Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Film News

The FLGs saw Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long). Good movie, but very depressing.


The FLGs also watched Wall-E, which is the weakest of the Pixar movies thus far.


FLG finished Layer Cake, which he enjoyed.


FLG also caught Shoot 'Em Up on HBO. He loved it as much as when he saw it in the theatres.

Gift Recommendations Board Game Edition

Unfortunately, my favorite board game of all-time, Broadsides and Boarding Parties, is no longer made. (Video here for the curious.)

However, there are several board games I still enjoy:
Scotland Yard
Clue Nostalgia
Stratego Nostalgia

For the very well-healed:
Diplomacy
Deluxe Turntable Scrabble

Bombay Attacks

I've been following the attacks in Bombay, and to tell you the truth they concern me immensely.

Le Figaro:
Des méthodes de commandos, des fusillades aveugles, des attaques parfaitement synchronisées contre une dizaine d'objectifs, dont certains fréquentés par des Occidentaux et des prises d'otages : le mode opératoire utilisé à Bombay révèle un changement de stratégie dans l'histoire du terrorisme en Inde, jusque-là davantage habituée aux attentats à la bombe contre des trains, des gares ou des marchés.


Translation:
Commando tactics, perfectly synchronized attacks against ten targets, some of which are frequented by Westerners and taking hostages: the methods used in Bombay reveal a change of strategy in the history of terrorism in India, until now usually bomb attacks against trains, stations or markets.

Ever since the DC Sniper incident I've been convinced that a dozen or so sniper teams could virtually paralyze the United States. You have no idea of the level of fear in DC during the snipers if you didn't live here. I had to reassure hysterical people afraid to walk to their car on at least two occasions. It was completely irrational, but then again fear often does that to people.

More on Congo

Telegraph:
At the root of Congo's turmoil is the presence of the militias who exterminated at least 800,000 people, largely the minority Tutsis, in neighbouring Rwanda 14 years ago.

Once, they called themselves the "Interahamwe", or "those who kill together". Now, they seek respectability under a new name – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by their French acronym FDLR – and their fighters are deployed in Eastern Congo's lawless provinces of North and South Kivu.

Major Vincent Habamungu, who commands the FDLR's "Tiger" unit, told The Daily Telegraph that nothing could stop their campaign. "We are fighting every day because we are Hutu and they are Tutsis. We cannot mix, we are always in conflict," he said. "We will stay enemies forever.


Yeah, peacekeeping ain't gonna work. Peacemaking is needed.

Larry Summers on Unions

Summers:
Another cause of long-term unemployment is unionization. High union wages that exceed the competitive market rate are likely to cause job losses in the unionized sector of the economy. Also, those who lose high-wage union jobs are often reluctant to accept alternative low-wage employment. Between 1970 and 1985, for example, a state with a 20 percent unionization rate, approximately the average for the fifty states and the District of Columbia, experienced an unemployment rate that was 1.2 percentage points higher than that of a hypothetical state that had no unions.


HT: Mankiw

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shine a Light

The FLGs watched Shine a Light this weekend, and I have to say that I never realized how creepy Mick Jagger is. He's ubercreepy.

Disney, Mammon and Idolatry

I fear this post is going to attract the nutjobs.

Telgraph:
Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth in West Sussex, has accused the corporation of "exploiting spirituality" to sell its products and of turning Disneyland into a modern day pilgrimage site.

He argues that it pretends to provide stories with a moral message, but has actually helped to create a more materialistic culture.


I once read an academic paper on this very subject.

The Happiest Place on Earth: Disney's America and the Commodification of Religion by Mazur and Koda.
(Sorry I couldn't find a better link.)

The Walt Disney Company is one such business marketing religious symbolism and meaning and providing strong - if indirect - competition to traditional religion in the United States.


I don't find the argument terribly persuasive in either case. Disney has it's problems, but everybody tries to blame it for the ills of society (body image issues, heternormality, replacing God, reinforcing gender roles, etc) because it is so pervasive and powerful in childhood. People forget that they're just fucking cartoons.

An Open Letter to Professors

Group projects suck balls. Unlike in the real world, there is no boss. So, some schmuck can free ride and all your students can do is sound like whiners when they come to you to complain. At the undergraduate level there are just too many lazy asshats in your classes. You know this. Or you should know this. Why do you insist on forcing us to work with them? The teamwork and collaboration skills learned in these groups are things people should've learned in kindergarten, and they bare very little resemblance to the groups in a workplace.

There are probably a host of reasons you do it. I assume it's less work on your part. That's fine. Just realize that most of your hardworking students hate it because it inevitably helps the laziest in the class.

Sincerely,
FLG

Christmas Shopping Recommendations

FLG knows how difficult it can be to find the right presents. So, he will be offering a list of suggestions over the next week. Here is today's selection.

Thierry Mugler Angel
About five years ago, Mrs. FLG and I spent about over an hour testing every perfume in the Sephora on the Champs- Élysées. Of all of the hundreds of perfumes there we both liked Angel the best. At the time I don't think you could buy it here in the States. Then Nordstrom had an exclusive deal. But now it's available online.

Microplane
This thing is awesome for cooks.


EyeClops Night Vision Infrared Stealth Goggles
These gogglesare more than a toy. They are legitimate night vision googles. Even Dad will want a pair of these. Trust me.

FLG is currently listening to

A special edition for Toast.





Piratical News

FLG found pirate washcloths at the local Cost Plus World Market. He did not buy the hooded towel however.

L'OTAN

Le Monde:
les ministres des affaires étrangères de l'Alliance, qui doivent se réunir à Bruxelles les 2 et 3 décembre, devraient en toute vraisemblance décevoir, pour l'heure, les espoirs de ces pays.


Translation:
The foreign ministers of the [NATO] Alliance, who will meet in Brussels on December 2nd and 3rd, will in all probability disappoint, for the time being, the hopes of [Georgia and Ukraine becoming members.]

I wish this was a principled stand to stop the expansion of NATO in preparation for its dismantlement, but it's not. Europe is simply pussyingfooting around because its scared of poking the Russian Bear.

Making Room For Baby

The baby's room is currently our computer room/office, and according to Mrs. FLG wasn't decorated appropriately to be a baby's nursery. Today, we removed two prints from the room and moved them to other locations.

One of Grand Central Station:


And one of the Nighthawks:


The replacement wall art, two Barbie fashion sketches that we both think are adorable, arrived today, but we are waiting to put them up until the baby furniture arrives.


Auto Bailout

Bob Herbert:
The question for Congress and the incoming Obama administration is whether to risk allowing the industry to collapse completely. The number of people working for the Big Three automakers has already been cut drastically, perhaps in half since 2000, and more cuts are to come, even with a government rescue effort.


Let's say, for the sake of argument, that a bailout saves 1 million jobs, which I think might be on the high side. Barney Frank said the bailout could cost up to $100 billion. I've made a little table.

Cost per worker saved of bailout:
$50 Bil -> $50,000
$75 Bil -> $75,000
$100 Bil -> $100,000

I say just cut checks to the workers and call it a day. They can use it to move, get job retraining, etc, etc. It will go directly to the people we are concerned about without supporting an industry unable to adapt to current economic realities. And the government won't be mucking around telling an industry how to run itself. In fact, spend 200 billion and give 'em $200k.

