Category Archives: stuff

March 28, 2012, 1:52 am

Rupert in red.

The incomparable Michelle Vaughan, who did the typography for this marvelous piece of work as well as 100 tweets has done a much more affordable limited run of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. I recommend them to all discerning readers with a spare $30 (plus S&H) looking for some frameable wit. (Murdoch would surely like you to think of him as framed.)

March 14, 2009, 6:31 am

Notes from London

Finishing up a research trip to the archives in London, I have a number of notes.

  • When you are walking down the street in the center of London (aka the “Tourist Zone”), if a large group of tourists stop suddenly, causing you to have to either a) cannon into them, or b) jump sideways to avoid them, they are almost invariably Germans. Today, Covent Garden, tomorrow, Lebensraum.
  • The most exciting moments of several days at the National Army Museum Templer Study Center were a) discovering a picture of Japanese officers with freshly-decapitated Chinese prisoners in front of them, and b) the moment an elderly gentleman, getting his collection of militaria appraised, unwrapped the hand grenade. (Archivist: “Has that been disarmed?” Gentleman: “I suppose so. It hasn’t gone off in 40 years.”)
  • The congestion charge has reduced traffic in London enormously and made it much more livable. It…

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January 25, 2009, 9:29 am

Note to humanity: back up your data.

Move over, Newton and LeibnizArchimedes may have beat you by 2,000 years:

Two of the texts hiding in the prayer book have not appeared in any other copy of Archimedes’s work, so no one but Heiberg had studied them until now. One of them, titled The Method, has special historical significance. It could be considered the earliest known work on calculus. [...]

The Greek philosopher Aristotle built defenses against infinity’s vexing qualities by distinguishing between the “potential infinite” and the “actual infinite.” An infinitely long line would be actually infinite, whereas a line that could always be extended would be potentially infinite. Aristotle argued that the actual infinite didn’t exist.

Archimedes developed rigorous methods of dealing with infinity—still used today—in which he followed Aristotle’s injunction. For example, Archimedes proved that the area of a section of…

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January 13, 2009, 9:06 am

Quartered safe out ’ere.

Everyone knows that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a) isn’t very good and (b) is largely borrowed from/an homage to Gunga Din.

Now, it is almost as widely assented that Gunga Din is good, or at least not very bad. Why is this so?

Partly, I think, this is because it was made in the 1930s, instead of set in the 1930s; set in the c19, a story about British imperial rule over India and crackdown on Thuggee makes some sense. Whereas the same story set in the 1930s (hi, Gandhi) and made in the 1980s, doesn’t.

Partly I think this is because, well, even if you don’t think Cary Grant is obviously cooler than Harrison Ford, you must concede that Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are cooler than Willie and Short Round.

But here is my question: Gunga Din is actually not much based on “Gunga Din”. What is it based on/ripped off from? Partly Soldiers Three, I gather, but is…

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January 9, 2009, 8:30 pm

diamond-ringed finger

December 21, 2008, 7:48 am

Fall color in winter.

December 18, 2008, 2:00 pm

Triple point.

Balmy California, with year-round outdoor swimming. (AKA, “this morning at 6:55 AM or so, air temperature around freezing….”)

Sometimes working papers are better, Ezra, because they have the raw data that journal publishers deem too bulky to publish, but which is of the highest value.

Last night was the brand-new Muppet Christmas special. I haven’t watched it yet, but if you want to, it’s on Hulu.

December 6, 2008, 2:42 pm

Why I watch TV.

I’m going to watch Leverage tomorrow night because John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey is its executive producer, and John Rogers is funny. Are there better reasons to watch tv?

December 6, 2008, 9:37 am

Cold Canyon.

Harry exhibiting outdoorsdogship.

November 18, 2008, 4:16 pm


Discussion of cabinet-staffing yields:

You don’t want the camel pissing in the tent.

True, but not unproblematic. There are of course two tent metaphors: better inside pissing out than outside pissing in, and the problem with letting the camel get his nose in the tent is, pretty soon you get the rest of the camel, too.

And these metaphors have, it seems to me, opposite implications for cabinet-staffing.

October 23, 2008, 5:40 pm

RFC bank stock outstanding.

If you watched the video on Understanding the Financial Crisis, you know I got asked a question something like, when did the RFC retire its bank stock. And I said, well, they’d got rid of about a quarter of it in 1935-36, but I don’t know how long it took to get rid of all of it.

I couldn’t find the answer in any obvious place, so I spent a couple hours this morning pulling it out of the Federal Reserve Bulletin 1932 onwards, and a couple of later audit reports tendered to Congress. I include it here for your interest. (Of course once I post it, I’m confident someone will point out that this is readily available in such-and-such standard reference work, but hey, such is the wages of research.) Most of the figures are as of Oct 31 of the year; the last two figures are as of June 30 and include a bit more than just the preferred stock—also notes and debentures.

Here’s what an…

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October 13, 2008, 1:32 pm


“Small towns are where the true Americans live.”

“80% of us moved away from small towns.”

[feigning offense] “But small towns are the source of our traditional values!”

“You cannot fool me.  Meth is not a small town value.  It is a drug.”

October 12, 2008, 8:30 pm

“… what she had thought was freedom and joy was nothing but anarchy and sloth.”

Norton Juster’s The Dot and the Line is an undersung masterpiece. From its dedication—“For Euclid, no matter what they say”—to its moral—“To the vector belong the spoils”—it is a delight from end to end.

If you are so fortunate to have the experience of reading this little book still ahead of you, you should know that it is a romance of at-first unrequited love between a line and a dot. She, alas, loves a squiggle, and regards the line as a bit straight. But creativity begot of discipline prevails in the end. Along the way, the language does every bit as much work as the math (which is what you’d expect from the author of The Phantom Tollbooth).

His worried friends noticed how terribly thin and drawn he had become and did their best to cheer him up.
“She’s not good enough for you.”
“She lacks depth.”
“They all look alike anyway….”

I suppose I can’t tell you that you …

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October 10, 2008, 2:39 pm

(Very) short reading list: unemployment in the 1930s.

This is a lesson in reading the notes.

Begin with

Carter, Susan B. , “Labor force, employment, and unemployment: 1890–1990.” Table Ba470-477 in Historical Statistics of the United States, Earliest Times to the Present: Millennial Edition, edited by Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch, and Gavin Wright. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Read the footnotes! Then have a look at

Weir, David R. “A Century of U.S. Unemployment, 1890-1990: Revised Estimates and Evidence for Stabilization.” Research in Economic History 14 (1992): 301-346.

And, well, you could stop right there, but that would be missing the fun. But inasmuch as neither of these sources is easy to get hold of, let me explain why this is such a fun topic.

Used to be, the unemployment series for the 1930s looked like this:

This is from a series…

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October 8, 2008, 12:25 pm

Short reading list: the Federal Reserve System.

Because I’ve been asked a couple times in the past few weeks, here’s a short reading list on the history of the Federal Reserve System.

Start with

Sanders, Elizabeth. Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Read pp. 236-266 and also 471n125.

With this in mind one may then profitably turn to some of the following, depending on your particular interests.

Friedman, Milton and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963. Particularly chapters 4-8.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. Money: Whence it Came, Where it Went. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Particularly chapter 10.

Meltzer, Allan H. A History of the Federal Reserve, 1913-1951. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.


Dewey, Davis Rich. Financial History…

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