Thursday, August 29, 2013

Claude M. Watson (1922-2013)

Claude Meacham Watson (July 30, 1922 to August 26, 2013) is the reason that my present wife and I met, and, ultimately, had a baby, and careers.

Claude M . Watson
In the summer of 1977, Star Wars was new. People tried to set Guinness-type records by seeing it dozens or hundreds of times. I had taken a class in computer programming taught by Claude Watson in the Winter ’77 quarter and I enrolled in it again for the Fall. I also had a subscription to Industrial Research & Development magazine. I filled out a bingo card for some kind of equipment or other and had the literature sent to “Obi Watson Kenobi” at Lansing Community College. Claude knew whom to blame. “Please don’t do that,” he said. “The dean already thinks that I’m senile.”

Actually, at 55 then, far from deficient, Claude was clairvoyant in his perceptions. He was an early advocate for personal computing. He already had arranged for the science department to acquire a Hewlett Packard 9815 “desktop calculator” in 1976.  Later, they acquired an IBM 5100 desktop computer (programmable in BASIC and APL) and then a Hewlett Packard 9830 “desktop calculator” programmable in BASIC with a full ASCII keyboard, and an X-Y pen plotter.  Realize that Apple Computer was incorporated on January 3, 1977. Steve Wozniak had been an intern at Hewlett Packard and knew to ask if his project would interfere with one of their markets.

VAX manager Philip A. Dawdy
and micro technician 

Geoffrey J. Rarick circa 1990.
Lansing Community College already had a Data Processing department in the Business Division. We punched cards for two runs a day on an IBM 360. Claude offered the chance to program interactively. That created a lot of tension. They argued loud and long. He was not allowed to offer his first class for credit. The quarter that I took it, you could opt for No Credit. I took it for 2. The year before, Spring 1976, I took “Business Programming in Fortran IV.” I got a C+ and had no idea what I was supposed to have learned for the grade. But it seemed compelling. Also, for some odd reason, I got the feeling that I could somehow cadge time in the computer labs, both there and at Michigan State University. I learned to hack passwords. Then, I took Fortran again in the Winter of 1977 and got an A. At the same time, I was in Claude’s class in Basic and got a C+. But it was compelling… and I did not need to hack passwords for free time. All I had to do was turn the computer on. I took the class again; and that’s when I met the girl I married. Mr. Watson was her physics instructor. We got married and moved to Las Cruces. I got a job at White Sands Missile Range where HP desktops were everywhere.
Earl R. Youngs c. 1991

After returning to Lansing in 1979, our daughter was born. Our friends Earl and Elizabeth Youngs were working in the Science department. Earl was in charge of the lab aides. Elizabeth was a clerical, and eventually the department secretary. Earl offered me the chance to work as a lab aide, if I would enroll part-time for six credits. I set up labs for Claude and the other instructors and completed an associate’s degree in 1980.

Under Claude’s quiet leadership, the LCC Arts & Science division installed a Commodore Pet network. Then, they
Elizabeth M. Youngs c. 1998
acquired a DEC VAX. In the meantime, I worked as a programmer and technical writer around Lansing. I signed up for directed studies under Claude, earning a quarter hour of college credit for learning something new. He recommended that I write my documentation in TeX (“tech”), a typesetting language developed by Donald Knuth. As a result, I was hired by a medical records firm deeply invested in TeX for documentation. As it happened, TeX was the basis for SGML, the Standard Generalized Markup Language. SGML became HTML. In the meantime, I served as the secretary of our local DECUS chapter and produced the quarterly newletter in TeX. In addition to writing the system maintenance manual for a MicroVAX, I also documented the game of Moria on the VAX using TeX. When HTML was invented, it was pretty easy for me to figure out.

