09-02-2011 10:35 AM - edited 09-02-2011 10:37 AM
To The Hesitating Purchaser:
If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons,
And buccaneers, and buried gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:
--So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave:
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie!
....so begins the classc tale, "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson. And years later, after it was first published in 1883, I stood in the B&N bookstore wondering if I would buy the $4.95 B&N edition or another book of equal value, or even maybe somethiing to eat. The B&N membership card discounts all books and food by ten percent by the way. But Alas! the membership card gives me the same discount for everything in the bookstore- no special discounts for pirates or pirate-related materials. (Pirates, I imagine, usually use the five-finger discount.)
But a "hesitating purchaser" is now what I am. And classic economics now describes my hesitation as "opportunity cost", first coined in 1914 by Friedrich von Wieser in "Theorie der gesellschaftlichen Wirtschaft." According to von Wieser and modern economists, the purchase of the book is a foregone opportunity, in this case, an opportunity worth $4.95. And worse, as Stevenson writes, not purchasing his book would be a foregone opportunity of youth- whether I had actually read the book before or not.
Then why buy "Treasure Island", when I can take it? Well, I could be imprisoned. But the money in my pocket is just another foregone opportunity when I consider purchasing something else. So I stood in the B&N bookstore, flipping through the book once again, now with the mentality of a pirate, searching for the map to Treasure Island....
Join me shortly, in the fall, for a new literary tour!
09-09-2011 11:08 AM - edited 09-09-2011 11:12 AM
It was absolutely amazing- it seemed like whenever I picked up a classic, the natural forces I was reading about somehow materialised while I was reading, giving my reading experience a surreal "effect"- almost better than any reality TV show or 3-D movie. For example, when I was reading "Wuthering Heights"one day, a thunderstorm formed almost out of nowhere. And when I was reading "Dr Jekyll and Hyde" last night, a fog rolled in across the bay. And I guess I have to be careful about picking up a copy of "Treasure Island", living so close to the bays and ocean- especially when I'm in Florida. I have no cannon with which to defend myself.
But if you didn't want to unleash any natural forces, then don't pick up a classic from the 1800's. Indeed, the 1800's classics always seem to be about forces of the universe and the humans therein. Drama unfolds in the "dark" forces of Nature, in characters such as Heathcliff, Mr. Hyde and pirates. But in classic Newtonian physics, "For every action, an equal and opposite reaction." For every thunderstorm or a fog bank, a ray of sunshine. For every pirate, a purchaser. For the "Treaty of Utrecht", the entire "golden age of piracy." And for peace, war.
Well, humanity moved from Newtonian physics to new theories of relativity in the next century. Are we able to apply the concept of "relativity" successfully in other areas, areas outside of science, moving to a world without war, a world of peace or a world without pirates? Or will human history continue to be a series of temporary balances achieved, or of "faustian" bargains struck, which are difficult to renege upon? Can the world leave the natural balance of night and day?
09-11-2011 10:18 AM
Just to add:
"Balance" is a favorite theme of Stevenson's- so the forces of Nature and Stevenson's thoughts thereupon, will probably be present in "Treasure Island."
"Relativity", our ability to "step outside the box" if you will (i.e. the z-axis, if you recall) is a subject of Verne, Fitzgerald, maybe Stoker. The fusion of space and time into one concept of "spacetime" was the beginning Einstein's theory of relativity. And in general, "understanding" usually happens when I can view my position as "relative" to someone or something else...
09-13-2011 09:13 AM
I don't want to go too abstract or too off-topic: but basically in an x,y,z, coordinate system, you can label any axis anything you want to label, depending on what you graph. But if you label the x-axis , "time" and the y-axis "space", the "z-axis" is probably some combination of time and space. Essentially, it was only until we left the xy-plane that we could begin to understand "velocity" and differences in observed and theoretical settings- the beginning of a spacetime concept, anyway.
PS- You could label the z-axis "time" or "space." If you do, the entire coordinate system approaches something "fourth-dimensional" I think. But whatever you want to graph.....be creative.
