Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lord Acton (1834-1902)

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority." Letter to Mandell Creighton, 1887

"The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern." Letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881

"Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." Lecture, February 26, 1877

"The man who prefers his country before any other duty shows the same spirit as the man who surrenders every right to the state. They both deny that right is superior to authority."

"It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist. But from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason."

"The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities."


"Dali described the genesis of this painting in his 1942 which he claimed that the unforgettable limp watches were inspired by the remains of a very strong Camembert cheese. He had contemplated this cheese one evening after dinner, when he stayed at home with a headache while Gala went to the cinema with friends. Having meditated on the 'super-soft' qualities of the runny cheese, Dali went to his studio where he suddenly realized how he should finish a lonely landscape featuring the rugged cliffs of the Catalan coast, illuminated by a never-setting sun, which had been sitting on his easel awaiting inspiration.

"I knew the atmosphere which I had succeeded in creating with this landscape was to serve as a setting for some idea, for some surprising image, but I did not in the least know what it was going to be...

"Throughout his career Dali explored his fascination with softness and malleability in numerous paintings, sculptures and works on paper...However none has a more obvious sexual significance than the limp pocket watches in this painting...

"Although Gala would prophetically claim that 'no one can forget it once he has seen it,' The Persistence of Memory was left unsold when it was first shown in Paris...However the young American art dealer, Julien Levy, acquired the painting shortly after the close of the show, paying the trade price of a mere $250."

Dawn Ades and Michael R. Taylor, Dali, Rizzoli, 2005, p. 148

Somewhat Sanctimonious

"Perhaps the most astute financial mind in the Oppenheimer (investment management) galaxy was Daniel J. Bernstein...

"Daniel Bernstein died of leukemia at age 51 in 1970...He left behind a legacy of good works that reflected his diligence and originality. He started the National Scholarship Fund and Service for Negro Students when, after calling around the country, he realized there were many scholarships for African Americans that went begging simply because students weren't aware of them. He was able to enlist scores of college presidents to support the effort. Also a vocal opponent of the war in Vietnam, he paid for a series of ads in The New York Times that listed the names of professors and other prominent Americans who called for an end to American involvement.

"Although Danny was clearly a master of the game, making money was not an end in itself for him. I think that is true of many successful people in finance. Apart from giving money away, they have passionate outside interests. George Soros wants to rescue civil society; Jim Wolfensohn, a gifted dealmaker who is now president of the World Bank, has a passion for music; Jon Corzine seamlessly stepped from running Goldman Sachs to pursuing a liberal agenda in the U.S. Senate.

"It is easy to dismiss the outside indulgences of the rich as hobbies they can afford, but I think this misses the point. Quite often those outside interests provided an anchor or larger perspective that was essential to their success in finance. In the top financial ranks are disproportionate numbers of contrarians. (This makes perfect sense, since investors too deeply wedded to conventional wisdom will perform only as well as the bulk of the crowd.) These successful contrarians often have a worldview of which finance and the markets are but a small part."

Leon Levy, The Mind of Wall Street, Public Affairs Press, 2002, pp.71-4

Monday, June 26, 2006

Roger Waters

"Those fundamental issues of whether or not the human race is capable of being humane are still right in our faces. There's an optimistic side of me that thinks that - that feels that - not just individuals but hierarchies - authorities - are capable of rehabilitation. You know, wouldn't it be wonderful to think that G.W. Bush was capable of transcending his background and becoming a person who could understand broader and more fundamental issues of human contact than that kind of you know sheriff thing that he's got going on. The fundamental question that's facing us all is whether or not we're capable of dealing with the whole question of 'Us and Them.'"

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


"...derivatives (are) financial instruments whose values are tied to the performance of assets such as individual stocks and bonds, or to benchmarks such as interest rates. Investors use them to hedge risk. An investor can buy a derivative, for example, to neutralize the effects of rising interest rates or fuel prices, of declining bond values, of swings in the price of a commodity like corn, even the effect of weather on crops.

"...The over-the-counter market is far larger than the exchange-traded ones. Derivatives traded in this market had a total face value of about $285 trillion at the end of 2005, up from about $94 trillion five years before, according to the Bank for International Settlements, an association of international banks based in Switzerland...In comparison, exchange- traded derivatives had a total face value of about $58 trillion at year-end, according to the bank group."

David Reilly, "An Arcane Corner of Finance Creates a London Billionaire," The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2006, A1, A15


Everyone confesses that exertion which brings out all the powers of body
and mind is the best thing for us; but most people do all they can to get
rid of it, and as a general rule nobody does much more than circumstances
drive them to do. -Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist and novelist

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


"More than a thousand years before Christ, Zarathustra preached the existence of a heaven and a hell, the idea of a bodily resurrection, the promise of a universal savior who would one day be miraculously born to a young maiden, and the expectation that a final cosmic battle that would take place at the end of time between the angelic forces of good and the demonic forces of evil. At the center of Zarathustra's theology was a unique monotheistic system based on the sole god, Ahura Mazda ('the Wise Lord'), who fashioned the heavens and earth, the night and day, the light and the darkness. Like most ancients, however, Zarathustra could not easily conceive of his god as being the source of both good and evil. He therefore developed an ethical dualism in which two opposing spirits, Spenta Mainyu ('the beneficent spirit') and Angra Mainyu ('the hostile spirit') were responsible for good and evil, respectively."

Reza Aslan, No god but God, Random House, 2005, pp. 12-3

Mark Twain

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow- mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." The Innocents Abroad, 1869 (Conclusion)

"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." Life on the Mississippi, 1883 (Chapter 17)

"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits." Pudd'n'head Wilson, 1894 (Chapter 15)

"The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it," and

"To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently aware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct." Both from How to Tell a Story, 1895

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (attributed)

"A classic is something that everybody praises and nobody has read." (attributed)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Sentimental Education, Flaubert.