Claude told me that he grew up on a farm, and hated country life. [According to his wife, the story is somewhat more nuanced: 
"The only thing you wrote that I would differ about was why he joined the military.  He had graduated from high school at age 16, and had already been working for a local dairy owner since maybe the 8th grade when he was offered a job helping to deliver milk at 25 cents/day.  You took it into the home and put in in a family's ice box.  The dairy owner had no children and seemed to have "adopted" Claude, who was feeling somewhat trapped in the job when one of his classmates came home on leave, in Claude's words "extolling the virtues of the military."  His friend had just served in Hawaii and was being sent next to the Philippines.  His friend ultimately was captured by the Japanese and spent the war in a Japanese prison camp.  Claude and another  friend hitchhiked to Chicago to enlist, intending to use the combined radio and photography experience they planned to gain to adventure sail after their enlistment was up.  Instead WWII intervened."
On March 7, 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He learned radio operations and maintenance. After the War, he completed a master of science degree in physics. His thesis was “Demonstration of Fresnel Interference by Means of a Ripple Tank”; and it presaged his passion for teaching. He was hired by Lansing Community College. The rest is history.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reflections on the Sokal Affair

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then philosophy is an inconvenient marriage. 

“Tying capitalism to faith means that capitalism cannot be justified in reason. A conservative who claims that his case rests on faith declares that reason is on the side of his enemies—that one can oppose collectivism only on the grounds of mystical faith. To the extent that anyone accepts this argument, he is forced to reject capitalism—if he is a man who wants to be rational. Therefore, these alleged defenders of capitalism are pushing potential sympathizers to the exact opposite side.”—Ayn Rand. (From “Ayn Rand on Campus” quoted in Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz, editors. Lexington Books, 2009) 
“And I’m worried about trends in the American Left—particularly in academia—that at minimum divert us from the task of formulating a progressive social critique, by leading smart and committed people into trendy but empty intellectual fashions, and that can in fact undermine the prospects for such a critique, by promoting subjectivist and relativist philosophies that in my view are inconsistent with producing a realistic analysis of our society that we and our fellow citizens will find compelling. It seems to me that truth, reason and objectivity are values worth defending no matter what one’s political views; but for those of us on the Left, they are crucial—without them, our critique loses all its force.”—Alan Sokal. (“Truth, Reason, Objectivity, and the Left” in Beyond the Hoax, Oxford University Press, 2008.)  
“I want to emphasize that my plea in favor of truth, reason and objectivity in no way implies that the exact meaning of these concepts is self-evident; certainly I do not purport to have resolved centuries-old problems of epistemology. But it does seem to me that these deep and difficult epistemological problems should be treated with the utmost intellectual rigor--as indeed serious philosophers of science have been doing for years. And it’s this intellectual rigor, as I’ve tried to show and would be glad to show in more detail, that has unfortunately been lacking in some of the trendier segments of the American academy. And it’s even more unfortunate—at least to my mind—that this sloppy thinking has proliferated among academics tho identify with the political Left.”—Alan Sokal. (“Truth, Reason, Objectivity, and the Left” in Beyond the Hoax, Oxford University Press, 2008.)
 “Intellectually, to rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies—that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives’ ” claim that their case rests on faith means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic, the enemy is right, but that men must hold faith as superior to reason.” —Ayn Rand, “Conservatism: an Obituary” in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, New American Library 1966.

In the full course of their writings, both Alan Sokal and Ayn Rand also identified another trend: that those who proclaim the relativity of facts and values do so with absolute conviction. 

Although a reasonable person accepts their fallibility the postmodernists do not. They do not even say that science is valid within its realm, and our material comforts are proof of that. They certainly do not allow that to capitalism, either. Rather, they claim that reality does not exist and even if it did, you could not know it. How do they know that?  Alan Sokal and Ayn Rand both cited many examples of such nonsense. As I noted in previous blogs here, I ran into it in criminology classes at college and university. There, the matter takes on dread proportions. I pointed out that the elevator technician who ensures that we make it safely to the seventh floor does not engage a “narrative.” What standards should a jury look to when determining the fate of a person accused of a crime? No answer was offered. 

One difference between Rand’s and Sokal’s rhetorical style stands out. While she granted her fallibility as a theoretical possibility, he accepts it inherently. It shows in their words. In Atlas Shrugged, it is the bad guys who equivocate: it seems... I think... to me... Sokal is hesitant. In the best sense, perhaps we all should be; but his uncertainty undercuts his case. The same problem denied a strong foundation to Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies. Shadowed by World War II, Popper wanted the freedom to be unsure; and he had to defend that against brutes who proclaimed their absolute conviction. 

