. But Aborigines, unlike Maori and Tahitians, didn’t have a shared language; living in small, widely scattered groups, they spoke scores of different tongues. The English failed to recognize this. The result was a comically circular instance of linguistic transmission. Officers of the First Fleet, familiar with the Endeavour‘s journals, used the words Cook and his men had collected in Queensland to try and communicate with Botany Bay Aborigines eighteen years later.

“Whatever animal is shown them,” a frustrated officer on the Fleet reported, “they call kangaroo.” Even the sight of English sheep and cattle prompted the Gwyeagal to cheerfully cry out “Kangaroo, kangaroo!” In fact, the Gwyeagal had no such word in their vocabulary (they called the marsupial patagorang). Rather, they’d picked up “kangaroo” from the English and guessed that it referred to all large beasts.

One gets a pleasant image of the English patiently trying to use the word kangaroo because it was Aboriginal and the Aborigines patiently trying to use the word kangaroo because it was English.

The Fraud, Part I

This is a re-draft of a poem; it is one continuous poem, but I have broken it in three parts for easier posting.

A quick and subtle flame along the course of time
licks and burns its way through endless years and days
to bring the gods to death, the gods themselves in Asgard.
The power of this flame that, first a seed, will grow
to wreath the worldly Ash with burning vine of fire,
a god himself, is Loki. He warned the gods of men;
they steal the right of gods; they take, they rape, they cheat;
from darkness in their souls they shame the ninefold world.
The gods would never heed the father of the flame;
they were given hope that more might come of men
by counsels sent from Odin. Thus he, with cunning way,
conceived alone a war between himself and all
who stood against his word; a war none knew but he.

The citadel of gods was once unringed by wall;
it trusted to the hearts of those who dwelled within.
But as the gods had grown in power in the worlds,
as giants fled in fear from rumbling thunder's might,
they wished a surer peace. Not courage but a wall,
that heart-strength need not rise but rest instead at home,
must now protect fair Asgard. The subtle god of flame
convinced his fellow gods to enter into faith
with one renowned for craft, a giant known as Hrim.
If Hrimir could by art a wall of flawless form
around the endless bound of Asgard's precious frame
exact in winter's time, then Freya, pure and fair,
his concubine would be. 'For surely,' subtle fire
said to his fellow gods, 'it is beyond all craft.
But he will try it yet, for who will pass a chance
to have the spring of Freya? The word of gods will hold,
the wall will swiftly rise, yet Freya will be safe.'
But now the end of cold draws near with ceaseless tread,
a march of winter dread, for Hrimir with his craft
upon a godlike horse, called Svathilfari fair,
had drawn each stone by piece to lay it in its place;
the winter nearing end, the wall was nearly done,
and all the gods then feared the loss of holy spring.

The doom now rumbles near; it roars upon the ear;
it measures out the fear of Asgard with its beat.
And what is thus to blame? The subtlety of flame,
and Loki is his name, the captain of deceit.
So let his hands be bound, so let his arms be pinned,
with steel most sure and sound as penalty for sin.
For he, the fatal foe, has promised Freya fair
to titan born of snow -- and lost her in his dare.

And who is this that speaks with darkness and with rhyme
in mimicry of speech on tongues of gods sublime?
Some farmer's bastard-brat upon a dirt-packed floor
has poured his stinking breath out like a flippant fool.
You did not thus protest when first I had proposed
the building of this wall without your god-born hands
encased in sweat and dirt; and Freya for a thrall
the gods in their demands did promise for the work.
You gave your word yourself; and Odin gave his word;
and Freya, too, was heard the treaty-words to tell.
So pin us all to stone and bind us all as one;
I bear no blame alone. So let us simply let
this treaty lapse and fail; for are we not the gods,
beyond all force and spell? We are beyond all reach.

The honor of the gods must ever be maintained;
our word must iron be through suffering and pain,
unbroken and unlapsed, for there our power lies,
that truth is in our blood, the truth that never dies,
the troth that never fails. All covenants are ours,
all boundaries of old. But gods without the spring
grow burdened in their age; the youth that wreathes our brows,
refreshment in our thoughts, are all in Freya's hands.
A promise we have made, but flame did also speak,
and one more promise laid: that Freya would be safe.
Let Loki keep his bond, or Loki will be bound.

(to be continued)

To Heel, Apollo!

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Why do you follow me?--
Any moment I can be
Nothing but a laurel-tree.

Any moment of the chase
I can leave you in my place
A pink bough for your embrace.

Yet if over hill and hollow
Still it is your will to follow,
I am off;--to heel, Apollo!

On Riba

When I mentioned usury before I talked about Catholic principles. It might be useful to talk about an alternative form of anti-usury theory, as it is found in Islamic jurisprudence.

As with Catholics and usuria, Islam forbids what it calls riba on loans. Indeed, it is considered one of the Seven Heinous Sins, in line with such notables as idolatry, murder, and stealing from orphans, and ranked as far more serious than sins like adultery. This is for Muslims absolutely unequivocal; while neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament has an absolute prohibition (or any permission, it should be said) on usury itself, thus leading Catholic discussions of usury to talk about it in terms of broader principles, the Quran very definitely does. One additional important difference from Catholic accounts of usury is that Islamic accounts of usury have traditionally insisted that it is a sin to pay usurious interest as well as to demand it (Catholic accounts always see the usury-payer as a victim of injustice and not as a committer of it, even if the usury-payer is sometimes a victim of his own stupidity as well as of the injustice of the lender).