"He ran all the way to the Quai Voltaire. An old man in his shirt sleeves was weeping at an open window, his eyes raised towards the sky. The Seine was flowing peacefully by. The sky was blue; birds were singing in the Tuileries."

One of the most haunting fictional passages.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Very Very Interesting, but do we want more myths? (even if they are created by the people)

I have been thinking about Rauschenberg and the Situationists recently as two (albeit unlikely) sides of the same coin in an effort to understand the historical precedents for what appears to be an emerging trend or, at the very least, a shared sensibility among some individual artists who are exploring the confluence of art and life. They are combining Rauschenberg’s incorporative tendencies with the Situationists’ programmatic call for the dissolution of art into lived experience to produce work that infiltrates the world and subtly alters reality by rewriting its cultural narratives. Situating their art firmly within the everyday, they are each creating ‘real’ fictions with the goal of modifying the very fabric of our social discourse. These fictions are often staged as events, but it is less the performative aspect of the work than the way it is remembered, discussed and disseminated within the public’s collective consciousness that constitutes the conceptual core of each project. In short, the artists are producing contemporary myths from the stuff of the real world, converting the ordinary into the remarkable or, at least, the merely memorable.

I first became aware of this tendency in 2002, when Francis Alÿs moved a mountain – or so the story goes. As his contribution to the third Ibero American Biennial, Lima, the artist directed 500 shovel-wielding volunteers standing in a single line at the base of a 1,600 foot-long sand dune to displace enough earth to shift its location, albeit by just a few inches. This project, When Faith Moves Mountains, evolved out of Alÿs’ response to the havoc wreaked by the decade-long presidency of Alberto Fujimori in Peru. In a place of such severe deprivation and desolation he wanted to create an extreme yet poetic gesture that would reverberate beyond the comfortable confines of the art-viewing audience. Hence Alÿs gave the inhabitants of Lima a ‘social allegory’ to tell and retell until it becomes the stuff of local legend, a story recounting the day the earth moved. Although there are photographs and a video installation documenting this most ephemeral of earthworks, the art, according to Alÿs, can be fully realized only through the recitation and circulation of its narrative. He understands this process as the fabrication of a myth, which, rather than being about the perpetuation of political or cultural values imposed from above, requires the direct interpretive participation of the audience, who must determine the work’s meaning in relation to its own experience.1

Hey! It's me at 28mph

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Sublime

Sunday, June 04, 2006


In our day everything seems pregnant with its contrary . . . .Some parties may wish to get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts . . . .We know that to work well, the new-fangled forces of society [need only] to be mastered by new-fangled men—and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself.

—Karl Marx, Speech on the Anniversary of the People’s Paper, 1856

The Street

"Although America was poised for a great boom, most people did not know it. When I joined Wall Street, we were in the middle of the longest bear market of the post-World War II period...The bear market was a gift of the Federal Reserve Board, which had raised margin requirements to 100% to head off a speculative frenzy after the war. It is difficult to overestimate the degree to which the psychological legacy of the Depression weighed upon the market in those days. Memories of the role of margin debt in the 1929 crash were fresh in people's minds. The Fed not only raised margin requirements from 40 percent to 100 percent, which forced speculators to sell stock to meet margin calls, but it also imposed a regulation that sellers of stock who had margin debt could use the proceeds of the sale only to further reduce that debt. This knocked the Dow Jones Industrial Average down by 25 percent in the span of three months.

"The investment climate was deeply conservative...Trust funds in New York State could at best keep only 25 percent of their holdings in stock, but most trustees opted to stash their entire portfolios in bonds. The logic of this analysis was that stocks are inherently more risky than bonds and thus should provide their holders with a 'risk premium.'

"Those who did trade stocks were few and did so rarely. In the 1950s, only 5 percent of Americans owned stocks, in contrast to over 50 percent who own stocks today. Tape watchers had to be a particularly patient breed then, as Dow Jones computed its industrial average only once every hour, and even then it was often late."

Leon Levy, The Mind of Wall Street, Public Affairs, 2002, pp. 42-3

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Oscar Wilde

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers." An Ideal Husband, 1893

"I can resist anything but temptation." Lady Windermere's Fan, Act I, 1892

"Only the shallow know themselves." Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, 1882

"There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has the right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution." The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." The Importance of Being Earnest, Act I, 1895

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."


"In December 1916...Buchan was put forward to run a propaganda department.

"Propaganda was not a new weapon in the Government's armoury. . . Charles Masterman . . . had been appointed to head a propaganda bureau...and on 2 September 1914 he brought together twenty five leading British authors to discuss propaganda. They included J.M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, Robert Bridges, G.K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Hope Hawkins, John Masefield, Gilbert Murray, Sir Henry Newbolt, G.M. Trevelyan and H.G. Wells. Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, though unable to attend, also offered their services.

"The Central Committee for National Patriotic Associations had been formed in August 1914 with Asquith as honorary chairman...and coordinated the activities of other groups such as 'The Fight for Right Movement'..."

"(Buchan also) brought in...the explorer Reginald Farrar, E.S.P. Haynes and the cricketer Pelham Warner. Other members of the department included...Sir Ernest Shackleton and the historian Arnold Toynbee...The head of Reuters, Roiderick Jones, whom Buchan had known in South Africa, was appointed to run the section on cable and wireless propaganda, F.S. Oliver went briefly to the British Dominions Section and Alexander Watt was made the Department's Literary Agent."

Andrew Lownie, John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier, Godine Publisher, 1995, p. 127-8