Friday, August 18, 2017

Look What FLG Stumbled Across In His Morning Internet Browsing

A Rehearing for Rousseau by RITA KOGANZON

Canonical authors, it seems, are always on trial. Not only do they face a jury of contemporary readers disinclined to recognize their greatness, but they must re-argue their case with every succeeding generation that charges them with irrelevance. As the arbiters in this tribunal are biased and the prosecutors zealous and unprincipled, a skilled and tenacious advocate can be an extraordinary asset.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Quote of the day II

Eric Hutchinson:
the study of the Classics teaches us something about what it means to be human, both in terms of the ideal of what we would like to be and, at least as importantly, in the much more somber sense of what we all too often are. 

Depressing

FLG has long been interested in getting a salt block, but he never quite knew why and never actually bought one.   After reading this article, that was probably the correct decision.  But here's the depressing thing:

It’s fun, but I’m not sure I can justify the fun. Lot’s wife sits on the counter, giving me salty looks. She’s a hotty, but a high-maintenance one. I turn around and keep walking.

That the link to the wikipedia page was included made FLG depressed.   We're not talking about some obscure story, like Ehud in Judges.  This is Genesis.   This is Sodom and Gomorrah.   Are we at a point where we can no longer assume that people in the US or UK know the story of Lot's wife?

To be clear, FLG isn't lamenting that not everybody is a Jew or Christian, nor saying that people should believe the story.   He's just bummed that shared cultural stores of such power to convey ideas and thoughts are no longer assumed shared.   Will we soon have to provide wikipedia links to explain David and Goliath, having a cross to bear, brother's keeper, and picking up the mantle? 

Quote of the day

Heather Mac Donald:
The authors titled their study “Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect.” A more accurate title would have been: “Language from police body camera footage shows that officers treat all drivers courteously but are more colloquial with young black drivers.”

Isotopic Signatures Of Ancient History

FLG found this interesting.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Oh, Tell Me Again How Trump's Rhetoric Is Too Heated

Here's what North Korea recently said, which frankly is pretty tame for them:
If the planned fire of power demonstration is carried out as the US is going more reckless, it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks

Quote of the day

Conrad Black:
The question of why large numbers of intelligent people have been reduced to babbling idiots by Trump’s presence in the White House will be a matter of great historical curiosity, though I find it a rather hackneyed subject now.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Charlottesville

FLG was shocked and deeply sadden by what happened in Charlottesville.  This is probably as close to FLG's take as can be:

FLG Doesn't Have Access To Read It

...but laughed at this headline, given his recent post:

How Does That Poll?

FLG continues to read Jacobin despite being ideological opposed to pretty much everything written there, but he finds it useful to read something, think, "Holy shit, people really believe this shit?"   Because it makes him ask himself, wait, they'd probably ask FLG the same thing.  And so he has to ask himself, why does he believe what he believes.

Anyway, FLG read this and wondered...ok, at least there is logical and ideological consistency here, but how would this poll?  Or perhaps more specifically, is this really a politically viable strategy?    He doesn't think so.  And certainly doesn't hope so.  But who knows?  He didn't think and didn't want Trump to win either.

People see Al Gore living a lifestyle that clearly has more of an impact on the world than theirs, and they resent climate change solutions that threaten to make his lifestyle their problem.
[...]
Fortunately for the Left, there’s a simple response to this talking point: reclaim class warfare. The fight against climate change has to be understood as a fight against capitalism. If you leave climate action in the domain of private decision-making, then of course rich people who make decisions to disproportionately pollute are hypocrites when they call for action against climate change. But if you understand climate change as a fight to take personal discretion out of the equation — to abolish private property and place control in the hands of democratic governance — that’s another matter.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Writing

Stephen King wrote an entire book on writing, but FLG decided to read The Gunslinger, first novel in The Dark Tower series, while on vacation, and King included this passage in his foreword explaining why he revised The Gunslinger many years after being published:

Before I close, I should say a word about the younger man who dared to write this book.   That young man had been exposed to far too many writing seminars, and had grown far too used to the ideas those seminars promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than one's self; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is to be preferred over clarity and simplicity, which are usually signs of a thick and literal mind.

That last part, the part about preferring ambiguity over clarity and simplicity, resonated with FLG.   His current job involves coaching junior employees on writing, speaking, and presentation.  He's constantly appalled at the average person in his field's facility with language.  It's terrible.   He's seen supposedly professional written documents littered with run-on sentences and passive voice.