Some Serious Navel Gazing

The title of this blog is an homage to Hunter S. Thompson and gonzo journalism. I've tried to write Fear and Loathing in Georgetown as a type of gonzo punditry.

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson is assigned to cover the Mint 400 off-road race. After a few hours of dusty heat, he returns to the media tent and starts drinking again. Thus ensues some of the worst depravity known to man. Well, it actually started before he even arrived in Vegas, but that's not important right now. The point is that one must sometimes exaggerate the story, or even fabricated it entirely, to illuminate the truth.

One of my favorite sentences that he wrote:
Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point.


FLG takes positions that are more forceful than my own, and argues them more strongly. I think that is part of what makes this blog interesting. For example, FLG would've voted for Prop 8 because he was uncomfortable with gay marriage legalized through judicial ruling, but he is okay with gay marriage. I would have voted against Prop 8 because I'm pro-gay marriage, but still would have been uncomfortable with the judicial nature of it. Likewise, FLG will keep piling on the argument to the point where he articulates a vision of humanity ascending a moral teleology as society progresses economically, irrespective of what moral arguments people make or actions people take. I think there is something to the idea of economic progress facilitating moral progress, but I subscribe more to the Great Man theory of history. So, economics is destiny just doesn't still well with me.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure you'd want to read a blog by me. I failed out of college spectacularly the first time around. I didn't graduate cum laude like I'd hoped. I was rejected by every business school that I applied to. That last one was definitely for the best though.

FLG is forceful because there is nothing worse for me than reading a blog written with trepidation. It's boring. I hope that FLG's positions, especially when he has to develop the logic further, make you think about the issue from a new perspective even if you disagree. Perhaps that's a vain, as in both conceited on my part and futile in reality, hope.

Friday, November 28, 2008

FLG's Five Gs of Human Motivation

FLG wasn't surprised that a Thanksgiving editorial in the Washington Post completely omitted the word pilgrim, to the point where they were described as "The European immigrants who celebrated the first Thanksgiving." However, it did remind him of his 5 Gs of human motivation.

FLG has identified the five most important drivers of human motivation, and he has chosen words that all begin with G to represent them: Greed, Glory, Girls/Guys, Guns, and God

Greed - Self-explanatory

Glory - Self-explanatory. However, FLG also places Shame, the opposite of Glory, in this category.

Girls/Guys - Love, lust, etc goes here.

Guns - Fear and compulsion go here.

God - Religiously motivated actions.

FLG fears that the secularization of the public square, and most importantly public education, will lead to a huge distortion in the way our children perceive and understand the world. Out of fear of violating the First Amendment's establishment clause, we have largely banished religious content from our public school curriculum. However, this leaves a huge hole in the understanding and education of our children.

One cannot understand the history of our country without talking about Puritanism, at the very least. One cannot understand European History without talking about Catholicism, the Reformation, and Protestantism. One cannot understand the Crusades without talking about religion. Lastly, one cannot understand Islamic terrorism without talking about religion. Whether or not you believe in religion is not particularly important. Other people do and are motivated by it. To understand the world and the human condition one needs to understand religion.

There's a tenancy to dismiss religious motivation as a cynical tool for motivating the masses, or worse, to dismiss religious belief as irrational. However, most of the people motivated by religion act in rational way within the confines of their faith. So, it is necessary to understand what that faith entails. People who have not spent more than five minutes learning about Islam repeat mindless phrases about it, both that it is a religion of peace or that it is a violent religion.

Worse than banning religious discussions from the classroom is the multicultural idea that other religions are okay to discuss, but not the Judeo-Christian tradition. So, it is okay to trash or ignore some of the most important theological ideas in the history of Europe and the United States, but those other religions are righteous.

I acknowledge that I cannot offer a solution. Any attempts to educate students about religion is rife with dangers. Teachers may press their religious beliefs or denounce others as wrong or inferior. Some people may be uncomfortable with their children learning about religions other than their own. I'm not sure if requiring a religion component in the curriculum isn't a cure worse than the disease. But we need to acknowledge that by leaving it out our children are missing a huge and important human motivation from their education.

And ignoring that the people "who celebrated the first Thanksgiving" were pilgrims (a person on a religious journey) is treasonous.

More on China, Currency Crises, and Real Estate

Me in March:
I often hear anecdotal arguments, especially from executives and know-nothing business types, that the building boom in China is evidence that it will overtake the US. This analysis appears intuitive, but it is incorrect.

One of the main features of planned economies is that they can mobilize resources more quickly than market economies. Yes, China has moved towards a more capitalist model, but the government still holds a disproportionate control of economic resources. Governments are very good at getting stuff built. They condemn old buildings. Knock them down. New construction starts.

This type of thing is great for planned economies for three reasons. First, it is relatively easy to build a building. One does not need to make any new discoveries. Second, the finished product is a tangible example of the progress of the country. People see skyscrapers go up, and think, "Wow, our country is really growing!" Third, it provides a lot of medium and low skilled work. This is important for a communist government. Better to have the population working than protesting.


Me in October:
Oh, and [the Chinese] are building skyscrapers and ports and roads. That's what everybody finds so impressive. Those delightful, futuristic buildings. They're tangible and beautiful. But remember property booms are fantastic for making everybody think the economy is gangbusters. The Asian financial crisis started in the Thai real estate market. The current global financial meltdown started in the US housing market.


Yesterday on Economist Free Exchange:
Why then is China slowing so sharply? Simple, real estate investment has hit a wall. After growing at 20% y/y for a long time, real estate investment stalled – with a y/y growth rate of around 0% (Figure 5). That means that China is in turn producing more steel and cement than it needs, and producers of steel and cement are cutting back. That in turns hurts iron ore exporters …


Remember this:
Real estate can lead to real growth, but when it goes bad it goes really, really bad for a few reasons. First, real estate is illiquid, which is to say that a house takes longer to sell than almost anything else. This means that stability takes time to reemerge. Second, it offers the most leverage of any investment open to the public. People don't typically borrow multiple times their yearly income to buy stocks on margin. Lastly, I theorize that people have a psychological bias to think that real estate investments are safer than stocks because it is more tangible, and also an emotional attachment to the value of your house. You live in your house everyday. Most people don't even see their stock certificates, and if they do they're just pieces of paper. People seem to think their house price reflects as some sort of judgement on how they live their life. Price goes up, society approves. Prices down, can't be because the way I live my life is fine. This bias in favor of real estate as more real leads to a false sense of security in the gains, and the emotional attachment leads to denial of price falls. Add to this the leverage, and some people are going to stick with high prices until the cows come home. Thus, the market remains in disequilibrium.

For these reasons, real estate booms lead to financial crises such as the Asian crisis ten years ago and our current problems.

A Whole Bunch of Bah Humbug!

Telegraph:
Andrew Mondia, 32, was one of several Father Christmases handing out presents and seasonal good cheer in the grotto of the London fashion store.

The store said an elf had warned Mr Mondia he should not be inviting either children or adults to sit on his knee and it was against company policy.

A spokesman for Selfridges told the Guardian: "It's vital that everyone bringing children to see Santa can be absolutely confident that the visit will be a happy one. Unfortunately, this particular Santa didn't behave in line with his training or the standards we've set so we acted swiftly and asked him to leave."


