Acknowledging History

Original image at
Bald cypress trees along the Bayou Coquille Trail at the Barataria Preserve. Credit: National Park Service.

On Friday, May 19, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans gave a speech marking the removal of Confederate leaders’ statues from prominent city sites. His words strike me as the sort of thoughtful, nuanced words of persuasion that the United States needs. I’m not a Southerner, but I hope I could ‘take in’ analogous words on the issues where I have blind spots. 

The text of Mayor Landrieu’s speech, below, is from the Times-Picayune newspaper’s website.

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HFT, Michael Lewis, and a Question

The last 2 days of buzz about Michael Lewis’s “expose” of high frequency trading, Flash Boys, has led to a lot of articles and debates. At my house, we’ve been talking about some of the issues for a while now.  In the last 18 months as I’ve learned a little about HFT — very casually, mind you — I’ve started saying that I hope it gets regulated out of existence. But let’s try a little thought exercise.

Someone who loves to play devil’s advocate asked me what the conceptual difference is between what HFT-ers are doing and what telegraphs enabled banks and the owners of the telegraph lines to do: use their privileged position to obtain and act on financial information sooner than the public.

I do not have a pat answer to that question. The best I’ve got so far is something like, “Even if it has always happened, it’s still wrong.” I’m curious to know others’ thoughts.

Separately, it’s unfortunate that it takes a remarkable self-promoter like Michael Lewis to (possibly) spur change. The way he has approached the roll-out of this book is about a marketing opportunity and is setting off a lot of alarm bells for me. I think that gaming of the financial system will always exist, that regulation ought not to depend on the general public’s sense of outrage, and that Michael Lewis may be promoting an overly simple of what’s good, what’s bad, and what ought to happen next.

The Dangers of Certainty

The New York Times forum The Stone recently ran a moving piece about the evil things people can do when they are certain they are right. In the essay, philosopher Simon Critchley reflects on an episode of The Ascent of Man, in which presenter Jacob Bronowski delivers a haunting critique of dogma while standing in a pond at Auschwitz. Critchley writes this about Bronowski’s speech:

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Colonial fantasy

This strikes me as the oddest photo shoot. Nostalgia for colonialism, a designer blanket on a baby elephant, and the romance of your jeep breaking down in the middle of a river? I hope the Maasai community and the elephant trust got some well-targeted money out of the deal. I don’t know if I’m offended (BH, should I be?) so much as the whole spectacle seems very odd and irrelevant. On a selfish note, I wish I were going to be as CLEAN as Keira Knightley is in the pictures…