But, of course, Islamic banking has a famous history, and banking on explicitly Islamic principles is today a thriving growth industry, and such banks are obviously making profits. So how do banks make money given such strictures? As in the Catholic case, riba does not include all interest, but only interest that is not compensation for provision of service or risk taken.

In addition, Islamic banks build their business model on a broad range of practices taht are collectively called share of profit and loss. Suppose you come to a bank because you want to buy a car. One thing that could happen in an Islamic banking system is a cost-plus or cost addition loan: the bank, after its research, might enter into an agreement with you to buy the car itself and resell it to you at a profit on a favorable installment plan. (In practice, many Islamic jurists tend to regard this method of lending as an emergency method, to be used only in cases where there is clear need by the borrower and other methods will not be suitable to the case; but also as a matter of practice it seems a fairly common way of handling things.) For this to count as a legitimate transaction under Islamic law, there are certain rules that have to be followed: the bank can ask for collateral, but cannot usually charge fees for late payments unless it donates them to charity (among other reasons, to prevent banks from pushing installment plans that encourage lateness in order to collect the fees), and so forth. The most important of these rules is that there has to be an honest statement of what costs the bank actually faced in the transaction, so that it can be seen that the bank's profit is reasonable in light of the costs (as far as I've been able to determine, there's no standardized way to do this). Islamic jurists are divided as to whether it is legitimate to include considerations about the time value of money itself in this assessment.

Another sort of loan is the joint-venture rental loan. In this case, there is an assumption of profit. Suppose it's not just any car, but one that you will hire out for profit. The bank then might form a partnership with you to buy the car. This partnership (you and the bank) then rents the car to you. As partners you and the bank share the rent. Your share of the rent goes toward buying the bank out at the original price of the partnership (since rent is divided according to share in the partnership, this means that your share of rent will get larger over time). If you default, the car is sold by the partnership, which dissolves, dividing the proceeds among the partners. A simpler form of the same kind of thing occurs when the bank essentially just operates as an investor in your business.

There are also loans of a pawnship and rent-to-own types. Islamic banks pay interest on savings accounts just as Western banks do; it is, however, seen as a gratuity. As a gratuity it cannot be guaranteed by any sort of contract; but the incentive to offer it is so high (if the bank stops offering it, or becomes unreliable in offering it, people start pulling their money out of the bank) that it is more or less guaranteed by the market. Islamic banks will also often lend to good customers at zero interest, and they can sometimes make a considerable amount of money on such loans, because tipping the bank is expected. The tip is technically at your discretion, and you aren't legally bound to it, but it is considered shameful to leave the bank worse off rather than better off for having loaned to you. Under such cultural circumstances it is sometimes, if you were willing to accept the greater risk, more profitable to lend at zero interest than it would be to charge interest up front (which would remove the factor of shame and increase the likelihood that you would be able to get no more than the bare minimum of profit possible).

There are many, many more kinds of loans possible under Islamic jurisprudence; every time I think I've come across an exhaustive list, I find that there are types of loans that are not included. None of this is to say, of course, that there is no usury in Islamic banking, since there certainly is, to the extent that banks are lazy, bankers are corrupt, and borrowers can be manipulated, all three of which at least sometimes happen in every banking system, and often depend on things other than banking practices. And some of the practices end up being, of course, controversial. Rather, we see that there is much greater emphasis on finding means of profit that avoid association with what falls under the prohibition against usury.

One of the myths that's important to reject is the myth that crackdowns on usury destroy banking systems. The historical record is actually much less clear. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it is associated with golden ages of banking, as banks in response apply ingenuity to the situation and come up with new kinds of loans that avoid falling under prohibitions -- generally by giving the borrowers more options, or more power, or more flexibility. Some of these newly discovered types of loans end up being extraordinarily profitable new sources of revenue. That is, sometimes such crackdowns harm incentive to loan; sometimes they increase incentive to find new kinds of loans (and sometimes they also increase trust in the lending system, which is good for lending systems). The degree to which it is one or the other depends on, among other things, (1) relative difficulty of surviving with less lending versus trying to create new kinds of lending as determined by various forms of supply and demand; (2) cultural expectations for banking and political support of innovative institutions; (3) the health of lending systems at the beginning; and (4) the effectiveness with which the reforms instill trust in both lenders and borrowers that they will benefit under this system of exchange.

Finance is essentially contract engineering in matters of money: it is a practical field that provides means to ends, and the only truths it really deals with are those that concern the viability of the means to those ends. The most dangerous assumption that can ever be made with regard to a financial system is that it is some fact written into the nature of things rather than something constructed by many hands to serve practical purposes -- something that could very well be otherwise. Whether or not the alternatives are worth pursuing, of course, is entirely a matter of relative feasibility and what you really want to do.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flashing Fingers Weave the Sweet-Strung Spell

The Sea-Spell
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Her lute hangs shadowed in the apple-tree,
While flashing fingers weave the sweet-strung spell
Between its chords; and as the wild notes swell,
The sea-bird for those branches leaves the sea.
But to what sound her listening ear stoops she?
What netherworld gulf-whispers doth she hear,
In answering echoes from what planisphere,
Along the wind, along the estuary?

She sinks into her spell: and when full soon
Her lips move and she soars into her song,
What creatures of the midmost main shall throng
In furrowed surf-clouds to the summoning rune:
Till he, the fated mariner, hears her cry,
And up her rock, bare-breasted, comes to die?

This is one of Rossetti's pictorial doubles. You can see the painting that goes with the poem here.