He should sue based on the principle that elves have no authority over Santa.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Last post on the subject

Dance:
Well, congratulations. You've set up an argument that can't be disproved, because the facts of what actually happened, what people did, how pro-slavery activists resisted emancipation, etc, just don't matter


First, see the first sentence that kicked this all off:
I wholeheartedly concur with Mickey Kaus as explained by Yglesias.


Which was:
he just believes, without any evidence whatsoever, that unions and unionization are bad and they should be crushed by any means necessary and he firmly grounds his EFCA opposition in that principled point of view.


Second, just because something can't be disproved does not mean it isn't true.

Lastly, I don't really believe it. I don't think the IR and end of slavery are a coincidence, but I don't believe abolition would have been possible without the abolitionist movement. I was just in a stubborn, argumentative mode. Alan knows all about those with me.

But it's for the children!

Telegraph:
Wimborne council in Dorset has told the town's Militia, which re-enacts traditions dating back to the 17th century, that it can no longer fire muskets over the Christmas tree.

The council said the noise of the blank shots would be too loud for children and would keep families away from the annual event to mark the switching on of the lights.

But members of the Militia said the council was "mollycoddling" children.


Maybe Britain will get its bollocks back

Gay Penguin Kidnappers

Telegraph:
A couple of gay penguins are attempting to steal eggs from straight birds in an effort to become "fathers", it has been reported.

The two penguins have started placing stones at the feet of parents before waddling away with their eggs, in a bid to hide their theft.

But the deception has been noticed by other penguins at the zoo, who have ostracised the gay couple from their group. Now keepers have decided to segregate the pair of three-year-old male birds to avoid disrupting the rest of the community during the hatching season.

People still aren't getting this

Alan:
If by "humanity" you mean to imply that those involved in enslaving were inhuman, I am with you. But, please let me add a couple points.

After the British effectively ended the Atlantic trade in humans, Virginia became a leader in human husbandry and slave sales. Slaves remained a lucrative trade.

Without individuals like Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln could not have moved toward emancipation regardless of the economic considerations. As we have seen even in recent years, prejudice inhibits calls for freedom and justice. While the North had little use for slaves, most Northerners also had little use for blacks. Remember that the KKK was so popular in the early parts of the last century that they conducted a massive march down Pennsylvania Avenue. As in nearly all good things, emancipation and equal rights are the product of determined and small minorities bent on saving us all.


Okay, I realize that everybody wants to believe, and indeed believes, that individuals with moral clarity can overcome injustice through perseverance, courage, conviction, dedication, and superior reason, but it just ain't so. This is not to say that people with those qualities are not important. What I am saying that they are a necessary, but not sufficient condition for social change.

The Industrial Revolution was also a necessary, but not sufficient condition as well. However, it was more important than [insert abolitionist here] because people had been concerned about the morality of slavery since the dawn of history. Yet, they were unsuccessful until after the IR because a suitable economic alternative did not exist.

As Bob wrote, I realize the consequences of this are depressing. If one accepts the premise that economic alternatives must exist extrinsic to the argument of injustice, then we aren't truly in control of our society's actions.

We recognize that wealthier people are expected to be more virtuous. We call it noblesse oblige. By decreasing the demand for massive amounts of human labor, the Industrial Revolution made people wealthier vis-a-vis the institution of slavery. Or it could be predicted to occur in the relatively near future. Likewise, the increased productivity made workers who purchased goods wealthier in real terms, and could therefore afford to pay more for goods produced by non-slave workers.

In some sense, Obama's statement about economics being the reason that people cleave to religion and guns is along the same lines. His assumption is that religion and guns are in some sense bad, and that wealth will allow them to transcend that backwardness. (Just FYI. I don't want to hear about Obama's churchgoing, you know what I am saying here.)

So, the industrial revolution was more important, and I am arguing made the abolition of slavery a foregone conclusion. The individual abolitionists and organizations such as the anti-saccharine society were the vessels that manifested that change, but they were far less important in whether it actually occurred. Additionally, the timing and particular vehicles that led to the abolition of slavery varied in time and place according to local circumstances, including how slavery was rationalized within that particular society. Therefore, the exact nature and timing of the eventual abolition did vary.

Obviously, the nature of the vessels are still important. My original point was that unions were and are a flawed vessel to manifest social change because they impose long-term negative distortions on the economy that a political process and laws toward the same end do not.

So, I agree with Marx that the means of production, in an important sense, make us what we are. The issue I have is that trying to rush the changes before the economy grows is naive at best and foolhardy at worst.

That said, I certainly don't agree that people make their decisions on narrowly economic terms. For example, I said that people would buy more expensive dolphin free tuna when they can afford it. The problems arise when you try to force people to buy before they are able to afford it.

Let's take the extreme. If you think of a person with no income, they will take whatever food they can get. Long-term health, environmental concerns, etc, etc are out the window. It's a short-term survival thing. As the person becomes wealthier than can afford to buy organic, shade grown, fair trade coffee. I am arguing, which I think is reasonable, is that a society follows a similar pattern.

I also think it is reasonable to think that every society would rather have been without slavery, whether out of fear of a revolt or problems of conscience. The problem was that their entire economy was based upon slave labor. Once the IR occurred, a viable alternative appeared. Whether slavery was profitable at the time is not important. Much like still producing film, when saw digital cameras were on the way, people could recognize that the days of slavery were numbered.

Why don't we see people making this case in history? Who the fuck wants to say, "The slaves are no longer useful, or won't be useful for much longer, so let's let them go?" Nobody. People want to make the moral case. Shit. I'm more comfortable with the moral case, and agree wholeheartedly with it. But to think that humanity all of a sudden woke up with a conscience coincidentally after slave labor could forseeably be eliminated is naive in the extreme.

Correspondence

Flg,

You've convinced me about your theory on slavery, but what follows from it is so depressing.

Bob
Bristol, TN


Bob:

I know. That's why nobody wants to hear it.

-FLG

French Protectionism

Economist:
FOR connoisseurs of French horse-trading, this has been a disappointing period. From peacemaking in the Caucasus to refounding world capitalism, the current French presidency of the European Union has taken on big tasks, resolved in the glare of world attention. Such crisis management has left little time for sneaky backroom deals to advance such traditional Gallic goals as obstructing free trade, pandering to farmers or channelling EU money into French pockets. But with just weeks of the presidency left, Charlemagne has learnt of a wheeze meant to pull off all three at once.


I find French economic policy odd. I understand the socialists because they are, well, socialists. But I am always astonished that even the center and right of center parties in France are so reflexively dirigiste. Some sort of national greatness manifests itself in mercantilist and other self-defeating economic policies. Sarkozy's strategic investment fund plan is another example of this craziness.

Always makes me thinks of Mark Twain's thoughts: "France has usually been governed by prostitutes."

Happy Thanksiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Debate Continues

Please see earlier posts about unions for full context, here and here.

Dance said...
Well, you had a couple of points. 1) unions were a poor vessel for beneficial changes, which I'm not arguing for or against 2) such changes would have happened anyway.