But Ayn Rand’s point was specifically that if resisted, if pushed those “muscle mystics” collapse into uncertainty of their own because they do not know reality and reason. They will proclaim and hide within some “higher” reason. Sokal makes the same point, often, as well: the postmodernists retreat from knowledge about reality into “local knowledge.” 

Both Rand and Sokal would agree with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan for reminding us: “You have a right to your own opinion. You do not have a right to your own facts.”

The Sokal Affair
Confronting Postmodernism and Conservatism
"New age and post-modernist professors teach future police officers that there is no such thing as right and wrong.  According to Stuart Henry, Bruce A. Arrigo, Christopher Williams, and Mark M. Lanier, taking their cues from Paul Feyerabend and Jacques Lacan, the Enlightenment was a Euro-centric, phallo-centric conquest.  They claim that the senses are invalid, that logic has no validity.  Such assertions are the deepest expression of academic fraud." Misconduct in Science and Research
Four Books about Bad Science
Teaching Ethics to Student Engineers

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Sokal Affair

The Sokal Affair was an important event in 20th century intellectual history. Nominally about the social basis of knowledge, the truths it revealed impact the foundations of our society.

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal submitted an article to Social Text magazine.  The work was a hoax, a pastiche of doubletalk and nonsense supported by footnotes. Sokal was studious and diligent, only that he did not mean a word of it. His goal was to demonstrate that academic scholarship long ago slid and slipped into meaninglessness.  On the day that his essay appeared in Social Text, his revelation also was published by Lingua Franca.

shows mouse trap catching a manuscript article
 “While my method was satirical, my motivation was utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance.  At its best, a journal like Social Text raises important issues that no scientist should ignore – questions for example about how corporate and government funding influence scientific work. Unfortunately, epistemic relativism does little to further the discussion of such matters.” -- Alan Sokal, “Revelation: A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies,” Lingua Franca, May-June 1996.

Among the many ridiculous statements in the original essay was this:
“… the π of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally de-centered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a space-time point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone.” Alan Sokal, “Transgressing the Bounderies: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” Social Text, Spring-Summer 1996.
 It would be amusing, but for the fact that people actually do harm and even kill each other,  and in most societies do come to trial for it.  In 2009, working toward a master of arts in social science, I had a class in Advanced Criminology Theory.  One of our textbooks was The Essential Criminology Reader, edited by Stuart M. Henry and Mark M. Lanier (Westview, 2006). My degree is from Eastern Michigan University where Stuart M. Henry was an associate professor of criminology from 1987 to 1998. 
Man kneeling holding book amid shelves of books.
Alan Sokal (NYU Physics)

My classmates could not wait to jump on the subjectivist bandwagon.  They took turns agreeing that right and wrong are only social constructs.  I spoke up.  One of my peers worked for the sheriff’s department.  She was incensed that the crimes of Bernie Madoff resulted in the loss of funding for a local charity to help the mentally disabled homeless.  I had to insist: “If right and wrong are only a social narrative, then how could Bernie Madoff have committed any crime as his so-called victims were in fact other corporate fund managers at his own level? Many of them profited, some like the B'Nai Brith for thirty years.”  Silence.  We learned the mathematical babble of Gilles Deleuze who said that crime is a strange attractor becoming a torus.  That is not helpful to a jury.

The ins and outs of the Sokal Affair are important for everyone who cares about the apparent decline of the modern world. Listen carefully to President Barack Obama.  He was educated in the postmodernist method.  Conservatives claim that he is a Muslim or a Marxist, or both at once.  If he were either, he would not speak as he does.
“Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that's a pretty narrow vision.” (Obama and the Road Ahead: The Rolling Stone Interview,” By Douglas Brinkley; November 8, 2012.)
The key word is “project.” In the newspeak of postmodernism, the Enlightenment was a project. (It is on a global capitalist trajectory.)  Postmodernists “give space to voice” or complain that others deny it.  (See, for example, Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experience, edited by Dianne Rocheleau, Barbara Thomas-Slayter, and Esther Wangar. This is merely one out of many.)