A couple of years ago, FLG worked in a job where most of his colleagues were educated at prestigious institutions...Ivies, Duke, University of Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics...you get the idea.   Back then, he was shocked when they didn't know who Kronos was or know much about Shakespeare, but the vast majority could write a clear, concise, and coherent sentence.

Currently, most of his co-workers went to Big 10 schools or are former military who completed a degree online.   The vast majority are smart folks who can get stuff done.   Rather than, for example, writing a policy position paper on it, but damn is their writing ever awful.   Rather than a Coke, he's tempted to buy the world a copy of The Elements of Style.

Some of the junior employees appreciate feedback.  In fact, one took a job at an extremely prestigious organization.  Not long after, she wrote to FLG thanking him because she'd been put in charge of reviewing the formal written products her department puts out.  Her writing was that much better than everybody else's there.  (Perhaps reviewing might be the shit job in the department, but she didn't seem to think so.)

Others..not so much.  When FLG explains that fewer words are better...that their primary goals should be clarity first, followed closely by concision, they nod their heads and continue churning out rambling, ambiguous prose.   At one point, FLG took to editing an entire paper to show how he could reduce the length by 30% without losing an ounce of meaning.    (In fact, he thought he improved the clarity with the shorter length.)  'Oh, okay' was the response.

Getting back to the specifics of the passage above.   The thick and literal mind part resonated with FLG because in many cases the root cause of the ambiguous, lengthy prose is the desire to cover their ass, which in turn leads to tons of caveats in the argument.  Very literal and thick minds.   This is different from weaselly ambiguity because they lack the courage to write what they really want to say.   That's a problem as well, but not the literal and thick problem.    The literal and thick problem is when somebody can't write "The Sun is out during the day" without including "except during an eclipse" or "when it's really cloudy and it's there, but behind the clouds" or some such nonsense immaterial to the claim made in the sentence.

FLG fears he sounds like some sort of pedantic asshole.  And maybe he is.  But he steadfastly believes that if everybody wrote more short, concise, and active sentences, the world would be a much improved place.  And if being a pedantic asshole makes that happen, then he'll gladly accept the moniker.

FLG Doesn't Like Trump, But...

the North Korea situation isn't his fault.    Certainly not when taking the long view and not even taking the very short view.   Furthermore, he thinks many of Trump's critics are making themselves look foolish.

Long view -- The North Korean regime is a horrible regime.   Let's just state that at the out set.   More relevant to the discussion, however, is that it has has pursued nuclear weapons for decades, during the watch of presidents from both parties.  (Although, FLG places probably an unreasonably large and possibly unfair amount of blame specifically on Carter, a brilliant and caring man who somehow seems completely devoid of practical wisdom, and these types of statements only add to FLG's level of blame against him.)   They just happened to acquire or will very shortly acquire the capability to launch an ICBM against mainland US during Trump's tenure.   In the long view, any of Trump's actions, inactions, statements, tweets, etc are vanishingly small to the story thus far.    There is a reasonable argument to be made that the North Koreans are merely rational actors trying to use strategic nuclear weapons to deter the US, but, again, FLG sees Trump's presidency as immaterial to getting to where we are now.

Shorter view --  FLG thinks this is a stronger case that Trump is at fault, but ultimately it's still not compelling.   The North Koreans have been making completely irresponsible and outrageous statements for decades, a trend that has seemingly increased since the current leader took power.  FLG sort of understands the concerns of critics who say the US shouldn't use such rhetoric in return.  Too dangerous, might spook the North Koreans.  The only issue is their fear of the US, which this just exacerbates.     FLG thinks this is fundamentally misguided.   Kim Jung Un who in addition to being a horrible tyrant, which nobody refutes, whose regime consistently makes outrageously irresponsible and bellicose statements as a matter of course.  They've threatened to annihilate the US multiple times.   Yet, it's Trump that is somehow irresponsible all of a sudden?   The world has spent too long ignoring this type of language from North Korea.   Apparently, the regime that has been making outrageous threats for so long is unable to withstand the factual claim that the US will fucking wipe the country from the Earth if they loose a nuke at the US or her allies?    And maybe the madman theory will work in reverse to make the North Koreans or, more likely, the Chinese to get scared shitless, take a step back, look around, and say maybe there's something more we can do here.