09-15-2011 09:36 AM - edited 09-15-2011 09:50 AM
I don't know if anyone picked up a copy of "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." But I did, and then I read the next short story following: A Lodging For The Night", but the main focus for this thread will be "Treasure Island." Stevenson seems keen on the money which is why I chose to read "Treasure Island." The short story "A lodging for the night" takes place when times are changing (or have changed already) from a feudalistic society to something more mercantilistic. A cold winter evening brings a thief and a soldier together under the same roof- expertly done, I think.
The demand for currency during that time, moreover the demand for currency that was "non-counterfeitible" was rising, which lead to the famous "pieces of eight" found in most pirate stories. In general, Stevenson writes about the intersection of Nature's light and dark sides and how currency is often found right at this intersection. Sometimes this intersection is large, almost amorphous, or sometimes it is a very thin, precise line. For example, we have difficulties keeping track of all of our U.S. currency in circulation (albeit sometimes this is due to counterfeiting) but we also "penny-pinch." Banks usually keep very accurate and precise records. That is, we refine currency, both numerically and substantially. Anyway..happy reading!
09-21-2011 10:17 AM
If you had read "The Way We Live Now" by Anthony Trollope, you may know that money has two sides- (obviously, if I flip a coin) "substantial" and an "unsubstantial" sides. There is also an "insular" quality to money- currency is used within only within a defined set of borders which is seldom "everlasting." For example, the hesitation of a purchase (i.e. the money in my pocket) lasts only so long until the next purchase. I can save it, however. Moreover, the Swiss economy was recently undermined when the demand for the swiss franc reached epic proportions. Switzerland, as you may know, attempts to maintain "neutrality", in part this due to the surrounding mountains, but it is not an island by definition.
09-28-2011 09:13 AM
If you ever have visited Disney World, you may have gone on the "Pirates of the Carribbean" ride. The first death on an Disney attractiom, by the way, was on the "Pirates of the Carribbean ride." Supposedly the death was neither a ride malfunction nor a compromise of ride safety. The victim did, in fact, die of a heart attack.
But if you go on the ride, you board a boat and ride past these scenes of skeletons, once pirates, sitting atop mounds of treasure. There is some question as to whether or not pirates actually died with their booty. Recently, modern pirates off the coast of Somalia supposedly died their ransom money- so there probably is some truth to this. And so, in one scene on the ride, a pirate skeleton sits "balanced" atop a mound of treasure- and you get the sense that the skeleton has been there for ages and will probably be there for ages more.
Anyway, if we return to the opening passage where the reader is addressed as a "hesitating purchaser", rather than have a lengthy economic discussions about opportunity cost, the "hesitation" I sometimes feel in a store is simply a type of "balance", if not a temporary balance that may last for five minutes or so. And the scene in a pirate movie, or a scene in a ride like "The Pirates of Carribbean" looks like something of a macabre balance, lasting forever---- something to keep in mind as you read, "Treasure Island."
09-29-2011 09:09 AM - edited 09-29-2011 09:14 AM
The combination of science and law, often found in technocrcacies, is also found in the character of Dr. Livesey. Not only a doctor, but also a magistrate. Livesey is able to quiet "the captain" at the Admiral Benbow" Inn:
"The old fellow's fury was awful. He sprang to his feet, drew and opened a sailor's clasp-knife, and balancing it open on the palm of his hand, threatened to pin the doctor to the wall.
The doctor never so much as moved. He spoke to him as before, over his shoulder and in the same tone of voice, rather high, so that all the room might hear, but perfectly calm and steady: "If you do not put that knife this instant in your pocket, I promise, upon my honour, you shall hang at the next assizes."
Then followed a battle of looks between them, but the captain soon knuckled under, put up his weapon, and resumed his seat, grumbling like a beaten dog." (B&N p.17)
Medicine was improving during the 17th and 18th century, to the extent that It could control rough characters like the captain and also, historically, Blackbeard, who was reported to have held hostages in return for a medicine chest off the coast of South Carolina. As far as I know, there were no vaccinations within the medicine chest by Blackbeard, just home remedies and instruments. Blackbeard lost his life shortly thereafter. But the first vaccination for smallpox was reported to occur @1720. Rheumatism is mentioned in "Treasure Island" for which there is still no known cure.