The President is not the bad guy here.  He is just a man of his time, educated in a tradition, who thinks as he does.  A hundred others could have taken his place in the White House and in history.  The point is that postmodernism permeates our culture. This goes beyond the mere subjectivity of experience.  Even if I identify a car as “teal” while my wife calls it “aquamarine” the car still exists, as do absolute right and wrong.
  • Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’s Abuse of Science by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, (Picador, 1999)
  • The Sokal Hoax: The Sham that Shook the Academy, edited by the Editors of Lingua Franca, (University of Nebraska Press, 2000)
  • Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture by Alan Sokal (Oxford, 2008)
Previously on Necessary Facts

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Visitor from the CIA

Finally catching up on some LinkedIn notices, I saw this.  

I cleaned up the capture to remove a couple of commercial contacts. I noted today's date in the red box to help timestamp the visit.  

Below the CIA is a reference to "Someone in Lansing Community College in the Security and Investigations Industry."  My degrees include an associate's in criminal justice from Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, but I did attend LCC 1973-1990, and taught there part time, 1985-1990.  I never applied for work or sought a contract with the CIA. To write an article about Soviet Computer Technology (Defense Computing, April 1990), I did send a FOIA to the CIA and they were much more forthcoming than was the cultural attache at the USSR embassy.  But that was quite a long time ago.   Make of that what you will. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Contradictions in the Constitution

“He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction.”  Atlas Shrugged.

  1. The basic contradiction was not clarifying those things which the government is allowed to do from those things which only the government is allowed to do.
  2. The Bill of Rights was not originally incorporated to the states.
  3. No "Nullifcation Clause" prevented amendments that alter the fundamental intent of the original document.
  4. The Seventh Amendment is questionable.

Should the government maintain post roads or post offices? They may well need their own couriers and dispatches, of course. (See “Unlimited Constitutional Government” linked below.)  However, it is a basic contradiction in the Constitution that granting some power to Congress suddenly creates a government monopoly in what should be an open market. Let there be government offices for sending correspondences to and from the government, if that is needed, but why does everyone else lose the right to carry mail?
Signing the Constitution (Library of Congress)
Consider the daily journals of Congress. Article I, Section 5: “Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same…” However, private stenographers and reporters attended the sessions and published their own accounts.  As the meetings of the U.S. Senate were not open to the public until 1795, at first these were only for the House of Representatives. (See The Early Congressional Debates and Reporters by Samuel Oppenheim, New York, 1889.)   In the 1980s, Hanna Information Systems, StateNet and other private legislative reports pioneered computerized access, ahead of the Library of Congress's own THOMAS System. Despite the attitudes of the first U.S. Senate, it would be contrary to our intent of an open government to prohibit that. But it is not explicit as something that Congress is empowered to do, but which others also can do. 

Like building post roads and publishing a journal, coining money is another business that the government might need under its wing for convenience but which should not be prohibited to others.  Bernard von Nothaus was prosecuted for his “Liberty Dollars” and called a “financial terrorist” just for making coins.  Legislation over the past 200 years outlawing tokens proved unsuccessful, as a trip to a video arcade will show. Community currency such as Ithaca Time Dollars and Bay Bucks continue unharassed.  The persecution of Nothaus was entirely political: the Obama Administration seized $60 million in bullion by claiming a legal monopoly on coinage via the Constitution.

Changing the date of the Inauguration (20th Amendment) was only a nod to modern transportation and communication.  Lowering the voting age, correcting the evils of slavery, and extending the vote to women were easy to accept as the extension of political rights in a democracy.  The 11th and 12th Amendments remain obscure to most people who claim to know the Constitution.  However, the 12th in particular, like the 17th (direct election of senators) was no mere technical adjustment but a structural change in the mechanism of power.  The political party system was accepted and the 12th assured that the President and Vice President would come from the same party.  How wise that was may be debatable. 

Easily, the worst examples were the Income Tax (16th) and Prohibitiion (18th).  The Volstead Act (18th Amendment) was repealed by the 21st.  That raises the question of another basic contradiction: the lack of a Nullification Clause.  It is easy to argue that in case of a bad law, the forces of justice will eventually triumph and it will be repealed.  However, the 18th brought on open warfare among rival gangs and between them all and the government.  It was an expensive mistake.  No Amendment can repay the victims.  And we still have the Income Tax.  A Nullification Clause would prohibit any amendment that violates the intention of the document considering its full text and meaning. 