Is this dangerous?  Yes, FLG is very scared.   But let's be clear here.   The North Korean regime is deadly serious, murderous, and very likely cares fuck all for what happens after any would be fall precipitated by causes either foreign or domestic.   Late night talk show hosts looks, see a jolly, fat guy, and think he's just goofing.   He's not ,and he definitely needs to know the consequences of any disastrous actions he might be thinking of taking.  

FLG thinks Obama's failure to press for robust missile defense might end up being what history views as his biggest mistake.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Quote of the day

Megan McArdle:
You cannot stop terrible people from promoting sound ideas for bad reasons. Liberals who think that ad hominem is a sufficient rebuttal to a policy proposal should first stop to consider the role of Hitler’s Germany in spreading national health insurance programs to the countries they invaded. If you think “But Hitler” does not really constitute a useful argument about universal health coverage, then you should probably not resort to “But Jim Crow” in a disagreement over school funding.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

This Probably Says More About FLG Than Anybody Else

...but he just realized, all things considered, he'd rather have a White House with The Mooch in it than Ben Rhodes, that smug fuckhead.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

While FLG Is On The Subjects Of 80s Videos

Sometimes, randomly, the words "Give me a bottle of anything...and a glazed donut..to go!" pops into his head, and he chuckles to himself.

FLG is currently listening to



Old Skool.

Monday, July 31, 2017

This Will Only Make Sense To FLG

Somehow, a link to this commercial real estate listing in Westport, CT popped up in FLG's LinkedIn feed.   He's not sure why he clicked on it, but he did.  And as soon as he did, he almost teared up.  Because that was where Arnie's Place was, and FLG loved Arnie's Place.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Quotes of the day

Two of them from the same Andrew Sullivan article.

[Trump] took a regular, civil, apolitical American gathering of mainly children and turned it into diatribe of deranged and nakedly partisan narcissism. He is actively despoiling our civic culture.

My best guess is simply that, for the far left, anything that is predominantly “of color” is preferable to anything, like Judaism and Christianity, that can usually be described as “white.” That’s how “intersectionality” can be used to defend what would otherwise be indefensible. The preoccupation with race on the far left is now so deep, in other words, it’s becoming simply an inversion of that on the far right.

Interesting

FLG found this interesting:
we have argued that shareholder welfare and market value are not the same, and that companies should maximize the former not the latter. One way to facilitate this is to let shareholders vote on the broad outlines of corporate policy. Note that if profit-making and damage-generating activities are separable, or if government has internalized externalities, or if shareholders are not prosocial, then the vote will yield the Friedman outcome: the shareholders will favor value maximization. However, in other cases the outcome will be different and we believe superior.

Of course, there are costs associated with voting. One cost is the risk of too many frivolous proposals being put forward by shareholders, which will distract management. But this cost can be minimized (if not eliminated) by requiring that a certain percentage of shares (say 5%) be behind a proposal before it is put to a shareholder vote. The second potential cost is that company money will be spent in promoting management’s point of view. Yet, the issues that we think should be put to a vote – such as the decision to sell high-capacity magazines in Walmart stores -- are a matter of individual preference, not of managerial expertise. Thus, company bylaws can reduce (and potentially eliminate) this cost by restricting management’s ability to use corporate resources for campaign purposes. Finally, in a wired world we regard the bureaucratic cost of administering proxy votes as trivial. 

 His first reaction is that with the increase in passive investing, will anybody but very motivated people engage and vote on these issues?   He thinks not, which he guess in the terminology above is that the shareholders might be prosocial, but the median prosociality level is more or less a shrug or confused look.   

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Quote of the day

Anthony Scaramucci:
I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.

This is all endlessly entertaining, but what the fuck is going on in the West Wing?    FLG puts the over-under that the Mooch is going to institute decimation over there in the next two weeks at around 50-50.    It's like watching Casino.

UPDATE:   After reconsidering, it's more like watching this.

Ignorance or Malice?

FLG saw some people sharing and liking this image on Facebook:

FLG's immediate reaction was to ask himself some questions:  Do they just like the idea expressed in the quote and have no idea who Robespierre is?   If they do know who he is, then is the bloodbath he launched a feature or a bug in the message?  Have they seen the cartoon where is he using the guillotine to kill the executioner because there's nobody left alive in France for him to kill?