To support 2), you pointed at the end of slavery just as the Industrial Revolution arose, arguing that the IR made slavery obsolete and inconvenient. I think if it was still profitable, then it clearly wasn't obsolete. The British slave trade *beyond a doubt* was not obsolete nor inconvenient when it was ended in 1807, and Britain needed money to fight Napoleon. British and French territories were also still growing sugar when they ended slavery (1833, 1848), like Cuba, so I don't think that's the difference there. In other instances, the IR didn't make slavery inconvenient. And the history of slavery likewise does not support an argument that the government will virtuously abolish slavery once they can afford it. Mainland Latin American countries ended slavery while a civil war destroyed their economies. The North didn't mean to abolish slavery before the Civil War, only to limit its expansion, and after the Civil War, I'm guessing the govt was feeling a bit poor, yet ended slavery regardless.

I'm not particularly concerned about your overall argument (though as I said, I think it's wrongheaded)--I'm just making the point that using slavery to prove it doesn't work. You're going to need to develop a better proof against unions and for the inevitable moral progression of govts than that.


People have been concerned with the morality of slavery for at least 2300 years.

The Industrial Revolution was the replacement of animate energy, human and animal labor, with inanimate energy, steam, etc.

Am I to believe that people with enough moral fortitude and courage to end slavery only emerged after the economic change that replaced human labor with machines?

The economic change that made large amounts human labor less important also made the abolition of slavery possible. When I say convenient I don't mean easy. I mean that people could see a realistic path to future economic growth not on the back of slaves.

In regards to your point that profitability matters, I demur. Here's an analogy. Kodak was still making film, and I think still does, although the company knew that digital cameras were the future. I assume there were profits in film sales, but everybody could see the writing on the wall. Whether slavery was profitable at the moment it was abolished is irrelevant. The point is that people could see a way to abolish an institution that humanity had wrestled with since ancient times and still run the economy. The nature of industrial progress made the transition from human labor to capital possible earlier in certain sectors of the economy than others. The agricultural economy was particularly behind in that regard. Sugar harvesters and agricultural combines are complicated machines that were not easy to develop and therefore human labor could not so easily be replaced. But people could reasonably predict that it eventually would be. Furthermore, the additional wealth generated by the industrialization in the North made the idea of paying for what was once slave labor possible. Much like the paying more for dolphin free tuna, the North could afford to pay for slave free cotton, as terrible as that sounds.

Now, I want to be clear that I find slavery morally abhorrent, and I in no way condone its existence ever. But to ignore the fact that people stopped stealing the fruits of other people's labor, a narrowly economic defintion of slavery for the purposes of this economic discussion, after that labor could forseeably be replaced with a machine is crazy.

So, it becomes a question of how much, not if, the industrial revolution made the abolition of slavery possible. My take is that it was integral. Indeed, it was the primary reason, though not the only one.

Humanity was never fully comfortable with slavery, as the long debate about its morality demonstrates. Once it was feasible economically to elminate it, humanity got rid of it. It didn't happen overnight or peacefully or simultaneously, but it was inevitable that it happened.

French Don't Want To Work On Sundays

There's even a website.

Somehow I doubt they are concerned about honoring the Sabbath.

Turkey Day at the FLGs' place

The Menu:
Turkey with a mosaic of herbs and pats of butter underneath the skin.
Cornbread and Andouille Dressing
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Cranberry Sauce from fresh cranberries with orange zest and juice.
Pumpkin Pie

FLG is very excited.

God Help Us

Telegraph:
Cheerleading nuns hit with basketball fans

A video clip of the routine – shown on YouTube – shows the dancers in traditional robes and habits dancing in the middle of the court.


More on Peacekeeping

Telegraph:
The truth is that [in Congo-Kinshasa] the UN is caught in such a thicket of regulations and constraints - and such a snake-pit of mistrust - that it cannot possibly be effective.

What should the UN do? Superficially, the answer is simple. With 17,000 troops - and another 3,000 on the way - it should simply force all the armed groups back to their agreed positions, as specified in the Goma peace accords signed in January.

This would lift the city's siege and allow free access for humanitarian aid. Once all the factions have been pushed back, peace talks could begin in earnest.


Sounds great doesn't it?

In practice, UN forces have only been equipped, and only operate - save for their limited actions against Gen Nkunda - like impartial peacekeepers. This means UN troops only open fire after bellowing verbal warnings and shooting over the heads of their foes. In a land of rainforest and verdant bush, UN soldiers must drive vehicles painted bright white - hardly the best camouflage for a fighting force.


We need peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Pick a side. Wipe out the other. Call it a day and go home.

What's In A Name?

The Maximum Leader wonders about FLG's expected baby's name.

Only Relevant to DC Area Readers

WaPo:
Capital One and Citigroup have each held discussions to buy Chevy Chase Bank, one of the largest and best-known banks in the Washington region, according to sources familiar with the matter.


I guess closing the supermarket branches wasn't enough.

Kathleen Parker Phones It In Today

By writing about the bullshit ISI study.

The multiple-choice ISI quiz wouldn't deepen the creases in most brains, but the questions do require a basic knowledge of how the U.S.


Oh, it's a bit more complicated than that. I've already addressed it here. I got at 31 out of 33, so don't think this is sour grapes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More On Unions

I've been called out on my previous post about unions.

The labor movement takes credit for some things that I feel were somewhat inevitable, better working conditions and the elimination of child labor, and for which unions were a seriously flawed vehicle. For example, the first strikes for better working conditions that I am aware of were the Lowell Mills strikes in the middle of the 19th century. Organized labor spoke out about child labor issues since about that time as well. Organized labor certainly forwarded these goals throughout the decades, and eventually laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, were passed and institutions, such as OSHA, were created. However, while organized labor worked toward these goals I argue that they were inevitable.

The economic growth made possible by the Industrial Revolution also caused a massive societal disruption. Families which used to live and work on farms moved into cities where they could earn more money. Child labor and other issues were nonexistent during those pre-Industrial times because the children were expected to help work the farm. Indeed, many families wanted more sons for this very reason.

The economic growth of capitalism and industrialization drew or forced, depending on your point of view, families who would have been farmers into dirty, nasty cities. We see this same thing playing out in the developing world's rapid urbanization. As these people moved into cities, they faced new challenges and were sometimes desperate for work, just like today in the developing world. However, as the economic growth continued, and people became more economically secure, and by more economically secure I don't mean perfectly secure but only relatively more wealthy than before, they began to demand better working conditions. Granted, this happened in fits and starts and took decades and centuries, but it happened as the country industrialized and wealth was created. We will see the same thing in developing nations. Gradually, sweat shops disappear as the country's economy grows and there are more opportunities.

What I find interesting is that many of the rights we have we gained when it was economically convenient to grant them. For example, many people believed slavery was morally abhorrent for centuries before Britain ended the slave trade and the United States fought the civil war over it. I don't think it was a coincidence that the Industrial Revolution, the replacement of animal and human labor with inanimate forms of energy, occurred at approximately the same time. For all intents and purposes, the Industrial Revolution made slavery obsolete. Large amounts of human labor could be replaced by machines. Furthermore, I do not think it a coincidence that the more industrialized region, the North, took up the abolitionist mantle.