Another contradiction in the original document was its lack of enforcement at the state level. Just as the original Constitution described the mechanisms of the federal government, so, too, did the Bill of Rights only protect citizens from the federal government.  Massachusetts collected taxes for the Congregational Church until 1833.  Only in 1990 did a state appeals court in South Carolina finally strike down laws requiring affirmation of religious beliefs to be a standard.  After the War Between the States, when the former Confederate states were re-admitted to the Union, they modeled their new constitutions after those of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  In order to serve on a jury, vote, or run for office, you had to swear (or affirm) a belief in a Supreme Being.  Not only did the First Amendment did not apply to the states, you could be searched, seized, tried without a jury, and even be tortured for a confession (Brown versus Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278; 1936).  The Bill of Rights did not apply to the states.  Still today, the 2nd Amendment has not been incorporated fully to the states.

Should the government set weights and measures? As weights and measures are fundamental to contract law, it would seem so. But nothing prevents you from having your own set, or from the general market ignoring the government, as we still use the English system in a nation legally on the Metric system. In fact, until the 1830s and later, many merchants along the East Coast kept their books in pounds-shilling-pence, despite the definition of a dollar. Banknotes of the period often showed Spanish or Mexican coins while promising to pay a quarter or half dollar. Industrial goods of many kinds come in many dimensions not defined by law; and yet, nothing falls down or collapses, no work grinds to a halt for the lack of a compatible fastener. So, why does the government need to define weights and measures?

In her essay, “Government Financing in a Free Society” Ayn Rand asserted that the government is the servant of the people, but not the unpaid servant.  According to the 7th Amendment in the Bill of Rights, you are guaranteed a jury trial for suits over $20 in value.  For nearly 1000 years, from the Great Fairs of the Middle Ages, private courts have handled contract disputes.  Read any credit card contract, any mortgage, any car loan, or the terms of an “I Accept” click.  You easily agreed to private arbitration ahead of any trial in a government court.  You might have agreed to binding arbitration, giving up your right to a court trial for a dispute involving more than $20.  Perhaps the Seventh Amendment is a contradiction that needs to be fixed.

We do not know what Ayn Rand would have removed from the Constitution.  However, her Judge inserted this into his draft: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade.


Saturday, August 10, 2013


Scripophily is the study of stock certificates, bonds, and related fiduciary instruments. You can pronounce it "scrip-o-filly" or "scrih-pofilly."  It is a subset of numismatics, the art and science that studies the forms and uses of money. Like coins, banknotes, checks (drafts), and tokens, stock certificates are artifacts of commerce, the basic data of enterprise and trade. Old stock certificates reveal the daily life and work of the times. And like other numismatic items, they can be highly artistic.

Paper certificates began to wane in 1971, with the founding of NASDAQ: National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations. (The NASDAQ opened on February 8, 1971, as a computer bulletin board.) Full electronic automation of stock markets in the 1980s made these instruments obsolete. Today, you actually can get Disney, Apple, and other shares, but often the transaction fee is greater than the price of the stock. That makes these items highly valuable as collectibles. For the historian, a mixed lot of 100 average items will cost about $50 from a dealer. The better dealers are members of the American Numismatic Association, American Numismatic Society, or similar organization. 
  • The Professional Scripophily Traders Association - 
  • The Holabird-Kagin Americana -
  • ANA member and Certified Public Accountant Bob Kerstein runs two sites: and
  • The International Bond and Share Society (IBSS) of Ashtead, Surrey, England -
  • Numistoria SARL of Paris, France -
  • Terry Cox, author of Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads does not buy or sell certificates himself: he is a researcher and writer -
Vignette from a Reading Railroad Certificate
Some historians point to the Code of Hammurabi as evidence for the earliest recorded sales and purchases of debt. Republican Rome knew “corporations” as legal bodies on the same idea that a city or flock can be an entity independent of its changing members. Starting in 1171, the City of Venice borrowed at 5% in perpetuity by issuing bonds that became valuable in their own right, trading along with textiles and spices. The modern stock exchange is rooted in the commercial revolution of the Dutch Golden Age, in which blossomed both the Dutch East India Company and the Tulip Craze. Though the actual site of the first stock market is not known, a book from 1688, Confusion of Confusions by Joseph Penso dela Vega, presented a dialog that explained the buying and selling of shares, which it claimed had been going on since 1609. Ultimately, the London Stock Exchange was founded in Jonathan’s Coffeehouse in 1698. The New York Stock Exchange was founded in 1792.