FLG's favorite quote by Robespierre, because it illustrates very clearly what he stood for, is:
La terreur n'est autre chose que la justice prompte, sévère, inflexible; elle est donc une émanation de la vertu ; elle est moins un principe particulier, qu’une conséquence du principe général de la démocratie, appliqué aux plus pressants besoins de la patrie.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Another Thing FLG Wondered

Why do so many people seem to assume that self-driving cars means the end of private car ownership?  

FLG kinda sorta gets it in a place like Manhattan.   Parking is a nightmare.   An Uber service that is even cheaper because there is no driver involved would likely lead to an increase in quantity demanded.   But most people in Manhattan don't own cars as it is.   (FLG thinks like like 20% or something.)

But for FLG doesn't see it for the people who live in the suburbs.   They'd still own cars and ride leisurely into the city.   Whatever the cost savings are (estimates FLG has seen put it around $5000 per year), FLG strongly thinks they'd rather pay that cost and have the privacy and comfort of their own car regardless.

FLG Wondered Today

How many people today who call themselves scientists have read Bacon's Novum Organum?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

That Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

FLG was reading this when he got to this passage:
How else to explain that though a majority of Americans want a single payer healthcare system, an effort to achieve it in California has been killed 
FLG thought to himself, hmm, really, do a majority of Americans want a single payer healthcare system now?   That would be a big swing in the polls.    He didn't think it was out of line because, well, he thinks a single payer is unfortunately more or less a long run foregone conclusion at this point.  So, maybe there has been a huge swing and FLG wasn't aware.   Anyway,  he clicked the link that the author used to support that claim, assuming he'd find evidence.  Not so much...

Overall, 33% of the public now favors such a “single payer” approach to health insurance

WTF?   Maybe there's a new fangled progressive math that allows them to claim majority support for any left leaning policy, if it polls higher than 10%.  Seriously though, FLG wonders if it's laziness, stupidity, or intentional misleading.   He almost wanted to yell -- FAKE NEWS!

Algebra Is Too Hard?

FLG objects.  Or at the very least is deeply skeptical.  

He is definitely open to the idea that a course in statististics and probability might be more useful for citizenship, but in his experience it appears that too often the replacement course in stats is far less rigorous than the algebra course in level of effort and difficulty.  If the course works up to the ability for the student to understand and interpret the results of a liner regression by the end, then that's probably good enough.  

Actually, now that FLG thinks about it, his economic stats course required not algebra but calculus.   So, maybe he is still aiming too high.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Quote of the day

Megan McArdle:
The salt, for example, was exactly right in every dish: so entirely spot on that you enjoyed it while despairing of ever yourself knowing how to salt a dish to within three nanograms of the platonic ideal.

FLG is going to have to check this place out. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Time

Paul Davies:

The flow of time is an illusion, and I don’t know very many scientists and philosophers who would disagree with that, to be perfectly honest. The reason that it is an illusion is when you stop to think, what does it even mean that time is flowing? When we say something flows like a river, what you mean is an element of the river at one moment is in a different place of an earlier moment. In other words, it moves with respect to time. But time can’t move with respect to time—time is time. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the claim that time does not flow means that there is no time, that time does not exist. That’s nonsense. Time of course exists. We measure it with clocks. 

FLG finds time fascinating, so of course he found the interview fascinating.

UPDATE:  Thought it might be useful to explain why FLG finds time fascinating.  It began when FLG was in second or third grade.  He was at Sunday school.

Sunday School Teacher:   And so that's how God made the universe.

FLG:  Ok, but who made God?

Teacher:   God was and always will be.

FLG:  That doesn't make any sense.  SOMETHING must have come before Him.

Teacher:  Before, after.  These require time.   What if God exists outside of time?

FLG:   No time?  It doesn't make any sense to me.

Teacher:  Time is a funny thing.   Einstein tells us that it slows down the faster you go.   But you said it doesn't make any sense to you -- the absence of time.   I'd imagine that if you could talk to a fish, life outside of water wouldn't make any sense to the fish either.  Yet, there is life outside of water.     Just because you cannot comprehend something, doesn't mean it isn't true.   Just because you can't comprehend existence outside of time, doesn't mean it isn't true.  Just so you know, lot's of serious, smart people have asked the same questions.  One day, when you get older, you should read Thomas Aquinas.  (The teacher probably said something like ipsum esse subsistens here, but FLG doesn't remember.  And the funny thing is, FLG isn't even Catholic.)