In "Jekyll and Hyde", law and science are represented in separate charcaters, Utterson and Jekyll respectively, although the characters share the same "social circle."
The uglier questions, of course: If 17th and 18th century medicine could control pirates, could modern medicine be used to control entire civilizations, like London in the 19th century? Do technocracies develop naturally, or are technocracies about power and control, or a maintaining of a "status quo?"
10-06-2011 11:23 AM
As many writers of the 19th century write: the world replaced coins like the German-minted thaler (which later became the famous "pieces of eight") and the Spanish-minted "gold doubloon." Moreover, the world left the metallic standards for less expensive currency. With the advent of the less expensive currency, came "economics" and new economic thought- it's why I stopped briefly to talk about technocracies. Economic thinking was technical and came from "the educated."
We still do have difficulty with attempting to find the true value of our currency, however. For example, is our dollar mostly "oil" or some other commodity? If you follow a budget it might be interesting to keep track of your spending to try and determine the true value of your dollar. But my dollar is also affected by how people spend theirs- which has always been a basic problem of currency.... But, hey, what say you?
PS- I'm soon off to the Spanish Main myself to search for some doubloons....Arghhhh!
10-27-2011 08:41 PM - edited 10-27-2011 09:54 PM
"It was a long, difficult business, for the coins were of all countries and sizes--doubloons, and louis d'ors, and guineas, and pieces of eight, and I know not what besides, all shaken together at random. The guineas, too, were about the scarcest, and it was with these only that my mother knew how to make her count" - Chp. 4
The above quote describes a mess that existed with currency a couple of centuries back. By the time, Stevenson wrote "Treasure island", the world was moving away from metallic standards of currency, or soon would move away from metallic standards. It seems like we traded one mess for another- but our current world monetary system is supposed to be more flexible and nore stable than any metallic standard we could possibly dream up. Despite the mess in the captain's chest, Jim's mother manages to find coins which she can value, the "guinea", in order to collect for the Captain's rent past due, but she even has problems valuing the guinea, the captain has only the "scarcest."
Hmmmmm..... the other interesting chapter was Chapter 3 "The Black Spot"- a notice which demanded the captain's treasure chest, over his dead body. The "black spot" begs the question: Is there always a "black spot" in our minds when we use money? The black spot represents "death"- the point at which any currency is completely valueless to me. That is, if I knew that I was going to die tomorrow, my money's worth would be more clear to me. But only up until the point of my death. After I die, my money is worthless to me. As I stated before, I might be a skeleton in the "Pirates Of The Carribbean" ride, sitting on top a horde of treasure. We usually do not know when we are going to die, and so there remains this "dark spot", or "an unknown", when we try to value things....
Interestingly, certain questions, like questions about age and health are illegal on loan applications. If a bank knew you were going to die the next day, the bank would probably not approve the loan, unless the bank was counting on a co-applicant, etc.....
The other interesting case was Leona Helmsley, and you sometimes hear about cases like hers, who left billions to dogs....
10-29-2011 10:16 AM
Individual Retirement Accounts were up in the trillions at the time of the crash of 2008. Collectively, the IRA's could be viewed as a big horde of treasure that can cause "economic inefficiency." And the poor lending practices might be viewed as pirate theft.....
10-30-2011 11:02 AM
Just to add:
I jumped ahead a bit and this probably should be on the current events board. "The black spot" is a piece of paper with black ink on one side, and on the other: a future time when the treasue is to be surrendered by the owner or the owner loses his life, or both may occur. Anyway, death, or "the black spot", is the point at which the treasure becomes valueless to the bearer. My money is worth nothing to me, personally, when I am dead- frankly.
It might be interesting to do an economic study on "the black spot"- there might be a few out there. Culturally, how much are we slaves to the black spot? Hoe much does the black spot account for "generation gaps" that cultures experience every so often, as in the infamous "fifties" and "sixties" eras?