Whenever I write about economics, I like to use analogies. Imagine that a person makes $1 a day. Now, say they need protein for their family and always buy two cans of tuna fish. If they have a choice between dolphin safe tuna that costs 7 cents a can and non-dolphin safe tuna that costs 5 cents a can, which do you think they will choose? Even if they love dolphins, they can afford to be virtuous. They buy the non-dolphin tuna. In fact, throughout history virtue is almost always expected of those who have means, the nobility, because they could in a very real sense afford to be. When that same worker makes $5 a day, then maybe they buy dolphin free.

As further evidence of my contention that economic growth and the subsequent increased demand for labor creates better working working conditions, look at Silicon Valley. No unions, but great working conditions and perks. But I digress.

Likewise, safety standards are much like the dolphin safe tuna. A worker who is not comfortable works in unsafe conditions because they have to. As the worker gets a bit more comfortable, perhaps the rest of the economy has created additional jobs and new opportunities, they begin to demand better conditions because the aggregate demand for their labor in the economy, not just their current employer, has increased. Unions bring acute pressure on one employer at a time to change, and therefore seem to make progress, but in reality it is the dynamics of the economy writ large that drive the change. Much progress we make is what I would call a luxury good. We get it when we get wealthier. See environmental concerns for the most current version. But let me be clear about that.

Lincoln was still a noble man with great conviction whose judgment and guidance mattered immensely even if the Industrial Revolution made abolition, for lack of a better, word convenient. I do not underestimate or belittle the challenges and dilemmas he faced. Likewise, I don't argue that labor organizers didn't face challenges in pursuing their goals. They most certainly did, and they faced them with courage and conviction. My issue is that by organizing they used a vehicle that creates barriers to necessary adjustments in the economy in through the labor market. Furthermore, unions distort incentives by equalizing pay among poor and good workers.

Laws for worker safety and against child labor are, in my opinion, a much better vehicle because they are applicable to all businesses and do not respond to the unique pressure points an individual business has. Which is to say, laws cannot be enacted by forcing one particular business to the edge of bankruptcy.

To respond directly to two of your points:
In FACT, dear, when organized labor was at it peak in the 1950's, the economy was humming along and most everyone was in pretty good financial shape. 33% or so of the workforce was organized. Now, only 7.5% of private sector jobs are union, and we're being scapegoated in this economic mess.


The effects of organized labor's distortions on the economy do manifest themselves immediately, nor are the solely responsible for the health of the economy. However, I would say that the decrease from 33% to 7.5% means that a whole bunch of businesses whose labor was unionized went belly up over the last 50 years. Sure, much of that's management's fault, but the rigidity created by unions does not help.

Jeez, why don't we all just work AND shop at WalMart! Of course, then we'd all be making too little money to keep some of the other department stores going, but, hey, as goes WalMart.


This is a false dichotomy. Walmart or union are not the only choices.

Please let me know what "labor history" you have studied that would lead you to believe labor unions are so evil.


I don't think they are evil. I think they screw up the economy. I don't doubt that many, many union members think that unions are good. In fact, my father was a teamster and several of my uncles were union. The issue is not whether union members think they benefit, but how they distort the economy.

Hey Alan

Will Quinn's recent article sounds like you, but sans crazy talk.

NATO delenda est

IHT:
The United States has started a diplomatic offensive among NATO capitals in Europe, urging top diplomats to offer Georgia and Ukraine membership to the alliance without first fulfilling requirements under the Membership Action Plan, the process that sets out the criteria and conditions for eventually joining the military pact, according to NATO diplomats.

In an unexpected new initiative, Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, has already held lengthy telephone conversations with French and German and other senior envoys, asking them to discard the Membership Action Plan, added the diplomats.


This is mindless stupidity. Nobody knows why NATO should exist anymore. Nobody. It exists due to sheer inertia. It has no strategic purpose, and hasn't had one in almost two decades.

NATO directly undermines the best long-term security strategy for Europe -- the development of a meaningful European defense capability and enlargement the EU. If Georgia and Ukraine need explicit protection until full EU membership can be granted, which I admit will take a long time, and an real European defense capability is developed, less time than EU but still non-trivial, then the US should make two bilateral security agreements with those countries.

This expanding NATO stuff is for the birds, and is counter to the long-term strategic interests of the United States of America. NATO delenda est.

International Law

Let's be completley clear regarding a favorite of some of my former classmates at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, International Law. International law is bullshit. Well, not quite bullshit, but pretty damn close. It breaks down like this:

International law in the sense that there are general international agreements about how to deal with non-state actors, like pirates and terrorists, and mutually beneficial things like commerce have a chance of working. Likewise, laws on shit that is largely irrelevant, like land mine bans, have a chance too because it gives the warm and fuzzy facade while doing nothing to undermine security. (To be clear, I realize land mines maim and kill tons of people each year, by largely irrelevant I mean to the security of a modern nation state. The mobility of a modern army makes land mines largely irrelevant to warfighting.)

So, if it doesn't matter or the nations involved will gain materially, then international law has a chance. If we are talking about some sort of proposed or active international law that will constrain a powerful nation-state, then it will never be passed or will be outright ignored.

There is no enforcement mechanism for international law as it applies to sovereign states. So, there is no incentive to abide by them. The response from the international community is roughly equivalent to not talking to the violator at a diner party, and when with a powerful that is like instructing everybody not to talk to the pretty girl in the nice dress. It ain't gonna work.

So, please stop thinking naive thoughts that power doesn't matter. Perhaps you want it not to matter. Well, FLG wants a unicorn. Perhaps you can prove definitely that according to some irrefutable proof of universal right that power shouldn't matter. Well, FLG is happy for you. That ain't gonna change the fact that power matters above all.

French Socialists Are So Funny

One of my first posts here was titled -- French Communists are so funny

Well, French Socialists are funny too.

BBC:
The French Socialist Party has declared Martine Aubry its new leader - with a greater margin than initially thought.

Although Ms Aubry claimed victory last week, having won 50.02% in a second ballot of party members to Ms Royal's 49.98%, a commission was established on Monday to examine the accusations of vote-rigging.

Ms Aubry, 58-year-old mayor of Lille and former employment minister, is the first woman to head the French Socialists and is best known as the architect of the 35-hour work week.


You're plan for a return to power is to nominate somebody whose claim to fame was a mandatory 35-hour work week as a scheme for lowering unemployment? Riiiight. Good luck with all that. Well, since they don't teach real economics over in Europe, it might be a winning strategy.

$800 Billion More

BBC:
The Federal Reserve is to inject another $800bn (£526.8bn) into the US economy in a further effort to stabilise the financial system.

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the stimulus package aimed to make more lending available to consumers.

About $600bn will be used to buy up mortgage-backed securities while $200bn is being targeted at unfreezing the consumer credit market.


Uncle Sam can't pony up anywhere from half-a-trillion to a trillion everyday without running out of money sometime.

On Tenure

The Hoya:
I’m a big fan of Michelle Rhee. Ever since she arrived on the scene almost two years ago as the new chancellor of D.C. public schools, I’ve agreed with pretty much all of her proposals...But Rhee has gone too far in her efforts to improve teacher quality by stripping teachers of their tenure.


The author's reason is that his mom is a good, hardworking teacher and furthermore that she is the rule not exception.

Take the example of my mother. For 20 years, she has arrived at the same elementary school in Northeast D.C. at 7:30 every morning and stayed there until 7:00 every evening, providing both daily instruction and after-school care for her students. She’s taught kids who have gone on to specifically request that their own children be placed in her classroom.