While FLG generally disliked Sunday school (there are only so many David and Goliath coloring pages a young lad can take), he remembers that conversation well for a variety of reasons.   In fact, his strong, visceral dislike of outspoken scientists who espouse strict materialist visions of the world probably goes back to the feeling he had at the end of that conversation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SMH


Noah Rothman:
...invited panelists were all historians of the early Middle Ages. The idea behind the panel was that whatever the medieval understanding of “us” and “them” or “self” and “other” was, it is was quite different from what ours is today. So the Leeds International Medieval Conference had a white supremacy problem because—no, really—this one panel consisted of “white Europeans” who were not steeped in critical race and postcolonial theory. You cannot have a discussion of how people in the early Middle Ages thought of “the other” without panelists of color versed in highly politicized contemporary theories of oppression.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with these people?

FLG Seconds The Motion

Todd VanDerWerff:

I’m no Sheeran fan, and I find most of his music cloying and ickily sentimental. But when I saw him in “Dragonstone,” I giggled, less because I was happy to see him and more because it suggests the older and more popular Game of Thrones gets, the more the show has a sense of humor about itself.

Quote of the day

Dark Knight Rises isn't even the Citizen Kane of Batman movies.

Friday, July 14, 2017

FLG Gets It's The New Republic

...but when one writes a apoplectic piece about evil Republicans looking to reverse wage hikes and painting the Fight for $15 as a glorious, noble crusade, one loses all credibility when one doesn't even mention that, apparently, Seattle's path to $15 may have hurt workers.  FLG'd even be fine with a one sentence acknowledgement of the Seattle studies, which are certainly not open and shut cases on $15, that includes a quick dismissal.    But not including even a mention totally undermines the entire piece.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

FLG Is Still Confused

Look, FLG doesn't get it.   What "it" does he not get?  He'll get to that.

FLG read a review of Richard Reeves Dream Hoarders, but he can't find the one he read to link to.   Then, he read David Brooks' column about the same.  And then Phoebe's post about David Brooks' column.

Returning to the "it," which FLG does not get.   It's not main thrust of any of these.  It's David Foster Wallace.  "hav[ing] the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality"   Now, to be fair, he's only mentioned in one line in David Brook's piece.  Nevertheless...

FLG lives pretty much at ground zero for Upper Middle Class people trying to hoard dreams for their children.   Obviously, not the only one, but definitely one.     Here's the thing -- FLG can't rememeber discussions about about intersectionality, gender norms, and certainly not David Foster Wallace.   

Look, FLG doesn't have anything against David Foster Wallace.    He really likes the Fish Speech, in fact.  But he's never read one of his books, and as far as he knows doesn't know anybody else who has.   Well, at least, it has never come up in conversation that FLG can remember.    Almost everybody in FLG's neighborhood has advanced education and high incomes, yet, nobody has ever brought much of this stuff up.  And never David Foster Wallace.   Who are these people who have opinions about David Foster Wallace?   

The only thing FLG can figure is that maybe, if it were the 15-20 years ago, his neighbors and friends would have read David Foster Wallace.   In any case, it is certainly not a meaningful class distinction as far as he can tell.  

So, he's confused about the seemingly outsized focus on David Foster Wallace among media types.    Or maybe it's just David Brooks.

   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

Quote of the day

Well, more of a passage than a quote, but FLG liked it nonetheless.  

Ross Douthat:
Schemes for a “Darwinian ethics” generally have a brazen artificiality to them when they aren’t leaping merrily toward tooth-and-claw, might-makes-right conclusions; in the genealogy of modern morals the Christian worldview is a progenitor of rights-based liberalism in a fairly straightforward and logically-consistent way; and the alternative syntheses are a bit more forced, a bit dodgier, and a bit prone to suddenly giving way, as the major 20th century attempts at genuinely post-Christian and post-liberal societies conspicuously did, to screaming hellscapes that everyone these days considers simply evil.
I concede that a worldview’s coherence doesn’t prove anything definitive about its truth. You can certainly preserve a preference for human rights or any other feature of the contemporary consensus on non-theological grounds. But in the quest for truth, coherence still seems like a useful signpost, and looking for its presence still seems like a decent-enough place to start.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Declaration of Independence

Apparently, NPR tweeted out the Declaration of Independence, and some Trump supporters got upset or something.  FLG doesn't fully understand and doesn't care to figure who was upset and who wasn't upset.   FLG is just shocked NPR tweeted the words "merciless Indian Savages" without somebody in management being rendered apoplectic.

On a related note, let's not consign the word "perfidy" to the dustbin of the English language through its disuse.
 
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