Just as American coin collectors look to the works of Longacre and Saint Gaudens, so, too, is the broad mainstream of American scripohily the century from the 1850s to the 1950s. Railroads, steel mills, automobiles, airlines, electrical and electronics firms all date from those times. 
Fine Print on the Back of a Reading Railroad share.
(Not all certificates were explicit. Some referred to rules posted elsewhere.)
Just as the invention of coins about 550 BCE marked a commercial revolution that brought philosophy, geometry, and democracy to the ancient world, so, too, did the creation of joint stock companies announce the application of science to industry, universal franchise, and the end of slavery - and a worldview that encompassed atoms and galaxies.

The artistry of stock certificates is another attraction. Like coins, they often feature neo-classical, Graeco-Roman images of powerful gods and abundant goddesses. Sometimes they take on modern dress, wielding micrometers or reels of magnetic tape, or wearing communications headsets. Like banknotes, these large papers also feature scenes of agriculture and industry. 

International Telephone & Telegraph

On the instruments are the names of famous stock brokers of a bygone era: Bear Stearns, E. F. Hutton, Merrill Lynch, Paine-Weber, and Lehman Brothers. You can find endorsements from financiers such as the Rothschilds and industrialists like the DuPonts. Fans of the Parker Brothers Monopoly game can complete the four railroads: B&O, Pennsylvania, Reading, and Short Line.

The large format of these fiduciary instruments allowed for a full expression of the legal nuances that controlled their sale and ownership. When owned by two or more persons, a stock certificate may declare them to have “rights of survivorship and not tenants in common,” or to be “joint tenants.” Both of those are phrases directly from real estate law. Jurisprudence had not realized the novel and unique nature of financial markets. 
Watkins Johnson Company

Broadly speaking, common stocks are voting shares: one share one vote; 1000 shares, 1000 votes. Preferred stock has no voting rights, but does pay dividends. Bonds represent loans backed by the assets of the corporations. In case of bankruptcy or default, bond holders get first rights at repayment. A bond is always worth its face value – or at least promises to be. Stocks usually have no par value. However, within those broad latitudes, other options are possible. Common stock may or may not have a par value and may or may not promise dividend payments. Preferred stock may have a par value, as well. 
In 1966, the “dual fund” was created and the stock certificates of American Dual Vest are easily available singly or in bulk. This was a mutual fund. The firm created two forms of investment with a single instrument. Buyers could elect to be paid dividends or to forego them for the promise of “capital gains,” i.e., an increase in the market value of the basic instrument. Dual investment was successful, attracting $300 million in 1967. These close-end dual purpose mutual funds still are being created today.
500 Pounds Sterling 1869
Lent to the railroad by
Mrs. Janet Simpson
50 years before
the government
let her vote.

The miracle of collectibles is that the numismatic aftermarkets make treasures out of failed currencies. You can pay more for a nice old note from Brazil than it was ever worth on the street when it was issued. 

Make no mistake: this is all worthless paper. They are cancelled. Like checks, these instruments were issued to individuals, and then endorsed and cancelled when sold. Financial districts housed thousands of clerks who kept track of these papers. Sometimes, warrants were created, promises to deliver actual stock certificates at a later date when the document finally was available for issue.

Careful shopping pays. With computerized trading, millions of these came on the market as stock brokers emptied out their vault rooms. Sometimes, they surface in estate sales. Except for the oldest of these, and certain other rare issues, these items are largely as common as coins. In an online bidding war, you can pay $10 or more for a piece of paper that wholesales for $55 per hundred. Their worth is entirely subjective. 

You might tie it to another hobby. (I gave a certificate from The American Thread Company to a coworker who spins her own yarn.)  You might have an ancestor who worked in a steel mill or on a railroad. You might be a fan of Atlas Shrugged.  Whatever your motive, you should always shop with your head, not your heart.