For 20 years, my mother has not only taught students how to read, but has helped parents support their children’s education with nightly phone calls. When I was growing up, we gave all of the toys and clothes I had outgrown to kids at her school who needed them. And I don’t know how many times she has paid out of pocket for a student to go on a field trip because their parents couldn’t afford the fee.

My mother is the rule, not the exception. There are many older teachers in the school system who have decided to make a career in the profession because they love what they do and care about their kids — not because they’re looking for a fat paycheck. (Not that drawing a paycheck is all that easy to do in the District.)


Good teachers aren't the ones who are going to be fired. So, if his mother is a good teacher like he says, and I am sure she is, then she isn't going to be fired. However, if she is the rule and not the exception then why do the DC schools suck so bad? Yes. I know. The DC community is failing apart. But Rhee's writ runs only to the school door. She is doing everything she can to fix those schools, and frankly some teachers are part of the problem.

The original reason for tenure was to protect teachers from being fired for teaching politically controversial material, not to ensure lifetime employment for every teacher in the country. Something is rotten in the DC schools, and it needs to be culled. Some of that culling needs to be done on the teachers because too many of them aren't getting it done.

Unions

Yglesias:
Related, this is what I actually like about Mickey Kaus’ take on labor issues — he just believes, without any evidence whatsoever, that unions and unionization are bad and they should be crushed by any means necessary and he firmly grounds his EFCA opposition in that principled point of view.


I wholeheartedly concur with Mickey Kaus as explained by Yglesias.

If there were only one possible employer, say a one company town, then I could see the benefits of unionization. With no other alternatives for employment, then unionization might make some sense. However, if there are other reasonable alternatives to employment, as their are in the majority of the United States, then unionization creates a friction in the economy that has drastic negative consequences.

You want better pay, then ask for it. Your employer won't give it to you, then quit and find somebody who will. Can't or won't find an employer to pay you more money? Then perhaps you are earning the market value of your labor. As far as I am concerned, organized labor is a form of extortion and I am against it on principle.

That said, it's not the biggest problem in our economy.

Don't Kill Batman! You Bastards!

Telegraph:
There are rumours that Batman will suffer a gruesome end when his sidekick Robin goes over to "the dark side" and destroys him in a terrible betrayal.

In Case You Didn't Know: Fake Penis and Urine

Telegraph:
The Whizzinator is a prosthetic penis that comes with a heating element and fake urine.

"The Whizzinator is the ultimate solution for a drug testing device," says a statement on the website of the California-based company, which calls itself the "undisputed leader in synthetic urine."

"The prosthetic penis is very realistic and concealing is simple, while our quality production and materials assures you that the Whizzinator will let it flow again and again, anytime, anywhere you need it!"


Picture here.

Fake urine courtesy of Amazon Prime here.

Gold

FLG is seriously considering buying gold, and he doesn't mean a derivative of the stuff like the GLD ETF. He's talking about Credit Suisse or Johnson Matthey Bars.

Hold on there Mr. Cohen

Cohen:
Remember when Clinton had no integrity, no character, when she lied about almost everything and could be trusted about almost nothing?


Yes. Richard Cohen seems to assume that has changed because she will be SecState. But that doesn't mean she has integrity, character, doesn't lie about everything and should be trusted with anything. It means either Obama wanted to keep his enemy close in a job where she would be both 1) constrained and 2) usually out of the country. Or it means he was duped.

But for fuck's sake, don't think Hillary has been washed of her gigantic flaws.

It's Hard Being A Kept Woman

Even they will be hit by the recession.

Telegraph:
Wealthy businessmen who keep extramarital lovers plan to cut back on presents and payments to their mistresses in the economic downturn, a new survey shows.


Interestingly, kept men may do better.
But a majority of rich women who are having affairs intend to boost their kept men's allowances, according to research that sheds light on the different ways the genders deal with financial stress.

Eyes Wide Shut

I got into a discussion with a coworker recently about the Stanley Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut. The coworker in question thought it was a terrible movie. I demurred.

The problem is that far too many people are superficial moviegoers. Eyes Wide Shut makes perfect sense if one recognizes that the entire movie is a statement about marriage. Not just Bill and Alice's marriage, but all marriage. The temptations faced and choices made before and during a marriage.

I can understand how somebody might miss all that with the naked hot chicks and robes and masks and all that, but if you watch the movie again asking what each scene says about marriage and men and women then the movie makes perfect sense.

I am tempted to offer an exegesis on Plato's Republic Book X at this point, but I'll spare you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Case You Didn't Know: Dominique de Villepin

The oleaginous former prime minister of France, Dominique de Villepin, is in legal trouble as part of a Clearstream Affair, which is too complicated for FLG to understand. It's something about him releasing negative information during the presidential election in which M. de Villepin opposed M. Sarkozy for the UMP nomination. Money laundering came up as well somehow. The whole thing is as clear as mud. Anyway, de Villepin's lawyers are saying that Sarko is preventing a fair trial.

FLG always likes pointing out how wet he made MoDo back in 2003.

Russell and Heidegger on Nietzsche



I found this on YouTube while I was looking for something else. FLG, what, pray tell, else might you be looking that pops this video up? I don't remember now.

Correspondence

Dear FLG,

Do you suggest investing in China? If yes, how?



I have some money invested there, but I am not putting any more in right now. Quite frankly, I don't know which way is up over there so I've kept my exposure low. However, if you are interested, I invest in China using an ETF -- FXI.

Somebody Predicted This Mess

Very Interesting:



I'd like to say that I knew all this would happen, but I never thought that Lehman and Bear would fall. In fact, I bought into financials after the Aug '07 credit market freeze up thinking they were underpriced. Nevertheless, I knew in 2002-2003 that things were going to be nasty down the line because I worked in a mortgage company and heard what they were telling customers.

HT: Boing Boing

Uncle Sam Might Get Tapped Out

Bloomberg:
The U.S. government is prepared to provide more than $7.76 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers after guaranteeing $306 billion of Citigroup Inc. debt yesterday. The pledges, amounting to half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.


As I wrote Friday:
Yes, Citi is too big to fail. But I am wondering more and more if Uncle Sam is big enough to protect everybody who is too big to fail without failing himself.


Even Uncle Sam can max out his credit card.

Diadochi

The Diadochi were the successors to Alexander and rivals to each other. In FLG's opinion, Ptolemy was the smartest because he ran to Egypt, which being bounded by desert is the easiest to protect, and declared himself pharaoh. The Seleucid Dynasty was undoubtedly impressive given that it spanned the former Persian Empire's land, FLG still admires the Ptolemies more. Although, Ptolemaic inbreeding did eventually take a toll.

On a related note, FLG also likes that history has a sense of humor. Demetrius I of Macedon was bestowed with the honorific of Poliorcetes, which means besieger, because of his unsuccessful sieges.

Also, what percentage of people do you think have even heard the name Demosthenes? There was a line in the John Adams HBO series that mentioned Demosthenes, but that probably about as close as most people could get.

You are probably asking yourself where the heck did this post come from? Well, FLG would like to know as well.

What FLG is currently listening to





Paris and London Markets Up Today

CAC 40 in Paris Up 10.09%.
FTSE 100 in London Up 9.84%.