10-31-2011 11:11 AM
"Some news of the lugger in Kitt's Hole had found its way to Supervisor Dance and set him forth that night in our direction, and to that circumstance my mother and I owed our preservation from death"
"Pew was dead, stone dead. As for my mother, when we had carried her up to the hamlet, a little cold water and salts and that soon brought her back again, and she was none the worse for her terror, though she still continued to deplore the balance of the money." Chapter 5
"Preservation from death" and "balance of money" are two phrases which, I think, are major motifs of "Treasure Island." The various coins found in Bill's treasure chest represent economic balances found in histories of different nations, or, collectively, the history of the world. Balances are simply found in the purity of the coin- the amount of gold or silver minted in each coin. And because the coins are representative of an economy, or economies, they are also representative of a nation's "survival", or our the world's survival (i.e. preservation from death) at various points in history- the dates of the coins. And now the coins preserve the motley crew of pirates from death.
We generally do not think of money as "preservation from death", except perhaps in the way that we save money (I already mentioned IRA's). And even if we save money, we do not usually lug a treasure chest around like a pirate- well, maybe some of us do How much does "preservation from death" affect our economy and society at large? How much does someone's else's preservation from death affect our youth? Is it a genearation gap that needs to close? Are we slaves of someone else's self preservation from death, someone who has long since passed away?-- all questions from "The Treasure."
Moreover, we generally do not think of an economy as a balance, but if we take a gander at modern economics, balances do exist in various ways. For example, there might be a balance between the "employed" and the "unemployed"- too many "unemployed", and the economy collapses; "civilization" is undermined. The buccaneers were "layed off" and became "pirates." The mercenary soldier became a rogue. And in modern times, the unemployed became "occupy wall street" members.
And finally, does "preservation from death" cause death itself? If I am Blackbeard the Pirate, my capture means my certain death at the gallows (someone chopped his head off!) If I may be so inclined to murder in the U.S., I may recieve the death penalty myself. So, why not kill another?- The death penalty as a deterrent to any crime is always questionable...
PS- We return later to the "Black Spot" again, which is death of a different nature that we sometimes observe in politics, I think....
11-04-2011 10:02 AM - edited 11-04-2011 10:08 AM
Money has been around for what seems like forever, but the images on our money varies with the time and the source of the currency (i.e. the nation). Stevenson's favorite theme is how a "balance" struck ages ago can still affect my life in the present. And minted coins are indicative of not only actual economic balances struck when the coin was minted, but also indicative of balances found in government, philosophy or science- depending on what is depicted on the coin or the paper bill. For example, the one dollar bill depicts George Washington, who you could say represents a balance of of power (i.e. the three branches of government) Abe Lincoln is on the penny- a balance found between the north and the south (i.e. democratic principles). The 10-pound note in Britain depicts Charles Darwin on the back side- a balance found in "natural selection" perhaps, and so on....maybe you can come up with some more.....Anyway, governments, or nations, although they cannot exist without an economy (?) are usually more than just about economy. That is, they usually are paired with a particular philosophy, law, religion, government, and so on... without which the money would cease to exist......
PS- I use the above as examples- all are arguable of course....It has been argued that the EU cannot be a purely economic union- that is, it needs a philosophy perhaps. It might be the heart of the current problem with the Euro meltdown and the Greek referendum. The EU has held up thus far.....next time I post, I'll see if I can trough some Euro images up from the web....
11-08-2011 08:34 AM
I think I see a "spyglass hill" on the back of my one dollar bill.
The U.S treasury reports:
"The unfinished pyramid means that the United States will always grow, improve, and build. In addition, the 'All-Seeing Eye' located above the pyramid suggests the importance of divine guidance in favor of the American cause." which sounds better than "spyglass hill.
Another horrible lit. question that you never wanted to ask: Does money produce the "all seeing eye?" At one point in history, religion and coin minting were more intricately bound.
11-15-2011 10:56 AM
We still bury treasure on islands- Carribbean islands in particular. Rather than actually burring chests in the sand, the modern day pirate buries his money in tax shelters provided by the island's lax banking regs and low tax rates. An obvious example I forgot to mention....