Experienced numismatists know that books are the engines of value in the hobby. The Antique Stock Certificate Almanac by Fred Fuld, American Automotive Stock Certificates by Lawrence Falater and Stocks and Bonds of North American Railroads by Terry Cox are among the standard references. 

(This was based on an article that appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the Mich-Matist, the news magazine of the Michigan State Numismatic Society.)

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Anthem" as a Graphic Novel

The graphic novel adaptation of Ayn Rand's Anthem is a passable work that faithfully provides visual content to the story. Artists Charles Santino and Joe Staton both have created better works, but this still stands on its own merits as a worthy project. I wish that this were a full color publication, rather than line art.

Charles Santino's work as a writer includes "Toplin" a psychological horror (Dell/Abyss), co-authored with Michael McDowel. He also wrote a "Conan the Barbarian" (Marvel); and then for Fantagraphics he adapted, scripted, and packaged "Aesop’s Fables". (See the Graphic Novel Reporter interview here.)

Joe Staton worked for Charlton, Marvel and Warren during the 1970s; and then Paul Levitz of DC hired him for the revival of the Justice Society of America.(Wikipedia here.) Over forty years, Staton was the penciller for 800 issues including Tales of the Green Lantern Corps (1981), Power Girl (2006), The Essential Batman Encyclopedia (2008), Marvel Premiere Classics (2006) : #73 - "X-Men: Fallen Angels" and DC Comics Presents: #1 - "The Life Story of The Flash" (2012). (See the Joe Staton website here. )

Firefly: Fact and Value Aboard Serenity
Reflections on Atlas Shrugged Part 1
Valentine's Day: Love and Money

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Visualizing Complex Data

Edward R. Tufte's classic works - Envisioning Information, Visual Explanation, and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information - are milestones in applied epistemology.  Drawings convey meanings across verbal barriers.  But at some level, they must be learned.  A Martian watching a baseball game could probably figure out about half of it in the first two innings. But the other "half" is actually the 90% that brings joy and sorrow to fans.  The classic No Parking sign seems universal, but could mean almost anything.  The Journal of Irreproducible Results published a textured, grainy, and striated image that could save you money by being included as an example in many kinds of research.  (Unfortunately, some scientists do re-use their data, and other people's data, in just such a manner.  See Misconduct in Scientific Research on this blog.)  Humor and fraud help define the limits of the acceptable interpretations of images.  Yet, like a linguistic gold standard, one picture remains worth 1000 words, no matter how many new words we invent.

Many philosophical Objectivists easily assert that in the hierarchy of knowledge metaphysics is the base upon which epistemology rests. However, Leonard Peikoff wrote that the two studies are dependent on each other.

With the Yin-Yang of Metaphysics-Epistemology at the core
the orbiting body could be ethics (morality)
and the field that it generates would be politics.

Computers store information and we connect them in many convenient topologies. Knowledge could be mapped the same way. 
Is the connection geology-geography-geophysics-physics-chemistry a ring or a tree or a mesh?
A Historical Map of Philosophers by Simon Raper at the "Drunks and Lampposts" blog. Raper used a mathematical visualization tool called gephi (see the website here). 
The Continental Tradition is green. Purple dots are British Empiricists 
(including those not actually from the UK such as William James).  
He derived his data from Wikipedia articles citing the influence of one philosopher's work from and then to others, as easily, Plato and Aristotle, Leibniz and Descartes (teal).

The Klein Bottle is to three dimensions what the Moebius strip is to two: it folds into itself, forming a continuous space (or surface).  Here, three Klein Bottles are interconnected. Could this map the way that planetary geology suggests the changes in weather and climate that alter ecological and economic possibilities, causing political changes in social organizations and institutions?

Although he claimed to distrust philosophy, Richard Feynman was not alone among the empirical scientists who suggested that what we perceive as "particles" or "statistical waves" are only the fields which are themselves manifestations of something "deeper" or "beyond." 
In business, firms merge and divest, departments are reorganized, investors take or sell off large interests. In the multi-party politics of Europe, alliances over issues come and go. Consequences that have not been foreseen might not be mappable until after the fact.  

Previously on Necessary Facts
Knowledge Maps
The Genius of Design
Art and Copy
Start the Presses: Typeface