Dow and S&P 500 are up now as well.

Strange times in the markets.

Tuesday's Gone

The song always makes me sad because it's played at the end of Dazed and Confused, which reminds me of the end of high school, which isn't sad in and of itself, but reminds me that time keeps on move on.

Green Jobs

I've always worried, not only with Obama's plan but with prior claims as well, that the "Green Jobs" created by environmental and economic policy will be the equivalent of the old economic example about breaking windows.

Let's break half of everybody's windows. This will create jobs in the glass and window industries until, of course, they repair all the windows, at which time, we will have to break half of everybody's windows again.

Obviously, breaking the windows is a destruction of wealth. The money that could go to other uses, like buying a big screen tv or a kid's education, is instead diverted toward buying new windows every year. Sure, it creates jobs but at the expense of other jobs and people's wishes. The mutually beneficial transactions that make free market economics so useful have been subverted.

When the proponents of green energy subsidies tout the jobs that will be created or fret over the jobs that will disappear I always roll my eyes. Because jobs that rely upon a subsidy are like the window and glass jobs above. They require forcefully taking resources from everybody else.

Perhaps the people making glass and windows will become so good at their jobs that they will draw in window making business from neighboring areas. Likewise, perhaps the United States will become so good at creating green technology that they will draw orders from around the world. But one never knows. The creation of jobs in and of itself means nothing. Furthermore, the demand for green technology is largely political, not economic in nature. Dirty energy is more cost effective, and even the best estimates of improved green technology are about making it competitive with dirty technology. And by competitive they mean slightly more expensive, but not enough that people complain about being forced to pay for it.

I'm not saying that promoting clean energy isn't worthwhile, but what I am saying is that the claim that it will create jobs means almost nothing.

More On China and Idiots With Projections

I don't understand what makes these so called experts qualified to publish papers on China. Is it a PhD? Have they lived there? Whatever it is, they are dilettantish dolts.

PostGlobal:
For years we've heard the narrative in the United States that China was going to have a smooth ride to superpower status. A report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace earlier this year predicted that China would overtake the US economy by 2035. A few weeks ago, the New York Times suggested in an editorial that China's economy might be the one engine that could drag the world out of its current rut. The LA Times, noting that China possesses a world-high $2 trillion in foreign exchange, predicted that at last weekend's economic summit, China would wield "a big stick."


I've been saying for years these projections of inevitable, stable Chinese politics and economic growth are misguided at best and outright stupid at worst.

The crux of the matter is that people project linearly. Sure, they produce all kinds of complicated econometric models, but in the end they are just drawing a line through the last few years and projecting forward. That's a stupid idea because people react to events, they don't just plod forward along a line. Nor do they oscillate around some mean all of the time. Sure, most of the time the normal distribution works. But unlike a physical system, such as a solar system, when we hit one of this extremities, say an event more than 3 standard deviations from the mean, people start acting in unpredictable ways for a time, sometimes forever.

I never bought into the Authoritarian Capitalism crap because it relied on high oil prices and a stable China. If China is economically successful, and by that I mean the people reach near Western levels of per capita GDP in 1950 or so, the people will feel empowered and demand freedom. If the Chinese government fails to deliver on its part of the deal of creating economic growth, then the people will balk and cry foul. Either way, freedom is on the way. My guess: If the economy continues to grow, then sometime between 20-30 years China will be a free country. If the economy fails, then within 5.

Oh, but to get back to earlier point about projections by dilettantish dolts, if you can take a graph of the last few years of data and a ruler and arrive at the same conclusion, then they are full of shit and don't listen to a damn thing they are saying.

Two Things

I forgot to mention the biggest disappointment in Quantum of Solace -- no Q.

Secondly, Mrs. FLG and I hit Tyson's Corner Mall on Saturday, and from the crowd and number of shopping bags is sure doesn't seem like the Great Depression is right around the corner. Granted, Tyson's is in one of the most affluent areas in the country, and also one of the least effected by economic downturns because of the huge buffer the federal government provides to the area. Nonetheless, it was packed and I was extremely annoyed.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Pirates Life For FLG

More On Blogging

Despair:


I'll have to keep this in mind next time a blogger that I like gets a bit of a readership and it goes to his head. Lucky for me Fear and Loathing in Georgetown has a natural cull. Only so many people can deal with politics, pirates, robots, gratuitous profanity, object sex, and French. If need be, I'll just talk lots and lots to myself. I do it all the time in real life, so why not online?

In Case You Didn't Know: Elected Officials Are Idiots

Not all of our elected officials are the best and the brightest. Some are apparently morons. Their average score was 44% on that ISI test that everybody was poo-poo-ing about because top ranked colleges didn't do much to improve civic literacy. To put everything in focus: Harvard students scored 69% (or 15% better than your average elected official). The supposed best school at improving student civic knowledge, EastConn, graduated seniors who scored worse than the elected officials at 41%.

Yes, ISI was trying to measure value added by the universities in providing civic literacy, but the entire thing was bogus because Harvard doesn't really have to improve its students' knowledge. Whereas, EastConn couldn't help but improve their students scores. Likewise, while that score for elected officials is abysmal, the questions are skewed toward conservatives. I could go on, but take the ISI stuff with a huge grain of salt.

The exam is here in case you are interested.

Is Yemen The Next Somalia?

Chatham House published a paper (PDF) this month that concerns FLG.

Future instability in Yemen could expand a lawless zone stretching from northern Kenya, through Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, to Saudi Arabia. Piracy, organized crime and violent jihad would escalate, with implications for the security of shipping routes, the transit of oil through the Suez Canal and the internal security of Yemen’s neighbours.


Most people only know Yemen as the site of the USS Cole bombing. The CIA World Factbook has a quick background here. If Yemen fails it would be bad. Not total protonic reversal bad, but pretty frickin' awful.

Definitive Evidence That British Men Have Completely Lost Their Fucking Bollocks

Male Pantyhose.

Surprise or not - many men do wear pantyhose (tights in the UK) as a regular clothing item.

they wear it for some reasons of course: "Men who wear pantyhose do it to improve athletic performance, energize and revitalize tired, aching leg muscles, and to stimulate circulation if they sit all day. In addition, compression can help reduce swelling and decrease the dangers of circulatory problems. And of course there are many men who simply like the soft material and the comfort that sheer pantyhose provides." (Citation from Wikipedia).


Has the entire country lost its fucking mind?

The No Shit Sherlock response in The Times:
Why men should never wear tights

I’d say that mantyhose is probably the perfect gift for the man who never wants to get laid again.

Quantum of Solace

Mrs. FLG and I saw Quantum of Solace last night. It was okay. It felt like a Jason Bourne movie. There's nothing wrong with a Bourne movie per se. In fact, I quite enjoy Bourne movies. But James Bond is not and never should be Jason Bourne.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Meritocracy And The Big Assumption

Alpheus is concerned that the ubermenschen filling the new Obama administration will suffer from The Big Assumption:
In fact, it's almost axiomatic that they'll tend to overestimate either their own abilities or the ease with which the world's problems can be solved. Because things haven't been that hard for them, have they? It's the rare human being who can resist judging everyone's experience of life by his own.