11-19-2011 11:15 AM
Sorry- I Ieft the "Treasure Island" board largely unmanaged, due, in part, to my move down to Florida- pirate territory and I actually was at Disney World for a just a short period of time where my brother actually works as a pirate- so it was about time to try and understand these rascally villains of yesteryear- BUt I did not get a chance to revisit 'The Pirates of Carribbean" ride -arrgggghhhhhh.
Florida has the pirate history, dudes: gold and silver still washes ashore from Spanish galleons lost long ago at sea. Pirates were once imprisoned a fortress just a short trip up the coast from where I am -in St. Augustine. FL. Buried treasure had been reportedly uncovered while a highway was being built along the FL coast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and so forth..... (FYI: up next: "This Side of Paradise" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
My last post accused the Carribbean Islands of aiding the modern-day pirate, but we, are not only pirates in some way or other, but also "islands", as well. So, as I described at the beginning post, as I stood in the B&N bookstore, I was "insular" in my own hesitation of my purchase of "Treasure Island", although I could not be entirely "insular" in a bookstore- there are too many temptations, too many options to buy. But I could, as I stated, seek refuge with my money on an island, or even better, seek refuge on an island with money already buried in its sands- so the "best buy" may have actually been Stevenson's :"Treasure Island".......
Although John Donne once said that "No man is an island", I sometimes seek that special island somewhere, either in the Carribbean or in the South Pacific, that island somewhat removed from rest of civilization, either a real island, or something my money might be able to create. So, at the heart of this "insular" feeling that we sometimes feel we need to be, is money. And the paradox, of course, in order to be entirely "insular", I would have to rid myself of my money entirely, and live out the rest of my life in what I hope to be an island paradise. So money creates my need to be insular, but I cannot be insular as long as I have it....
So, in order to mollify my original accusation, I would have to include other entitities, not islands by definition- like states, nations, and cities. The city of London, the USA, and even the state of Delaware, from which I hail, have all been accused of tax sheltering to some degree. See http://www.disinfo.com/2011/03/treasure-islands-th
PS- Switzerland has always been insular, or "neutral", in part due its topography: the Alps. Recently, the world bought too much of its currency, compromising its neutrality. Switzerland then vowed to aid the melting Euro and you know the rest.....
11-21-2011 11:12 AM - edited 11-21-2011 11:23 AM
Well, to update my postscript: the Swiss National Bank continues to recieve added pressure to raise the cap- the strength of the Swiss franc would push the price of quality swiss products too high. There also has more investment in the U.S. Dollar- good for us. But all because of the Euro crisis. (Sam the Eagle would frown on a cap of the U.S. Dollar- the new muppets movie is coming out soon) Moreover, some banks have found stability in the Swiss currency and have pegged the interest rates on loans to the interest rate of the Swiss Franc, as well as found stability in the yen-U.S. dollar peg- Japan had devalued its currency a while ago.
Side note: To discover a treasure of chest of stocks, bonds, foreign currencies, etc both old and new, would be valuable, but I'm not sure it would be quite the same as discovering something like Billy Bones' treasure chest, filled with gold and silver, treasure maps, and so on. The discovery of a pirate's chest would still probably be more valuable and maybe more romantic.....
11-25-2011 10:07 AM
Technocracies not only exist in "Jekyll and Hyde", that is if you followed the "Jekyll and Hyde thread, but also in "Treasure Island." Certainly, the medical/law technocracy is represented by the character of Dr. Livesey. There also exists a sailing technocracy in the pirates, the sailors and the character of Long John Silver. And there even exists an Admiral Benbow Inn technocracy which was entirely Hawkins, who wants to feel that he was "irreplacable" when he ordered the "new help" around upon his return to the Inn.
Stevenson addresses the topic of "irreplacability", more so in "Treasure Island" I think, than the other stories I posted. In general, we feel that the more specialized the labor is, then the better it is- I am not as "replacable" because of my "specialized" knowledge. And the lack of incentive to share my knowledge with others, stemming from this fear of being replaced by someone else, helps to create a "technocracy."
So, we could consider "history" to be just a series of techocrcacies replacing other technocracies. And Stevenson sometimes asks, how does one technocracy move to another? What remained the same, or what has changed? That is, is there any one thing in common or anything unique, to any or all of the technocracies formed in history?
Happy Turkey Day!