I might not have fully articulated or thought out the consequences of The Big Assumption and that the human mind only understands the world through the principle of cause and effect, but I am on to something big.

I gotta read Hume again.

A Safe Made Of Legos

It's Here.

HT

Mrs. FLG has to see this

Courtesy of Sir Basil. Badass. Simply Badass.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Political Theory Reading

Withywindle recently mentioned his goal of reading a biography of every British Prime Minister

FLG's goal, which he thinks he might have mentioned before, is to complete the Georgetown Govenment PhD political theory reading list. He's scratched out reading he has completed previously. FLG has read part of many of the non-scratched works.

REQUIRED
Aeschylus. “Agememnon.”
________. “The Choephori.”
________. “The Eumenides.”

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologae.

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition.

Aristotle. The Politics.
________. Nicomachean Ethics.

St. Augustine. City of God.
________. Confessions.

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Calvin, John. Institutes of Christian Religion.

Cicero. The Republic.
________. “On Duties.”

Dewey, John. Liberalism and Social Action.
________. The Public and Its Problems.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish.

Freud. Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents.

Habermas, Jürgen. Theory of Communicative Action.
________. Between Facts and Norms.


Hegel, G.W.F. The Philosophy of History.
________. Phenomenology of Spirit.
________. Philosophy of Right.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time.
________. The Question Concerning Technology.
________. “The Origin of the Work of Art.”

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan.

Hooker, Richard. The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Horkheimer, Max, and Adorno, Theodore. The Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Hume, David. Treatise on Human Nature.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Practical Reason.
________. “Perpetual Peace.”
________. “What is Enlightenment?”
________. “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent.”
________. “Theory and Practice.”


Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government.
________. “A Letter Concerning Toleration.”
________. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Luther, Martin. “The Freedom of a Christian.”

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince.
________. The Discourses.

Madison, James, et. al., The Federalist Papers.

Marx, Karl. “The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.”
________. “The German Ideology.”
________. “The Comunist Manifesto.”
________. Capital, Vol. I.

Mill, John Stuart. “On Liberty.”
________. “Representative Government.”
________. “Utilitarianism.”
________. “On the Subjection of Women.”

Milton, John. Areopagitica.

Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws.
________. Persian Letters.

More, Thomas. Utopia.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
________. Beyond Good and Evil.
________. On the Genealogy of Morals.

Paine, Thomas. The Rights of Man.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées.

Plato. The Apology.
________. Crito.
________. The Republic.
________. Gorgias.
________. Laws

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice.
________. Political Liberalism.


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The First and Second Discourses.
________. Emile.
________. Social Contract.


Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
________. The Wealth of Nations.

Sophocles. “Antigone.”
________. “Oedipus the King.”
________. “Electra.”

Spinoza, Benedict de. A Theologico-Political Treatise.

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America.
________. The Old Regime and the French Revolution.

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science.


Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.


Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women.



RECOMMENDED

Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution
______. The Origins of Totalitarianism
Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in Society.
Gadamer, Hans Georg. Truth and Method.
Hartz, Louis. The Liberal Tradition in America.
Hirschman, Albert. The Passions and the Interests.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity.
Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man.
Löwith, Karl. Meaning in History.
Lucretius. The Nature of the Universe.
Lyotard, Jean François. The Differend.
MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man.
Maritain, Jacques. Man and State.
McWilliams, W.C. The Idea of Fraternity in America
Murray, John Courtney. We Hold These Truths.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Nature and Destiny of Man.
________. Moral Man, Immoral Society.
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism in Politics.
Ortega y Gasset, José. The Revolt of the Masses.
Rommen, Heinrich. The Natural Law.
Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Search for a Method.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.
Schmitt, Carl. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.
Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History.
________. What is Political Philosophy?
________. (ed.) The History of Political Philosophy
Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self
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Wolin, Sheldon. Politics and Vision

Correspondence

I disagree that there are only three choices for peacekeeping. The quotation that you cited reads, "In Chad, Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Somalia, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Sudan, the rebels live off food aid, and often plunder the aid workers as well. It is this aggression against the foreign aid workers that often motivates the UN the most, to bring in peacekeepers. That usually works, although in Somalia, the UN is having a hard time getting nations to contribute troops."

Why not protect the aid workers so that people don't starve?

Olivia, Eastbourne, UK


Dear Olivia:

Protecting the aid workers is about making people from rich countries feel better about themselves. They go to some backward place, hand out food, and yeah! I don't feel as guilty about myself and the world! But who stops the rebels from taking the food aid after the aid workers leave?

I'm not saying that food aid is not helpful. It can be. But the root problem of these things, why the aid workers need to be there in the first place, is that a conflict occurs. The conflict destroys crops and armed men take what is left. In some sense, providing food to innocent, unarmed people exacerbates the problem because the rebels can take the food, and as Napoleon famously said, "An army marches on its stomach." No food. Tough to rebel. Not surprisingly, Mugabe restricted food to to prevent rebellion.

Additionally, this protecting the aid workers strategy does not protect the population from violence. Rape, killing, extortion, conscription, child soldiers will still occur. Oh, sure they'll have food to live, but what kind of life is that?

To truly solve the problem one side must win. Often interventions will find it useful to tip the scales toward one side and crush the other. Sometimes that means slaughtering rebels. With governments, however, international pressure to resign may be effective, thereby allowing the rebels to win. But in some cases both sides are so screwed up that the intervention might require wiping out both the rebels and the government. That is the worst case scenario, and makes rebuilding the country very difficult.

-FLG

Timothy Geithner

Looks like he is going to be SecTreas.

I like the choice.

He has great experience as the head of the NY Fed, which is the branch that gets shit done. Interestingly, he has an MA from SAIS, and not a PhD in econ. Plus, he's not a lawyer.

Citi in trouble

Bloomberg:
Citigroup shares dropped $1.10, or 23.4 percent, to $3.61 at 2:29 p.m. in New York, giving the company a stock market value close to $21 billion.

Once the biggest U.S. bank, with a market value of $274 billion at the end of 2006, Citigroup has now slipped to No. 5 behind Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp. A plan by 51-year-old Pandit this week to cut costs by shedding 52,000 jobs and an endorsement by billionaire Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal didn't assuage shareholders' concern that bad loans and securities writedowns may extend a year-long run of net losses totaling $20 billion.


Yes, Citi is too big to fail. But I am wondering more and more if Uncle Sam is big enough to protect everybody who is too big to fail without failing himself.

Speaking of when FLG was a kid

I give The Maximum Leader a 10 year-old Jennifer Love Hewitt on Kids Incorporated:

How FLG Became A Cynic

Some of you may remember Picture Pages:


FLG's Mom: You've been asking for the Picture Pages marker for months now, so I decided to send away for it. It arrived in the mail today.

Lil' FLG: Thanks Mom!

Lil' FLG takes the marker and begins to connect the dots in his Picture Pages book.

Lil' FLG: Mom, I think my marker is broken.

FLG's Mom: Is the ink dried out? Shoot. I paid a fortune for that marker.

Lil' FLG: No. It has ink. It doesn't make noises when I write with it. I think it needs batteries.

FLG's Mom: Sweetie, you thought it made noise?

Lil' FLG: It doesn't?

FLG's Mom: No. The TV people add those noises.

Lil' FLG: What a jip.
 
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